Walking Guide

Your One-Stop Smartwatch Shopping Guide

Remember when a watch was just for keeping time? These days, wrist wearables are a lot smarter than they used to be, tracking everything from the weather to your whereabouts to your workout history. Linking to your smartphone via Bluetooth, smartwatches are like mini computers that are constantly at arm’s reach, displaying notifications of texts, phone calls and social media activity.

If you haven’t yet boarded the smartwatch bandwagon, there’s never been a better time (pun intended). By starting now, you’ll get access to the latest-and-greatest bells and whistles, at competitive prices. Not sure where to start? We rounded up some of the most important questions and the most popular smartwatches, so you can make an informed—and timely—choice.
 

Questions to Answer Before Choosing a Smartwatch

  • Will it sync to your phone or other device? Like smartphones, smartwatches run on operating systems. Typically, this will be iOS, which is Apple’s platform for the Apple Watch, or Google’s Android Wear. However, some models run on their own proprietary operating systems with their own exclusive apps. Before choosing a smartwatch, make sure its platform is compatible with your phone and has the apps you need.
  • How much do you want to spend? You can expect to spend anywhere from $150 to $350+ for a quality smartwatch. Although there are some lower-budget options, you’ll sacrifice some features and performance as the price dwindles.
  • What style do you prefer? Will you be wearing your smartwatch only for workouts, or will it be a permanent accessory all day long? Some people prefer a more understated design with a traditional face, while others opt for edgier athleisure styles.
  • Do you need heart rate monitoring? Smartwatches with heart rate monitoring will generally cost more. Some devices, like the Apple Watch, monitor your heart rate 24/7 regardless of activity level, while others only kick in while you're working out. If you already have a heart rate-monitoring chest strap, you can purchase a tracker that will pair with the strap.
  • Do you want to track your sleep? You already know that healthy sleep is integral to your overall well-being. Many smartwatches will monitor your sleep patterns and indicate when you're in a light and deep sleep throughout the night.
  • Will your smartwatch get wet? If you plan to swim or shower while wearing your smartwatch, or if you want to be able to kayak, paddleboard or run in rainstorms, you'll want to choose a waterproof device.
  • How long will you use the smartwatch between charges? Battery life is an important feature to consider when choosing a smartwatch. If you don't want to have to remember to charge it every night, you might want to spring for a device with extended battery life.

Top Smartwatches for 2017

Given the sheer volume of smartwatches on the market, how can you determine which is the right one for you without sifting through dozens of catalogs or websites? Below, we've compiled quick summaries of some of the most popular devices, as reviewed by PCMag and Wareable.

Apple Watch Series 2 – $364.99

With desirable features like GPS and water resistance, Apple’s latest head-turning model is arguably the most coveted in the crowded smartwatch wallet. The sleek, stylish design is appropriate for all-day wear, from the gym to the office and beyond, and consumers will notice faster performance and a brighter screen than the original watch.
  • What It Tracks: GPS (built-in), heart rate, distance, speed, pace
  • Additional Features: Water resistant to 50 meters with water indicator; Workout app lets you choose from 12 indoor and outdoor workouts; integrates with third-party apps; cord-free Air Pods; interchangeable bands in stylish colors
  • Compatible with: iOS
  • Cons: High cost; no integrated sleep tracking; heart rate tracking is limited to workouts; somewhat limited battery life compared to other smartphones; lack of heart rate zones 
Apple Watch Nike+ – around $392.90

Runner enthusiasts and Nike lovers will appreciate this version of the Apple Watch. It offers the same features as the Series 2, with the addition of a built-in Nike app, Siri commands, super sporty styling and exclusive branded watch faces.
  • What It Tracks: GPS (built-in), heart rate, distance, speed, pace
  • Additional Features: Water resistant to 50 meters with water indicator; Workout app lets you choose from 12 indoor and outdoor workouts; integrates with third-party apps; cord-free Air Pods; interchangeable bands in stylish colors; ventilated watchband; exclusive Nike watch faces
  • Compatible with: iOS
  • Cons: High cost; no integrated sleep tracking; heart rate tracking is limited to workouts; somewhat limited battery life compared to other smartphones; lack of heart rate zones 
Apple Watch Series 1 – starting from $252.88

The Series 1 has the same hardware and features as the Series 2, with the exception of the built-in GPS, water resistance and the brighter screen.
  • What It Tracks: GPS (not built-in; linked to iPhone), heart rate, distance, speed, pace
  • Additional Features: Workout app lets you choose from 12 indoor and outdoor workouts; integrates with third-party apps; cord-free Air Pods; interchangeable bands in stylish colors
  • Compatible with: iOS
  • Cons: GPS is based on iPhone; high cost; no integrated sleep tracking; heart rate tracking is limited to workouts; somewhat limited battery life compared to other smartphones 
Huawei Watch 2 (starting at $241.90)
 
Its superior fitness tracking capabilities and built-in heart rate monitor make the latest Huawei one of the stronger smartwatches, but it does have some limitations. The sporty, rather bulky appearance doesn’t seem geared to all-day wear, and some might deem the band as a little on the cheap side.
  • What It Tracks: GPS, heart rate, distance, speed, pace
  • Additional Features: Above average battery life; numerous sensors to ensure accurate fitness tracking; five pre-loaded workout apps
  • Compatible with: Android, iOS
  • Cons: Sporty band styling seems limited to workout wear; can only view last six hours of heart rate data; lack of centralized place to view workout history and progress 
Asus Zenwatch 3 (starting at $211.99)
 
