If you’re on the market for a smartwatch then you’re in luck as the market is currently booming.
From the humble days of Pebble, where smartwatches were basically pagers strapped to your wrist, the market has blossomed and these days there are a wealth of great wearables to choose from. Whether you’re looking for a device to control your music or a hardcore triathlete in need of a training companion, there’s a smartwatch for you,
But while this choice is great, it can also make knowing which smartwatch is right for you fairly difficult. With so many focussing on specific types of user and the market, and many still costing a fair amount picking the wrong one can be a costly mistake.
There are also a number of pitfalls that can lead to you outright wasting your money. Apple Watch’s, for example, still only work when paired with an iPhone, making them a poor investment for Android users. Based on experience many smartwatches don’t perform well with real world use, offering terrible battery life and poor build quality, despite having decent specs sheets.
Here to help you avoid these problems and get the right smartwatch for your specific needs and budget we’ve put together this buyers’ guide, detailing the top performing wearables we’ve tried and tested.
Every wearable on this list has been used by the reviewer for at least a week, during which they test all the key areas most buyers care about. These include tracking accuracy, battery life, ease of use and build quality, so you can trust our buying advice.
If you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for here you can also check out our best fitness tracker, best Apple Watch and best running watch guides, which go into more detail for those specific categories.
At a glance
How we test
Every smartwatch we test is used by the reviewer for at least a week, or longer if the battery life lasts beyond that point or we need more time to trial its features.
During testing we will check it for key metrics including app support, usability and battery life. If the device offers fitness, location or health tracking features we will also test these for accuracy and reliability.
For distance tracking we record how accurately the device recorded runs on tracks we know the length of. We also record how much battery is lost using things like in-built or connected GPS per hour. To check heart rate accuracy we compare the results recorded on the wearable to a dedicated HRM strap.
After recording the data we then pair it with our general experience using the wearable day-to-day, letting you know if it’s comfortable to wear or if we encountered unexpected bugs during use over the review period.
Apple Watch Series 7
The best smartwatch
- Much faster charging
- BIgger screen is great
- Wide range of easy-to-use fitness features
- Battery life remains a day
- No neutral black or silver aluminium colour options
If money is no object, you own an iPhone and you want the best smartwatch experience possible then the Apple Watch 7 is the wearable to get. There’s also the Apple Watch 8, which we’re in the process of reviewing, though until we’ve fully tested it we won’t know how well it compares to the outgoing model.
During testing we found it to be easily the best smartwatch on the market, featuring a significantly more developed application library than the competing Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, which is its closest Google Wear OS rival.
The watch retains the same pebble-shaped square screen design as its predecessors, which uses a mix of touch inputs and a physical watch crown on the right side to navigate its menus.
The stellar app offering, which included every fitness app we searched for, Spotify-local music playback and of course more custom watch faces than anyone could want, plus its large OLED screen make it a pleasure to use.
The Watch 7 also comes with a solid selection of health and fitness tracking features. These include the ECG heart rate scanner and blood oxygen sensor, which aims to alert you of any potential health problems, based on the biometric data it collects and fall detection. The latter is a feature designed for older, or vulnerable wearers that lets the Watch 7 push an alert to emergency contacts if it detects its user has fallen over.
The only downside is that it’s very expensive and while we found its fitness and distance tracking services are more than good enough for most runners and gym goers, its battery life is still a little short.
During testing, we never got more than 18 hours of use out of the device, even with battery saving features, like variable refresh rate in the mix. Running with the GPS while listening to Spotify also puts a massive drain on the battery, meaning you will need to charge it daily, or multiple times a week if you’re a heavy user or regular runner. If that’s what you’re after you’ll likely want to look at one of the dedicated sports smartwatches on this list, like the Garmin Fenix 7.
Reviewer: Max Parker
Full review: Apple Watch 7 Review
Apple Watch SE
The best value Apple Watch
- Excellent value
- Huge range of tracking features
- The best smartwatch OS around
- Wide variety of straps available
- No always-on display
- Battery life still only really a day
The only other downside to Apple’s flagship Watch line is that it’s very expensive and a lot of the general perks are also offered on the cheaper Watch SE. This is why we recommend the cheaper Apple Watch SE to people that don’t need the 7’s more advanced health tracking. It’s worth noting though that Apple has recently announced the Apple Watch SE 2, which we’re reviewing at the moment. If it’s good enough, it’ll replace the SE in this list when our review it done.
W found the Apple Watch SE still feels like a premium wearable. Despite being smaller than the Apple 7, it remained wonderfully comfortable to wear throughout and we never once struggled to interact with the screen using touch inputs and the crown control.
