The Best Smartwatches for 2021

The Apple Watch Series 6 is the best smartwatch you can buy right now, although it’s a very close race between it and the Apple Watch SE. The Series 6 is feature-rich, user-friendly, gorgeous, and extremely reliable. The SE misses out on a couple of features, but you save money by buying it. Simply put, the Apple Watch is the best smartwatch out there, whichever 2020 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 it’s the sensible and easy choice if you do, but if you’re using an Android smartphone, well, the Apple Watch simply isn’t an option. But don’t worry, there are plenty of solid alternatives that deserve a place on your wrist, including those that run Google’s Wear OS software. Tips Clearhas reviewed more than 100 different smartwatches, fitness trackers, and wearables, so we have all the insight you need to find your ideal smartwatch.

When you’ve decided which one is for you, make sure to check our smartwatch deals to see if it can be found for a better price.

The best smartwatch: Apple Watch Series 6

Apple Watch Series 6 with blue Sport Band Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s the best smartwatch. That’s all.

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

Why we picked the Apple Watch Series 6:

Apple has made it a little more difficult than usual to decide which Apple Watch to purchase this year. Normally, it’d just be about the case material and strap, but now you can pick between the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE. There are four primary differences between them. If you buy the Series 6 you get the new S6 processor, an electrocardiogram (ECG) and blood oxygen (SpO2) sensor, plus the always-on screen.

If you buy the SE it doesn’t have these features and uses the S5 chip, but it costs $120 less. The S6 processor and the always-on display are genuine reasons to buy the Series 6, but the ECG and SpO2 sensors aren’t. These are useful in very specific cases, rather than being features you’ll use on a daily basis.

The majority of people will be satisfied with the Apple Watch SE, but if money isn’t a problem the Series 6 does more, and may end up lasting longer because of it. This list is all about the best smartwatches, and looking at the Apple Watch on both a technical level and a software and usability level, the Series 6 is the “best” version, but you can save a little money and get one that’s almost as good if you’d prefer. That’s a great position to be in, and only cements the Apple Watch’s position on our list.

Let’s talk about the Apple Watch’s benefits across both models. It comes in either a 40mm or 44mm case size, and we recommend getting the 100% recycled aluminum body, with your strap of choice. The always-on screen (Series 6 only) means you don’t have to raise your wrist to see the time, and it looks superb.

Fitness features are comprehensive and motivational. Activity Rings show progress towards daily goals, it can track your sleep, the watch reminds you to stand up, it has an automatic hand wash timer, GPS, a heart rate sensor, the option to track period cycles for women, and even a noise app that can warn you when you’re at risk of hearing damage. The case is swim-proof, and the prebuilt workout plans include cycling, swimming, yoga, hiking, and more. All this combines to make the Apple Watch an easy-to-use and highly accessible fitness tracker, with plenty of motivational alerts to keep you going.

Battery life is good with both models lasting up to two days even with sleep tracking enabled, but you’ll get more out of the SE due to the lack of an always-on screen. The software is fast and reliable, there are multiple apps available, you can make and receive calls from the basic model or buy one with a cellular connection for use without your phone, and there’s a very healthy third-party strap ecosystem to personalize your watch too.

Simply, if you own an iPhone, the Apple Watch is the only smartwatch to buy. If you own an Apple Watch Series 5 there aren’t many reasons to upgrade this year, but if you own any model older than this it’s well worth picking up a Apple Watch Series 6 or SE.

Read our full Apple Watch Series 6 review, and our full Apple Watch SE review

Best smartwatch for Android: Samsung Galaxy Watch 3

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

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 3:

You own an Android phone and can’t buy an Apple Watch, so which one should you choose? Samsung has delivered the best alternative for your Android phone, the Galaxy Watch 3. It doesn’t use Google’s Wear OS software, but Samsung’s own Tizen software. It works in a similar way — scrolling menus and swipes to access features — but the watch incorporates a brilliant rotating bezel to make using the watch much easier and more natural.

Don’t worry if your phone isn’t a Samsung either, as the Galaxy Watch 3 works with any smartphone, including an iPhone, through Samsung’s Galaxy Wear app, which you have to install first. Functionality will differ if you pair it with an iPhone, but you shouldn’t do that anyway, just buy an Apple Watch. Anyway, back to the Galaxy Watch 3.

