Best smartwatch 2021: Top picks for every budget
Author Alisa Mendoza Reading 1 min Published by
The best smartwatches do more than let you know if you’re getting a call or text message on your wrist. They’re everything in one: a fitness tracker for getting healthier, a digital wallet and in some cases, it can act as a phone, even if your smartphone is nowhere nearby.
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Smartwatches have gone beyond fitness tracking, and now have health features that can save your life. They can detect elevated heart rate alerts and automatically connect you to emergency services if you fall. Electrocardiogram (ECG) and blood oxygen (SpO2) readings are perks of certain models, too. The former detects signs of atrial fibrillation, while the latter is a good indicator of respiratory health.
But the best smartwatches do all these things better than others. Some have huge numbers of apps you can download, and some have batteries that will barely last a day, while others can go nearly a week on a charge. And of course there’s style: The best smartwatches can be customized, from their straps to their faces, to best fit with your personality.
After testing dozens of the best smartwatches, our top pick is the Apple Watch Series 7 ($399), which builds on years of health features and communication upgrades, but adds brighter screen, thinner display borders and faster charging. We’ve spent a little time with it already and can bring you our early thoughts in our Apple Watch 7 review (hands on).
The Apple Watch 3 ($199) remains a very good value as well, although the Apple Watch SE ($279) is a better option worth checking out. The SE is a hybrid model, lacking come high-end health features and an always-on display, but it still has a compass, fall detection, and GPS. Both are often discounted thanks to the best Apple Watch deals.
Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 4 ($249/$349) is the most worthy Apple Watch contender — in fact, it’s the best smartwatch for Android. It offers two different designs, and yes, one of them maintains the fan-favorite rotating bezel. The latest smartwatch is the first to run the new unified Goole Wear OS software, and comes with body composition analysis.
The best smartwatch from Fitbit is the Fitbit Sense ($329). We like how it gives you a well-rounded view of your body, rather than expecting you to self-administer readings and tests. For more smartwatch recommendations, read on.
The Apple Watch 7 is the best Apple Watch yet. It’s not a major upgrade over the Apple Watch 6 in terms of features, but it does have a larger display in new Apple Watch 7 sizes. For the first time, the Apple Watch comes in 41mm and 45mm versions, complementing the large screen. The seventh-generation Apple gets some exclusive watch faces and a full QWERTY keyboard, too.
While we would like the Apple Watch to improve its 18-hour battery life, the Series 7 does benefit from faster charging. You can completely juice it up in about an hour, letting it spend less time hooked up to the new USB-C to Magnetic cord and more time with you on the go. Whether you want a smartwatch for working out, answering calls from your wrist, or using the best Apple Watch apps, this is the best smartwatch for you. As long as you have an iPhone, of course.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 is our second choice among the best smartwatches, as it’s the best Samsung watch. Samsung ditched the ‘Active’ branding for its latest lineup, instead pitching a sporty-looking Galaxy Watch 4 as the company’s flagship (starting at $249.99) and a ‘Classic’ version that carries on the luxurious characteristics like the physical rotating bezel (starting at $349.99.)
Thanks to a 3-in-1 health sensor, the Galaxy Watch 4 measures heart rate, takes ECGs and reads body composition. And while it gets appealing Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Wear OS features, it still pays homage to Tizen, making it the ideal accessory for the best Samsung phones. Note that certain features are exclusive to Samsung users, so not all Android users will benefit from all the Galaxy Watch 4 can do.
The Galaxy Watch 4’s main setback is inconsistent battery life, but as long as you don’t mind a daily charge, you’ll benefit from on-board GPS, an always-on display, excellent sleep tracking and more.
The Fitbit Sense is the company’s top-shelf smartwatch that comes with more advanced health and wellness features that the Versa line. Not only does it have an FDA-approved ECG sensor and blood oxygen reading, but the Sense has the ability to measure electrodermal activity and skin temperature, too.
As one of the best Fitbits, the Sense works with both iOS and Android, and comes with on-board GPS, a native app store, Alexa and more. No longer is Fitbit just a brand with products for tracking our steps: Fitbit devices like the Fitbit Sense show what it means to take a holistic look at our health. If you’re interested in the Sense, be sure to check out the best Fitbit deals for potential savings, too.
The Apple Watch SE is a hybrid of the Apple Watch Series 5 (which has since been discontinued) and the Apple Watch Series 3. The $279 smartwatch doesn’t have all the Series 6’s features, but still stands out for its speedy chip and safety features. It also offers an LTE option, making it a good choice for those interested in trying out Family Setup.
When choosing between the Apple Watch 7 vs. Apple Watch SE, your ultimate decision will be if you want to spend an extra $120 for a brighter display with an always-on option, an ECG monitor, and and bigger display. If those tools aren’t deal-breakers for you, the SE is a highly capable option for iPhone users.
Though it’s been replaced by the Galaxy Watch 4, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is still available to purchase and remains one of the most stylish smartwatches around. It’s available in two sizes, as well as in LTE variants. The Galaxy Watch 3’s rotating bezel makes navigating the watch’s interface easy, while access to thousands of watch faces lets you customize the display to your liking.
Although the Galaxy Watch 3 has a shorter, 2-day battery life compared to the original Samsung Galaxy Watch, it introduces more music storage, FDA-approved ECG tracking and trip detection. Of course, you’ll get Samsung Pay for contactless payments, and some good fitness features too. If you’re not sure whether you should get this model or the newer one, see our guide to the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 vs. Galaxy Watch 3.
