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Best smartwatch 2021: top wearables tested

From budget fitness trackers to top-of-the-line wearables, here’s our pick of the best smartwatches you’ll find online – tried and tested by our experts.

Best smartwatch

The idea of a ‘smart watch’ is, in fact, decades-old, with early prototypes appearing on the market as far back as the 1980s. It was around 2013, however, that the smartwatches as we recognise them today appeared on the market. Back then, the technology was still a little glitchy, and wearables were a hard sell, especially against smartphones which seem to be doing their jobs perfectly fine by themselves.

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Fortunately, in the years since, those teething issues have been by and large ironed out by manufacturers. That, plus a wise focus on health and fitness, means that smartwatches and fitness trackers are growing more and more popular. But which one is right for you?

Is a smartwatch essentially for your workout plan? We can assure you that seeing your stats and progress recorded and metricised on-screen is a major motivation to regularly exercise (just in case you, like us, found it very hard to prise yourself off the couch during those bleak midwinter months of lockdown).

Your smartwatch can make an essential companion for day-to-day tasks outside of fitness when synced to your phone. While once it was hard to see where the gadget on your wrist could outperform the gadget in your pocket, the best wearables now feel like the perfect complement to your smartphone.

But there’s a dizzying array of wearables on the market – and you can spend anywhere between £50 and £500 on a smartwatch. Luckily, our experts have put a number of wearables to the test, and we’ve picked out our favourites below. You’ll find one for every budget.

And if you see one you like, it’s always worth heading over to our pick of the best smartwatch deals – you might find it on sale right now.

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How to choose the best smartwatch

There’s a number of important criteria to keep in mind when you’re searching for a smartwatch. We’ve laid out each of them below.

  • Fitness vs day-to-day tasks: Smartwatches can be divided into these two broad functions, though most offer both to some degree. Are you thinking about your fitness routines, or do you want your smartwatch to act as a convenient extension of your smartphone?
  • Phone compatibility: Do you use an Apple or Android phone? If it’s the former, you’ll find that you can sync most wearables with your iPhone; sadly, the same can’t be said about Apple smartwatches, which only work with iOS.
  • Battery life: The more advanced the smartwatch, the more quickly it will run out of power. So while entry-level fitness trackers will last for as much as a fortnight, you’ll find that flagship wearables from major brands will need a nightly recharge.
  • Design: While cheaper fitness trackers tend to be simple one-component affairs, higher-end wearables have more customisation options. Their displays can be personalised, and you’ll also find a range of straps available to buy – something for the fashion-conscious to think about.

How much should I spend on a smartwatch?

We can’t give you a specific figure – but we can tell you what various price points will get you.

The most basic fitness trackers start at around £50. These will offer limited health and fitness metrics, like measuring your heart rate and counting your steps, and will also offer simple admin functions when synced to your phone, such as call, text and email notifications.

Then, at around £100, you can expect more advanced metrics from your wearable, like SpO2 (blood oxygen) monitoring, as well as music connectivity such as Spotify.

There’s a leap in price from about £200 to £250 for mid-range smartwatches. At this price point, you can expect built-in GPS, detailed metrics that cover things like stress levels, and more complex UIs that make your wearable feel much more like a seamless extension of your phone. There are many fine wearables from dedicated fitness tracking brands like Fitbit in this price category.

But for some, they’ll want a smartwatch with the same logo as their phone – and that’s when you get to the big-budget flagship wearables from the likes of Samsung and Apple. These are exquisitely designed, run on high-power processors, and will have ‘always-on’ displays. These generally cost between £350 and £400 – and if you spend a little more on a cellular option, you can essentially treat your watch as a mini-smartphone, as it can both make and receive calls.

In our round-up of the best smartwatches below, we’ve picked out options at every price.

What’s better: Samsung (Tizen), Android (Wear OS) or Apple (watchOS)?

You’ll find three types of operating system across smartwatches on today’s market.

WearOS – previously known as Android – is Google’s smartwatch OS. We’d say that it’s the winning platform in terms of access to apps since the Google Store has the widest range of apps. Both Fitbit and Garmin use Wear OS in their smartwatches.

