When it comes to buying the best smartwatch, it's all about the mixture of experience and expression. The software has to make buying a smartwatch worthwhile over the colossal range of wonderful regular watches that are available, but we shouldn't have to give up the expression of personal style that choosing a watch for ourselves offers.
The best smartwatch will give us this mixture – by connecting with our phones in useful ways they make the case for being a better buy than a classic watch, but they should also offers looks, faces, colours, materials and other features that feel personal to us.
There are different things you can prioritise in a smartwatch's features. For a lot of people, mixing in health & fitness tracking is a key benefit, but there are various levels of this: perhaps you just want some light step counting and encouragement, maybe you want heart health monitoring, maybe you want full-on sports activity tracking.
For others, the best smartwatch will be most useful as a kind of remote control for your phone, giving you the ability to see notifications and decide whether to respond to them with needing your phone to be visible, which is useful everywhere from being stuck in a meeting, to being out for a run, to holding a baby.
The balance of these features will help you find the perfect smartwatch for you, so here's our guide to buying the best smartwatch, explaining where each one excels, and why they might be right for you.
The Apple Watch Series 6 offers an excellent mix of features and experience, whatever you want from your smartwatch – though only for iPhone users. If you’re more focused on the ‘smart’ part, the integration between Watch and iPhone (and other Apple products, in fact) is pretty much unmatched; if you want fitness and health features, it’s packed with class-leading stuff; and it’s got some nice flexibility when it comes to watch design too, with a broad range of faces, an always-on screen, easily swappable bands and different casings and sizes.
A big part of the Apple Watch is how it functions as a kind of remote control for youe iPhone, displaying notifications (though only the ones you want to be bothered by), and making it easy to call people or respond to messages without touching your phone. When it comes to health, you’ve got fall detection (with automated calling of emergency services), heart rate monitoring (including irregular heartbeat detection and an ECG) and sleep monitoring (though this is quite basic). For fitness, you’ve got all kinds of workout and activity monitoring and a pulse oxygen sensor, along with the heart rate sensor.
You can also easily get 4G connectivity built in so you can leave the phone at home, though not all networks will support it. And it has Apple Pay contactless payments, of course – something that’s only been getting more useful…
The Apple Watch Series 6 is a premium price, but it easily justifies it by being the sleekest experience and ticking (sorry) off all the boxes. Battery life is variable depending on how you use it, but expect to charge it for a few minutes every day.
Avoiding the computer-like square of the Apple Watch and instead bringing in a more traditional circular watch shape, the Galaxy Watch 3 is a smart-looking watch as well as a smartwatch. It comes in two sizes, too. The vivid screen has a range of watch face options, and we love the, uh, twist that you can actually rotate the bezel to scroll through menus and navigate the software.
That software is really smooth – Samsung Tizen platform is one of the best around for seamlessly moving between different screens easily. It works with both iPhone or Android, but integrated better Android, and even better still with a Samsung phone. On iPhone, its smart functions are very basic – but you'll be able to receive notifications, which is the crucial thing.
The main issue with it is that it's extremely light on app support, and while we don't think it needs to have a huge range of obscure apps for every need, a good example of a missing app is Google Maps.
However, Samsung does provide alternatives to anything vital and big-name that's missing, there's a great range of fitness features. As an overall package, it's a truly excellent smartwatch.
The Fitbit Versa 3 is perfect if you want something that’s mostly for fitness, with some extra smartwatch bonus features. The Versa is a full-on Fitbit, making full use the company’s knowledge and excellent app. You get better information about working out (whether that’s light or serious) than most rivals give you (such ‘active zone minutes’ during more intense workouts), and there’s a pulse oxygen sensor along with the heart-rate monitor (for a much lower price than, say, the Apple Watch Series 6, which also includes a pulse ox sensor). Similarly, you get an always-on screen here, despite the low price.
It’s not quite as slick a smartwatch experience than other smartwatches, though. You can get notifications on your wrist, but with less rich options for them. And there are fewer apps for the Versa 3 than other smart platforms (though we don’t think apps are the most important part of the smartwatch experience – but they can still be important).
It does offer both Google Assistant or Alexa as voice assistants, though, which is something the other options don’t – though again, with more limited integration with what they can do on your phone. The side button is also quite awkwardly designed, again just making it feel less slick. It’s pretty much unbeatable for fitness at this price, but you’ll be making do with fewer smarts. It's just about priorities.
The Apple Watch SE offers the same design as the Apple Watch Series 6 (though only in aluminium cases) and the same excellent software experience, but with a few features cut down to lower the price.
You no longer get an always-on screen, no ECG, no pulse oxygen sensor, and its processor is a generation behind the Series 6’s (though this makes no real impact on its use in our experience). We're okay with losing these in terms of the overall experience, but it should be noted that, say, the Fitbit Versa 3 actually gives you some of these while still being cheaper.
In every other way, it’s the full-on Apple Watch experience – it’s a perfect companion to your iPhone, it’s an excellent fitness watch no matter whether you’re hardcore or just want to be reminded to stretch your legs more, and it has great health support features including high and low heart rate notifications, irregular heart rate warnings, and fall detection. Again, it’s available with or without 4G built in, and offers Apple Pay.
The Skagen Falster 3 uses Google's Wear OS for its software, which means you get a better range of apps than the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 offers, with some useful integration with Android. Wear OS isn't quite as obvious and easy to use as the Apple Watch or Samsung, but everything runs really well here, so it's a good smartwatch experience overall.
This watch is made by Fossil, who also sell nice-looking smartwatches under their own name and under licence with Michael Kors, but it's the Skagen brand that we think is the best looking, and has a good argument as the best-looking smartwatch overall.
And though it's fairly bulky (and so hardly suited to being a full on sports watch), there are great fitness features from Google Fit, and the Falster 3 is able to make full use of them, so it's a good light exercise companion. Support for Google Pay wireless payments is very welcome these days, too.
On another list, this may be the top choice of best smartwatch. But then there's that price! The TAG Heuer Connected looks and feels great to wear – it's easily the nearest that smartwatches have come to classic Swiss luxury watch design. Perhaps that's a plus for you, or perhaps you'd prefer a smartwatch to break the mould – we love to have the option of indulging our inner Steve McQueen, at least.
The TAG Heuer Connected uses Wear OS for its software, and Google now enables watch makers to customise it strongly, which is exactly what's been done here – there are unique watch faces made especially for a real TAG Heuer feel, and the overall software has been tweaked with things like classier fonts, to give a more coherent and classy look.
TAG Heuer has also added its own apps, and when it comes to sports and fitness these really shine, making great use of the physical design of its button layout. It's surprisingly comfortable to wear for fitness, though we won't pretend the lighter Fitbit isn't the more comfortable all things considered.
With integration of Google Pay and other useful Google services, and the option to use with iPhone if you want (though without the same level of integration as you get on Android), it's a tempting option for those who like to live luxuriously.