Gadget

The best smartwatches for 2023

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There are dozens of smartwatches out now to consider, when just a few years ago, the market was much less crowded. Today, the wearable world is filled with various high-quality options, and a few key players, like the Apple Watch, Samsung Galaxy Watch and Fitbit Versa, have muscled their way to the front of the pack with their smart features. Maybe you've been eyeing a couple of smartwatches and haven't been able to decipher which will be best for you, or maybe you've been wearing a smart timepiece for quite some time and think it's about time for an upgrade. Regardless of which camp you fall into, the list of specs you’ll want to consider before deciding which is the best smartwatch for you to buy is a long one, and we'll help you make sense of it. After testing numerous smartwatches, we've come up with our top picks and buying advice that will help you make sense of all of your options.

What factors to consider in a smartwatch

Google WearOS interface on a smartwatch.

Compatibility

Apple Watches only work with iPhones, while Wear OS devices play nice with both iOS and Android phones. Smartwatches made by Samsung, Garmin, Fitbit and others are also compatible with Android and iOS, but you’ll need to install a companion app on your smartphone.

The smartwatch OS will also dictate the type and number of third-party apps you’ll have access to. Many of these aren’t useful, though, making this factor a fairly minor one in the grand scheme of things.

Price

The best smartwatches generally cost between $300 and $400. Compared to budget smartwatches, which cost between $100 and $250, these pricier devices have advanced operating systems, communications, music and fitness features. They also often include perks like onboard GPS tracking, music storage and NFC, which budget devices generally don’t.

Some companies make specialized fitness watches: Those can easily run north of $500, and we’d only recommend them to serious athletes. Luxury smartwatches from brands like TAG Heuer and Hublot can also reach sky-high prices, but we wouldn’t endorse any of them. These devices can cost more than $1,000, and you’re usually paying for little more than a brand name and some needlessly exotic selection of build materials.

Battery life

Battery life remains one of our biggest complaints about smartwatches, but there’s hope as of late. You can expect two full days from Apple Watches and most Wear OS devices. Watches using the Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor support extended battery modes that promise up to five days of battery life on a charge — if you’re willing to shut off most features aside from, you know, displaying the time. Snapdragon’s next-gen Wear 4100 and 4100+ processors were announced in 2020, but only a handful of devices – some of which aren’t even available yet – are using them so far. Other models can last five to seven days, but they usually have fewer features and lower-quality displays. Meanwhile, some fitness watches can last weeks on a single charge.

Communication

Any smartwatch worth considering delivers call, text and app notifications to your wrist. Call and text alerts are self explanatory, but if those mean a lot to you, consider a watch with LTE. They’re more expensive than their WiFi-only counterparts, but cellular connectivity allows the smartwatch to take and receive phone calls, and do the same with text messages, without your device nearby. As far as app alerts go, getting them delivered to your wrist will let you glance down to the watch face and see if you absolutely need to check your phone right now. 

Fitness tracking

Activity tracking is a big reason why people turn to smartwatches. An all-purpose timepiece should function as a fitness tracker, logging your steps, calories and workouts, and most of today’s wearables have a heart rate monitor as well.

Many smartwatches' fitness features include a built-in GPS, which is useful for tracking distance for runs and bike rides. Swimmers will want something water resistant, and thankfully most all-purpose devices now can withstand at least a dunk in the pool. Some smartwatches from companies like Garmin are more fitness focused than others and tend to offer more advanced features like heart-rate-variance tracking, recovery time estimation, onboard maps and more.

Health tracking on smartwatches has also seen advances over the years. Both Apple and Fitbit devices can estimate blood oxygen levels and measure ECGs. But the more affordable the smartwatch, the less likely it is that it has these kinds of advanced health tracking features; if collecting those kinds of wellness metrics is important to you, you’ll have to pay for the privilege.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active
Engadget

Music

Your watch can not only track your morning runs but also play music while you’re exercising. Many smartwatches let you save your music locally, so you can connect wireless earbuds via Bluetooth and listen to tunes without bringing your phone. Those that don’t have onboard storage for music usually have on-watch music controls, so you can control playback without whipping out your phone. And if your watch has LTE, local saving isn’t required — you’ll be able to stream music directly from the watch to your paired earbuds.

