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The best smartwatches for 2021: Which should you buy?

The Apple Watch Series 7 is the best smartwatch you can buy right now. The Series 7 is feature-rich, user-friendly, gorgeous, and extremely reliable. Simply put, the Apple Watch is the best smartwatch out there, whichever model you decide to buy.

However, that recommendation comes with caveats — and the biggest one is that you need to own an iPhone to use the Apple Watch. That means that if you’re using an Android smartphone, the Apple Watch simply isn’t an option. But don’t worry, there are plenty of great alternatives. Digital Trends has reviewed more than 100 different smartwatchesfitness trackers, and wearables, so we have all the insight you need to find your ideal smartwatch.

Best smartwatch: Apple Watch Series 7

Apple Watch Series 7 on wrist.

Why you should buy this: Although it’s only marginally better than the Series 6, it’s still the best smartwatch currently available.

Who it’s for: Anyone with an iPhone who wants a smartwatch.

Why we chose the Apple Watch Series 7:

The Apple Watch was one of the few smartwatches we’ve given a five-star review to, and the Apple Watch Series 7 is one of those perfect products. Simply put, this is the perfect smartwatch, making it the best option if you’re shopping for an iPhone companion.

What makes it so amazing? Well, it’s not the design. The Series 7 has a slightly larger case, but it’s not an enormous change, and casual glances are unlikely to spot the difference. However, the thinner bezels are absolutely obvious, and it helps to emphasise the larger screen. Durability has been enhanced too, thanks to a new IP6X rating for dust resistance and improvements to the Ion-X glass on the top. These small changes do enough to tweak what was already an excellent design, and it goes a long way to increase the style and comfort of the Apple Watch.

WatchOS 8 adds a lot to the Apple Watch Series 7, too. New watch faces take advantage of the larger screen with larger fonts and icons, and notifcations can include more information. Getting around the watch is slightly faster as well, and if you’ve used an Apple Watch before, it’s likely you’ll notice an increase in ease and speed of use.

Fitness and health options are, as ever, a strong focus for Apple. The Apple Watch Series 7 can read your heart rate (and any irregularities), take electrocardiogram (ECG) readings, and send emergency alerts if you’ve fallen over and can’t get up. Heck, it even starts a timer when you wash your hands. On the fitness side, it reminds you to start a workout if it notices you’re not moving or cycling, tracks your swimming activity, and has dozens of workput plans. Really, that’s only the start. If you’re into fitness or just keeping an eye on your health, then the Apple Watch is a strong option.

There have been spec upgrades, but you’re unlikely to really notice them. The new S7 processor is basically just a name change from the S6 in the Apple Watch Series 6, so don’t expect any massive jumps up in processing power. But really, what sort of power do you need in a smartwatch? It’s quick and responsive, and that’s good enough for us. Battery life is likely to be far more important, and the Apple Watch Seres 7 does fine here, lasting a solid day with change to spare during our review period. Tracking workouts will deplete that battery faster, but if you skip sleep tracking at night and turn the Watch off, it would be possible to go two days before a recharge.

The Apple Watch Series 7 is an excellent smartwatch and a worthy successor to the Apple Watch Series 6. Prices for the Series 7 start at $399 for the 41mm model and $429 for the 45mm model. Add $100 to each for the models with GPS + Cellular, and prices also increase if you want a fancier strap.

Read our full Apple Watch Series 7 review

Best smartwatch for Android: Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic and Watch 4

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 feature image..
Why you should buy this: It’s the best smartwatch if you own an Android phone.

Who it’s for: Anyone who values a great user interface on a slick smartwatch.

Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic and Watch 4:

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic and Watch 4 are the successors of the Watch 3 and Watch 2 Active respectively, and both live up to the lofty expectations of their predecessors. Simply put, they’re the best smartwatch available for your Android phone. They ditch Samsung’s Tizen in favor of Watch OS 3, but they retain a lot of what we loved about the operating system including scrolling menus and customizable Tiles.  You also benefit from a mix of Samsung and Google apps, like Samsung Pay and Google Maps. The key feature for the Watch 4 Classic is the incredibly useful rotating bezel that lets you scroll through apps and screens in a natural, ergonomic way. The Watch 4 doesn’t incorporate the physical bezel, but it does have a digital one with haptic feedback, though we didn’t find it nearly as easy to use in our review.

