Smartwatches have faded in popularity, but there’s still plenty of great choice in 2018. Here we review and rank the top 10.
The Apple Watch Series 3 is hard to beat, especially for iPhone users, but there are loads of great Wear OS rivals to choose from. Add in hybrid smartwatches and you’re bound to find something you like the style of and has the features you need.
Your buying guide to the best smartwatches in 2018
Why do you need a smartwatch?
There’s an interesting theory that smartwatches are to the smartphone what wristwatches were to the pocket watch. Picture the way the average gentlemen used to have to rummage through his pocket for his watch prior to the 20th century. Now skip forward 100+ years and the average smartphone user still has to dive into his/her pocket to check their phone.
The kicker now is that your smartphone holds far more information than a pocket watch ever did, yet all of which is still locked into your pocket.
Smartwatches aren’t for making phone calls, although some can do this, but instead they provide a quick and easy way to check what notifications are on your smartphone, so you can decide whether it’s worth delving into your pocket or searching around your bag to fetch your smartphone or not.
What type of smartwatch should you look for?
There are two type of smartwatch around at the moment: those with a colourful touchscreen like would find on your phone, and those which combine a regular analogue watch with smart features.
We call them ‘semi-smartwatches’ but they’re also known as hybrids. The latter we class as a semi-smart device and normally gives you information via a small LCD screen, LEDs or even smaller hands on the watch face.
It hasn’t quite made the chart here but the Fossil Q Grant is a great example.
While a fully-fledged smartwatch can do a lot more, the juice guzzling screen results in a short battery life. Semi-smart watches benefit from longer battery life with some even having separate cells for the watch and smart features.
If you’re an Android user then a Wear OS (formerly Android Wear) smartwatch is the obvious choice but it’s not necessarily the best for everyone. Google’s OS tweaked for wearables also plays nicely with iOS but with cut down functionality so iPhone owners will get more from the Apple Watch. Read more on how to use Android Wear with iPhone.
What makes a good smartwatch?
When testing for what is the best smartwatch, the important factors to consider are how much of your smartphone’s functionalities can it perform, and how well does it handle each task, the final attribute is obviously style – it’s still bling after all.
You’ll also want to make sure it’s compatible with your smartphone – some are only for iPhone or Android while others support most phones. Note that Wear OS now has iOS support but the experience is cut down in comparison.
Fitness fans will want to look for a device with a heart rate monitor and built-in GPS, although the heart rate monitors are often poor. Many also come with NFC which can be used for contactless payment.
We consider the important factors of a smartwatch to be level of notification detail, battery life, style, water resistance, compatibility with a range of devices/smartphones, plus additional features such as microphones and Wi-Fi support so you don’t have to connect to a phone for full functionality.
With very similar, if not identical, hardware on offer with many of the Wear OS smartwatches, a large part of the decision will come down to design and price.
Best smartwatch 2018
The Huawei Watch 2 is no-doubt a huge improvement over the first-generation Huawei Watch despite trading in the classic look for something a little sportier. The double-chrome design gives it a premium look, although it’s let down a little bit by cheap-looking removable plastic straps.
It’s the hardware that really sets the Watch 2 apart: it boasts optional 4G connectivity, GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, allowing for use without a connected smartphone. The array of built-in sensors provides in-depth fitness tracking, allowing for a more holistic view of your exercise regime, although there are small issues that need ironing out.
Read our Huawei Watch 2 review.
The Series 3 with LTE does what it set out to do, but it is a bridge product. We are not yet in a sci-fi world where everyone wants a watch to make calls instead of a smartphone. Apple has nailed the integration way better than anyone else, but with network restrictions and a high price – and limited practical use cases – it isn’t going to become mainstream yet.
As a GPS running watch its Activity app works well but isn’t as fully featured as other activity trackers, such as the Fitbit Ionic. The GPS tracker works excellently though.
As a smartwatch it excels – iPhone users will adore seamless notifications, fitness tracking and outstanding build quality.