The SE also has the exact same software as the 7 and is more than fast enough to run any app or feature we threw at it without any issue. The experience never felt compromised throughout our tests.
There are a few compromises you should be aware of though. First, it’s not as ruggedly built as Apple’s priciest option. Though it feels premium the watch doesn’t have the same dust resistance rating as the 7 and its screen isn’t Sapphire Glass, it’s ionX. We never had any issue with build quality, but this means it will pick up scratches more easily, especially if you take it to the beach or use it for more animated exercise tracking.
Health tracking has also been stripped down with it lacking the blood oxygen and ECG sensors seen on its more expensive sibling. Based on our testing this means it’s not as useful for people that want a wearable to keep tabs on their health and fitness.
Reviewer: Max Parker
Full review: Apple Watch SE Review
Samsung Galaxy Watch 5
The best WearOS smartwatch
- The best example of Wear OS 3
- New and improved sleep tracking
- Solid battery life for a Wear OS device
- Accurate HRM results
- Barely any different to the Galaxy Watch 4
- Temperature sensor is an afterthought
- The workout selection needs improving
The Galaxy Watch 5 was unveiled earlier this year and it’s a very minor upgrade over the Galaxy Watch 4. If you can find the Watch 4 discounted then it remains an excellent buy, yet it’s not officially sold anymore. So that makes the Watch 5 the best
When we first powered up the Galaxy Watch 4 we noticed a night and day difference between it and past Google Wear OS wearables we tested, and this remains the case with the Watch 5. The UI pushes a tiled interface that offers quick access to commonly used features and apps and Google finally loaded it with the core services most users have been requesting for years. The biggest for us was full integration of Google Maps, Pay and Youtube Music. These are all features that were bizarrely missing on previous generations of Wear OS wearables.
Samsung has also worked hard to load the watch with enough tech to match the Apple Watch’s health tracking powers. There’s a custom BioActive sensor which compiles multiple sensors into one unit, with the ability to collect your heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels and even perform ECG checks. New for the Watch 5 is a temperature sensor, though the benefits of this don’t make themselves very obvious.
During our checks, heart rate and distance measurements were wonderfully accurate and in line with the HRM strap and we compared it against. The Google Fit and Samsung Health apps also offer enough data to help most semi-serious athletes keep track of their progress. The 2-day battery life we enjoyed during testing also puts it a clear cut above the Apple Watch 7, and likely Apple Watch 8, which struggled to make it past 18 hours of use during our checks.
Reviewer: Thomas Deehan
Full review: Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Review
Garmin Fenix 7
The best fitness tracker
- Strong outdoor tracking accuracy
- Responsive touchscreen
- Improved battery life
- It’s not cheap
- Not the full smartwatch experience
- Core experience similar to Fenix 6
The Apple Watch 7 and Galaxy Watch 4 might be two capable fitness trackers, there’s one wearable they don’t hold a candle against in this area: the Garmin Fenix 7.
Fenix is one of Garmin’s most premium sports watch lines and if you’re a regular reader you’ll know we’re big fans. Over the past four years Garmin’s Fenix watches have consistently impressed when we’ve gotten them in for testing with every one since the Fenix 5 scoring at least 4.5/5. This remained true when we put the Fenix 7 through its paces.
Out of the box the Fenix 7’s sports focus is immediately obvious with it having a utilitarian black finish that combines a chunky metal chassis with a comfy, but undeniably industrial looking rubber strap. This is a wearable that’s designed to survive everything from tumbles into the open sea while surfing to the extreme temperatures and conditions of an ultramarathon. With our reviewer having accidentally bashed the screen into a rock while using a climbing wall we can personally confirm the Fenix 7 is the most rugged wearable on this list.
But what really sets it apart is its best in class tracking options and post workout analytics. During testing we found the Fenix 7 can track pretty much every activity you could ever think of. These include running and swimming, but extend to some activities we’d never even heard of, such as “Pickleboarding”. Doing our standard suite of tests the device offered best in class location tracking. The GPS connected within milliseconds and after a month using it our reviewer never noticed any serious anomalies in distance or dropouts. Heart rate tracking is also excellent for a wrist based wearable.
The Watch’s real-time directions and mapping powers proved to be a boon when we used them to navigate a cycle route we weren’t familiar with in London and hike in the Lake District, with the watch offering reliable turn by turn instructions.
The multi-sport functionality is much more developed than the Apple and Galaxy Watches on this list, with it having dedicated modes and much more intuitive transition controls that let us switch sports in a couple of clicks.
