Reviews - January 31, 2024

The 5 best smartwatches for 2024

The 5 best smartwatches for 2024

Apple, Google, Samsung

Not everybody can keep their phone with them every minute of the day, or look at their phone whenever it generates a notification. That’s where smartwatches come in — but their usefulness doesn’t end there. 

Beyond it serving as a second screen for your smartphone, a handy smartwatch handles a wide range of tasks — think exercise tracking, standing reminders, audio streaming, phone calls and more — even when your smartphone isn’t nearby. 

The best smartwatches for 2024

Every smartwatch needs to be paired with a smartphone. Whether you use an Apple iPhone or an Android-based phone, there are a variety of really great smartwatch options. The trick is choosing the best one to meet your needs and that fits your personal style. Our in-house team of consumer technology experts has curated this roundup of the best smartwatches available right now.

Our favorite smartwatches offer cellular connectivity, working almost fully autonomously from a phone. Make and receive calls, communicate via text messaging, access a digital assistant, check email, stream audio (including music, audiobooks or podcast), use a maps app for real-time navigation and much more. In fact, the best smartwatches even work as safely devices that can call for help if you fall or are involved in a car accident.

Our top smartwatch picks for 2024

For anyone looking for a smartwatch that’s customizable but versatile, here are some of the best options right now.

Best smartwatch for iPhone users: Apple Watch Series 9 (GPS + Cellular)

Apple Watch Series 9 (45mm, GPS + Cellular)

Amazon

Casing Size Options: 41mm or 45mm | Casing Material: Aluminum or Stainless Steel | Casing Color Options: 5 (Aluminum), 3 (Stainless Steel) | Display Type: Always-on Retina (2,000 nits brightness) | Operating System: WatchOS | Cellular Option: Yes | Processor: Apple S9 SiP | Water Resistance: 50 meters | Battery Life: Up to 18 hours | Phone Compatibility: Apple iPhones

The Apple Watch Series 9 with GPS and cellular connectivity is Apple’s most versatile watch for everyday users. It’s designed to be a powerful communications, productivity, health, fitness, entertainment and safety tool that’s highly customizable. Packed with advanced functionalities such as heart monitoring, crash detection, and many more, it comes in a sleek and compact design that makes it a worthwhile upgrade from the previous model.  

Moreover, it boasts impressive health-tracking capabilities, including electrical heart sensors for ECG and a body temperature sensor. Women can also utilize the smartwatch to track their menstrual cycles. But bear in mind: The oximeter feature that once came with this model is no more.

Choose from hundreds of easily switchable watch faces (or create your own). Apple and third parties also offer hundreds of watch band options. And through the Apple Watch app store, you can find thousands more apps.

If you’re thinking about purchasing an Apple Watch, keep in mind it must be used in conjunction with an iPhone, although once the Apple Watch with cellular capabilities is set up, it will work almost fully autonomously from the phone. Because cellular connectivity greatly enhances what an Apple Watch can do, we highly recommend this configuration.

Best budget smartwatch: Apple Watch SE (2nd Generation, GPS + Cellular)

Apple Watch SE

Amazon

Casing Size Options: 40mm or 44mm | Casing Material: Aluminum | Casing Color Options: 3 | Display Type: Retina (1,000 nits brightness) | Operating System: WatchOS | Cellular Option: Yes | Processor: Apple S8 SiP | Water Resistance: 50 meters | Battery Life: Up to 18 hours | Phone Compatibility: Apple iPhones

All current iterations of the Apple Watch, including this SE edition, run the same version of the WatchOS operating system and come with the same preinstalled apps. What’s different is that the Apple Watch SE (2nd Generation) has scaled-down hardware versus the Series 9.

Its processor is a bit older and less powerful. This version of the watch also has fewer integrated sensors and its display isn’t as bright. It also lacks the always-on feature and does not offer an ECG function. On the plus side, it’s considerably less expensive than an Apple Watch Series 9.

For this reason, many parents buy the Apple Watch SE (2nd Generation) with GPS + Cellular for a child instead of giving them a smartphone. The child can make calls or texts. Who a child can communicate is managed using the watch’s parental controls. A parent can also track the location of a child in real time. If children find themselves in an emergency, they can use the SOS feature to summon help.