The Watch 4 Classic comes in 42mm and 46mm case sizes for smaller and bigger wrists, or 40mm and 44mm for the Watch 4, with a sharp and colorful round AMOLED screen on the front. The fit is comfortable, and the Watch 4 is especially good for smaller wrists and may be a good option for women. Both have an IP68 water resistance rating, plus a MIL-STD-810 G-rated case for toughness, so you won’t have any trouble working out, swimming, or showering with it on.

Both smartwatches are packed with an impressive array of health and fitness tracking features in addition to standard notifications, media control, and sleep tracking. You’re able to measure your heart rate, electrocardiogram (ECG), Body Mass Index (BMI), Basel Metabolic Rate (BMR), stress levels, and more. The Exynos W920 processor comes with 1.5GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, allowing apps to open with no noticeable lag, and supports offline playback of certain apps like Spotify and YouTube Music. Battery life lasted for one day in our testing the Watch 4 Classic, but hit a solid two days with the smaller Watch 4.

The rich array of features, smooth and responsive OS, and comfortable design and ergonomic controls make the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic the best smartwatch on the market for Android users. iPhone users can also use it with the Samsung Wear app, but you’ll be missing a lot of features so we don’t recommend it. The Watch 4 sheds some of the physical bulk and the rotating bezel, but gains in battery life and offers a more comfortable fit for smaller wrists.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic and Watch 4 review

Best Wear OS smartwatch: Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3

Why you should buy this: It packs the latest technology, and therefore will last you longer.

Who it’s for: When you want the longest battery life and the latest processor inside a reasonably priced smartwatch.

Why we picked the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3:

The best smartwatch you can buy with Google’s Wear OS software at the moment is the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3. It uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 4100 processor, which is more powerful and more power-efficient than the Snapdragon Wear 3100 found in other Wear OS smartwatches. By getting the latest tech, your smartwatch will last you longer.

The TicWatch Pro 3 has a very clever dual-screen system, where a second LCD screen is set over the standard 1.4-inch AMOLED touchscreen, and shows the time, date, and other basic data when the watch is in ambient mode. It saves a lot of battery power, and the TicWatch Pro 3 can last up to three days before it needs a recharge. That’s excellent for a Wear OS watch.

Mobvoi has stayed with basically the same tried-and-tested simple design used for previous TicWatch Pro models, so it’s not exactly a stunner, but it’s the technology that matters here. In addition to the new processor, the watch has a heart rate sensor, will measure blood oxygen levels, has exercise and health plans built in, and is IP68 water-resistant too.

The TicWatch Pro 3, and its cheaper sibling the TicWatch E3, will both get an update to the Google and Samsung-developed Wear OS 3 software in late 2022. At $299 the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3 is good value, considering that technically it’s far beyond the competition. Mobvoi has also released a 4G LTE version of the Ticwatch Pro 3, which is so far available in the U.K. and parts of Europe, and we took a closer look at the model here.

Read our full Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3 review.

Best Wear OS smartwatch for women: Fossil Gen 5e

Why you should buy this: The Fossil Gen 5e’s varied range of designs provides plenty of choice for women.

Who it’s for: Anyone who doesn’t want a large smartwatch.

Why we picked the Fossil Gen 5e:

Fossil’s Gen 5e smartwatch comes in two different sizes, 42mm and 44mm, with the smaller of the two attached to an 18mm strap and in designs aimed at women. There’s a choice of a gold or stainless steel finish, with either a silicone strap or metal bracelet, and one with a jewel-encrusted bezel too.

The watch has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 3100 processor, a heart rate monitor, a 1.2-inch touchscreen, sleep tracking, and support for contactless payments. It tracks activity using Google Fit or Fossil’s power-conserving Wellness app, but it doesn’t have GPS on board, so you’ll need your phone if you want to map your runs. The battery will last a day with average use.

At around $180 the Fossil Gen 5e is very competitively priced. There aren’t that many options for women who don’t want to wear a large smartwatch, so the choice offered by Fossil here is welcome. If the Gen 5e isn’t for you, take a look at the Wear OS smartwatches from fashion designer Kate Spade. The watches are older than the Gen 5e but still provide plenty of functionality, and contain many familiar Kate Spade design touches. The Kate Spade Scallop 2 is the most recent, and there’s also the lightweight, sportier KSNY Sport model. These are good alternatives to the Fossil Gen 5e, depending on your lifestyle.

Read our full Fossil Gen 5e review

Best budget smartwatch: Amazfit GTR 2

Why you should buy this: It does everything you want a smartwatch to do, and looks great too.

Who it’s for: Anyone on a budget who still wants all the benefits of a fitness tracker and a smartwatch

Why we picked the Amazfit GTR 2:

The hardware and software produced by Amazfit have matured a lot over the past year or so, to the point where we can happily recommend the Amazfit GTR 2 smartwatch, which has significant benefits over buying a cheap smartwatch with Google’s Wear OS software onboard. The biggest is battery life, as the GTR 2 will last at least a week even with heavy use, or even longer if you’re careful with the power-hungry features.

Best of all, it looks great on your wrist. It’s slim and not too large, so it should suit most people, and the curved glass and metal body give it some style and class. It is comfortable enough to wear for 24 hours, so it’s ready for fitness tracking and notifications during the day, and sleep tracking overnight.

The smartwatch connects to the Zepp app which is available for Android and iOS, and has proven reliable and easy to use, plus provides plenty of insight into your activity and fitness data. Notifications can be finicky and cannot be interacted with, but it’s no worse than you get on a Wear OS smartwatch. You can receive calls, it’s water-resistant for swimming, there’s a heart rate sensor and SpO2 measurement, and has GPS inside too. It has everything you need if you’re looking for a smartwatch that prioritizes activity tracking.

For $180 the Amazfit GTR 2 is good value, and if that’s too much, the slightly less feature-rich but cheaper $140 Amazfit GTR 2e is worth a look too.

Read our full Amazfit GTR 2 review

Best smartwatch for running: Suunto 7

Suunto Marine watch face Andy Boxall/

Why you should buy this: It’s packed with all the right fitness features for serious runners.

Who it’s for: Anyone who wants a smartwatch looks with tons of fitness-specific features.

Why we picked the Suunto 7:

The Suunto 7 smartwatch brings all of Suunto’s popular running, walking, and hiking tech to Google’s Wear OS platform for the first time. The Suunto app shows local routes based on difficulty, time, and popularity, meaning wherever you are you always known which routes are best, all based on other Suunto user’s experiences. The map even shows when popular routes are likely to be busy, so you can choose accordingly.

The data shown is comprehensive, ranging from calories burned and time elapsed, to peak training effect and recovery time. Runners will appreciate the onboard GPS, the data on pace, cadence, and altitude too. The watch and app sync with Suunto’s dedicated platform, so you can continue to track your fitness levels over time. It’s as hardcore as you want it to be, but there’s plenty for less enthusiastic fitness fans too, including 70 different workout modes and a heart rate sensor.

Suunto worked closely with Qualcomm on the smartwatch, resulting in some clever adjustments to the processor to provide longer than expected battery life. Expect 12 hours of use with GPS active, or seven hours with Suunto’s mapping and the GPS active. Otherwise, the battery should last around two days before needing a recharge with normal use.

The lightweight body and comfortable strap make it wearable all day, but the design is sporty, so it won’t go with every outfit especially if you choose one of the brighter colors. The Suunto 7 is more accessible than non-Wear OS fitness watches, works with Android and iOS, looks great, and performs well too.

Read our full Suunto 7 review

Best smartwatch for swimmers: Garmin Quatix 6

Why you should buy this: It’s specifically designed for people who spend time in the water, whether it’s on a boat or swimming.

Who it’s for: Swimmers, or those who require a water-resistant smartwatch.

Why we picked the Garmin Quatix 6:

The Garmin Quatix 6 is described as a marine smartwatch, due to its strong features for anyone who likes to spend time in the water, whether it’s on a boat or swimming through it. Water-resistant to 100 meters, the Quatix 6 has activity profiles for pool and open water swimming, where it measures distance, pace, stroke count and rate, swim efficiency (SWOLF), and will even detect your stroke type and take heart rate measurements underwater too.

If you’re into boating, the Quatix 6 connects to a host of Garmin equipment from chart plotting GPS hardware to wind monitors, and from there it can interact with the autopilot function, displays data including engine RPM and water depth, and marks waypoints on a map. It has GPS, a heart rate sensor, and a blood oxygen (SpO2) sensor, plus all the activity tracking functions found on the Garmin Fenix 6, including kayaking, golf, cycling, and running.

Garmin has overhauled its interface with the Quatix 6, with watch faces now providing plenty of information without sacrificing attractiveness, and a handy widget feature that provides data in an easy scrolling list. This is all displayed on a 1.3-inch screen with a 260 x 260-pixel resolution. It works with both Android and iOS, and has plenty of storage space for music too.

The Garmin Quatix 6 is made from tough polymer with a stainless steel bezel and comes in either a 47mm or 51mm case size, with a choice of upgrading to a model with a sapphire crystal over the screen for added scratch protection, and to one with solar charging for extended times away from the charger. Expect to get 14 days of battery life with normal use, but this will drop when you add GPS tracking.

Read our full Garmin Quatix 6 review

Best tough smartwatch: Casio G-Shock GSW-H1000

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s easily the toughest smartwatch you can put on your wrist.

Who it’s for: Anyone who expects their smartwatch to live a hard life

Why we picked the Casio G-Shock GSW-H1000:

Casio’s G-Shock watches are already famous for being seriously tough, and no watch can wear the G-Shock name if it doesn’t meet strict criteria. The G-Shock GSW-H1000 may be a full smartwatch with a touchscreen, but it meets and exceeds the toughness standards expected from a G-Shock watch, and is therefore the toughest smartwatch you can buy today.

It’s ideal for anyone who partakes in extreme sports, or finds themselves in a situation where any wristwear may take a battering, whether it’s climbing a mountain or working on a construction site. The GSW-H1000 is shock resistant, has a 200-meter water resistance rating, and is made from strong resin with a titanium case back, and a durable urethane strap. Even the microphone is water-resistant.

There’s a range of sensors for the active sportsperson, including a barometer and a compass, plus onboard GPS. The dual-screen setup, where an LCD screen is laid on top of the AMOLED screen boosts battery life, and if used on its own will ensure the watch keeps going for up to a month. The map app stores locations, routes, and voice memos, plus it can be used offline too. It’s joined by a range of workouts to track.

The G-Shock GSW-H1000 is expensive at $699, but you’re getting a smartwatch that’s far more hardwearing than any other available, and if you’re already a G-Shock fan the styling will really appeal. It looks exactly like you’d expect a G-Shock smartwatch to look. Be aware though: This is a seriously large watch at 15mm thick and with a 104-gram weight, so it won’t suit small wrists.

Read our full Casio G-Shock GSW-H1000 review

Best smartwatch with mechanical watch looks: Withings ScanWatch

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: A superb health tracker with basic fitness and smartwatch features, inside a classy, high-quality case.

Who it’s for: Men or women who like traditional watches, but still want the best health tracking features.

Why we picked the Withings ScanWatch

Smartwatches tend to look like pieces of technology, mostly because of the touchscreen, but what if you want a smartwatch that looks more like a traditional watch? Well then, you want a hybrid smartwatch, which does away with the touchscreen but still includes smartphone connectivity for notifications and fitness tracking. The choice in this category is growing and evolving, and you can spend very little or an awful lot, depending on your preferences and the size of your wallet.

The Withings ScanWatch bridges the gap between serious health tracking features and basic smartwatch functionality very well, and it’s all wrapped up in a classy, high-quality stainless steel body. It looks good on your wrist, and doesn’t fall behind in any key area, meaning you aren’t going to miss out on essential connected features by choosing it.

It has a heart rate sensor, an ECG, and an Sp02 monitor. Like the Apple Watch, the ECG and Sp02 measurements aren’t everyday features, but on the ScanWatch they serve more of a purpose. It has a comprehensive sleep tracking capability and the Sp02 monitor can help identify sleep issues. The ECG has continuous monitoring to warn against atrial fibrillation, and it’s the first wearable to be approved to use these features overnight, making it excellent for tracking and improving your sleep.

While the sleep monitoring is the best out there, the fitness and activity tracking is quite basic in comparison. It provides workout tracking, plus a step count with distance, and calories burned, but nothing more in-depth. It’s a health wearable, rather than a fitness wearable, and the data it collects helps you live a more healthy lifestyle instead of focusing on improving your lap times.

Important activity data and notifications from your phone are shown on a small screen on the watch face. It’s bright and easy to read, and controlled using the digital crown on the side of the watch. It’s not as informative as the Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch 3, but it gives you the essentials in an easy-to-read format. The ScanWatch connects to both Android and iOS phones, and the battery should last 30 days before it needs recharging.

If you like the sound of this but would rather spend less, then the Withings Move ECG is similar. If you are willing to spend a lot more for a Swiss timepiece and import, then the Alpina AlpinerX deserves your consideration. If you want something that sports traditional watch hands, but with an E Ink display behind them, then the Fossil Hybrid HR could be for you. Casio’s G-Shock GSW-H1000 Wear OS smartwatch is expensive at $699, but it’s a smartwatch wrapped up in a proper G-Shock body, with all the toughness you expect, and is an excellent choice if you’re a G-Shock collector.

Overall, though, the Withings Scanwatch offers a nice combination of strong health-tracking features, basic but effective fitness and smartwatch features, plus it looks and feels just like a regular, traditional watch.

Read our full Withings ScanWatch review

Research and buying tips

Which smartwatch works with my smartphone?

Although it sounds like a complicated question, this is surprisingly straightforward. If you own an Android phone, then you can use any smartwatch with Google’s Wear OS software, or a Samsung smartwatch with Tizen software, and almost any other smartwatch operating system, like the one found on the Amazfit GTR 2, the Fitbit Versa 3, or Huawei’s Watch 3. The only one you can’t use is the Apple Watch.

If you own an iPhone, all smartwatches work with your phone provided you use the required app to sync the two up. However, be aware that neither Wear OS nor Tizen watches will provide the same level of functionality as they do when connected to an Android phone. This is due to certain restrictions that Apple applies to third-party devices and what they are allowed to access in the iOS software. For this reason, and many others, we don’t recommend iPhone owners buy any other smartwatch than the Apple Watch.

What’s happening with Google and Samsung?

Google and Samsung are joining forces to create a new software operating system for wearables, called simply, Wear, and also referred to as Wear OS 3. The joint project incorporates both the Wear OS and Tizen platforms, along with fitness expertise from Fitbit. The first smartwatches with the software are the Galaxy Watch 4 and Galaxy Watch 4 Classic, which we have not fully reviewed yet.

Google has confirmed the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3 and the TicWatch E3 will both get an update to the software during the second half of 2022, but outside of some as-yet-unreleased Fossil smartwatches, no other models are on the list. This won’t stop any smartwatch from working, but it does mean you should think carefully about buying a model with the new software if you plan to keep it for several years.

How durable is a smartwatch?

Because it’s on your wrist, smartwatches are exposed to danger. They’re easy to knock against things and can often get wet. Does this mean you must be extra careful with your watch? Many have an IP68 water resistance rating today, and some smartwatches meet military standards for toughness and will withstand harsher treatment than others. However, our recommendation for a tough smartwatch is the Casio G-Shock GBD-200.

While many smartwatches are water-resistant today, not all have sapphire crystal over the screen. This adds an extra level of scratch resistance to the screen and also provides a beautiful reflective sheen, but you’ll have to pay a little more for the pleasure. The Tag Heuer Connected Modular 41, the Montblanc Summit 2, Huawei’s Watch GT2 Pro, and G-Shock’s top connected watches all have sapphire crystal over the screen.

