The world of smartwatches is becoming just as competitive as the adjacent scene for smartphones. Apple and Samsung are sitting at the top of the market, although there’s a healthy lineup of health and fitness-focused competitors who are now throwing a lot of smarts into their traditional fitness tracking watches to try and compete. From Suunto and Garmin to Withings and even stalwart Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer, these are the brands that you should be looking for if you want to find the best smartwatches money can buy.
What You Want From A Smartwatch In 2021
The very basic smart functions, like contactless pay and notification, have lost their ability to impress. The very basic features are now they are being built upon with high-end health tracking features like a SpO2 sensor, to measure blood oxygen saturation, and onboard ECG so you can quickly get readings for possible AFib issues and turn it into a PDF report that you can show your doctor.
You’re messing with proactive health detection when you dip into this territory, which is why it’s important to be across the top-tier smartwatches worth forking out for. It can get expensive, but this is not something you want to skimp on. You want a watch that’ll track your activities accurately, and you want even more precision when it comes to things like heart health so your little wrist buddy doesn’t turn you into a full-blown hypochondriac.
As such, we’ve left budget smartwatches off this list. There’s no such thing. They are all pretty expensive, but it’s worth the investment so you can be sure more work has gone into each of these entries to ensure better fitness and health tracking, as well as smoother smart features.
Another thing to consider is the availability of apps. Most of the below smartwatches are brand-agnostic, but almost all of them, save for Apple, will use some version of Google’s Wear OS – which is basically Android. That means you’ll need to be across what apps are available on the Google Store, and which are only available on the Apple Store.
Step tracking is now the most basic, and expected, function of a smart watch in 2021. You’ll want a whole host of other features if you’re making this kind of investment. Here is a list of what some of some to look out for
- Built in GPS – so you can track runs and elevation without taking your phone with you.
- SpO2 Sensor – so you can monitor your blood oxygen saturation and be aware of any potential health issues.
- ECG – so you can measure how fast your heart is beating and watch out for any irregularities.
- Activity Tracking – the number of activities that the watch can track accurately, from running to swimming.
- Music storage – so you don’t need to take your phone with you on your runs to listen to music.
- Celluar Connectivity – A cellular connection is fairly standard now, but you want one in order to take advantage of the numerous smart features built into a watch like contactless pay and notifications. Some watches, like the Apple Watch Series 6, are offered in standard and cellular versions. Go for the cellular so you don’t always need your phone on you.
In case you don’t want to read through all of the below, just know that the best smart watch from Apple is the Apple Watch Series 6 (at least until more people have had a chance to go hands-on with the new Apple Watch Series 7), the best from Samsung right now is the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, and the best smartwatch from Fitbit is the Fitbit Sense. Those are typically the three main brands people think of when they’re in the market for a new smartwatch, but as you’ll see below, there’s much more than just those three worthy contenders.
You’re also going to want to be on the lookout for apps. A smartwatch ain’t worth anything without third party apps, giving you more than enough to customise your own experience with. Apple actually has the lion’s share of apps, although Wear OS has been picking up as of late. Some of the essentials to look out for are Nike Run Club, Citymapper, IFTTT, Shazam, Kamoot, Todoist, Any.do, and Lifesum.
Apple Watch Series 6
It may not be the cheapest Apple Watch (right now, that’d be the Apple Watch Series 3 or the Apple Watch SE – which doesn’t have an always-on feature) but the sixth generation of the Apple Watch does well to justify its hefty $600 price tag. Of course, with the Apple Watch Series 7 now out, prices for the current smartwatch king will inevitably see a drop, making the 6 even more attractive from a value standpoint.
For iPhone users, the Apple Watch series is a no-brainer. No two pieces of tech could be more in sync, making the whole experience just smoother both for the abundant health tracking features and efficient smartwatch features.
Although Wear OS watches, which use Google’s proprietary Android operating system, has come a long way, there’s something about WatchOS that is still infinitely more intuitive, uncluttered, and actually quite meditative.
