Enlarge / Garmin's Vivomove Luxe has premium materials like 24K gold and a hidden touch screen, achieving a high-tech, high fashion aesthetic. It's indistinguishable from a traditional watch with the screen off. (credit: Corey Gaskin / Ars Technica)
Believe it or not, there are smartwatches worth owning other than the Apple Watch. If getting important (or not so important) notifications on your wrist in 2021 sounds appealing to you, there’s great news: Most smartwatches can do that for you now. And you have options when it comes to style, form factor, and more dedicated wearable purposes.
There are smartwatches that emphasize style and the classic timepiece aesthetic, others that help you train for competition in specific sports, and truly everything in between. From casual exercisers to those who want every bit of data and guidance they can get, the smartwatch landscape has matured. There’s a great fit out there for us all. And recently, we revisited some of our favorite smartwatches and tested the latest releases in an effort to compile the best this landscape has to offer and help you nail down the best one for your needs.
The short(er) version
- The Apple Watch Series 6 is still the best all-around smartwatch available. No other wearable offers close to the app variety, ecosystem cohesiveness, and third-party support that the Apple Watch does. Battery life is just okay, and tracking could be more extensive, but the Series 6's all-around package is tough to beat. Meanwhile, the Apple Watch SE and Series 3 can save you a few bucks depending on your needs.
- Our runner-up is the Fitbit Sense . It doesn't have the Apple Watch's extensive app support, but it offers nearly the same level of fitness hardware (ECG, blood oxygen sensors, heart rate, GPS), week-long battery life, a more in-depth companion app, and actual Android support, all in a stylish design.
- If you can find it for less than $200, the Fitbit Versa 3 is another option we like. It has a nice combination of sleek smartwatch looks (in both software and hardware) and the requisite fitness tracking and notification capabilities we expect at that price point. There's no ECG sensor, but it should have you covered with basic to moderate health insights otherwise.
- Garmin’s Forerunner 745 is our top runner’s watch for its deep training stats, useful yet easy-to-read analysis for all athletes, and its suite of dedicated runner’s tools. It lacks a touchscreen, but with GPS, 24/7 heart rate, all-day blood oxygen monitoring, and music storage for up to 500 songs, it's a capable companion for running, swimming, biking, and most other sports.
- The Garmin Forerunner 45 and 245 Music are two less-expensive options worth a look for moderate runners . Those who love the 745’s approach but don’t need things like music storage, blood oxygen monitoring, or running cadence analysis can save a significant amount with a Forerunner 45. The Forerunner 245 Music, meanwhile, may be better for those who don’t need an altimeter or tracking for hikes and other outdoorsy activities but want to retain the bulk of 745's activity-tracking features.
- Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 3 is the best all-around wearable for Android users , especially Samsung phone owners. (Though it supports iPhones, too.) Its classic watch styling looks good, and its rotating bezel controls are intuitive. Some of its more advanced health-tracking features require a Galaxy phone, but its software is polished, and it's still a capable fitness tracker on the whole.
- We also have a few stylish smartwatches we like from Garmin, particularly in its Vivomove series. The Vivomove Luxe , Style , and 3/3S share elegant looks and premium materials at varying price points, making them nice pieces of jewelry that don't compromise too much on moderate fitness tracking.
- The Garmin Lily is another smartwatch we like. It's an especially great choice for women or those with smaller wrists , taking many of its style cues from the Vivomove lineup. It requires a phone for GPS, but it delivers useful stats for all sorts of activities and notifications with a fashionable aesthetic.
The best smartwatch overall
Apple Watch Series 6
(credit: Corey Gaskin / Ars Technica)
The Apple Watch should be your first consideration when looking for a smartwatch, especially if you’re an iPhone user. If it worked standalone or with Android phones, it’d be hard not to recommend this for just about anyone looking for a smartwatch or fitness tracker. ( Maybe those needing highly specialized sport-tracking devices have better options.)