Samsung has a home-grown OS called Tizen. We haven’t encountered them ourselves, but we’ve heard talk of hiccups when relaying Android devices’ notifications. That said, Tizen is also a highly intuitive operating system, and the rotating bezel that you’ll find in the Samsung Watch series – Galaxy Watch 3 – has won legions of fans.

And then there’s Apple’s watchOS. This is an incredibly high-powered and intuitive platform. But Apple’s OS is still only compatible with its own devices – an ongoing decision that has always been a source of controversy. Not that it’s likely to annoy the (reported) 900 million iPhone users across the globe, of course.

Best smartwatches and wearables at a glance

Here’s a quick run-down of our favourite smartwatches and fitness trackers that our experts have tested. You’ll find them listed in price order. Read on for more info on each of these A-class wearables.

Best smartwatch to buy in 2021

Samsung Galaxy Fit 2, £49

Samsung Galaxy Fit 2 review

Best wearable for battery life

Pros:

  • Great price against a variety of features
  • Guide workouts with Coach feature
  • Built-in voice assistant
  • Fitbit Pay

Cons:

  • Slight loading time between functions
  • Limited personalisation available
  • Fitbit Premium is an extra cost

Samsung doesn’t just create glitzy top-end wearables. With the Fit 2, the brand also proves it can make a fantastic no-frills fitness tracker too. This is a great shout for newcomers to those who want to track their workouts and gauge their fitness. If you’re okay with Fit 2’s basic but reliable range of features – movement tracking, stress tracking, weather reports – you can’t argue against the £49 price tag. Plus, that 21-day battery life is particularly impressive.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Fit 2 review.

Huawei Fit Watch, £99.99

huawei-watch-fit-demo

Best budget fitness tracker

Pros:

  • Clear and easy to navigate
  • Straight-forward and accessible work-outs
  • Sleek, lightweight design

Cons:

  • Music control function not currently compatible with iOS
  • Set up process could be smoother

Huawei continues to gain more and more popularity in the European market – and this dedicated fitness tracker certainly impressed us when we put it to the test. The Fit Watch offers a range of guided workout and fitness programmes, accompanied by animated programmes, plus various metrics (heart rate, SpO2, sleep) – all wrapped up in a fetching, streamlined design.

Read our full Huawei Fit Watch review.

Fitbit Versa 3, £199.99

Fitbit Versa 3 watch review

Best mid-range fitness tracker

Pros:

  • Great price against a variety of features
  • Guide workouts with Coach feature
  • Built-in voice assistant
  • Fitbit Pay

Cons:

  • Slight loading time between functions
  • Limited personalisation available
  • Fitbit Premium is an extra cost

Mid-range wearables often get stuck in an awkward no man’s land between dazzling top-line tech and the obvious appeal of cheaper devices. But the third addition to Fitbit’s Versa line more than earns its stripes, with a host of reliable features and a built-in voice assistant. All the Versa lacks from the Sense is the ECG (electrocardiogram) and stress tracking features – which, frankly, doesn’t stress us out too much. Not with that £100 price difference.

Read our full Fitbit Versa review.

Huawei GT2 Pro, £229.99

Huawei GT2 Pro

Best smartwatch for workouts

Pros:

  • Extensive sports tracking, including skiing and golfing
  • Looks sleek and expensive without being heavy
  • GPS, compass and weather warning features
  • Advanced heart rate, SpO2 and VO2max monitoring

Cons:

  • Music control incompatible with iOS
  • Battery life needs more alerts

In the GT2 Pro, Huawei builds extensively on the features and design of the lower-end Watch Fit by offering built-in GPS, additional VO2 tracking, and over 100 different workout modes. These include golf driving range, skiing, snowboarding, cross country skiing and triathlon – and you can even add additional modes that will cover parachuting and belly dancing. But iPhone users might want to proceed carefully: we encountered some iOS compatibility issues.

Read our full Huawei GT2 Pro review.