The comprehensive health features are complemented by a very bright 1.78-inch OLED display that’s easy to read outdoors. Apple Watch has a demonstrated ability to outpace competitors when it comes to fitness tracker features, so most activities will be logged with no problem.
A lot of the features that made the Apple Watch 5 such a powerhouse on the scene are carried over here, including the accurate always-on display, and built-in GPS. Apple Watch Series 6 adds an ECG and SP02 so you can spot-check your heart rhythm and keep an eye on your blood oxygen saturation, as well as an optical heart rate sensor that uses photoplethysmography to measure heart rate.
There are plenty of versions of the Apple Watch Series 6 as well, the most premium ones being the Gold Stainless Steel Case with a leather link, retailing from $1,199, and then Silver Stainless Steel Case with a modern buckle, retailing from $1,209. It’s worth the investment if you want something a bit more stylish, but as long as you’re in the ecosystem user. Unsurprisingly, the Apple Watch Series 6 is, without any doubt, the best smartwatch for iPhone users.
Note that we are yet to test out the Apple Watch Series 7, but with the larger always-on retina display we have no doubt it earns its place on this list.
Case Options: 44mm, 40mm; stainless steel
Water Resistance: 5ATM (up to 50m)
Battery life: 18 hours
TAG Heuer Connected 2020
When TAG Heuer first revealed the high-end Connected watch in 2015, the entire industry unsurprisingly, and immediately, paid attention. A legendary Swiss watchmaker getting into the smartwatch scene? Huge stroke of validation for the growing technology, and done with such a deft balance that classicists were perfectly fine with the idea of strapping this evolution onto their wrists.
Through iterative changes, TAG Heuer arrived at the third generation of their top-selling Connected model in 2020, refining the original with better fitness tracking features, a great uptick for efficiency, and a more elegant design centred around that gorgeous 1.39-inch, 454 x 454-pixel OLED display.
Running on Google’s Wear OS, the TAG Heuer Connected 2020 augments the already solid list of smarts and fitness tracking features with a heart rate monitor, an improved and comprehensive sports app, and a better overall performance. Switching between straps and digitals faces is much smoother than before, and the built in GPS is still one of the most accurate and intuitive in the game.
Other smart features include distance tracking, smart notifications, voice and music control, sleep tracking, contactless pay, and more. Throw a 24 hour battery life on top of this and TAG Heuer is clearly a serious competitor to the likes of Apple and Samsung.
The 45mm TAG Heuer Connected 2020 essentially addressed the ongoing tension between smartwatch fans and watch aficionados, presenting something either group could wear with pride. It feels like you’re putting on a proper, serious watch, which is offered in no less than 8 different versions – 3 of them in grade 2 titanium cases. There’s even a Golf edition, and most recently, a Nintendo edition which brings Super Mario to life and incorporates him into the essential features all fitness trackers in 2021 should have.
Case Options: 41mm, 45mm; stainless steel, titanium
Water Resistance: 5ATM (up to 50m)
Battery Life: 24 hours
Samsung Galaxy Watch 4
Not only has Samsung been in lock-step with Apple for smartphone market dominance these past few years, but the brand also contends nicely when it comes to offering the best smartwatches. The latest in the acclaimed series, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 is the first smartwatch to be powered by a Wear OS version that Samsung has actually helped build (Wear OS 3), making it the single best Wear OS smartwatch available. And it’s a noticeable shift away from the Tenzin tradition – the new operating system is so fluid, comprehensive and easy to use that it (almost) gives Apple’s WatchOS a run for its money.
It still looks like a Tenzin though, which is typically much more attractive than a Wear OS watch, so the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 still has some of the best aesthetics in the game. The design is similarly fantastic, with a lightweight build no matter which case size – 49mm, 42mm, 44m, 46mm – you’re going for.
Really the only downside to this Samsung smartwatch is the battery life, which can be a bit inconsistent at times. It’s rated for 40 hours but has been known to clock off a bit earlier than expected. Battery drain has been cited as the issue with some complaints, but this has also been a running theme with previous devices like the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, Galaxy Watch Active 2, and others. Perhaps the chipset used (Exynos 5410 Octa) isn’t as power-efficient as initially hoped, particularly when compared to the S6 chipset from Apple, which is used in the Apple Watch Series 6.
