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8 best smartwatches

Wristwatches have always been the focus of cutting-edge tech, from exquisitely crafted mechanisms to show the phase of the moon to bright LEDs in push-button watches in the Seventies.

Now, the advent of the smartwatch offers a new way to do more with the gadget on your wrist. First, because it’s super-accurate – the Apple Watch is precise to five hundredths of a second, for instance – you no longer need to set your watch a few minutes fast in case it slows down.

Second, it’s a fitness calculator. The wrist is a good place for tech like this because by measuring your every step and by factoring in your height, weight and distance covered, the watch can calculate the calories you burn.

And third, it can deliver notifications like emails and text messages to your wrist so you don’t have to dive for your phone at the bottom of your bag every time it pings.

The newest innovation is the inclusion of a phone sim card (physical or electronic) so you can receive your notifications, make calls and so on, even without your phone nearby. The watches here connect to your phone by wi-fi only, not through the phone network, apart from the Apple Watch Series 3.

We’ve included full-on smartwatches, extended fitness trackers and in-between models, with prices to match. If you’re after a round-up of the models that  are very fashion-minded, but retain many of the smartwatch’s qualities, check out our reviews of the best hybrid smartwatches.

Apple Watch Series 3 With GPS + Cellular: from £399, Apple

apple-watch-watch-series-3-.jpg

Capacity: 16GB
Water resistant: 50m
Wi-fi: Yes
Bluetooth: Yes
Battery life: Up to 18 hours
Dimensions: from 38.6mm x 33.3mm x 11.4mm
Weight: 26g to 46g

The Watch is a handsome device with a square screen, which makes it easier to read notifications. It has advanced fitness capabilities with a heart-rate sensor and other sensors to accurately measure activity, and to gently encourage you to do more. It is water-resistant so you can swim with it. There are thousands of apps for everything from navigation (so you don’t need to hold your iPhone out in front of you in a sketchy part of town) to flight boarding passes on your wrist to using Apple Pay just as you would your iPhone. Not everyone wants notifications so close by, but once you’re used to it they can be hard to do without.

The Apple Watch comes in two sizes – 38mm and 42mm – and there’s a £30 surcharge for the larger model. The entry-level Series 3 has an aluminium case but there are also pricier stainless steel models, and even one called Apple Watch Edition with a ceramic case that is fantastic (but costs £1,299). Prices start at £399 if you want to be able to use your watch when your iPhone is elsewhere, when you’re running, say. Without this cellular capability, it’s £70 less. Currently, cellular only works with iPhone customers on the EE network.

Buy now

Fitbit Ionic: £239, John Lewis

fitbit-ionic-3qtr-sport-cor.jpg

Capacity: 4GB
Water resistant: 50m
Wi-fi: Yes
Bluetooth: Yes
Battery life: Up to 4 days
Dimensions: 22.1mm x 10.3mm x 4.8mm
Weight: 49.9g

Fitbit’s watches have a distinctive octagonal shape. This is the most complete smartwatch from the company, with a growing number of apps, though far fewer than Apple’s Watch boasts. The onboard apps are sparse but more are added regularly. Ones such as Uber are basic but effective. Still, this is a watch focused on fitness – Fitbit’s prowess with super-accurate step tracking, for instance, is very strong. The Ionic has GPS for accurate outdoor running measurement, and it also offers continuous heart rate for further fitness tracking accuracy. It’s water-resistant to 50m so it’s great for swimmers. The Ionic is compatible with Android, Apple and Windows phones.

Buy now

Samsung Gear Sport: £299, John Lewis

samsung-gear-sport.jpg

Capacity: 4GB
Water resistant: 50m
Wi-fi: Yes
Bluetooth: Yes
Battery life: 2-4 days
Dimensions: 44.6mm x 42.9mm x 11.6mm
Weight: 67g

Samsung’s latest smart watch is sports-oriented, with water resistance and a special Speedo swim tracking app, a training guide app and a heart rate sensor. Samsung has a rotating bezel which is a useful way to interact with the watch, letting you spin it to select apps or to confirm options. It’s heavier than some rivals and chunkier, though smaller than its predecessor, the Gear S3. One key advantage of the Gear Sport is it can sync Spotify tracks offline, so you can play those tracks on a run, say. Battery life is good, a good two days even if you choose to have the display on all the time – which can be better as raising your wrist to wake the screen doesn’t work as reliably as on the Apple Watch. You can connect this watch to Android or Apple phones. Choose from black or blue finishes.