Apple Watch SE, from £269

Apple Watch SE review

Best-value Apple smartwatch

Pros:

  • A wealth of reliable features
  • Highly intuitive UI
  • No visual difference to Apple Watch 6

Cons:

  • Limited 18-hour battery life
  • No ‘always-on’ display
  • Still no Android compatibility

No snobbery, please: there’s nothing wrong with an ‘affordable’ Apple product. Especially not when it’s the Apple Watch SE, which was released at the same time as the stupendous but not-so-cheap Watch 6. What don’t you get here? ECG (electrocardiogram) and SpO2 (blood oxygen) sensors of the Series 6. But in appearances, the SE is essentially indistinguishable, and it’s over £100 cheaper than the flagship.

Read our full Apple Watch SE review.

Fitbit Sense, £299

Fitbit Sense review

Best all-round fitness tracker

Pros:

  • Six-day maximum battery life; super-fast charging
  • Features clear and easy to use
  • Impressive advanced metrics
  • Guided workouts included in the watch

Cons:

  • Glitchy setup and pairing issues
  • No customisable face options

All hail the Sense, Fitbit’s top-of-the-line wearable! You’ll find it very hard to want much more in terms of metrics from a smartwatch. The jewel in the Sense’s crown is the innovative stress-tracking feature, which detects the spike in electrical activity on your skin that happens in stressful situations.

What makes us really attracted to the Sense is how markedly cheaper it is than Apple and Samsung’s flagship watches – and if fitness is your priority, we argue this is the wisest purchase of all three.

Read our full Fitbit Sense review.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, £369

Samsung Galaxy Watch review

Best Android smartwatch

Pros:

  • Gorgeous trad-style design
  • Easy-to-use UI
  • Compatible on both Android on iOS

Cons:

  • Battery life goes quickly
  • No plug adaptor included with charger

In direct rivalry to the Apple Watch 6 – and the most credible Android alternative – is Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 3. Wisely, Samsung’s flagship boasts a more trad-style design that will appeal to those turned off from the Apple Watch’s futuristic look. It offers a similarly sweeping range of fitness features and will perform several handy tasks when you pair it with your phone, including daily briefings and weather reports. It can even be used as a remote control for your phone’s camera.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 review.

Apple Watch 6, from £379

Apple Watch SE review

Best iOS smartwatch

Pros:

  • Highly customisable features
  • ECG and blood oxygen monitoring capabilities
  • The cellular model can take calls and messages without a phone nearby
  • Wide range of tailored activity tracking

Cons:

  • Only compatible with iPhone
  • It could be complicated for some users to personalise all settings

We have a feeling that lots of Apple fans will need little persuading to buy Apple’s latest flagship wearable, such is the brand’s influence. But honestly, there’s little we would say to deter you. Apple’s wearables offer advanced metrics (ECG, VO2 max, blood oxygen) and, when synced, will function as a near-seamless extension of your iPhone. It’s highly personalisable, and there’s a range of straps available that you can swap in. A shame about that 18-hour battery life, though: such is the price you say for such high-powered tech on your wrist.

Read our full Apple Watch 6 review.

How we tested smartwatches

Each of these wearables has been put to the exact same test by our experts. It’s easy to focus too much on a product’s good points and ignore the bad – or vice versa, for that matter. Each time our team reviews smartwatches, they ask the exact same questions and consider the exact same criteria each time.

In our full smartwatch reviews, you’ll see an overall star rating out of five. This is the weighted average of a number of criteria. We assess each wearable based on functions: the range of features they offer and how well each of those features perform. We also consider battery life and check how it performs in relation to the advertised maximum length of time. We also think about ease of setup and measure the entire process from unboxing the watch to putting it activated on our wrist.

On top of that, we rate the smartwatch design: if it feels well built and reliable, if it’s aesthetically pleasing, and the range of colour schemes and straps available. Lastly, we assess the watch in terms of value for money: after all, a watch might perform fantastically but is over-priced with it; conversely, a watch with a few flaws may still be worth it because it’s highly affordable.

We also likely to closely compare watches to their obvious competitors, such as the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 and the Apple Watch 6.

The final result? Our list of the best smartwatches to buy this year tried and tested.

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Looking for a wearable that’s on offer? Make sure you take a look at the best smartwatch deals this month.