The smart watch is starting to become a hot accessory not amongst techie people, but your average fashionista too.
Many people love them for their personal fitness and health apps, yet for those who dive a little deeper – their uses become even more compelling.
I’m a seasoned Apple Watch boy, and currently rock a Series 3 version, with a rather spiffy HOCO brown leather strap.
I’m way too cheap to shell out for the Hermes model, yet my little Series 3 gets a lot of attention and compliments.
It wasn’t always like this of course, back when the first crop of smart watches came out, many a journalist penned a “why smartwatches will die” article.
Thankfully, all that pessimism has disappeared, and the smartwatch is not only here to stay, it’s fast becoming a must have tool.
Most modern designs include email, text, call and social media notifications out of the box, and many now allow you to reply too – just like Apple Watch.
App stores are hugely improved too, with even the Google Play store boasting a larger range of fitness and lifestyle apps.
It’s only at the lower end of the market, with watches like the Pebble Classic that true smartwatch like capability begins to falter.
I wouldn’t be without my little Apple Watch, and whatever model you pick, neither will you.
If you’re thinking of taking the plunge, here are my top picks to start your smartwatch journey.
|Product Name||Display Size||Operating System|
|Apple Watch Series 3||1.65" OLED||iOS|
|LG Watch Sport||1.38" POLED||Android|
|Samsung Gear S3||1.3” S. AMOLED||Android / iOS|
|Asus ZenWatch 3||1.39" AMOLED||Android|
|Moto 360 2nd Gen||1.56” LCD||Android / iOS|
|Alcatel OneTouch||1.22" TFT LCD||Android / iOS|
|Pebble Time||1.25" LED||Android / iOS|
|Pebble Classic||1.25" E-paper||Android / iOS|
|Garmin Vivoactive||1.13" LCD||Android|
|Sony Smartwatch 3||1.6” Transflective||Android|
1. Apple Watch Series 3 – Best for iPhone in 2021
Like most Apple products, the watch is brilliantly designed, and has seen some updates recently which take its battery life and usability to the next level.
My own updated Series 3 run much faster these days, and battery life is a genuine 2 to 3 days – although I’ve stopped some functions to get it there.
The Apple Watch is available in both water resistant and non-water-resistant versions.
It’s worth saying that the Apple Watch 1 in vanilla format is more than capable of getting wet in the rain; the water-resistant Model 3 is one you can literally go swimming with.
The fitness tools are useful, especially the steps taken and calories burnt modes, plus there are some nifty ideas – such as being able to take or make calls via the watch and ask simple questions.
Other cool ideas, such as “Scribble” make sending a quick text simple and something you can do without reaching for your phone.
As for the negatives, the most obvious one is price. Even the more basic models like mine are a solid $350, and you’ll pay more for water-resistance and designer inspired versions.
There’s also a lack of apps available now; however, this is always something that gets sorted once developers flock to the platform.
Even since I’ve owned mine, both the Google Play and Apple Stores have improved their range massively.
What We Like
The original and best smartwatch gets better in version 3 guise. The new operating system is slick, and improves hugely on the original Apple Watch 1 design.
Even if you plump for the updated Version 1 model, the improved processor keeps everything nice and slick.
Authors note – I own a Series 3 Apple Watch, so this review was easy to write without referring to anything.
- Better performance
- Enhanced exercise tracking
- Super-bright and clear display
- Great battery life
- OS improvements
- Need to wait for Apple Music streaming
- Only iPhone compatible
2. LG Watch Sport – Best for Android
As someone who owns an iPhone 6 and iPad Pro 2 that share the same sim – it’s awesome to be able to receive texts and calls when I’ve either of the two devices near me.
By adding a sim card into the back of your LG Watch Sport, you’ll get this sort of functionality on your wrist too – awesome!
I’m almost certain this is something Apple are cooking up on future Apple Watch releases.
Another cool thing about the LG Watch Sport, is the fact it runs a fully-fledged fitness tracker.
You can keep an eye on much more than jogging and general stats here, with weight training and strength monitored too.
It’s tracking apps are almost up there with Garmin products, making it a genuine alternative.
The only bug bears I have with the LG Watch, is the size of the face; too large for my small wrists – and the fact the battery wears down after a day’s use.