The best smartwatch for those interested in advanced sleep tracking is the Fitbit Versa 3, the next-generation of the popular Fitbit Versa 2. The Versa 3’s standout upgrade is on-board GPS. Now, even when you leave your phone at home, the Versa can (finally) track your location during outdoor exercise. A curvier, larger display is welcome, too.
Plus the Versa 3 has gained a great motivational workout feature, Active Zone Minutes. Introduced with the Fitbit Charge 4 and now a staple of Fitbit devices, Active Zone Minutes monitors the time you spend in the fat burn, cardio or peak heart-rate zones while exercising. Your goal is to earn the AHA’s and WHO’s recommended 150 Active Zone Minutes each week. Again you can use your Fitbit Versa 3 for phone calls and speak to voice assistants for queries, but note you can only enable one voice assistant at once. Torn between the Sense and Versa? See our Fitbit Sense vs. Fitbit Versa 3 face-off.
As our Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 vs. Galaxy Watch Active 2 face-off explains, the Watch Active 2 is still worth buying, especially when you find it on sale. Samsung’s watch works with any smartphone and features GPS, a heart rate monitor and the option to enable LTE. It also can automatically track your activity and sleep. (It’s much better at the former task than the latter.)
As for looks, Galaxy Watch Active 2’s circular design is visually appealing, whether you get the 40mm or 44mm model. Based on Samsung’s Tizen operating system, this Galaxy Watch boasts other useful features such as Samsung Pay, onboard music via Spotify and heart health features. That includes an ECG feature, which is usually reserved for pricer models.
Starting at $199, the Apple Watch Series 3 is a more affordable smartwatch option than the Series 6 and SE for iPhone users. The size options are smaller and the bezels are thicker, and you won’t get ECG or SpO2 readings, but it’s still a good choice for the price.
When you compare the Apple Watch 6 vs, Apple Watch 3 or Apple Watch SE vs. Apple Watch 3, you’ll find you don’t sacrifice too much for the older version’s lower price. You still get a heart rate monitor, GPS, 8GB of storage with offline support for Apple Music playlists. This watch is also water-proof if you like to track your swims, and many of the best software features found in the Apple Watch Series 6 are also found in the Series 3. Check out our Fitbit Versa 3 vs. Apple Watch 3 face-off to see the benefits you’ll get with Apple’s smartwatch over Fitbit’s.
Garmin took the best features of its Vivoactive 3, the best smartwatch for fitness, and made them even better with the $349 Vivoactive 4 and 4S. The watch now comes in two sizes, 40mm and 45mm, to offer a better fit for most people, and includes both Garmin Pay and music storage out of the box (instead of having to pay more for premium features like with the Vivoactive 3).
The Vivoactive 4 also offers animated on-screen yoga and Pilates workouts to help you improve your poses. A new pulse ox sensor measures your blood oxygen level and gives you more detailed sleep insights. All of that plus 7-day battery life makes the Vivoactive 4 our favorite smartwatch for fitness buffs.
The older Wear OS simply isn’t polished enough to measure up against the best smartwatches from Apple and Samsung. But if you insist upon a Wear OS device, Fossil’s Gen 5 smartwatch is the one to get, thanks to a stylish, sophisticated look. The Gen 5 also eliminates the most glaring performance lag we saw in past Wear OS watches, thanks to 1GB of RAM, and customizable battery modes also make this smartwatch worth a look.
You’re not going to get the fitness and heart health features you’ll find on the Apple Watch and the Galaxy Watch Active. And the Gen 5’s Spotify app can’t store music offline — also a disadvantage. Either way, you might want to consider the Fossil Gen 6 instead, a new version that will eventually run the new Wear OS. The updated model doesn’t offer LTE, though.
When looking at the best smartwatches for you, you’re somewhat limited by the smartphone you own. If you want an Apple Watch, for instance, you’ll need to have an iPhone. And while Wear OS watches work with both Android and iPhones, you get far less functionality when not connected to an Android device.
Samsung’s smartwatches offer the greatest in terms of cross-functionality, but even here, Android phone owners will get more in terms of replies to notifications and the ability to make and receive phone calls.
After that, when picking a smartwatch, you also want to get one that fits your wrist comfortably. Those with smaller wrists may find larger smartwatches — ones with case sizes larger than 44mm — to be too bulky and cumbersome to wear. If you need features like cycle or pregnancy tracking, you might find our list of the best smartwatches for women helpful, too.
Similarly, you want to find a smartwatch that fits your style. Although the Apple Watch is limited to one shape, you can purchase it in different finishes. Samsung’s smartwatches offer a little more choice, while Wear OS watches, which are made by a number of companies including Fossil, Skagen, Kate Spade, Moto, Tag Heuer, Diesel, and others, give you many more options when it comes to their design.
And if you need smartwatches for certain fitness goals. see our guides to the best running watches and best GPS watches. You also might be better suited for one of the best fitness trackers instead.
We test every new smartwatch to gauge its design and comfort. If it’s not stylish and comfortable enough to get you from an early morning workout to the office to a night out, you probably won’t wear it every day. Most smartwatches are also fitness trackers, so we put all of its sensors to the test, from step counts to heart rate to GPS (when applicable).
We install apps and use them to see if the device’s app store is robust enough to elevate it to smartwatch status. If the watch has built-in LTE, we test cellular connectivity and call quality to make sure the device can actually stand on its own without a smartphone nearby.
And we measure battery life using everyday scenarios — including workouts, using apps, and getting notifications — to make sure you can get through an entire day without needing to charge up.