Displays

Most wearables have touchscreens and we recommend getting one that has a full-color touchscreen. Some flagships like the Apple Watch have LTPO displays, which stands for low-temperature polycrystalline oxide. These panels have faster response times and are more power efficient, resulting in a smoother experience when one interacts with the touchscreen and, in some cases, longer battery lives.

You won’t see significant gains with the latter, though, because the extra battery essentially gets used up when these devices have always-on displays, as most flagship wearables do today. Some smartwatches have this feature on by default while others let you enable it via tweaked settings. This smart feature allows you to glance down at your watch to check the time, health stats or any other information you’ve set it to show on its watchface without lifting your wrist. This will no doubt affect your device’s battery life, but thankfully most always-on modes dim the display’s brightness so it’s not running at its peak unnecessarily. Cheaper devices won’t have this feature; instead, their touchscreens will automatically turn off to conserve battery life and you’ll have to intentionally check your watch to turn on the display again.

NFC

Many smartwatches have NFC, letting you pay for things without your wallet using contactless payments. After saving your credit or debit card information, you can hold your smartwatch up to an NFC reader to pay for a cup of coffee on your way home from a run. Keep in mind that different watches use different payment systems: Apple Watches use Apple Pay, Wear OS devices use Google Pay, Samsung devices use Samsung Pay and so forth.

Apple Pay is one of the most popular NFC payment systems, with support for multiple banks and credit cards in 72 different countries, while Samsung and Google Pay work in fewer regions. It’s also important to note that both NFC payment support varies by device as well for both Samsung and Google’s systems.

Best overall: Apple Watch

When Apple unveiled the Apple Watch Series 9 in September, the company appears to be focusing on ways for you to interact with the device without having to touch the screen. It introduced a new Double Tap gesture that’s based on its Assistive Touch accessibility tool, allowing users to use a pinching action to navigate the system. If you’re unable to use your other hand to swipe, for example, you can Double Tap to bring up your Smart Stack or dismiss an alarm.

The feature is not something you can utilize throughout the entire watchOS interface, but when it does work, it could make little tasks a lot easier. Dismissing timers while cooking or starting a workout tracker when you’re already in the middle of your run are just some ways Double Tap could be very helpful.

Apple also brought on-device Siri processing to the Series 9, thanks to its new S9 system-in-package (SiP) processor. This way, the assistant responds slightly more quickly, but, more importantly, it can answer you even when you’re offline. It might not be able to pull web results when you’re disconnected, but it can at least control your music and timers. Later this year, Siri Health Requests will arrive, allowing you to ask it for your sleep, move and workout data, too.

Throw in a new Find My iPhone interface thanks to a second-generation ultra wideband (UWB) chip, brighter screen (that also gets dimmer at night), as well as a refreshed interface via watchOS 10, and the Series 9 feels like a meaty upgrade from its predecessor. The increased focus on Siri and touch-free interaction methods is also another advantage that the Apple Watch has over its competitors, and the company remains the king of the smartwatch category. Though it still lags its rivals on sleep-tracking, the Series 9 definitively beats out last year's Series 8 to be the best smartwatch available now and the best Apple Watch for most people.

Read our full review of the Apple Watch Series 9

Best budget smartwatch: Fitbit Versa 2

Dropping $400 on a smartwatch isn’t feasible for everyone, which is why we recommend the Fitbit Versa 2 as the best sub-$200 option. Even though Fitbit has come out with the Versa 3 and 4, the Versa 2 remains our favorite budget watch because it offers a bunch of features at a great price. You get all of these essentials: Fitbit’s solid exercise-tracking abilities (including auto-workout detection), sleep tracking, water resistance, connected GPS, blood oxygen (SpO2) tracking and a six-day battery life. It also supports Fitbit Pay using NFC and it has built-in Amazon Alexa as a voice assistant.. While the Versa 2 typically costs $150, we’ve seen it for as low as $100.

Best smartwatch for Android: Samsung Galaxy Watch 6

The best smartwatch for Android users has long been one of Samsung’s Galaxy watches. Though Google may have given the company some competition with the debut of the Pixel Watch last year, it still trails behind on battery life and built-in features. And with the Galaxy Watch 6 series this year, Samsung continues to reign as smartwatch king for non-Apple users.

