1.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 gentleman 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 their pocket to check their phone.
The kicker now is that your smartphone holds far more information than a pocket watch ever did, all of which is still locked into your pocket.
Smartwatches aren’t for making phone calls – although some can – instead, they (among other things) provide a quick and easy way to check your phone’s notifications, so you can decide whether it’s worth delving into your pocket or searching around your bag to fetch your smartphone and properly action anything.
2.What makes a good smartwatch?
When testing for the best smartwatch, the important factors to consider are ‘how many of your smartphone’s functions 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.
If you’re an Android user then a Wear OS smartwatch is the obvious choice, while iPhone users should probably start by looking at an Apple Watch – but there are alternatives.
Fitbit watches still run their own operating system (despite being owned by Google) and so will work well with iPhones too – and even some Wear OS watches are compatible with iOS too. Meanwhile other manufacturers like Amazfit and Huawei also run their own software, and often work well with both types of phone.
Fitness fans will want to look for a device with a heart rate monitor and built-in GPS, even though they often can’t compare to a chest-worn monitor in terms of accuracy. Many also come with NFC which can be used for contactless payments, via services like Google Pay.
We consider the important factors of a smartwatch to be level of notification detail, battery life, style, water resistance, device compatibility and additional features, such as microphones and WiFi support. Find out how we test wearables for more information.
3.What’s the difference between a smartwatch and a fitness tracker?
The difference between smartwatches and fitness trackers is a bit of a grey area – after all, most fitness trackers also double as watches, and many include smart features.
To draw the line we factor in how a manufacturer positions its product, but for the most part the main question is how smart the device is. If all it can do is record exercise then it’s a fitness tracker, but if it also allows you to install apps, take phone calls, and check notifications, then we’re more likely to consider it a smartwatch.
This is really why this ranking doesn’t currently feature any Fitbit smartwatches. We reviewed both the Sense 2 and Versa 4, but found that both have had their smart features stripped back so much that they’re difficult to recommend as smartwatches in their own right.
The lines are always blurry though, so make sure to check out our fitness tracker round-up to see more options.
4.What about hybrid watches?
There are two types of smartwatches around at the moment: those with a colourful touchscreen – similarly to what you’d find on your phone – and those which combine a regular analogue watch with smart features.
These are known as ‘hybrid’ smartwatches; some have the smart bits almost completely hidden, while some give you information via a small integrated display (the Withings ScanWatch is a good example of a hybrid watch).
While a fully-fledged smartwatch can do a lot more, that juice-guzzling screen results in shorter battery life. Hybrid watches benefit from longer battery life with some even having separate cells for the watch and smart features. Since they’re not true smartwatches, you’ll find hybrid watches from Withings and others in our separate fitness tracker chart.