The Best Smartwatches for Indoor and Outdoor Use

Smartwatches are poised to shake up the mobile device industry in the same way that the Nokia N95 did back in 2006. Widely considered to be the world’s first smartphone, the Nokia N95 was equipped with the Symbian operating system. It featured the first-ever 5-megapixel phone camera and it could connect to Bluetooth devices and Wi-Fi. CNET correctly described the N95 as a “beast” that “promises to revolutionize the market.”

As great as the N95 was at the time, today’s smartphones put it to shame. They are much faster and can do a lot more. However, there are still many problems to solve. One is the issue of cracked screens. Every hour, approximately 5,761 smartphone screens break in the United States according to warranty service provider SquareTrade. Your smartphone can easily fall out of your pocket or drop out of your hand. Even if your phone’s screen is made from Gorilla Glass, there’s a chance that it’ll crack if that happens. Another problem is size. Even today’s slimmest smartphones are somewhat awkward to carry in a pocket. Poor battery performance is yet another issue that continues to plague smartphone users.

The next step forward could very well be smartwatches, which can solve all three of the problems mentioned above. There are several exciting new smartwatches that are just as innovative as the N95 was 13 years ago. Contactless payments, voice operation and bespoke fitness programs are just a few of the features that today’s top smartwatches offer.

Here are the best smartwatches you can buy:

  • The Apple Watch Series 5 offers a beautiful user experience, state-of-the-art sensors and over 100 customizable watch faces.
  • Even though the Fitbit Versa 2 costs less than half as much as what other smartwatch manufacturers charge, it offers a surprisingly large set of features.
  • The Samsung Galaxy Smartwatch is one of the only smartwatches on the market that meets military-grade durability standards.
  • When it comes to speed and sheer good looks, it’s hard to top Fossil’s Gen 5 Carlyle.
  • The Garmin vívoactive 4 can run for up to eight days straight on a single battery charge.

The most user-friendly smartwatch

Apple Watch Series 5

The Apple Watch Series 5 combines newly revamped, state-of-the-art sensors with Apple’s industry-leading collection of smartwatch apps. But what sets the Apple Watch 5 apart from other smartwatches is Apple’s attention to detail when it comes to user experience.

Good

  • Best-in-class interface design. Apple specializes in ease-of-use, and this smartwatch lives up to the Apple brand name in that department.
  • Integrates with Apple’s app ecosystem. Apple Watch 5 has better apps than any other smartwatch on the market.
  • Advanced sensors. All of the Apple Watch 5’s sensors– which include a GPS unit, an optical heart sensor, an ambient light sensor, an electrical heart sensor, a barometric altimeter and an accelerometer– have been upgraded.
  • Works with Apple Pay. Apple Pay is one of the most widely used and accepted digital wallets.
  • Over 100 customizable watch faces. You can either pick the face that suits your exact taste, or change the face to match whatever you’re wearing that day.
  • Unique always-on feature. Each face has a different way of going into sleep mode. Some dim and others invert colors, for example.

Bad

  • Poor battery life. The Apple Watch 5’s poor battery performance is its Achilles heel. One charge only lasts 18 hours.
  • GPS is sometimes inaccurate. Even though the GPS has been upgraded, other watches are more accurate when it comes to determining location.

In a nutshell

The Apple Watch 5 feels less like a watch and more like a work of art. No other smartwatch brand can match Apple’s beautiful watch faces and slick user interface. The fact that the battery won’t even last a full 24 hours is a major concern, though.

Buy Apple Watch Series 5 from Amazon

The best value smartwatch for the money

Fitbit Versa 2 Health & Fitness Smartwatch

The Fitbit Versa 2 costs half as much as some smartwatches, yet its feature set is very competitive. One of Versa 2’s strong points is its AMOLED display, which is significantly improved from the previous generation. Excellent battery performance, music, contactless payments and tailor-made workout routines round out the watch’s other offerings.

Good

  • Alexa facilitates hands-free operation. You can use Amazon Alexa to interact with your watch.
  • Choose from several different music services. Spotify, Deezer and Pandora are just some of the music services that work with Fitbit Versa 2.
  • Make in-store payments with Fitbit Pay. Fitbit Pay saves you the hassle of having to carry cash or a bank card with you all the time.
  • Long battery life. One charge lasts for up to six days.
  • Delivers customized workout routines. If you get Fitbit Premium, your Fitbit Versa 2 will send you bespoke fitness plans that match your preferences and needs.
  • Deep selection of wristbands. Few other smartwatches have as many accessories.
  • Bright, crisp AMOLED display. The upgraded display is brighter and sharper than Fitbit Versa 1’s.

