In order to find the best smartwatch, we looked at text and call features and, of course, design. We dug into tech reviews to separate must-haves from perks. Then, we brought in 19 smartwatches to test for call responsiveness, text-ability, app accessibility, and general ease of use. In the end, three watches stood out for their reliable connectivity, gorgeous interfaces, and easy navigation.
Why we chose it
Of all the smartwatches we tested, the Apple Watch Series 4 is by far the easiest to use. The touchscreen, button, and dial help you zoom in and out and move between apps, and Apple dramatically expanded the screen size with its latest model. The Series 4 is available in 40 mm and 44 mm (compared to the Series 3’s 38 mm and 42 mm options), but it also gets rid of a sizeable border around the margins, so the screen is actually 30% bigger with only a 2 mm increase in total size. This made it easy to forget that we were typing on a screen roughly the size of an Oreo. We also loved Apple’s app homepage, which displays all of the apps as icons in a honeycomb-like display. You can use the touchscreen to move around, and the dial to zoom in or pan out, to precisely tap on the one you want.
Being able to customize the watch faces and layouts made the Series 4 a shoo-in for our list of best smartwatches. Much like you can customize the homescreen on your iPhone, you can change the layout of apps and even display the weather. While you can’t opt for third-party designs, you do have 12 different watch faces to play with. Tinker with color schemes, add or remove widgets (called “complications” on the app), and decide whether you want to have all twelve faces available on your watch (we always like having options), or cut back.
No surprise, Apple knows what they’re doing when they design a home product. The Series 4 has a crisp, beautiful, high-resolution screen that’s big enough so that you can easily tap the correct keyboard letters, but discreet enough that you don’t feel like you strapped a smart phone to your wrist. And much like the other additions to the Apple suite, the Series 4 is supremely sleek and stylish. Everything from the navigation to the screen layouts has been optimized to utilize the available space.
Best-in-class heart rate sensor
Most smartwatches use blood flow to measure heart rate, but the Apple Watch Series 4 is the first one with a built-in FDA approved electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG). This measures electrical signals in your heart and is typically done in a doctor’s office by attaching sensors to the chest. Simply put, it’s the gold standard for heart rate monitoring, and the Series 4 marks the first time it’s available in a direct-to-consumer product. The smartwatch uses electrodes on the crown and sensors on the back of the watch, allowing it to keep an eye on heart rhythms and send notifications for irregular heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation (AFib), and give you a full ECG in about 30 seconds.
Points to consider
Only for iPhone users
This watch won’t work unless you have an iPhone. However, it is hands-down the best smartwatch for an iPhone. Other watches (including the Fossil Venture HR) will work with an iPhone, but won’t be able to answer calls or respond to texts, and if you want to customize the apps on your watch, you’ll need to navigate the Google Play store through the watch screen.
Short 18-hour battery life
One of the biggest drawbacks to the Apple Watch is its relatively short 18-hour battery life. While that might sound like plenty, it rules out one of the most used features on wearable devices: sleep tracking. If you want to collect data on your sleep health, you’re better off going with the Samsung Gear Sport or a dedicated fitness tracker, both of which measure battery life in days rather than hours.