The rotating bezel is just part of the great design. The watch is available in either a 41mm or 45mm case size, with a sharp and colorful round AMOLED screen on the front. It feels high quality with a stainless steel case, Gorilla Glass over the screen, and a glass case back for low weight and comfort on your wrist. It has an IP68 water resistance rating, plus a MIL-STD-810G rated case for toughness.

Wear the watch all day and night, and it will record your activity and sleep, but the battery will suffer. It will last two days if you’re careful and turn it off overnight, but if you use it hard a single day should be expected. The fitness tracking options are plentiful, and the app provides plenty of helpful information presented in a logical and easy to read fashion. The watch has a heart rate sensor and an ECG monitor, and once the feature is approved for use in the U.S., it will have a blood pressure monitor too.

The Galaxy Watch 3’s design is great, it comes in two sizes, the controls are excellent, and it has all the right smartwatch features on board to make it useful every day. What separates it from Wear OS watches is the software, which is faster and smoother. It’s priced at the same level as the Apple Watch, and is the best option for Android phone owners.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 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’s the only smartwatch to use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 4100 processor, which is more powerful and more power-efficient than the Snapdragon Wear 3100 found in all 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.

While the Snapdragon Wear 4100 drives Wear OS better than the older chips, the software still can’t compete with Samsung’s Tizen or Apple’s WatchOS operating systems for reliability and usability. That said, 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: Kate Spade Scallop 2

Why you should buy this: It’s the best-looking smartwatch if you have smaller wrists.

Who it’s for: Anyone who wants a smaller smartwatch.

Why we picked the Kate Spade Scallop 2:

It has taken a while, but the tech world is beginning to understand that women don’t always want to wear a big, masculine smartwatch, and we’re seeing more and more devices that are suitable for smaller wrists. It’s also edging away from simply making the resulting smartwatch pink and hoping for the best, as designers that actually understand fashion become more involved. Our current pick of this growing range comes from Kate Spade, a brand that really understands what makes a desirable tech product for women.

We’ve chosen the Kate Spade Scallop 2 not only because of this but also for its realistic price of $295. The smartwatch has been engineered using the latest technology, so the profile is neat and slim, and therefore less intrusive than older smartwatches. The screen measures 1.2 inches and is encased in a body that is 42mm wide. There are several different band options, which emphasize the scallop design, and variations on the gold body color available.

The Scallop 2 stands out thanks to several clever software features, with a favorite being a way to customize the watch face according to the colors of your outfit, which is called into action using the button beneath the crown. If you don’t want to do that, the animated faces all take on familiar Kate Spade design elements and are fun to use.

The watch has Google’s Wear OS operating system, so it connects to Android and iOS devices, and unlike the first Kate Spade Scallop smartwatch, it does have a heart rate sensor, GPS, and NFC for Google Pay. If you’re looking for a more sporty smartwatch, Kate Spade also has the KSNY Sport model, which is not only very lightweight, but also packed with the very latest tech. It’s a great alternative to the Kate Spade Scallop 2, depending on your lifestyle.

Read our full Kate Spade Scallop 2 hands-on review.

Best budget smartwatch: Mobvoi Ticwatch E2

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s the best value Wear OS smartwatch you’ll find, with all the right features at a low price.

Who it’s for: This big watch will suit larger wrists, and those on a strict budget.

Why we picked the Mobvoi Ticwatch E2:

For $160 we recommend you buy the Mobvoi Ticwatch E2. Despite being cheap, it’s very good value, with a large, bright 1.4-inch screen showing the latest version of Google’s Wear OS, a heart rate sensor on the back, and GPS to track your run. The only notable missing feature is NFC for Google Pay.

There’s good news on the battery side, with it lasting at least a day on a full charge in our tests. No, it won’t stretch out into two full days, but it won’t stop working before you get a chance to put in on the charger at night. The Ticwatch E2 isn’t the most stylish watch, but it’s not ugly. We’d call it functional with a dash of high-tech charm. It is also water-resistant and can track your swimming, as well as your other workout sessions.

Why did we pick the Mobvoi Ticwatch E2, instead of a hybrid watch? It’s simple — it’s the most affordable Wear OS watch available, with all of the same features you’ll find on watches that cost twice as much. That makes it a bargain, and it’s rare to find those in mobile tech today. If you’d rather have a hybrid smartwatch, then the Fossil Grant, Commuter, Nate, Neely, Carlie, and Jacqueline watches all start at $155 directly from Fossil, and are well-designed, non-touchscreen hybrids. The price changes depending on the type of band you select, but the features remain the same.