It’s still a superb effort for Android watches though.
What We Like
Easy to use, fully-fledged fitness tracker and just as water-resistant as the Apple Watch 3.
Also fits a small sim card – doing away with having to carry your phone and watch at the same time.
- IP68 water resistance
- Really good fitness tracker
- Doesn’t require phone tethering
- Super zippy, intuitive design
- Is compatible with Android and IOS
- Battery life falls short
- Few major apps are missing
- Only US phone calls require sim card
3. Samsung Gear S3 – Best GPS Function
It boasts a huge number of apps for an Android device, plus it offers a GPS function, making it a true Apple Watch alternative.
As with all things Samsung, the operating system is a snap to get used to, and is just as intuitive as Apple when you start using it in anger.
The Gear S3 also rocks full IP68 protection from the elements, plus it’s compatible with the iPhone – proving a genuine alternative.
Once again however, the face is a bit large and might put women off purchasing it.
It’s a handsome looking piece of kit though, and looks pretty badass on any gentleman’s arm.
What We Like
A handsome watch that oozes masculine charm. Also boasts many features and huge battery life.
I managed to get a solid 3 days out of this watch before it bugged out – 1 day longer than my own Apple Watch 3.
- Looks stunning also very good built quality
- Awesome activity tracking
- Offers GPS
- Good voice control
- Intuitive interface
- Very large on the wrist
- Very limited app selection
- iOS connection is buggy
4. Asus ZenWatch 3 – Epic Battery Life & Nice Fashionable Design
Back then, it wasn’t much more than a curiosity, and certainly not a smartwatch I would recommend myself.
Those days have now long gone, and in its 3rd iteration, the ZenWatch has grown into a genuine alternative for those who can’t justify pushing their budget over the $300 mark.
The display is one to recommend, and Asus have done a fine job to make the operating system easy to explore.
Battery life is awesome too, with a healthy 2 days life before dying, plus the design is more of a fashion accessory, rather than a rubbery tech mess – one of the reasons I purchased a leather strap for my Apple Watch Series 1 to replace the gummy rubber thing that came with it!
Negative points? Well, it lacks a heart rate sensor and GPS function, plus there’s a rather serious lack of straps available for it.
The original straps use a proprietary system; one most manufacturers don’t bother making for.
What We Like
Epic battery life, nice fashionable design and easy to get along with operating system.
Also costs a good $100 less than even the cheapest Apple Watch or Samsung Gear. It has its drawbacks, but Asus are getting closer.
- Big and bright display
- Very good battery life
- Solid Build quality
- Decent Performance overall
- Looks very handsome on the wrist
- No heart rate monitor, GPS, NFC
- Does not work with iOS
- Cheap charging dock
5. Moto 360 2nd Generation – Boasts a Heart Rate Monitor & Motion Trackers
It’s also supremely comfortable, even by Apple Watch standards.
Unlike the Zenwatch above, Moto have managed to pack in a heart rate monitor, plus the usual activity trackers and motion sensors.
Unfortunately, GPS is still something that Moto haven’t been able to bundle in – a shame.
As for the negatives, the 360 doesn’t have amazing integration with iPhone, missing several key apps like Moto Body, although there are apps available to bridge the gap.
Battery life is poor too, lasting just over a day before dying, we do feel that’s the price paid for such a small design though.
What We Like
A tiny smartwatch, with a nice low-key design that many will love; fits on smaller wrists beautifully too.
Boasts a heartrate monitor and motion trackers, plus there are apps available to integrate this watch to your iPhone with ease, even if that means doing away with the Moto versions.
It’s just a crying shame the battery life is so poor, hopefully the 3rd generation will fix that.
- Nice design and Bright screen
- Enhanced performance & iPhone compatibility
- Cooler than its predecessor
- Useful Moto Body activity tracking
- iPhone compatibility limiting
- Battery life isn’t great
The Budget Selection, Smartwatches for Less Than $200.
It’s not just the high end of the smartwatch world that’s been getting a shakeup recently.
Better technology and battery life has been helping manufacturers to exploit the lower end of the market too.
Of course, you shouldn’t expect a watch quite as awesome as Apple or Samsung’s offerings;
however, you can still pick up an amazing deal that’ll perform fitness monitoring and basic email and text duties with ease.