Read our Apple Watch Series 3 review.
The Samsung Gear Sport is expensive, but is Samsung’s best GPS running watch to date – even if it is as much a smartwatch not unlike the Apple Watch.
The watch’s software is very simplistic but you can view all your data on Samsung’s decent Health app on your phone. Its looks also mean it’s not too garish for formal events, but if you’re after a pure running watch you can spend less.
Read our Samsung Gear Sport review.
If you’re not fussed about a full on touchscreen smartwatch, the Withings Steel HR is stylish, well-made and offers excellent battery life. We’re glad to see the addition of the heart rate monitor and the screen for smart features, even if they are basic. A great semi-smartwatch for the price.
Read our Withings Steel HR review.
5. Fitbit Ionic
The best Fitbit for sports
The Fitbit Ionic is the most fully featured Fitbit smartwatch and activity tracker. It has it all, and its built-in GPS is great for runners or exercisers who don’t want to lug their phone around with them.
As well as all the usual fitness stats it features automatic multi-sports tracking, Fitbit Coach for on-screen workouts, Caller ID and texts notifications on wrist, can store up to 300 songs with music control and be used for contactless payments, as well as chose from a range of special apps (Weather, Starbucks, Runkeeper, Strava, and more).
The Fitbit Versa (which has the same features minus the built-in GPS) is cheaper and smaller, but the Ionic is still lightweight enough for you not to realise you’re wearing it.
Read our Fitbit Ionic review.
If the screen and battery life of a regular smartwatch doesn’t appeal then a hybrid is a great alternative. The Fossil Q Commuter is an excellent example and the best we’ve tried so far.
It’s stylish, available in various finishes, with top-notch build quality at an affordable price. It’s not the most intuitive system but once you get used to it, the Commuter handles tracking, notifications and more pretty neatly.
Read our Fossil Q Commuter review.
7. Ticwatch E
The Ticwatch E is a fairly basic Wear OS smartwatch, but including both a heart-rate monitor and GPS at such a low price makes this one of the most affordable smartwatches around that can also serve as a fitness tracker.
The battery life is a bit of a disappointment – not quite meeting the manufacturer’s claim of two days – and we struggled to get it working properly with an iPhone, but if your phone runs Android and you want a no-frills smartwatch to go running with, this isn’t a bad choice.
Read our Ticwatch E review.
8. Ticwatch Pro
The Ticwatch Pro is a middle of the road smartwatch.
On the plus side, it’s cheaper than many rivals and offers better battery life due to its dual-screen technology. Having both AMOLED and TN displays is pretty cool and you won’t find that elsewhere.
However, we’re not overly impressed with the bulky and heavy design. You do get NFC, GPS and a heart rate monitor but we’ve not found the tracking to be as accurate as some others.
Read our Ticwatch Pro review.
The Skagen Falster is a very basic Wear OS (RIP Android Wear) watch with good looks at a premium price. For £279, we’d usually expect at least a heart rate sensor, but without it, NFC or GPS, this is only a watch for casual step counting from a fitness point of view.
But if you have a desire for on-wrist notifications and a smartwatch that doesn’t look too tech-y then it’s one of a few available that has full smartwatch functionality. Fossil has some hybrid models (as does Skagen itself) but we can’t escape that for the price, the Falster doesn’t do enough or last long enough on a charge.
Read our Skagen Falster review.
The Gear S3 adds GPS into the mix, but for £100 more than the S2 was. The reduced functionality (loss of text and email apps) when not using a Samsung phone is also a turn-off, despite the Tizen software being easier and more intuitive than Android Wear.
The problem isn’t entirely the S3’s fault, it’s in the inherent limitations of smartwatches. You’ll always need a smartphone to finish the majority of tasks, and added to the fact that this is practically a repackaged Gear S2 means not much new ground has been broken. If you want a smartwatch and can afford to spend £349, this is one of the best. It just isn’t essential.
Read our Samsung Gear S3 Frontier review.