The best smartwatch you can buy right now
The smartwatch market is relatively new, but it’s already moving in exactly the same direction as mobile phones.
Then we have the smartwatch equivalents of Windows Phone, Tizen and BlackBerry. Microsoft makes this, and it’s not really a smartwatch so much as a fitness tracker and running watch with some notifications bolted on. But Samsung makes Tizen-powered watches, and the Kickstarter-funded Pebble, with its growing range of versatile smartwatches, is the BlackBerry in this analogy. More or less.
Here at techradar, smartwatches go through the same intense reviewing processes as our phones and tablets, as we weigh up everything from design and features, to interface and price. That means we can bring you what we believe is THE comprehensive list of the best smartwatches around, telling you which watch offers the best balance of function, performance, style and value for money.
Recent improvements to Android Wear, the release of the far more feature-packed Apple watchOS 2, and the arrival of a watch from Samsung that isn’t terrible, make smartwatches more appealing than they were this time last year.
All of them deliver important information, from text messages and email alerts to sports scores and airport gate notifications, via apps, without the need to get your phone out. Then there’s fitness tracking and, increasingly, the ability to pay for things, with the likes of Apple Pay, Google Wallet and Samsung Pay.
Not purely a tech product, smartwatches also attempt, to varying degrees and with varying levels of success, to be stylish and personalised, just like a traditional watch.
So the only questions that remain are, which watch is our favourite and which is the one is best for you?
10. Pebble Steel
The Pebble Steel outclasses its plastic-clad predecessor with a stainless steel frame that surrounds its 1.26-inch e-paper LCD and the silver or matt black casing comes with a leather band in the box. A matching steel band to complete the look costs extra, but given that the Pebble Steel can now be had for around £130 or as low as $120 (about AU$220), that’s not so bad.
So you get all of the usual texts, emails and notifications at a glance for less than most Android Wear watches, but you do miss out on the brilliant colour display that make Android watches shine.
The flip side of the underpowered screen is that the Pebble Steel has much better battery life. It can last at least four days between charges.
Like the Alcatel OneTouch, this compatible with both iOS and Android phones. It’s got a decent supply of swappable bands for every stylistic situation and has a 5ATM water resistant rating. Pebble’s limit of eight installed apps is annoying, though.
If the Steel is a bit rich for your liking there’s always the plastic clad, original Pebble to fall back on – it doesn’t look anywhere near as nice, but it still has pretty much the same features and is now cheap in the UK at £80-£90, and dirt cheap in the US at $75 (around AU$105).
9. Asus Zenwatch
The ZenWatch 2 is now available, but this earlier version is still on sale, and frankly, improvements in hardware are less important with smartwatches than with smartphones, because they do so much less. Android Wear updates mean that this and other previous generation smartwatches will remain near the cutting edge for longer, although eventually the processor will presumably struggle to keep up with the demands of new features.
So if you’re after a cheap, fairly stylish smartwatch that does your basic range of Android Wear things, the ZenWatch is still worth a look, now you can get it for around £100/$100/AU$200. It’s well put together and looks good.
It doesn’t stand up to the Sony SmartWatch 3 in terms of battery life or general ruggedness, and if you prefer a round face, well, clearly this isn’t for you. However, this timepiece is in the top tier of rectangular Android Wear watches on the design front, and it won’t let you down in terms of general functionality – notifications, Google Now, Google Maps et al – though its heart rate monitor and step counter are less than accurate.
8. Pebble Time/Pebble Time Steel
While the always on, e-paper color screen still isn’t as vibrant as we’d like, Pebble has consistently rolled out updates increasing the brightness, thus enhancing the display. Timeline is also a snappy function with fun little transitional animations that provides a uniquely Pebble experience.
The bezel is also a tad excessive, but Pebble Time undeniably has a certain retro-techy charm.
At £180/$199/AU$285, the Time isn’t too pricey for a smartwatch, especially when you consider its cross-platform appeal and wide array of apps. It can’t do as much on iOS as it can for Android, but the Pebble Time is still the best alternative to its pricier Apple counterpart.
Also available is the Pebble Time Steel. This is more attractive but also more expensive at £230/$250/AU$360. However, you also get an improved ten-day battery life, so it’s not just a matter of paying more for a bit more sex appeal.
The Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel are probably the most polarising smartwatches in the techradar offices; our editors tend to either have a massive soft spot for them, or feel they’re a misfire. One thing’s for certain: they stand out from the crowd.