Still, you’re unlikely to dip below 35 hours with the Galaxy Watch 4, which still puts it leagues ahead of the competition when it comes to battery life. Combine this with a very comprehensive range of health features and fitness features, while balancing this with the premium features of a smartwatch and you can see why the Galaxy Watch 4 has been as popular as the latest Samsung phones.
Although do note that you’ll need to use a Samsung phone if you want to take advantage of all the many smartwatch, fitness, and health tracking features of the Galaxy Watch 4. If you’re an iPhone user, it’s worth steering clear and sticking with an Apple Watch. Also, note that the features exclusive to Samsung users won’t work with other Android devices – you’re being pushed to the ecosystem here; lucky it’s a good one.
Regardless, any users will still get that very intuitive 3-in-1 health sensor, which measures heart rate, takes ECG, and reads body composition to give you a very rich, detailed snapshot of your current health so you can save and show it to a doctor, while also self-monitoring for any hiccups. Rounding some of the more premium features for this wear OS device is an accurate built-in GPS, the always-on display, and some truly excellent sleep tracking that rival top-tier sleep trackers from the likes of Withings, Apple, and Fitbit. It’s hard to deny this being the best smartwatch for Android users and an even better one for Samsung users.
Hint, if you want a rotating bezel, go for the Classic version instead, which also swaps out the aluminium for a stainless steel case, aligning more closely with a traditional timepiece. Aesthetically, it’s a stark departure from past Wear OS Watches and borrows a bit of that balance between classicism and modernity that has made the TAG Heuer Connected such a pioneer in the smartwatch world.
Case Options: 40mm, 42mm, 44mm, 46mm; aluminium (the Watch 4 Classic has a stainless steel case)
Water Resistance: 5ATM
Battery Life: 40 Hours
Garmin Forerunner 945
Even if you weren’t already familiar with Garmin as a brand, you could easily tell this was a hybrid smartwatch that places a tad more value on fitness tracking but doesn’t skimp on the life-enhancing smart features. Garmin’s GPS tracking and heart rate monitor are some of the best in the game, but it’s important to note that the Garmin Forerunner 945 is named as such for a very specific reason. This watch has been designed with runners in mind, with intuitive, full-colour maps, storage for up to 1,000 songs, up to two weeks of battery life, and a gorgeous 1.2-inch display for excellent visibility at all times – even with sweat bleeding down your eyes.
It’s not just for runners though. The Garmin Forerunner 945 has enough smarts to track for at least 30 different activities, but it’s not consistent with all of them. Swimming has been a bit of an issue, with a lot of inaccurate readings cited as the biggest drawback.
Despite its heavy focus on fitness tracking and health tracking features, Garmin doesn’t treat its smartwatch features as an afterthought like so many fitness-focused watches do. That is the main reason why it’s on this list, competing nicely with the likes of the Apple Watch series, and other health-focused watches like the top-tier models from Fitbit and Withings.
Garmin Pay is also easy to use, although it isn’t as widely accepted as alternatives like Apple Pay and Google Pay. Still, it’s unlikely you’ll have an issue with mobile payments wherever contactless pay is accepted, as that little caveat is a very rare issue in some parts of the world.
Case Options: 47mm; fibre-reinforced polymer
Water Resistance: 5ATM
Battery Life: Up to 60 hours
Suunto 9 Baro Titanium
Up to 7 days of continuous GPS tracking is usually the headline Suunto uses when marketing the Suunto 9 Baro Titanium, but this impressive fitness-first smartwatch is much more than a wearable to help you plan your runs more efficiently.
The formidable fitness tracker has been specifically designed for more demanding athletes who engage in multiple activities. There are over 80 sport modes calibrating into the phone, and it’s clear equal attention has been paid to all of them with great consistency in even the most notoriously hard to track activities like swimming. It even has a barometer so you can easily get readings on your elevation on the fly.
