A Smartwatch Buying Guide – Finding The Best Smartwatch

By | March 22, 2016
(Last Updated On: November 23, 2018)

Do you have the best smartwatch? Curious which ones offer more value? This page is for you.

After spending days researching the top brands and models, I still had trouble figuring out which was the best option for my needs. So, I made it my mission to quantify the various attributes to make a truly educated choice.

6 months later, here are the results!

But first, WHY SHOULD YOU TRUST ME? Well, I geek out about this stuff. I’ve tried more smart devices then I care to admit (lost of money spent…don’t tell my wife). I’ve done the research and identified the top options based on demographic match, not necessarily my personal taste. In short, if you are into cycling, you need something very different from the casual user.

Follow along below to see which is best for you.

Step #1 – What Operating System do you Prefer?

If you already have and Android or Apple smartphone, it generally makes sense to keep your smartwatch on the same OS. Some smartwatches are compatible with both Android and iOS, but there are some that are exclusive to one platform.

  • For Android: If Android is your jam, you can check out this round-up of my top 3 favorite devices here. However, if you just want one recommendation, I’d personally go with the Asus ZenWatch 2.
  • For iOS: The obvious choice is to go with the AppleWatch here, but you probably knew that. What’s interesting is that there are actually a variety of other iOS compatible smartwatches out there. In fact, there are many good alternatives to the AppleWatch. Let’s face it, the high price of the AppleWatch puts many people off. For my favorite alternative, check out the Fitbit Blaze. It’s an “AppleWatch killer” that checks in at over $100 cheaper. To see the full list of my top options for iOS, check out this page.

Step #2 – How Do you Intend to Use it?

Some smartwatches are best for fitness tracking, some for everyday use, and some are true hybrids meant for all around use. It’s important to figure out what you want from a smartwatch because you may not ever use certain features.

  • Best Fitness Tracking Smartwatch: Fitness users have a unique set of needs. While most smartwatches have some element of fitness tracking, certain watches are better than others. In fact, some are geared specifically for fitness. For example, Fitbit as an entire brand, is almost 100% targeted towards fitness users. While this doesn’t make them inherently better in each case, it does give them a stronger understanding of the market.
    • Best Smartwatch for Swimming: If you are a swimmer, a “generalist” smartwatch will not be suitable. There are certain activity trackers/smartwatches that are specifically designed for swimmers. You can read my full list of recommended smart swim watches here. If you just want a quick recommendation, I’d personally go with the Garmin Swim Watch here for active swimmers, or the Garmin Vivoactive for something versatile that you can wear all day (and in the pool).
    • Best Smartwatch for Cycling: Cycling enthusiasts also have a unique set of needs. While many fully featured smartwatches have cycling settings, there are a few that do a better job than others. You can read my full criteria and recommendation list here, but my top option in this category is definitely the Garmin Vivoactive here.
    • Best Smartwatch for Crossfit: Crossfit is another more specialized area. While many smartwatches are great at tracking runs or cycling, mixed workouts can be hard to calculate. That’s why I like the Moov Now available here. For my full list of recommended options, you can read more here.
    • Best Smartwatch for Runners: A good activity tracking smart watch is essential to detail oriented runners looking for data (to show improvement, etc…). I’ve compiled buying guide and top 5 recommendations here, so dig in for the full story. Otherwise, my top pick was the Garmin Forerunner 735XT available here.
    • Best Smartwatch for Golf: Yes, there are smartwatches built for golf and many existing smartwatches with quality golf apps. However, my absolute favorite smartwatch for golf is the Garmin Approach S60 available here, which is the standard bearer in this niche.
    • Best Fitness Tracker for Yoga: If you are specifically looking for something built for Yoga, there are a few subtle activity trackers that get the job done without getting in the way.
  • Best Smartwatch for Apps: Sometimes having the right apps turns an average phone into a super phone. If having a good app ecosystem is important for you, the AppleWatch 2 (and it’s predecessor) are hands down my top recommendation in this category. The Apple App store is still King, despite the best efforts of Android (Google Play) devices.
  • Best Smartwatch for Texting: Many smartwatches promise the ability to text on a smartwatch, but the truth is often more complicated. Put simply, it can be very hard to effectively text on a tiny wrist device. Various companies have come up with innovative solutions to this problem. Some are better than others, for sure!
  • Best Smartwatch for Calls: Being apple to talk to your wrist like a secret agent is probably one of the most interesting features of a smartwatch. While many devices offer some form of remote calling, certain devices are inherently better than others.
  • Best Smartwatch for Music: If jamming out to your tunes with just your smartwatch on hand is your idea of a good time, it’s worth doing the research up front to find the right watch. Not all watches are capable of syncing major apps or controlling music from your wrist.
  • Best Smartwatch for Sleep Tracking: After fitness tracking, sleep tracking is perhaps the highest impact capability for your health. However, not all systems are perfect. In fact, many are relatively inaccurate. If sleeping tracking is important to you, there are certain devices which stand out. For sleep tracking, I’d personally recommend the Fitbit Charge 2 or the Misfit Shine here as good options. For my full list, you can check how I reached this decision here.
  • Best Smartwatch for Kids: Kids and smartwatches bring their own set of concerns. While many kids have phones these days, it takes a bit of digging to find the right smartwatch devices specifically for kids. Some are more of a novelty item, but the good ones actually have features (and controls) that parents will like. If fitness tracking for your children is primarily what you are looking, you can check out my list of the top options here.