Adults caring for elderly parents also find this watch useful for remotely monitoring someone’s location and making communication easier. It also offers useful safety features, like fall detection. We also recommend this version of the Apple Watch SE to anyone else looking for a powerful watch, but who doesn’t need the latest and most cutting-edge features offered by the Series 9. Like all versions of the Apple Watch, this one also supports Apple Pay, Apple Fitness+, Apple Music and other services.

Best smartwatch for Android users: Google Pixel Watch 2 LTE

Google Pixel Watch 2 LTE

Amazon

Screen Size Options: 41mm (diameter) | Casing Material: Aluminum | Casing Color Options: 4 | Display Type: Always-on AMOLED | Operating System: Wear OS 4.0 | Cellular Option: Yes | Processor: Qualcomm 5100, Cortex M33 co-processor | Water Resistance: 5 ATM | Battery Life: Up to 24 hours | Phone Compatibility: Android 9 (or later) smartphones

Just as the Apple Watch is the obvious smartwatch choice for iPhone users, the Google Pixel Watch 2 LTE is an ideal choice for Android folks, including Google Pixel users. WearOS is compatible with Android, since both operating systems were developed by Google, so the watch easily syncs with other Android devices.

Because this version offers cellular connectivity, it can handle calls, texts, streaming audio, internet access and Google Assistant anytime — even when a phone isn’t nearby.

We also recommend this version of the Pixel Watch because it comes with a wide range of preinstalled apps, offers access to many others via an app store, is highly customizable and it can be used for a wide range of tasks related to communication, productivity, entertainment, health, fitness and safety. 

Overall, it offers a really good value for the investment. It even makes in-person shopping easy using Google Pay. Built-in sensors monitor things like heart rate, skin temperature, signs of stress, sleep patterns and movement. One of the great things about the Pixel Watch 2 is that it also includes all of the health and fitness features that a Fitbit offers.

Best smartwatch for outdoor adventurers: Apple Watch Ultra 2

Apple Watch Ultra 2

Amazon

Casing Size Options: 49mm | Casing Material: Titanium | Casing Color Options: 1 | Display Type: Always-on Retina (3,000 nits brightness) | Operating System: WatchOS | Cellular Option: Yes | Processor: Apple S9 SiP | Water Resistance: 100 meters (IP6X rated) | Battery Life: Up to 36 hours (72 hours in low power mode) | Phone Compatibility: Apple iPhones | Special Features: 86-decibel siren; EN13319 certified for diving; works in extreme temperatures (-4 degrees to 131-degrees Fahrenheit); displays typographical maps for more than 1,000 national and regional parks in the U.S.

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is Apple’s most powerful smartwatch. It caters mainly to outdoorsy types, as well as the health- and fitness-minded. This watch runs the same version of WatchOS as other Apple Watches, but it offers a brighter display, longer battery life and better water resistance. Plus, its casing it made from more durable titanium. 

The watch also offers enhanced safety features, including a 86-decibel emergency siren and more accurate tools for outdoor navigation, especially within national and state parks. You also get more precise, dual-frequency GPS that can track location, travel distance, pace and more.

For scuba lovers, Apple Watch Ultra 2 serves as a full-featured diving computer. For people who excel in other sports — like running, cycling, rock climbing, hiking or swimming, the watch offers specialized tracking and training tools.

And of course, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 easily handles the other functions that Apple Watches are known for.

Best premium smartwatch for Android users: Samsung Galaxy Watch 6

Samsung Galaxy Watch 6

Samsung

Casing Size Options: 40mm or 44mm | Casing Material: Aluminum | Casing Color Options: 3 | Display Type: Super AMOLED | Operating System: WearOS | Cellular Option: Yes | Processor: Samsung Exynos W930 dual-core 1.4GHz | Water Resistance: IP68 rated | Battery Life: Up to 40 hours | Phone Compatibility: Any Android phone (or Samsung Galaxy phone)

As an alternative to the Google Pixel Watch 2, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 is also a higher-end, powerful and versatile smartwatch that relies on the WearOS operating system. This makes it suitable for any Android smartphone fan, but the watch also fits perfectly within the Samsung Galaxy ecosystem.