6. Alcatel OneTouch Watch – You Get a Lot for Your Money
There’s a huge variety of sensors covering acceleration, heart monitoring and gyro metering – all catering for the sports and fitness crowd.
I’d even go so far as to recommend this watch for any sports enthusiast out there, as the fitness app really is something to behold.
Who said you needed a Garmin to get good fitness tracking?
It’s not just fitness the little Alcatel is good at.
Unlike many smartwatches in the sub $105 bracket, it happily notifies you of Facebook updates, alarms, calendar reminders and of course the usual texts and emails.
In our test, the OneTouch produced a nice vibration to alert you to notifications, without altering anybody else around you – a real bugbear for cheaper smartwatches.
The battery on the OneTouch lasts for a good 2 days, not quite the best in our review, yet more than enough for it not to be an issue.
In comparison, the original Apple Watch only lasted a day before bugging out – which was a frustration!
As for negative points, the watch doesn’t have a dedicated app store; however, it does come packed with its own that cover almost everything you’ll ever need.
What We Like
Super cheap for what you get, the Alcatel OneTouch should provide everything most users will want.
The fitness apps are amazing, backed up by the sheer number of sensors packed in.
Its strap is a huge trade up from watches like the Pebble too.
- Works with iOS and Android
- Good battery life
- Built in charging port
- Doesn’t cost arms and legs
- Features so limited
- Screen just not that great
7. Pebble Time & Pebble Time Steel – Battery Life is Amazing
Both now come with a full color screen, and can cope with updates from email, text and incoming calls; and like most Pebble models, you can track simple fitness goals too, like sleeping and activity.
The calendar is awesome too, with a timeline that allows you to scroll into the future to see what’s coming up.
Vibrations are good too, enough to alert you without causing too much of a nuisance.
Where the Pebble line up really excels though, is battery life.
You can expect almost 7 days solid use out of both the Time and Steel models, which pretty much blows anything else in our review out of the water – save for the Pebble Classic.
The Steel version also boasts a leather strap and quick release pins, with alternative straps also available.
Unlike Alcatel, Pebble also has its own store, which offers a serious number of integration apps.
You’d be surprised at what’s available, including apps for Uber, Google, Facebook and Pandora.
What We Like
The Pebble line up has matured well over the past few years, and now offers a compelling alternative to more expensive smartwatches.
The design is good, fitness apps are good enough for most people’s needs, plus the app store is surprisingly well stocked!
Battery life is amazing too, considering the fact it runs with a full color screen.
- Notifications delivered in a really useful way
- Waterproof design means you can take it swimming
- More luxurious stainless steel
- Extra-long battery life
- Comfortable Works with iOS, Android
- Has a thicker screen bezel than the Pebble Time
- Leather strap is most unattractive of the strap options
- Still needs some better watch faces
8. Pebble Classic – A Good Starter
Pebble beat all other manufacturers to the punch with the classic, and at $54 the price has finally come down to something most people can afford.
The screen on the Pebble Classic, loses the color screen and goes for an e-paper monochrome display instead.
That might not seem all that impressive compared to more modern offerings, yet was ground-breaking at the time, and has some advantages.
Battery life is awesome for a start, boasting 7 days life between charges, plus the screen is easily visible in bright sunlight.
As for notifications, the Pebble manages to give email, text and call alerts, and you can view your calendar easily.
The fitness apps are okay too, with a pedometer and heart monitor included as standard.
Don’t expect your tracking to be quite so good as more expensive models though.
The original Pebble design is starting to show its age now though; however, an updated Pebble Classic 2 has improved things a little – and made the interface a little snappier.
What We Like
Cheap enough for late adopters to start purchasing, the Pebble Classic does most things well.
The monochrome screen leads to all sorts of benefits, such as battery life and readability.
However, there are some issues, such as Fitbit taking over the company – we’re unsure how much longer the Pebble might continue for.
- Simple, understated design.
- Easy setup.
- Instantaneous notifications.
- Customizable watch faces.
- Syncs with Android or iOS.
- Greater iOS app compatibility than Android.
- Some bugs.
- Will be a little big for some wrists
- Requires specific charger
9. Garmin Vivoactive – Best Running & Workout
One of the cool things about the Vivoactive, is the fact it includes GPS tracking, something unheard of in a sub $229 smartwatch.