Bad

  • Fitbit Pay doesn’t have a smartphone app. You have to use your smartwatch if you want to pay with Fitbit Pay.
  • Some apps are buggy. Fitbit Versa 2’s apps generally work well most of the time, but they sometimes crash or do unexpected things.

In a nutshell

The Fitbit Versa 2 is an affordable smartwatch that’s neck-and-neck with the competition when it comes to features and performance. There are currently about 100 apps in Fitbit’s app gallery now, but over time more apps will appear and developers will improve the existing apps’ minor bugs.

Buy Fitbit Versa 2 Health & Fitness Smartwatch from Amazon

The most durable smartwatch

Samsung Galaxy Smartwatch

Smartwatch manufacturers compete to cram as many sensors as they can into as small of a space as they can realistically engineer. As a result, sometimes durability turns into a second concern. But that’s not the case with the Samsung Galaxy Smartwatch. It’s one of the few smartwatches that that meets military-grade standards of durability.

Good

  • Built to withstand harsh conditions. This device meets MIL-STD-810G standards of toughness. It won’t break when you drop it and it can survive up to 50 meters of water.
  • Ultra-realistic watch faces. The watch faces are so convincing that the only way to know it’s not a smartwatch is by looking at it closely.
  • Wireless charger. The fact that you don’t have to plug your Samsung Galaxy in to charge it adds convenience.
  • Works with a wide variety of Android apps. Spotify, Uber, Flipboard and Find My Car are just a few of the apps that work with this watch.
  • Listen to guided meditations. Relax and destress when you have some time to spare with a built-in guided meditation feature.
  • Optional earbuds are available. The wireless earbuds let you listen to music through your watch while on the go.
  • Multiple style options. There are two available sizes and three colors, with multiple band styles to choose from.

Bad

  • Bixby doesn’t compare to Amazon Alexa. Bixby is Samsung’s answer to Amazon Alexa and other similar voice assistants, but it doesn’t have nearly as many features.
  • Limited battery life. One charge only lasts three days, which is somewhat average battery life compared to competing smartwatches.

In a nutshell

If you lead an active lifestyle and you need a smartwatch that can survive more than a few dings and drops, the Samsung Galaxy Smartwatch could be your best option. It combines aesthetic good looks and innovative features with military-grade durability.

Buy Samsung Galaxy Smartwatch from Amazon

The most sophisticated looking smartwatch

Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle

The Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle is a quick, elegant-looking watch that sports a large collection of apps. Among these include Google Assistant, which you can interact with via the watch’s built-in speaker and microphone. One of the biggest improvements that this watch’s latest generation offers is improved speed. The Gen 4 had 512 MB of RAM, but the Gen 5 has a full gigabyte.

Good

  • Professional look. Some smartwatches resemble gadgets, but the Fossil Gen 5 looks professional enough to wear to the office.
  • Works with Wear OS. Wear OS apps include Google Fit, Google Pay, Google Play Music, AccuWeather, Runkeeper, Google Maps, Audiobooks.com and many others.
  • Suitable for swimming. You can keep your Fossil Gen 5 on your wrist when you go for a swim.
  • Fast performance. This is one of the fastest smartwatches you’ll find. Fossil doubled the amount of RAM from 512 to 1GB.
  • Built-in speaker and mic. These hardware features let you interact with Google Assistant.
  • Customizable dials. If you don’t like the default controls, you can customize them.

Bad

  • Hard to read in direct sunlight. The screen is difficult to see outdoors in some types of light conditions.
  • Limited battery life. You’ll need to charge the watch daily to keep it going, since one charge only lasts 24 hours. The battery controls are not very intuitive and they turn off key features.

In a nutshell

Fossil made a name for itself by designing, manufacturing and distributing high-quality, fashionable watches and it lives up to this reputation once again with the Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle. But if you plan on using your smartwatch primarily outdoors, there are better options out there.

Buy Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle from Amazon

The smartwatch with the longest lasting battery

Garmin vívoactive 4

The best thing about the Garmin vívoactive 4 is its impressive battery performance. Many smartwatches will barely last 24 hours on a single charge, but this watch will keep ticking for eight days. Even if you listen to music or leave the GPS on, one charge will last for about a week. You can use Garmin Pay to make in-store purchases and animated workout programs introduce you to new workout routines.

Good

  • One battery charge lasts for over a week. One charge lasts over eight days in smartwatch mode and up to six days in GPS or music mode.
  • More accurate than most smartwatches. The built-in GPS tracks your location with precision.
  • Animated workout programs. The watch teaches you new ardio, strength, yoga and Pilates workout routines.
  • Two different size options. If 45mm watches look too chunky on your wrist, you can get the 40mm size instead.
  • Digital wallet feature. You can connect your bank card to Garmin Pay and use it to buy things in stores.
  • Built-in music storage. You can download music from Spotify, Deezer, Amazon Music and others or transfer music files from your computer.