Read our full Mobvoi TicWatch E2 review

Best smartwatch for running: Garmin Forerunner 945

Kelly Hodgkins/Digital Trends

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

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

Why we picked the Garmin Forerunner 945:

Regular fitness bands will track your exercise sessions and a whole lot more, but the designs aren’t particularly watch-like and their capabilities aren’t great for intense activities. If you want smartwatch looks without sacrificing the right fitness tracking features, the Garmin Forerunner 945 may be the watch for you. It looks like a watch, rather than a fitness band, and has all the necessary sensors and hardware to keep up with an active lifestyle.

At 47mm, it is quite large but weighs a manageable 50 grams. That’s not bad going considering the hardware that’s packed in here: There’s an optical heart rate monitor, barometric altimeter, pulse oximeter, compass, gyroscope, accelerometer, and even a thermometer. Information is displayed on the 1.2-inch always-on display, which is bright and fairly sharp. You can customize the face to suit you, but the real attraction of a watch like this is the tracking capabilities. It can handle more than 30 different indoor and outdoor sports, though it’s particularly good for running and biking, nailing basics like distance and pace with reliable accuracy, but also offering useful features for serious athletes, like altitude and heat acclimatization.

The Garmin Forerunner 945 will also track your sleep, monitor your stress, and give you training guidance. You can decide what phone notifications you want to receive on your wrist, though there are fewer options if you’re an iPhone owner. And because it doesn’t have a touch screen, interaction is limited to some basic functions you can handle with a set of buttons. Battery life is stellar — it can go up to two weeks between charges. One last feature that makes training more fun is the space for up to 1,000 music tracks and Bluetooth support for headphones.

There has to be a catch here somewhere, right? The Garmin Forerunner 945 costs a seriously hefty $600 (MSRP). We think it’s worth it for serious runners, but you can check out our guide to the best fitness trackers for more options at different prices, and also take a look at the Suunto 7 Wear OS smartwatch as an alternative that has more connected features than the Garmin.

Read our full Garmin Forerunner 945 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 like 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 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 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.

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

How do I decide between an Apple, Tizen, or Wear OS smartwatch?

Although it sounds like a complicated question, this is surprisingly straightforward. If you own an Android phone, then you can use a Tizen — which is the operating system used on Samsung’s smartwatches — or a Google Wear OS watch. The Apple Watch only works with Apple’s iOS software.

If you own an iPhone, all smartwatches work with your phone provided you use Samsung’s or Google’s special app to sync the two up. However, be aware that neither Wear OS or 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.

For Android phone owners seeking a smartwatch, it may come down to design preference for which model of watch you buy, but we do prefer the way Tizen operates on the Samsung Galaxy Watch, over many Wear OS smartwatches.

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, like the Casio Pro Trek WSD-F30 and the Mobvoi Ticwatch S2, meet military standards for toughness and will withstand harsher treatment than others.

While many smartwatches are water-resistant today, from the Apple Watch Series 5 to the Kate Spade Scallop 2, 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. Apple’s WatchOS and Samsung’s special round Tizen OS for the Galaxy Watch line of watches are the two best smartwatch platforms in terms of design, features, and ease of use. Google rebranded Android Wear as Wear OS and has started to address the issues we have with the software; it’s getting more usable, but it’s still not as user-friendly as WatchOS or Tizen.

Apple’s WatchOS is super simple and so is Samsung’s Tizen. Both offer fully featured fitness tracking that’s easy to access along with intuitive interfaces. On the Galaxy Watch, you just twist the bezel in a circle to navigate through quick launch apps, your full library of apps, and settings. Each app is made to suit the circular OS, so navigation is easy to figure out. You also have a back button if you get lost. The addition of Samsung Pay’s mobile payments also takes Samsung’s watches to a new level.

The same could be said of Apple’s WatchOS. It’s attractive, apps are easy to find with a press of the digital crown, and you have access to quick launch apps in the Dock with the press of a button. Apple Pay works on WatchOS, too. WatchOS 6 is even simpler than Samsung’s interface now that Apple has cut down on a few pointless menus and boosted the companion app. Google’s Wear OS is evolving and works with Android and iOS devices, supports Google Pay, and is controlled with swipes and taps, but often menus are slow and lists are long, which can lead to frustrations.

In terms of app support, Apple’s OS has the best and most plentiful apps that we use regularly. Wear OS has a decent number of apps from the Google Play Store, and Samsung’s app store is a distant third. There are not a lot of useful apps on Tizen.

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, 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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