This opens a world of tracking for those who cycle, hike or run – you can even track your progress without your smartphone present.
The color screen is good too, and can be seen easily in all light conditions, plus water resistance and the option of a heart rate monitor make it a solid alternative to the Pebble.
It can connect to iPhone or Android, with a full range of apps including email, text and calendar notifications.
The Connect IQ store is fully grown up too, and offers everything from Facebook and Twitter integration, to upgraded faces and widgets.
One of the cool features available, is notifications and vibrations to alert your heartrate, steps taken and distance ran – part of the reason Garmin is such a popular brand for runners and walkers.
Training functions like auto-lap and auto-pause help too.
Battery life is good too, with up to 21 days in standard mode, and 10 hours if you have the GPS switched on.
We’ve consistently found the average battery life to be 10 days, including a small amount of GPS tracking use each day.
What We Like
A compelling choice for runners, walkers and cyclists, the Garmin Vivoactive is by far the best smartwatch if you like to track your distances and laps.
Notifications are good too, making the watch a decent all-round solution – minus Apple prices.
- Holds up to 500 songs locally.
- Measures steps, stairs, sleep, continuous heart rate.
- Includes advanced fitness metrics: VO2 max, fitness age, stress.
- Contactless payment and smartwatch features.
- May feel heavy and bulky to some.
- Charger is proprietary.
- Can’t choose which apps get alerts
- iOS users can’t respond to texts
10. Sony Smartwatch 3 – Waterproof Watch with Decent Battery
It boasts full GPS and fitness tracking to rival the Garmin Vivoactive, plus it offers some pretty cool features, like Google Wallet integration.
Unlike some cheaper smartwatches, the little Sony is available in both rubber and stainless-steel bands.
The classic rubber band is nothing new, with a look similar to the the Asus and Moto 360; however, the stainless-steel version looks neat, with more of a fashion than sport vibe.
Unfortunately, cost savings have been made in the design.
The screen viewing angles aren’t that great, plus the vibrations can be annoying and loud for some people.
The screen is also made from an older LCD technology, making it less vibrant than the latest offerings from Samsung and their AMOLED.
On a more positive note, the processor inside the Sony Smartwatch 3 is anything but slow.
Powered by an Arm A7, it powers through almost anything, without any slowdown.
The app store is good too, and with the processor speed, it should run almost anything with ease.
What We Like
An IP68 waterproof watch with decent battery life, fast operating system and reasonable fitness tracking.
GPS works great, although there’s a lack of heartrate monitoring for the true fitness enthusiast.
Still, it’s well priced and provides a good alternative to the Moto 360 and Asus ZenWatch.
- Bright Screen
- Built-in GPS
- Runs on Android 5.0 Lollipop
- Supports Micro USB charging
- Not super stylish
- Iffy GPS performance
- Fiddly charging port
The best smartwatch in 2020 is still Apple, in updated version 2 or version 3 guise.
Like most Apple products, everything is so slick and well-designed that most people never look back.
Samsung have been busy too, and their Samsung Gear S3 comes just about as close to the Apple Watch as you can within the Android platform.
We love the sheer range of models available, and the Google store is really starting to rival Apple on available apps.
LG Watch is also another contender, although huge gains in battery life and power come at a huge cost for those with smaller wrists – that face is huge!
Still, for the guys out there it’s a smartwatch worth looking at.
At the lower end of the price spectrum, you’ll want to stick to stick to established brands like Pebble, Moto, Garmin and Alcatel. The Alcatel OneTouch is an extremely well-designed watch that we liked for its looks.
The face is nice and small too, and the operating system is as simple as can be.
For fitness and sports enthusiasts, the Garmin Vivoactive is where you’ll want to spend your money.
It’s by far the best sub $200 watch that includes GPS tracking, and has a huge range of fitness apps to track just about anything.
The bundled in auto-lap and auto-pause functions make this an even better running and cycling watch.
That leaves us with the humble Pebble, still motoring along after all these years and at a cheap price too.
My mother has one of these, and to be honest she wouldn’t probably own one at all if the price was over $100.
If you just want simple notifications, solid fitness tracking and a battery that doesn’t need a top-up on the daily, it should be everything you’ll ever need.
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