7. LG Watch Urbane
LG’s reaction to the Apple Watch is the Watch Urbane, its own premium smartwatch which uses the earlier G Watch R as a base, but sports a thinner bezel and new colours for a smarter look.
It was priced at something of a premium at launch but now come in at a more realistic £180/$250/AU$380 – much cheaper than even the entry-level Apple Watch Sport.
The reason we say that’s more realistic is because, although it’s obviously meant to look upmarket and more like a watch than a smartwatch, it is actually fairly ugly, without even the retro charm of a Pebble.
Despite that, it is a decent fitness watch, once paired with Google Fit, Runtastic, Strava or the like, with a heart rate monitor and barometer built in, though no GPS.
It’s also sufficiently powerful – Snapdragon 400 quad core 1.2GHz, 512MB RAM, 4GB storage – to support the more demanding, although ironically less powerful, iOS version of Android Wear. So that’s another point in its favour.
6. Asus ZenWatch 2
Starting at a more than reasonable $129 (about £110, AU$179) for a ZenWatch 2 with rubber band, and going up to $149 (€149, £159.99, about AU$210) for the leather strapped version, this has the same strengths and weaknesses as its predecessor.
Two sizes are available (1.45-inch and 1.63-inch), for the same pricing, with the larger one offering a slightly better viewing experience, not surprisingly.
As with its predecessor, there’s quite a lot of bezel, average, day-long battery life and less than impressive fitness functionality. However, it’s generally solid, comfortable and works with iOS as well as Android (albeit with reduced functionality, because Apple).
If you want an Android Wear watch, are on a tight budget and like the look of the ZenWatch 2, it’s an excellent choice. It’s hard to get excited about, but it’s a very solid wearable deal.
Read the full review: Asus ZenWatch 2
5. Huawei Watch
Some of the more ‘adventurous’ versions of the Huawei Watch aren’t to our taste but the simpler, silver-and-leather-strap incarnation succeeds where the LG Watch Urbane fails, being a genuinely classy-looking Android Wear watch.
The screen also happens to be the best we’ve seen on an Android Wear watch to date, and while the rest of the spec is nothing special – 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 CPU, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage – it keeps the OS ticking along as smoothly as you could wish.
Android Wear, as ever, serves up notifications with aplomb, although a bit more ability to prioritise wouldn’t go amiss, Google Now is great and the voice control works well.
Given the operational similarity between Android Wear wearables, your choice is going to come down to look, feel and price. The Huawei Watch delivers on the first two points, and also has a heart rate monitor and step counting but no GPS, so it works as a basic lifestyle fitness tracker.
The cost may put some potential purchasers off however, as the plush feel of the Huawei Watch literally comes at a price, starting at £299 ($350, around AU$549). That’s higher than most of its Android Wear rivals and on a par with the entry-level Apple Watch. A ballsy move, we’d say…
Read the full review: Huawei Watch
4. Sony SmartWatch 3
The Apple Watch’s huge-and-growing arsenal of apps, plus the added functionality provided by watchOS 2, mean the Sony Smartwatch 3 is perhaps not the best smartwatch overall. However, it still offers the best price-to-features ratio of any wearable, and is the best Android Wear watch you can get, although the new Moto 360 models and Samsung Gear S2 may have something to say about that.
The Smartwatch 3 can now be snapped up for just £120/$188/AU$270, or about £190/$270/AU$385 in its more handsome, steel incarnation. When you consider that you get GPS, NFC and Wi-Fi on top of the standard Snapdragon 400 processor, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage and Bluetooth, that’s a great deal. Compared to the Apple Watch or Huawei Watch, it’s practically a give-away price.
The GPS means it can double as a running watch that doesn’t require you to carry your phone, while its dust- and water-resistant body means you can jump in the shower without having to take it off.
Sure, it’s not as nice to look at as the Apple Watch or Huawei Watch, but it’s not ugly, and for the money it’s very difficult to knock.
Ultimately, the Smartwatch 3 has proved that third time’s a charm, at least in Sony’s Smartwatch series. Its implementation of Google’s wearable OS is pretty much identical to the other watches of its generation, but the price, styling and – if you’re into tracking outdoor exercise – the addition of GPS put it near the top of the Android Wear tree.
