The best smartwatches for every type of user – Ars Technica

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There are smartwatches that emphasize style and a classic timepiece aesthetic, others that help you train for competition in specific sports, and everything in between. From casual exercisers to those who want every bit of data and guidance they can get, the smartwatch landscape has matured. And recently, we revisited some of our favorite options and tested the latest releases in an effort to help you nail down the best smartwatch for your needs.
If you have an iPhone and you’re looking for a smartwatch, the Apple Watch is your obligatory first stop, and for good reason. Simply put, it’s the best smartwatch you can buy. Is it the best fitness tracker? No. Is it the most stylish smartwatch? Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all, but…not really. It’s not the most versatile wearable, either, as it only works with iPhones.
But if you want a (general) mirror of your phone on your wrist and you just need the requisites for fitness tracking—heart rate, blood oxygen, GPS, and some bonus features like ECG scans—then look no further than the Apple Watch Series 7. It offers true “leave-your-phone-at-home” usefulness, with wide first- and third-party app support and LTE connectivity.
The Apple Watch Series 7’s app support is unrivaled by a near-insurmountable margin, and now basic tasks like texting are even easier with the aid of a full QWERTY keyboard. The Series 7 has a slightly bigger screen and watchcase than the Series 6, with 40 percent thinner bezels. That means the always-on display is expansive enough to allow new luxuries like that on-screen keyboard in addition to simply giving more space to view and interacting with apps.
The Series 7’s facelift is hard to see if you don’t have it side-by-side with a Series 6, and if you already own the latter, the newest model isn’t worth the upgrade. But the Series 7’s faster charging speeds are quite noticeable. New charging coils, paired with a USB-C Apple Watch charger, have cut zero-to-100 charging times in half, from 2.5 hours to 1.25 hours. This makes quick dashes on the charger much more effective. That said, overall battery life remains at 18 hours, or roughly a day’s worth of use.
Fitness-wise, the Series 7 has its bases covered with over 50 different activity-tracking modes and an easy way to see your health vitals from exercises, sleep, and everyday life via Apple’s Health app. The app focuses mostly on trends, so it’s not the most insightful, and it doesn’t offer the most guidance of any watch in this guide. But consistency is key to any health regimen, and guidance via Apple Fitness+, Apple’s paid fitness subscription (priced at $10 a month or $80 a year), helps to provide a bit of that missing guidance. Five ATM water resistance and IPX6 dust resistance—the latter of which is new to the Series 7—along with sturdier screen geometry make this the most durable Apple Watch yet.
As mentioned, the Series 7 is essentially just a faster-charging and face-lifted Series 6 that starts at $400. While stock lasts, you can often find the Series 6 for around $50 less than an equivalent Series 7 model. Alternatively, if you’re not in need of the always-on display, blood oxygen sensor, and ECG sensor, then you can save a nice chunk of change with the otherwise similar Apple Watch SE, which retails for $279.
Then there’s the Apple Watch Series 3. It lacks the same sensors just mentioned in the SE’s omissions, it’s a good ways slower than either the SE or Series 7, and it further loses the always-on altimeter, though intermittent altimeter readings are available. But it’s still an attractive buy for the basics at its MSRP of $200, and it’s often on sale for less than that. Just be aware that users have experienced issues updating their Series 3s with the watch’s limited 8GB storage. It’s also better viewed as a smartwatch than a health or fitness tracker given all the features it lacks compared to the Series 7, Series 6, and most of their competitors.
With at least three worthwhile Apple Watch options at descending price points, it’s hard to create a ton of separation among the runners-up. The Fitbit Sense’s main draw, though, is having almost all the fitness and health sensors of the Apple Watch Series 6 but with universal compatibility for use with Android, iPhone, and even computers. It also has between two and three times longer battery life than the Apple Watch, which translates to almost a full week of use.
Stylistically, it certainly looks similar to an Apple Watch, with its shiny square case, bright and vibrant display, and silicone band. Upon closer inspection, it’s easy to see the differences, though. The band latches differently and connects to the watch with a proprietary, still seamless mechanism, but the all-around feel is just as comfortable as an Apple Watch. You can also shop around for a variety of leather, silicone, and fabric bands, some made of recycled materials or with reflective fibers for hikers and runners.
The Sense also offers cutting-edge fitness-tracking hardware, like an ECG monitor and blood oxygen readings, although the latter doesn’t offer spot readings unless you pay for Fitbit Premium. Without that, the sensors are used only during sleep. Requisites like GPS, heart rate monitoring, and an altimeter are all on the Sense, as are skin temperature monitors and electrodermal activity sensors for stress measurement.
As far as smartwatches go, the Fitbit Sense covers the requisites well, allowing notifications from most any app for iOS or Android. But being universally compatible means shallower integrations, especially with first-party functions like responding to texts or emails. You won’t be able to reply to text messages or emails from your iPhone, but you can reply to texts with an Android phone using quick replies or voice dictation. Phone calls on the Fitbit are also possible with either iPhones or Android devices.
If that’s about all you need from your phone, then the Fitbit Sense is a strong contender. Just don’t expect a bevy of bespoke app complications or shortcuts to specific functions, as the Sense’s only mainstream third-party apps are a handful of music services, like Spotify (which doesn’t stream from the watch, but rather just controls streaming on another device), Deezer, and Pandora.
Inexplicably, the Sense loses the ability to download your own music files onto your device (which the Versa 2 can) unless you have either a Pandora Premium or Deezer Premium account (neither of which is widely popular). So, if going for hikes or runs without your phone is important to you, this and the lack of cellular connection capabilities may be important to consider.
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