Bad

  • Limited app support. Garmin’s app store is small compared to what other smartwatch manufacturers offer.
  • No voice assistant. You can’t use voice commands to interact with this watch.

In a nutshell

This underrated watch boasts a digital wallet, innovative workout features and incredible battery life. However, one thing that it doesn’t do is listen to your voice. If you don’t mind the lack of a voice assistant, this could be the best smartwatch for you.

Buy Garmin vívoactive 4 from Amazon

Buying guide for smartwatches

Key considerations

Durability

Even the least expensive smartwatches cost several hundred dollars– that’s why it makes sense to prioritize durability when shopping for smartwatches. A smartwatch’s International Protection Marking (IP rating) can tell you how tough your prospective smartwatch is, as can its Environmental Engineering Considerations and Laboratory Tests rating.

Battery life

If you intend on using your smartwatch on a regular basis, you should look for one that has good battery life. Some watches need to be charged every day, but others can run for a week or more on a single charge. Battery management utilities can help squeeze more performance out of your smartwatch’s power source.

Water resistance

At the bare minimum, your smartwatch should be able to withstand light splashes and rain. If you intend to use your smartwatch while working out, you may need more water resistance. Many fitness-oriented smartwatches can be used while swimming.

Music storage

Most top-of-the-line smartwatches come with internal hard drives, which can be used to store music. However, some smartwatches only support music streaming.

Contactless payments

Digital wallet apps are convenient because they eliminate the need to carry bank cards or cash with you when you go out. Before you buy a smartwatch, check to make sure that your bank supports the digital wallet you intend to use with it.

GPS

Location-aware smartwatches let you do things like check Google Maps and track your progress when you go out for a run. However, some GPS-enabled smartwatches are more accurate than others.

Display

Smartwatches that are meant to be used outdoors feature high contrast, glare-resistant displays. In addition to outdoor visibility, size is another thing to consider. Displays can be as small as 36 millimeters or as large as 46 millimeters. Some brands provide several different display size options.

App ecosystem

The larger the app ecosystem is, the more things you’ll be able to do with your smartwatch. Check to see which apps are available before you make your purchase.

Voice assistant

There are many different voice assistants that work with smartwatches, but each voice assistant has different features. Additionally, some voice assistants are better at voice recognition than others. If you don’t like using voice assistants, you may want to go with a smartwatch that lacks this feature.

Accessories

Many smartwatch brands offer a variety of different wristbands. Some can be used with wireless chargers. Other smartwatch accessories let you turn your smartwatch into a smartnecklace.

Price ranges

Budget

Basic smartwatches cost about $200. They have less memory and CPU power and are therefore somewhat slower compared to mid-range and high-end smartwatches. They also tend to have less apps, lower quality sensors and dimmer screens.

Mid-range

Smartwatches in the $300 price range are a bit faster and have better screens. They usually have better sensors, as well. Another feature that’s common among mid-range smartwatches is a voice activated operation.

High-end

Cutting-edge smartwatches cost around $400. They come with more and better apps, slicker interfaces as well as higher quality sensors and larger displays. In addition, high-end smartwatches tend to have more music storage capacity.

Frequently asked questions

Q: Is bigger always better when it comes to smartwatch size?
A: Larger smartwatches are easier to read, but there are some disadvantages to be aware of as well. For example, smartwatches with bigger screens require more battery power– that’s why smaller smartwatches tend to make a charge last a bit longer. Also, a 46 millimeter watch may not look good on you if you have small wrists.

Q: Is it illegal to use a smartwatch while driving?
A: If you live in a country where using a smartphone while driving is illegal, the same rules likely apply to smartwatch use. Last year, the BBC reported that a Canadian police officer gave a student a fine for looking at his smartwatch while he was waiting for a red light to turn green at an intersection.

Q: Is it possible to use a smartwatch without a smartphone?
A: You can, but you won’t be able to take advantage of some features if you do. You usually have to connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth to receive text messages and app alerts, for example. On the other hand, some smartwatches let you download music from your phone to your smartwatch so that you don’t have to bring both devices with you when you work out.

Tips

  • New smartwatch apps are coming out all the time, so be sure to check out your smartwatch’s app store on a regular basis. A new app called Bunting, for example, lets you use your voice assistant to write Twitter tweets.
  • Try out a few different keyboards. Some smartwatches support handwriting mode.
  • Why stick with one watch face when there are hundreds of different ones to choose from? Most smartwatches come with several different faces and you can get even more by downloading various watch face apps.
  • Check to see what type of smartwatch accessories are available. Some accessories let you turn your smartwatch into a smartnecklace, for example. Wireless charging docks may be worth checking out as well.

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