Choosing a smartwatch is like selecting a smartphone, in that there are countless models to choose from. But that’s where the similarities end. While whatever handset you pick will be able to perform the same standard tasks—such as making calls, sending texts, and running apps—smartwatches offer a variety of functions and features, which makes finding the right one even harder.
We’re here to dispel some of that confusion so you can choose the right smartwatch for your specific needs. From the different makes on the market to the blurring lines between fitness trackers and smartwatches, we’ll outline the features you should be paying attention to before moving on to our picks for the best watches and fitness wearables out there.
Features to look for
For a smartwatch to be considered a smartwatch, it must be able to tell time—that much is a given. However, that’s just about the only constant in a field where the choices of features and functions range far and wide.
Top-tier smartwatches from Apple, Samsung, and Fitbit are essentially miniature phones that wrap around your wrist. They run pint-size apps, let you control your smartphone remotely, and are capable of phone-like tasks such as tracking your run around a park, storing music, and even making phone calls through a tiny SIM.
On the next level down, you’ll find devices that are basically fitness trackers with a display: They focus on logging steps and other activities while treating smartwatch features as a bonus. These devices can tell time and sometimes show simple notifications from your phone—but interactions are limited, which means you’ll need to pull out your cell for most tasks. While they may not be as capable, they often cost much less.
Another category that’s emerged over the past few years is a traditional, mechanical watch with a few added smarts. These devices typically include features such as basic step counting and maybe a simple notification system, too. You’ll get the style and price of a normal watch, with the bonus of a little bit of fitness tracking.
Whichever category you lean toward, check for a few key specs. One is whether the watch works with your phone (iOS or Android); another is how long the battery lasts (mechanical watches are still ages ahead here). Also, check that the watch has the features you want. For example, runners and sports enthusiasts might want to look for standalone GPS, which will let your wrist-based device track your location even when it’s not connected to your phone. Swimmers who want to record their progress should keep their eyes out for waterproof smartwatches. Really consider what will work best for you.
Of course, form and comfort should also factor into your decision. If you’re going to be wearing the watch a lot of the time, you’ll want to make sure it’s comfortable. So visit a retail store and try a few smartwatches on for size, or check a selection of online reviews. You’ll get an idea of the look of a smartwatch through pictures, and reviews should help you find details about its feel and weight on the wrist.
Now that you know what to look for, here are some of our top picks: