2018 is the year when we were supposed to have jetpacks and flying cars. Instead, we got smartwatches, the supposed new category, a beginning of a new niche that has started to form.
Instead of jetpacks and flying cars, in 2018, we get smartwatches
Some devices, however, do stand out in the crowd. The elephant in the room is, of course, the Apple Watch. The smartwatch has seen a lukewarm reception and it is only compatible with the iPhone, but with a rich app ecosystem, an appealing design and accurate fitness monitoring and pulse meter it is one of the best out there. Luckily, it’s not the only one: Samsung has a great alternative with the Gear series.
Then, there are others: traditional watches with smart features, different platforms like the Pebble and so on. We’ve looked carefully at all options and have picked the best smartwatches you can buy right now, in 2018. What’s your favorite?
#1: Apple Watch Series 3
GPS from $330, Cellular from $400
Fast, functional, independent and with the best apps
The Apple Watch is currently the most successful and most popular smartwatch out there: the newest Apple Watch Series 3 brings independent cellular connectivity so that you can place and take phone calls even when your phone is not in your pocket. The feature is only supported by major US carriers and a few others globally, and it requires a $10 monthly payment in addition to your phone plan.
The Apple Watch Series 3 also has a faster, dual-core processor and a ton of new functionality with WatchOS 4. It builds on a solid foundation from previous Apple time pieces: it has water-protection even for swimmers, a brighter display than most and a built-in GPS.
The huge change that two years brought to the Apple Watch show clearly that it’s not a device that will stay the same throughout decades as a traditional watch does. With the pace of change in technology that is probably impossible, but what it does show is that Apple is committed to improving this platform and making it better. With a renewed focus on fitness and health, and on quicker actions on the watch, the Apple Watch is still not a necessity, but it’s one of the nicer bonuses that you can treat yourself to.
#2: Samsung Gear S3 Classic and Frontier, Gear S2 and S2 Classic
S3s sell for $350, S2s for $200 to $250
Elegant and built to last
The second best option for smartwatches currently is the Samsung Gear family: the newer Gear S3 watches are more powerful, larger (at 46mm), and more masculine, while the 2015 Gear S2 and S2 Classic remain on sale with a reduced prices and are good options for those looking for a smaller (40mm) watch.
It’s important to know that unlike its smartphones, the Samsung watches don’t run on Android: they run the company’s own Tizen platform. It runs smoothly, but does not feature as many or as high quality apps (which might not be as important for a watch as it is for a phone). The Samsung Gear watches win big points for their style and appearance, solid build quality, and two-day and longer battery life.
#3: LG Watch Style and Watch Sport
Prices from $250
The first Android Wear 2.0 watches
While the LG Watch Style is thin and elegant, the LG Watch Sport is completely different: big and brutal, it seems like a natural fit for the athletes and the bigger guys out there. It’s Android Wear’s most powerful watch yet. The bigger form factor allows LG to put a lot of additional features and functionality in the Watch Sport. While the Watch Style lacks a GPS and a heart-rate monitor, the Sport has both of these for more accurate tracking of your workouts and runs. It also adds NFC that is not present on the Watch Style, and this enables wireless payments.
#4: Samsung Gear Sport
Thinner, lighter and water-proof so that you can take it for a swim
The Gear Sport, however, is clearly the better suited one for sports: it features an outstanding 5ATM water proofing that allows you to take it out for a swim at sea or in the ocean, while the S3 series do not support such a feature.
#4: Asus Zenwatch 3
A beautiful smartwatch
The ZenWatch 3 is a stylish round watch that is unfortunately not available in the United States. Made from 316L stainless steel and available in three colors: Gunmetal, Silver, and Rose Gold, it is both a thing of beauty and built to a tough standard. It is also among the slimmer smartwatches, measuring below 10mm in terms of thickness. It features the Snapdragon 2100 system chip under the hood, a piece of silicon designed with watches in mind and fluidly.
#5: Huawei Watch 2
Price from $300
A very good successor
Huawei’s first Watch was a stylish, great-looking smartwatch that amassed a solid fan base (for a smartwatch that is), but the newer Watch 2 goes in a different direction with a more rugged look and added functionality. It still runs Android Wear, though, and it now comes in two flavors, a pricier, $370 Classic version and a rougher, $300 Sport model.
Both feature a 45mm watch face, both support GPS, come with a heart-rate monitor and a 2-day battery life. The two watches also rock IP68 protection, so you don’t need to worry about breaking a sweat while wearing one (but they are not ones for swimmers).
#6: Garmin Vivoactive 3
Garmin brings its sports know-how to an affordable price point
The Garmin Vivoactive 3 comes as the spiritual successor to the Vivoactive HR, but it has taken the rather unsightly boxy look of the HR and turned it into a Fenix-like device that has true smartwatch appeal, with a round display, much better water-proofing, support for swimming and it supports the new Garmin Pay NFC wireless payment system. Garmin Pay supports Visa, MasterCard, and other credit cards with select banks. The new Vivoactive 3 sports Garmin’s Chrome screen, a full-color and sunlight readable display and it is an actual touchscreen like the one on the Vivoactive HR.
Garmin is also bringing sport profiles and a very welcome strength-training profile that tracks reps and sets for gym rats. There are now 15 indoor and outdoor sport profiles that you can track with the new watch, including cardio and yoga. The watch also ships with built-in GPS and with a compatible phone, you can use the Garmin Live Track feature to share your location live
#7: Fitbit Ionic
A work-out machine for fitness nerds
The Fitbit Ionic is the company’s first smartwatch, and while it’s not the prettiest one out there, it rocks an industry-leading 4-day battery life, it features full support for both Android and iOS (and it syncs with Windows), and it is water-proof and supports automatic workout detection. The watch itself is made of aluminum and features a 42.6mm face, but the bezel is large and it appears much larger than that size would suggest. It also supports apps via its own platform, and Fitbit folks say they have recruited former Pebble talent to work on Fitbit applications. The Fitbit Ionic costs $300 and comes with interchangeable straps in a sporty, leather and classic style.
#8: Motorola Moto 360 2nd gen
Price: from $300
Stylish, but remember that it was released long ago
The second edition of the Moto 360 is now more than a year old, but it has proven to be a relatively well-performing watch and where it scores extra points is for its stylish appearance. It also comes in two sizes: a 46mm one for men and a smaller, 42mm version that comes in a variation designed for men and another one (with a smaller strap) for women. It’s one of the most stylish and good looking smartwatches – one of a few round ones – and you can customize its looks to a great extent via Moto Maker (you can select details like knurled bezels). You can get it with either a leather or a metal band, plus the body itself is made of sturdy metal. The Moto 360 is an Android Wear smartwatch, so you also get full access to one of the richest ecosystems of apps for wearables.
#9: Fitbit Blaze
A work-out smartwatch
Fitbit has made a huge step out of its comfort zone of fitness trackers and into the smartwatch market with the Fitbit Blaze.
Equipped with a color touchscreen, continuous heart rate tracker and on-screen workouts, as well as an on-board GPS, the Fitbit Blaze is not only a fitness tracker per se: it connects to your smartphone to relay you info about incoming calls, text messages and calendar events. Does this make it a smartwatch? Not when it comes to battery life: the Blaze lasts up to 5 days on a single charge, so you can easily wear it at night to see the quality of your sleep.
Classic watches with smart functions
A smart watch that won’t look outdated in a few years
Skagen of Denmark, a company that is known for its elegant and well-designed yet fairly affordable watches, has come up with the Skagen Hagen. A $200 classic watch that can also count your steps and last for a few weeks on a single charge, it’s a great value for the money.
At slightly more than 10mm, the Skagen Hagen is a bit thicker than similar classic watches, but the heft is not overbearing and it still looks great on the hand. It’s a 42mm watch, and comes in a few versions with a white or a dark face, plus you can easily exchange its bands.
Nokia Steel | Steel HR
Price: $130 | $180