We’ve worn dozens of smartwatches and fitness trackers over the course of workdays, workouts, vacations, and the rest of everyday life to see which ones best track your activity, relay your phone notifications, give you access to apps, and do anything else that lets you keep your phone in your pocket. The Apple Watch SE (which works only with iPhones) offers the best combination of style, message handling, apps, battery life, activity tracking, and value. But we also have picks if you use an Android phone, or if you value fitness or distance-sports tracking over style, notifications, and apps.
The best smartwatch for iPhone owners: Apple Watch SE
Whether you’re getting your first Apple Watch or upgrading from a version that’s a few years old, the Apple Watch SE is the model most people should choose. It has a great, large screen and is fast enough for apps, but it lacks some health-related features.
Who this is for: iPhone owners who want to leave their phone in their pocket while keeping up with messages and notifications, controlling smart devices, getting directions, and tracking their fitness.
Apple Watches are the best smartwatches overall because they make it easier than any other wearable device to interact with the messages and notifications relayed from your iPhone. For most people, the Apple Watch SE is the best version to get. It’s noticeably faster than 2017’s Series 3, but still costs 30% less than the Apple Watch Series 6. It comes in the same body sizes as the Series 6—40 mm and 44 mm—and has most of the same features too, like activity tracking and a heart rate monitor. The SE mostly gives up an always-on display, the blood oxygen sensor, and the ECG function, and we think most people won’t miss those. Although not every major iPhone app has an Apple Watch partner app, many do, and most respond quickly and are optimized for the watch’s screen, unlike many of the apps available for Android watches. And the Apple Watch does a good job of independently tracking most kinds of workouts where accurate distance tracking isn’t vital1, and it encourages non-workout fitness (such as standing and moving every hour). We also like that the Apple Watch lets you easily make contactless payments using Apple Pay, and if you own a Mac, you can unlock the computer by just getting close to it with your Apple Watch.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Apple Watch requires an iPhone—if you have another kind of phone, you’re out of luck. Although good Apple Watch apps are better than what you get for Android smartwatches, many are still very limited compared with their phone counterparts. You may find that the Apple Watch versions of your favorite iPhone apps do less than you expected. Most people shouldn’t buy an Apple Watch specifically to run third-party apps. You should buy one for what it does on its own; useful watch apps will be a bonus.
The Apple Watch easily survives a day of normal use on a charge, but if you do anything demanding—use LTE, navigate with Maps for an extended period, track a long workout—you may find your watch in Power Reserve mode before evening.
Available sizes: 40 mm and 44 mm
Colors: silver, space gray, gold
Learn more in our full review of the best smartwatch for iPhone owners.
The best fitness tracker for people who want to get or stay active: Fitbit Charge 3
Who this is for: People who care more about tracking their fitness, sleep, heart rate, and activity throughout the day than they do about apps and notifications, but who don’t need all the features of a high-end GPS watch.
Why we like it: Of all the trackers we tested, the Fitbit Charge 3 is the simplest to use and among the most accurate for measuring steps and heart rate—although accuracy isn’t everything. It reliably senses, correctly identifies, and begins to record your workouts—running, walking, biking—after about 10 minutes of movement. The combination of a touchscreen display, an inductive “button” on the side, and clearly labeled icons makes the menus easy to navigate. The user-friendly app links you to a robust network of other Fitbit wearers, who can help motivate you. In addition, you can use that app to choose which smartphone notifications to receive, so that only the ones you want will buzz on your wrist. The Charge 3 also tracks how long and how well you sleep at night, and it can even detect naps, unlike many of its competitors. Its above-average battery life means you’ll be able to wear it for longer at a stretch, too.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Charge 3 can record 20 different types of activity, but you can see no more than six activity modes at once. Also, although the device captured our data well in swim mode, it doesn’t show counted lengths in real time while you swim, which several other trackers do. And it limits you to setting a time goal for swimming—you can’t set one for distance (our also-great pick lets you do so).
We found the standard plastic band that comes with the Charge 3 less comfortable than some of the others we tested; you can buy additional bands and swap them out quite easily.
Finally, a few Amazon reviews—especially earlier ones—complain about phone-syncing problems (in our tests, this happened occasionally with one of our Android phones, although restarting the phone always fixed it) and all-out bricking (which we didn’t experience at all). Fitbit customer service has always been very good about replacing faulty devices. Still, we’ll keep an eye on these issues as we long-term test the Charge 3.
Battery life: up to seven days
Sleep tracking: yes, including naps
Waterproof: yes, 50 meters
Heart-rate monitor: yes
GPS: yes, when connected to a phone
Read more in our guide to the best fitness trackers.
The best Android smartwatch: Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2
Who this is for: Android phone owners who want to reply to notifications, use apps for home control or directions, and pull out their phone less. It’s good for counting steps, encouraging activity, and tracking occasional long walks, runs, or bike rides, but if you’re serious about tracking your runs or cycling sessions, you’ll want a GPS watch. Likewise, if tracking and improving your movement and sleep is a priority, you may do better with a fitness tracker.
Why we like it: Samsung’s Galaxy Watch Active2, available in 44 mm and 40 mm sizes, is the best smartwatch for all Android phones even though it doesn’t run Google’s software. It runs Samsung’s Tizen, which allows for better performance and battery life (two to three days) than what you get from watches running Google’s Wear OS. Samsung’s watch interface is easy to navigate thanks to the touch bezel scrolling, and the round OLED display is gorgeous. The Galaxy Watch Active2 also has impressive fitness tracking with automatic workout detection—something Wear OS still lacks. You won’t find as many apps on Tizen as on Wear OS, though.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Galaxy Watch Active2 doesn’t have Google Assistant, but it does have Bixby, which isn’t much more useful than Samsung’s old S Voice feature. It rarely answers questions as well as Google Assistant, and there are almost no third-party app integrations. That said, Google Assistant on Wear OS is notoriously slow and unreliable, so you might as well just get your phone out to use Assistant. The only thing for which we’d recommend using voice control on the Galaxy Watch Active2 is entering text—it’s better than the watch’s hilariously tiny keyboard.
Available sizes: 40 mm and 44 mm
Colors: Aqua Black, Pink Gold, Cloud Silver
Read more in our guide to the best smartwatch for Android phones.
The best watch for the serious runner or triathlete: Garmin Forerunner 645 Music
Who this is for: People who run seriously or compete in triathlons, need physical buttons for use while moving, and want to monitor their performance and progress with richer and more precise data.
Why we like it: The sleek and slim Garmin Forerunner 645 Music was our testers’ favorite GPS watch in almost every way. In particular, its exceptionally accurate wrist-based heart-rate tracking makes it the only watch we feel confident using for heart-rate-based training without a separate strap. The button-powered interface is easy to use, and it’s more customizable than that of any other watch we tested—you can modify any aspect of the display, from the watch face to the widgets to the activity profiles to the running-data screens. Its excellent all-day activity tracking, detailed sleep tracking, and nice-to-have smartwatch notifications and apps make it useful enough to wear 24/7. Equally important is that it’s comfortable and attractive enough that we’d actually want to wear it all day.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Our one concern, apart from the hefty price, was GPS inaccuracy, which we experienced on some runs in New York City. However, as our experts caution against relying on GPS to assess your exact pace while running, we don’t see this as a dealbreaker.
Colors: black, slate, cerise, rose gold
Read more in our guide to the best GPS running watch.
When you're using an Apple Watch with a paired iPhone, the watch can use the phone’s GPS features for better accuracy—even the GPS-equipped Apple Watch models are more accurate with a phone nearby. But that means you have to carry your phone with you while exercising.Jump back.