Post work analytics are where the wearable really differentiates itself from its more generalist competition, however. The watch can track blood oxygen, VO2 Max Estimates and a few other metrics that are important to serious athletes or health conscious buyers. But it’s the guidance it offers that’s best. The watch uses heart rate zones, VO2 Max Estimates and all the other data it collects to offer guidance on how effective your workout was and recommendations on how long you should rest before your next session. This made it very easy for our reviewer to tailor their workout to always be productive and gauge when they were close to overstraining during testing.
The 1-2 week battery life we detected during our tests also means the Fenix 7 offers the best battery life of all the wearables on this list.
The flipside of this is that the Fenix 7 offers incredibly limited smartwatch functionality compared to its Apple and Samsung rivals. The app library is limited to fitness, location tracking and a small collection of music streaming services (Deezer and Spotify). Though it supports NFC the watch is also only compatible with Garmin Pay, which doesn’t support every mainstream bank in the US or UK. As a result, we generally just found ourselves using it for basic notifications and music controls for audio coming from our phone during testing.
The only other downside is its upfront cost, with the base model retailing for $700. This, plus its undeniably hardcore focus is a key reason we recommend entry lever runners go for a more affordable wearable: the Fitbit Versa 3.
Reviewer: Michael Sawh
Full review: Garmin Fenix 7 Review
Fitbit Versa 3
The best affordable fitness tracker
- Feature-packed for the price
- GPS is finally here
- Six-day battery with intensive use
- Fitbit’s apps and app store still need work
- The step count is just too eager
- Still no support for offline Spotify
- Fitbit Premium is essential for getting your money’s worth
Fitbit is a household brand when it comes to health and fitness tracking and the Versa 3 is the best option for casual users looking for a fitness tracker with basic smartwatch functionality, based on our experience using it.
We were impressed how many features Fitbit managed to cram into the tiny square chassis, despite the Versa 3 costing nearly a third of the Garmin Fenix 7.
For starters, the watch is incredibly comfortable to wear, even when exercising. The slim, almost Apple Watch SE sized frame gives it a fashionable and discrete look that let our reviewer comfortably wear it while out of the gym, and at smart casual work events. Based on our experience, it’s only up close that most people will notice it’s not an Apple Watch, due to the slightly larger bezel surrounding the screen.
Despite its low cost the wearable does have a few pluses we’ve not seen on many other wearables at this price. For starters, there’s an inbuilt GPS chip and SpO2 sensor. These let the watch offer reliable fitness tracking without the need to lug your phone along, as you have to on many other affordable wearables, such as the Garmin Vivosmart 5 we reviewed earlier this month. The SpO2 sensor also lets it track your blood oxygen to gauge performance improvements.
With real world use both performed admirably. The GPS does take longer than the Fenix to connect, but once it did the tracking was uniform. The only time our reviewer experienced any drop outs was during city runs and cycles, where tall buildings would on occasion block the signal. Heart rate tracking remained uniform outside of our HIIT test, where it struggled to keep up with the rapid spikes during high intensity segments of the workout.
During testing, Spotify still wasn’t on the app store, though you could download music to play from Deezer and Pandora locally. The ability to store any music locally is again a rare luxury on a tracker this price so the absence of Spotify is forgivable.
The only real downsides are that its app offering is behind Apple and Google’s and Fitbit, unlike Garmin, asks you to pay a subscription to access all the post workout analytics the Versa 3 offers, which feels a bit cheeky.
Reviewer: Thomas Deehan
Full review: Fitbit Versa 3 Review
This depends on what you want to do with it. If you want a brilliant smartwatch that can do everything from local music to reliable, in-depth wellness and fitness tracking you’ll likely have to spend over $400/£400. If you just want a basic wearable to count your steps and push incoming notifications from your phone there are plenty of good options that retail for less than $200/£200.
LTE is useful if you use your watch a lot while away from your phone. But for most people it’s not an essential purchase. The majority of users will always have their phone nearby and smartwatches can easily tether to them and share their data.
Apple is the biggest smartwatch make in the world, but there are plenty of other smartwatch platforms. Google develops a competing Wear OS platform that’s used by most mainstream watch makers, including the Fossil Group and Samsung. Fitness companies, like Garmin and Polar, also develop their own proprietary smartwatch software.
You can see a full breakdown of all the smartwatches in this lists specifications in the table below. As you can see the main differences stem around the screen tech used, and features like GPS and battery life. Holistically the Apple Watch 7 is the most developed device in everything but battery life.
First Reviewed Date
Apple Watch Series 7
Midnight, Starlight, Green, Blue, PRODUCT RED
Apple Watch SE
30 x 40 x 10.7 MM
Silver, Space Grey, Gold
Garmin Fenix 7
47 x 14.5 x 47 MM
Fitbit Versa 3
40.4 x 40.4 x 12.4 MM
Samsung Galaxy Watch 5
Purple, Blue, Silver, Graphite