For those seeking comfort and elegance in a smartwatch, the Asus Zenwatch 3 delivers—but its fit and aesthetics may be eclipsed by a clunky interface and sometimes inaccurate fitness tracking.
  • What It Tracks: Steps, calories burned, distance, sleep, various activities
  • Additional Features: Elegant, classic design; accurate sleep tracking; fast-charging battery; interchangeable bands; customizable watch faces; water resistant (not waterproof)
  • Compatible with: Android, iOS
  • Cons: Need to download four separate apps to unlock all functionality; no heart rate monitor; no GPS; clumsy OS functionality
Samsung Gear S3 ($299.99)
 
Although it boasts an impressive list of features, some reviewers found this smartwatch to be more than they needed. It’s also bigger and more cumbersome than the Gear S2 Classic. Consumers have a choice of the understated Classic or rugged Frontier style.
  • What It Tracks: Steps, GPS, heart rate
  • Additional Features: Accurate step counting; waterproof; calling and texting capability; above average battery life; improved interface compared to Android Wear models
  • Compatible with: Android
  • Cons: No syncing with popular fitness apps; clunkier and more cumbersome than previous model
Samsung Gear S2 Classic ($299.00)
 
Samsung has upgraded the original Gear S2 with the Classic’s sleek, sharp design, which includes a leather wristband and vivid display screen—but it’s not without its drawbacks.
  • What It Tracks: Steps, heart rate
  • Additional Features: Intuitive interface; rotating bezel; stainless steel case
  • Compatible with: Android
  • Cons: Lack of third-party apps; spotty voice recognition 
LG Gizmo Gadget ($149.99)

Designed for kids by Verizon Wireless, this smartwatch has a sleek, comfortable design and comes in red or blue. It’s a fun way for kids to monitor their activity while safely staying in touch with parents. Built-in parental controls provide peace of mind.
  • What It Tracks: GPS, steps, activity
  • Additional Features: Stopwatch; timer
  • Compatible with: Android, iOS
  • Cons: No free-form texting capability; parent of the user must be a Verizon subscriber 
If you’re already using a smartwatch, share your experience in the comments!

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Member Comments

I realize this is an older article but wanted to share that I have used a variety of Garmin devices (vivofit, vivosmart, and now a fenix)

I like that they all sync through the same application and keep my information for me. They have some social functions like challenges that are similar to what sparkpeople has. The products themselves are pretty durable and designed with different end users in mind. I purchased the fenix recently because I wanted GPS and to use a heart rate belt to measure my workouts. Vivosmart will measure your heart rate on your wrist 24/7 but doesn't track distance very well (for me).

Just about any device can be purchased refurbished on places like amazon or ebay. Report
This article needs to be updated. Report
Excellent article, thanks for the different watch comparisons. These watches do so much, when do you have time to pay attention to what you are doing! Report
I have a fitbit that I wear all day but it is giving trouble with the time and date.
Report
What's new for 2018? Report
I don't have a smart watch. I wear a Garmin activity tracker. Report
IMLOVINGME
If you're new to trackers & like to keep things simple, I like using Polar.
It's really easy to use & read! Report
I use a Garmin vivo fit it is very accurate and syncs well to my android phone. Report
This article re-enforces my earlier decision. I've used a Fit-bit for a number of years, but I purchased it through a company called WaterFi, that waterproofs if, so I never take it off except to charge every few days. (It is paired to my computer so it reminds me of that, along with other things like it's time to go to bed.) They're very consumer oriented. They also sell waterproof music devices, so I swim with both of them for over an hour at a time and they record my heartbeat when I enter it into both the Fit-bit app and my Spark Pages. Report
When my Fitbit Charge died, I switched to Apple 2. I was an Android user, so switching to iPhone was biggest problem for me but the watch is fantastic. I just upgraded to an Apple 3! Report
I got my first Fitbit in 2013 and continue to use and love Fitbit. It’s my “go to”. However I started using an Apple Watch in 2015 when they came out. I use and love both because they are different! Both are worn on the same arm. Report
I don't have a smart watch. If I were to get one it would just drive me insane! I'll stick with my Fitbit Flex2. The article was informative and now I know what I am not missing. Call me OCD. Report
I like POLAR watches only. I started to buy it in 1994 and the V800 is my third one. I absolutely love it. It has been reviewed as the most accurate trainer computer watch on the market and it's a bit expensive but adding the POLAR bicycle computer, the POLAR scale which goes with it and the two POLAR apps, the POLAR website where I can study my training in detail to make better choices, I even can swim with it and it gives me results under water, it perfectly informs me about the state of my training and how to improve it. Even when right now I'm training for a weight loss, later it's going to be precious. Report
I need a swimming smart watch with sleep, HR and tracking that can take areal licking. I go Garmin all the way. Report
I’ll stick with my Rolex.. Report
Walking Guide

About The Author

Melissa Rudy
Melissa Rudy
A lifelong Cincinnatian, Melissa earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University of Cincinnati before breaking into online writing in 2000. As a Digital Journalist for SparkPeople, she enjoys helping others meet their wellness goals by writing about all aspects of healthy living. An avid runner and group fitness addict, Melissa lives in Loveland with her guitarist husband and three feisty daughters.