If you want to make sure you can wear your chosen device in the shower or to go swimming, then you need to think about smartwatch water resistance, and look for an IP or ATM rating. It’s sensible to treat your smartwatch carefully, even with these extra levels of protection, but no more so than you would with a traditional watch.

Do I need a smartwatch with GPS?

If you are a runner and intend to use your smartwatch to track routes, and don’t want to run with your phone, then yes, you do need GPS. Most modern smartwatches come with GPS as standard anyway, so you may find it’s ready and waiting if you need it. If your smartwatch doesn’t have GPS, then some can use your phone’s GPS when connected, but it will be slower to operate. One thing to remember is that using GPS will drain the battery in the watch faster than usual.

Can my smartwatch use my data plan?

If your smartwatch connects to your smartphone using Bluetooth, then all the data it requires comes from your phone, at no extra charge to you. This changes if you buy a smartwatch with 4G LTE, like the LTE version of the Apple Watch. When a smartwatch has its own data connection, it can be used on its own without being connected to your smartphone, ready to make calls, receive messages, and plenty more.

However, you will have to pay extra for the privilege. The amount varies depending on your carrier and current plan, but expect to pay around $10 per month to enable the 4G LTE connection on your smartwatch.

Will a new smartwatch work with my older phone?

If your Android phone or iPhone was purchased in the last three or four years, then the answer is almost certainly yes. To make sure, here are the requirements for each version. Google’s Wear OS requires an Android phone running version 4.4 or later, or an iPhone on iOS 9.3 or later. You should be alright as long as you’ve bought a phone in the last two or three years.

The Apple Watch varies a little. The Series 3 and later with a cellular connection need an iPhone 6 or later to work. If you buy an Apple Watch Series 3, 4, or 5 without a cellular connection, they will operate with an iPhone 5S or later, while the Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE require an iPhone 6S and iOS 14 to operate.

Samsung’s Tizen operating system, found on the Galaxy Watch and others, requires Android version 5.0 or later, and on an iPhone it needs iOS 9.0 or later installed on at least an iPhone 5. The 4G LTE version of the Galaxy Watch is only compatible with Samsung phones and may also only operate on certain carriers.

Which smartwatch OS is best?

Each smartwatch operating system is different, and things are changing now Google and Samsung are working together to create Wear. At the moment, WatchOS on the Apple Watch is the best wearable software platform, followed by Samsung’s Tizen. Both are simple to use and navigate, have great fitness tracking systems, mobile payment options, and will run apps available from their individual app stores. Google’s Wear OS offers the same features, but is not always as easy to use, or as reliable.

Should you buy a smartwatch?

So, you think you want a smartwatch? Are you sure?

After all, unlike a smartphone, no one really needs a smartwatch. However, because manufacturers are finally coming around to the realization that a smartwatch needs to look good if we’re to buy one, they’re a lot more tempting than they once were. One-day battery life and a touchscreen on a watch are still hard to swallow for some people, but that’s why hybrid smartwatches were invented — and battery performance and control methods are constantly getting better.

However, if you’re not ready to commit to a touchscreen smartwatch, but still want to try out some smart features, the huge choice of hybrid watches has got you covered. They often cost half of what you’ll pay for the cheapest Apple Watch, link with any smartphone, and provide traditional watch looks matched with a connected smart experience. If you’re tempted by a smartwatch, we say go for it.

How we test

We test smartwatches just like we test smartphones. We use them every day and try out every single feature. We strap them to our wrists (no matter how silly they may look) and walk around town with them, making calls and exercising to test out the workout features. We pair them with different phones and try them with different operating systems. We dunk water-resistant smartwatches in water and take outdoorsy watches on hikes. We download tons of apps and discard the lame ones to determine how strong the app ecosystem is, and we go to cafes that accept mobile payments and buy lattes with our wrists.

Basically, we get lots of weird looks, but it’s worth it.

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