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Nokia Steel HR: from £169.95, Nokia

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Capacity: n/a
Water resistant: 50m
Wi-fi:  No
Bluetooth: Yes
Battery life: 25 days
Dimensions: 36.3mm x 18mm x 13mm
Weight: 41g

Nokia’s smart watch has a proper analogue face with real hands. A lower dial records your steps and swings round as you inch towards 100 per cent of your goal. But it also has a small screen at the top of the display which can show heart rate but also notifications of calls and texts. This watch is a perfect halfway house if you want an elegant traditional-looking watch with some smart features. Battery life is also much better than its rivals – over three weeks, because there’s no backlit screen to deplete the cell. It’s available with two different sizes, but differences are cosmetic, the watches themselves have similar functions.

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Apple Watch Series 1: From £249, Apple

apple-watch-series-1.jpg

Capacity: 8GB
Water resistant: IPX7
Wi-fi: Yes
Bluetooth: Yes
Battery life: 18 hours
Dimensions: from 38.6mm x 33.3mm x 10.5mm
Weight: 25g to 30g

The Series 1 was first released last year and is still in the range. It’s splash-resistant rather than water-resistant so not suitable for swimming. There’s no GPS here, as there is on Series 3, and a slower processor but it’s still a highly effective watch. Almost all other sensors, like heart rate, for instance, are the same as on the more expensive Series 3. Battery life is the same – Apple claims 18 hours but it’s enough to run through even a long day and have 10 per cent battery life left at bedtime. Like the Series 3, Apple’s interface is super-slick and easy to use, beating rivals easily.

Buy now

Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro: From £199.95, John Lewis

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Capacity: 4GB
Water resistant: 50m
Wi-fi: Yes
Bluetooth: Yes
Battery life: 2-3 days
Dimensions: 55.1mm x 25mm x 12.6mm
Weight: 29g

This is a watch, but it’s designed much more like a fitness tracker, thanks to the narrow display. Fitness is definitely the main focus of this watch and it has the same 50m water resistance of some others here. The activity measurement is excellent and much of the detection of what you’re doing is automatic. The heart rate sensor and GPS features are useful. The design is bright but not overstated and it fits the wrist comfortably enough. It works with iPhone and Android phones. If you want a gadget with some smartwatch functions but tracker size and design, this is a neat choice.

Buy now

Fitbit Blaze: £159.99, Fitbit

fitbit-blaze.jpg

Capacity: n/a
Water resistant: Sweat-, rain- and splash-proof, not shower- or swim-proof)
Wi-fi: Yes 
Bluetooth: Yes
Battery life: 5 days
Dimensions: 11mm x 42mm x 20mm
Weight: 40g

It’s better than most trackers and it looks like a watch, but the Blaze doesn’t have the comprehensive features of a full-on smartwatch. Which is why it’s significantly cheaper, but it does still has the continuous heart rate monitoring and GPS features of the pricier Fitbit Ionic. Like the Garmin below, the battery life is enough to allow you to track your sleep. And like most models here you can set the alarm to wake you silently, by vibration. There are notifications but they’re not as comprehensive as others here.

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Garmin Vivoactive 3: From £239.99, John Lewis

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Capacity: n/a
Water resistant: 50m
Wi-fi: No
Bluetooth: Yes
Battery life: 6-7 days
Dimensions: 43.4mm x 43.3mm x 11.7mm
Weight: 43g

Garmin’s best known for its GPS products, so that capability is included here, as is water resistance. There are workouts installed the Vivoactive but it doesn’t work with high numbers of apps like Apple, for instance. Notifications like texts come through on the screen and though you can’t take a phone call on the watch, you can decline them with one tap of the screen. The design won’t appeal to everyone but it doesn’t look bad, though it’s certainly big and chunky. Sleep tracking is a real possibility on this watch because of battery life, which is almost a week.

Buy now

The Verdict: Smartwatches

Smartwatches have a lot going for them. Too many notifications can be a bit overwhelming so it’s important to be selective which ones you allow your watch to pass on. Best by a long way are the Apple Watch pair, thanks to a slick operating system, immaculate build quality and neat design. But Samsung’s watches are pretty cool and the battery lasts longer. And if you just want a good-looking fitness watch, the Fitbit Ionic is a winner, though the Nokia Steel has the edge for elegant looks.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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