Step #3 – Style: Classic vs Modern Smartwatches

You can find smartwatches that have a very classical high end watch feel, or you can go for the more modern tech style watch. This will in part be dictated by how – and where – you are using your watch (see Step #2), but can be influenced by other factors such as style and aesthetics.

As an example, compared the Fossil Q Marshal to the Fitbit Charge 2 below:

Definitely a different look, right?

Step #4 – Smartwatch Pricing

All of this is contingent on your budget. You can generally find plenty of options (with more or less features) in pretty much any budget, right down to the $50 range (not necessarily recommended).

  • Best High End Smartwatch (money is no object): If you want something that truly mixes capability with style, there is a very interesting emerging market for high-end smartwatches. If money is really no object, you can check out the Breitling Exospace B55 here, which puts James Bond to shame. However, for something high-end, but still reasonable in price, check out the TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 here.
  • Best Smartwatch under $200: If you have a strict budget of no more than $200, you might have to sacrifice a few features, but you can still generally find good options. A budget of $200 essentially eliminates the AppleWatch, which is admittedly pricey. Two watches I like are the Pebble Time Steel here as well as the new Fitbit Blaze available here (you can call it the “AppleWatch killer”).
  • Best Smartwatch under $150: If $150 is your line in the sand, you can still get a decent smartwatch that covers all the basics. You will definitely have to sacrifice a few features, but depending on your needs this might not matter. For a great middle tier smartwatch at this price, I’d go with the Asus ZenWatch 2 available here.
  • Best Smartwatch under $100: At this price range, you definitely start limiting your options seriously, but all is not lost! $100 can still get you a good basic smartwatch if you know where to look. A reliable and top selling favorite in this price range is the Pebble Time Round watch here. It’s simple, ergonomic interface delivers the best value in this category.
  • Best Smartwatch under $50: Okay, now we enter the territory of the bargain bin! For my full list, see this budget smartwatch guide. While you will only get basic smartwatch features, there are PLENTY of cheap smartwatches entering the market at this price range every day. The problem is, you have to sift through a lot of dirt to find the diamonds. One of my favorite options to consider here is the Martian Notifier available here. If you want to learn more about why I picked this one, check out the review I did here.
    • Best Smartwatch Knock Offs: It’s worth mentioning, that you will invariably start seeing brands you’ve never heard of before at this price range. In recent years, markets like Amazon have been inundated with “knock offs”. Some companies are definitely of the “fly by night” variety, but you can still stumble upon some good finds. While it might be just a tad over $50, I think the Alcatel Go Play available here is a decent option in this category. It wins the distinction of being the “best of the worst” in the bargain category.

Final Thoughts on Finding the Best Smartwatch

As you can see, finding a great smartwatch isn’t as easy as it sounds. Depending on your needs, certain watches are definitely better than others.

In short, to answer the questions: “what is the best smartwatch”, it is important to first define the criteria important to you. Thankfully, myself – and my editing team – have spent a lot of time evaluating different watches with specific use cases in mind. Be sure to bookmark this page and check back for updates!

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