This version of the Galaxy Watch 6 offers cellular connectivity, and it comes in two casing sizes (40mm or 44mm) and three casing color options (gold, graphite or silver). You can fully customize the watch face, and there’s a nice selection of optional watch bands.

It offers all of the features and functionality you’d expect — including powerful health, fitness and safety tools, communication functionality, the ability to stream audio content directly from the internet, navigational tools and much more. 

This version of the Galaxy Watch also features a large and vibrant Super AMOLED display and offers a really good battery life. And it’s water-resistant, so you can wear it just about anywhere. Compared to the previous Galaxy Watch model, this one has a larger and brighter screen, an 18% faster processor and improved battery life. It also supports either Samsung Wallet or Google Pay for making electronic payments.

What’s the best smartwatch for athletes?

For serious athletes, look at the Coros Vertix 2 ($699). If you’re an avid runner, the Garmin Forerunner 965 ($600) has some really impressive training and navigational tools. Scuba divers will appreciate the specialized features built into the Garmin Descent Mk3 Series smartwatch ($1,200). Someone who wants Fitbit and smartwatch functionality, without spending a fortune, can take advantage of the Fitbit Versa 4 ($200). 

10 things to look for when shopping for a smartwatch

Think of a smartwatch as a mini computer you wear on your wrist. They come in a wide range of colors and styles and are often highly customizable. The best smartwatches serve as a communications, productivity, entertainment, health, fitness and personal safety devices. Listed alphabetically, here are the 10 features and functions our experts recommend you look for when shopping for a smartwatch:

  • Battery life: This determines how long you can use the watch before it needs to be recharged. 
  • Casing material: Most of the latest smartwatch casings are made from aluminum, stainless steel or titanium. This impacts price, appearance and durability.
  • Casing size: Casing size has a direct impact on the size of its display and how it’ll look and feel on your wrist. Smaller sizes are designed to be more comfortable and lighter for people with smaller wrists.
  • Cellular option: All smartwatches rely on Bluetooth to communicate with a smartphone. When a watch also offers cellular connectivity, it works almost entirely autonomously from a smartphone. It can make calls, send texts, stream music, access real-time navigation information and more — even when your smartphone is not nearby. In addition to raising the price of the phone itself (usually by around $100), to use cellular, you’ll need a service provider, which charges a monthly fee (usually around $10 per month).
  • Emergency features: If you’re investing in a smartwatch with cellular connectivity, choose one that offers fall detection and crash detection. I you’re involved in an accident and can’t call for help yourself, the watch is able to contact 9-1-1 and your pre-programmed emergency contacts, plus provide your exact location.
  • Health and fitness features: A smartwatch can serve as a personal trainer or tracker during walking, running, swimming, yoga, diving, cycling and more.
  • Integrated sensors: Many of the latest smartwatches measure things like pulse rate, oxygen saturation, steps taken, respiration rate, sleep patterns, stress level, calories burned, activity level and even hydration level. 
  • Operating system: All Apple Watches rely on WatchOS, while Android smartwatches typically use Google’s WearOS. Some watches, like those from Garmin, use own operating system compatible with both iPhones and Android smartphones.
  • Watchband selection: All smartwatches come with one watchband. Most smartwatches, however, have a selection of optional watchbands available in a variety of colors and styles. 
  • Water resistance: All smartwatches are water resistant, which means if it gets splashed with water, it won’t be damaged. Ideally, you want a smartwatch that’s waterproof, so it can be worn in a shower, or while swimming.

As an iPhone user, do I need to purchase an Apple Watch?

Any of the Apple Watch models must be paired with an iPhone. But if you’re an iPhone user, there are a wide range of smartwatches from other companies that are compatible with your phone, but that also work with Android-based smartphones. Smartwatches from Amazfit, Coros, Fossil, Fibit, Garmin and Timex are a few examples.

Whether you need to know about the very best laptop computers, the latest TVs, TV soundbars, desktop computers, smartphones, tablets, home projectors, or any other types of tech, we’re constantly expanding and updating our coverage to offer the most informative, timely and accurate information. 

Jason R. Rich