Best smartwatches of 2018: The best watches to give (and get!) this Christmas
It can be very hard to decide which smartwatch to buy.
There are so many different types of high-tech wristwatch you can buy, from sports trackers that help you with your workout to calendars that sit on your wrist. The market has slowly evolved to encompass a growing number of manufacturers, from Pebble, which was funded on Kickstarter, to market stalwarts like Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Fitbit, Garmin and Fossil. Although sadly not Pebble, anymore, which got gobbled up by Fitbit.
Many so-called fitness trackers now include social notifications and other features, blurring the line between exercise watches and smartwatches, however for the purposes of this article, we’re trying to look at the watch aspects as much as possible.
So although there’s a Garmin and a Fitbit in place, anything that’s too limited doesn’t make the cut. If you’re more interested in tracking your steps than getting a buzz on your wrist every time anyone mentions you on Twitter, you’re best served visiting our best fitness trackers page.
But which smartwatch is for you? This is our pick of the best to smarten up your wrist.
The 7 best smartwatches of 2018
1. Apple Watch Series 3
The Apple Watch 3 is an outstanding smartwatch; the best in the business in our opinion. Now offering a 4G version that gives you an internet connection at all times (providing there’s signal), it provides superior health and fitness features to any Apple Watch before it.
As well as monitoring steps and flights of stairs climbed, the Watch’s Workout app offers a range of different modes to let you accurately track a variety of indoor and outdoor activities. Like the Series 2, the new Apple Watch can be used in the pool, keeping note of lengths, but it now also tells you what stroke you’ve been doing. The heart rate app now also charts your average walking and resting heart rates, as well as your recovery time after workouts. The only slightly disappointing omission is the continuing lack of sleep tracking, although this can be added via a third-party app.
Along with the fitness features, there’s Apple Pay, for making contactless payments, music streaming (including offline storage) via Apple Music, and voice-assistant Siri can help you out when fumbling with your hands isn’t practical. Lastly, there are thousands of useful third-party apps you can run on your Apple Watch alongside the Apple defaults.
With the release of the Apple Watch Series 4, the Apple Watch Series 3 has received a price cut, and so it is now relatively affordable – although it still costs significantly more than other smart watches.
Price when reviewed: £349
Samsung’s smartwatches have, to date, been largely disappointing affairs. Limited smartphone compatibility and app selection, plus less than standout hardware have hobbled Samsung’s flagship smartwatch; not anymore. The S3 is a triumph of both software and hardware engineering and not only the company’s best smartwatch but the best alternative to the Apple Watch Series 3 for Android smartphone owners.
The highlight is excellent battery life – the large 380mAh battery and the lightweight Samsungs Tizen OS means the Gear S3 can go for up to five days on a single charge – but that’s not its only strength. It also has built-in GPS, so it’ll track your running and cycling routes without you having to take your smartphone with you, and there’s now a built-in speaker you can take calls on the watch as well. Another standout feature is that the S3 will let you stream your Spotify playlists and even store them offline.
Price when reviewed: from £140
The Ticwatch E and Ticwatch S are remarkable watches in terms of the value they deliver. With either model, you get a comfortable Android Wear watch with built-in GPS, a heart-rate monitor and 4GB of storage, along with a microphone and speaker. The only noteworthy feature missing is NFC, which is by no means a deal breaker at this price. There are a few clues that the watches are cheaper than their rivals from Apple, Samsung and Huawei, but you’ll probably forget about these after you’ve worn them for a couple of days. In short, both devices offer almost everything you’d want from an Android Wear smartwatch at a fraction of the price of what you’d expect to pay. If a competent all-round smartwatch is what you’re looking for, either of these will fit the bill admirably.
Price when reviewed: £219
The Huawei Watch 2 was one of the best smartwatches of 2017. It runs Android Wear 2.0 out of the box, which means no faffing around with upgrading for the extra features – and its raw specs make it one of the stronger contenders that we’ve seen: a 1.1GHz Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor is backed up with 768MB of RAM, 4GB of storage and a 420mAh battery. That means it has both power and stamina – and you can even get a 4G version meaning you can take calls and texts directly to your wrist.
Price when reviewed: £300
The Garmin Vivoactive 3 really is one special fitness watch. It has GPS, an altimeter and a heart rate sensor, and it tracks your swims on top of all the regular fitness activities. Remarkably, it does all this while packing in some degree of smartwatch capability – you can use it to check notifications on your wrist, view the weather forecast, or your agenda for the day. The only major misfire is the lack of phone-free music playback, and frankly, that won’t bother everyone. If Garmin can sort out bank support for its NFC-based contactless payment system it’ll be pretty much the perfect all-rounder.
6. Amazfit Bip
Price when reviewed: £86
The Amazfit Bip has everything most people will want and comes in at under £90. That’s nothing short of astonishing. Despite having GPS, continuous heart rate monitoring and notifications, it also has more stamina that pretty much any wearable we’ve seen, stretching easily to over two weeks. You can buy better-looking smartwatches. You can buy more accurate fitness wearables. But you can’t do either without spending over £100, let alone both. The Amazfit Bip punches well above its weight and, like the best underdog movies, it cheerfully comes out on top.
7. Fitbit Versa
Price when reviewed: £159
Overall, there’s a lot to like about the Fitbit Versa. It looks and feels better than any other smartwatch that I’ve tested under £200. Indeed, it’s considerably lighter and less bulky than all of its rivals. Next is its outstanding battery life. The Versa lasts some three to four days longer than the Apple Watch Series 3. Let that sink in for a moment. You’ll only need to charge Fitbit’s smartwatch twice a week, at most.
Naturally, Fitbit’s latest smartwatch offers most of the core features that most fitness enthusiasts will look for – there’s heart-rate and sleep analysis, swim tracking, music playback, and of course the basics like step and staircase counting. A popular feature is also the ability to change watch bands, which lets you switch between fitness tracker and smartwatch functions easily – as well as tailoring it to your fashion.
Sadly, what could be the undoing of an otherwise solid product is its lack of GPS. The fact you can’t accurately track a run or bike ride without also bringing your phone with you just won’t cut it for a lot of people looking for a new smartwatch in 2018.