Perhaps most important, the intelligent battery modes Suunto has built into the Suunto 9 Baro Titanium have obviously been given special attention. The Titanium upgrade to the original Suunto 9 Baro now features an intelligent GPS system for up to 170 hours of battery life in Tour Mode. If you keep to Suunto 9 in smartwatch mode, you can reliably expect up to 7 days of juice.
The broad fitness tracking features combined with the superior battery and in-depth weather tracking are reason enough to fork out for the ambitious price tag, but you’ve also got the lightweight titanium bezel which just feels better on the wrist than virtually all other hybrid smartwatches.
Swimmers and those tracking water sports will also appreciate the water resistance of up to 100m, particularly when most of the other watches on this list only sport half that.
Case Options: 51mm; Glass fibre reinforced polyamide
Water Resistance: 10ATM
Battery Life: Up to 7 days (in smartwatch mode)
Pioneering brand Fitbit may be one of the first names that come to mind when you’re thinking about health and fitness tracking features, but if you want a smartwatch, many others like Samsung and Apple have been leaving Fitbit in the first. The Fitbit Sense has been a glorious response that that, giving people a watch that actually looks as good as anything the two tech giants have released to date, with a whole host of features to fully flip the idea of what a Fitbit can be.
Fitbit has managed to up to battery life to 6 days now, giving Fitbit Sense an impressive amount of juice that’s, most importantly, consistent. The built in GPS handles all step and distance tracking, but where I think Fitbit has really improved the most is sleep tracking. Fitbit is competing well with Withings now, offering one of the best and most comprehensive sleep tracking watches on the market with a detailed Sleep Score each morning.
Although there are only 20 exercise modes, compared to something like the Suunto 9 Baro Titanium, which has 80.
Case Options: Anodized aluminium
Water Resistance: 50ATM (up to 50 metres)
Battery Life: Up to 6 days
The Withings ScanWatch is not only the best health tracker on the market, given health is the bread and butter of this brand, but it’s also now infinitely more attractive. A lot of people prefer Withings over something like Fitbit because the aesthetic skews much closer to the classic watch, taking a lot of cues from the best watches and building something that marries form and function quite nicely.
Irregular beat detection, on-demand ECG, SPO2 to measure blood oxygen saturation, heart rate tracking, and advanced sleep tracking. Couple this with a nice, broad range of activity tracking and it’s hard to look past the Withings ScanWatch when it comes to health and fitness.
There’s a caveat though. While this is a hybrid smartwatch, the smart notifications are very limited to the standards, which doesn’t really give you the full experience like a Samsung Watch or Apple Watch would.
Do note that although Withings are being a bit too ambitious with their claims of a 30-day battery life, it is possible to milk a month out of a single charge. It’s unlikely though, and it’s more probable that you’d need to top up after 2 weeks if you’re making use of the abundant health tracking features.
Take note that Withings now have a rose gold version of the ScanWatch, which is infinitely more attractive than the original, for those who like to style it up a bit.
Case Options: 38mm, 42mm; stainless steel
Water Resistance: 5ATM (up to 50m)
Battery Life: Up to 30 days.
Best Smarwatches In 2021 – Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best smartwatch for iPhone users?
The Apple Watch Series 6 is the best smartwatch for iPhone users, especially now that it has dropped in price given the newly released Apple Watch Series 7.
What is the best smartwatch for Android users?
The best smartwatch for Android users would have to be the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, especially now that it has retained Tenzin’s aesthetics but included the intuitive user experience of Wear OS.
What is the best smartwatch for a classc look?
If you want a smartwatch with a more classic look in line with traditional watches, your best bet is the TAG Heuer Connected 2020.
What is the best smartwatch for runners?
Both the Garmin Forerunner 945 and the lighter Suunto 9 Baro Titanium are incredible fitness trackers that are designed with high-performance athletes in mind. Either one would be great for runners wanting a detailed analysis of their routes and performance.