One of the company’s biggest advantages is its hallmark spinning bezel, which went away last year, only to be brought back in 2023’s Galaxy Watch 6 Classic. This model not only resurrects the fidget-spinner-esque ring, but also manages to be smaller and lighter than before. The bezel is slightly thinner, while still offering a smooth, tactile way to navigate Wear OS 4 without tapping at the screen. It’s not a huge change from the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic, so if you’re wondering about upgrading based on size alone, don’t expect much of a difference. You’ll appreciate that the displays are brighter, though, and therefore easier to read in direct sunlight.

What makes the Galaxy Watch 6 more compelling than previous models are its updated health and fitness tracking tools. The onboard skin temperature sensor now works overnight to help keep track of ovulation and menstrual cycles, while new sleep-coaching tools offer greater insight on how to get better rest. The company also added an irregular heart rhythm monitoring feature and will alert you if it detects anomalies in your cardio patterns. Runners will also appreciate the new personalized heart rate zones, which will help keep you precisely in the cardio ranges that are right for you, rather than those generated based on population data.

As usual, the Galaxy Watch 6 series also brings processor upgrades and some battery life improvements, alongside more apps optimized for your wrist. All told, the set of software updates coming to this year’s model, including support for Samsung Wallet (instead of just Pay), make the Galaxy Watch 6 more useful than before. Just know that if you have a slightly older model, most of these will likely trickle down to your device soon. If you’re considering trading in for a newer model, it’s worth paying attention to the actual hardware differences. For Android users thinking of getting their first smartwatch, though, the Galaxy Watch 6 or Watch 6 Classic are the best all-rounded option available.

Read our full review of the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6

Stylish smartwatches: Fossil and more

Michael Kors Access Gen 5e MKGO at CES 2021
Fossil

Yes, there are still companies out there trying to make “fashionable” smartwatches. Back when wearables were novel and generally ugly, brands like Fossil, Michael Kors and Skagen found their niche in stylish smartwatches that took cues from analog timepieces. You also have the option to pick up a “hybrid” smartwatch from companies like Withings and Garmin – these devices look like classic wrist watches but incorporate some limited functionality like activity tracking and heart rate monitoring. They remain good options if you prefer that look, but thankfully, wearables made by Apple, Samsung, Fitbit and others have gotten much more attractive over the past few years.

Ultimately, the only thing you can’t change after you buy a smartwatch is its case design. If you’re not into the Apple Watch’s squared-off corners, all of Samsung’s smartwatches have round cases that look a little more like a traditional watch. Most wearables are offered in a choice of colors and you can pay extra for premium materials like stainless steel. Once you decide on a case, your band options are endless – there are dozens of first- and third-party watch straps available for most major smartwatches, and for both larger and smaller wrists, allowing you to change up your look whenever you please.

Other smartwatches our experts tested

Apple Watch Ultra 2

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is probably overkill for most people, but it has a ton of extra features like extra waterproofing to track diving, an even more accurate GPS and the biggest battery of any Apple Watch to date. Apple designed it for the most rugged among us, but for your average person, it likely has more features than they'd ever need.

Apple Watch SE

The Apple Watch SE is less feature-rich than the flagship model, but it will probably suffice for most people. We actually regard the Watch SE as the best smartwatch option for first-time buyers, or people on stricter budgets. You’ll get all the core Apple Watch features as well as things like fall and crash detection, noise monitoring and Emergency SOS, but you’ll have to do without more advanced hardware perks like an always-on display, a blood oxygen sensor, an ECG monitor and a skin temperature sensor.

Google Pixel Watch 2

Google made many noteworthy improvements in the Pixel Watch 2. Unlike the first iteration of the smartwatch, the Pixel Watch 2 is actually a solid contender when positioned next to the likes of the Apple Watch and Samsung's Galaxy Watch. In our review, we praised its excellent heart rate measurements and health insights, plus it has stress management tools that excel over similar features provided by its competitors. However, software quirks and confusing data representations prevent it from earning a spot on our top picks list.

Garmin Forerunner 745

The Garmin Forerunner 745 is an excellent GPS running watch for serious athletes or those who prize battery life above all else. When we tested it, we found it to provide accurate distance tracking, a killer 16-hour battery life with GPS turned on (up to seven days without it) and support for onboard music storage and Garmin Pay.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-smartwatches-153013118.html?src=rss

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