3. Motorola Moto 360
The original Moto 360 won plaudits almost by default by being among the first smartwatches to look and feel like a watch, with a round face, comfortable fit and semi-luxurious Horween leather strap.
The 2015 update looks and feels even better, though it’s admittedly little changed beyond that. It even retains the ‘flat tyre’ screen that is almost, but not quite, circular. However, the resolution has been boosted from the original at 233 pixels per inch on the 46mm version and 263ppi on the 42mm, “for women” incarnation.
The pricing is less harsh than the Huawei Watch or Apple Watch, starting as it does at at £229/ US$299/ AU$329. Although having said that, if you take advantage of the more expensive of Motorola’s many customisation options and it soon catches up with them.
The spec is on par with the other late-2015 vintage Android Wear watches, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chip with 1.2GHz quad-core CPU and an Adreno 305 450MHz GPU, 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. It runs exactly as smoothly as the Huawei and Asus ZenWatch 2, and like both of them it has an adequate heart rate sensor, step counting, Wi-Fi support but no GPS.
What gives the Moto 360 the edge are that it’s more comfortable and – to our eyes – more attractive than the Asus, and has a lower starting price than the Huawei, and it has more and better customisation options than both.
Read the full review: Moto 360
2. Apple Watch
You couldn’t really claim that Apple knocked it straight out of the park with Apple Watch as it did with the iPad, but its late arrival to the smartwatch party has grown in stature since the launch.
That’s down to the arrival of watchOS 2, which means it is now more than just a glorified second screen for your iPhone, the proliferation of apps, and the addition of the highly convenient Apple Pay. The range of options, with two sizes (38mm and 42mm), three main finishes (plastic Sport, steel Watch and gold Edition) and a huge range of bands, is hard to argue with, too.
Unlike Android Wear watches, you aren’t going to find any deals on Apple Watch, though. It starts at £299 ($349, AU$499) for the entry-level Sport version, middles out at £520/$599 for a large, steel Watch with basic strap, and then heads towards legitimately expensive when you hit the gold version.
Fitness tracking is better with watchOS 2, although you still need to carry your iPhone if you want GPS tracking. You can now send emails as well as texts and Siri’s abilities have expanded. It can get on to Wi-Fi on its own, rather than piggy-backing on your phone’s connection.
The main thing Apple has got right here is to bring so many app developers on board, expanding the horizons of what a smartwatch can do. That fact means Watch’s desirability will continue to grow over time, as devs take advantage of the new goodies in watchOS 2. It also feels slicker than Android Wear, as indeed it should given the premium you pay for it.
1. Samsung Gear S2
It probably says something about the fairly primitive state of the smartwatch market so far that our favourite smartwatch has next to no apps available for it. Running on Tizen rather than Android Wear, the Gear S2 has a fistful of excellent Samsung-made apps, and not a lot else – though there is Here Maps, Nike+ fitness and Yelp local business finding. So that’s a start.
However, the S2 is a very attractive, comfortable, easy-to-use device that delivers all the core notifications and fitness tracking most users require from a watch, and stands out from the boring mass of Android Wearables and Apple Watches. It works with any Android phone, unlike previous Samsung wearables, although not iOS
The killer feature here is the rotating bezel, which is a better control mechanism than Apple’s Digital Crown or Android Wear’s plethora of swipes. With a touchscreen and two buttons as well, the operating system feels slicker than Android Wear and less fiddly than watchOS 2, though admittedly that may be at least in part because the range of functionality is reduced. Voice control is comparatively weak, however.
The AMOLED screen is market leading, being incredibly sharp, vibrant, and – unlike the Moto 360 – fully circular. The 2-3 day battery life is better than average.
As well as the notifications there’s the usual navigation, note-taking, step counting and heart rate monitoring that we’ve come to expect on a smartwatch. If you have a Samsung smartphone, it also supports Samsung Pay for contactless purchases in shops.
Yes, there’s not a lot beyond that, but if you want smartwatch essentials delivered beautifully, you should consider the Gear S2, if the £249 ($249, about AU$520) price is acceptable.
The only thing we don’t quite get about the S2 is that it’s more expensive sibling, the S2 Classic (£299, $299, about AU$630), actually looks and feels less attractive.
What works with the cheaper S2 is that it’s not trying to look like a ‘real’ watch, instead adopting a very modern, very pleasing, look. That’s not the case with the S2 Classic. Still, cheaper AND better is a good combination, right?
Read the full review: Samsung Gear S2