While smartwatch popularity may not be where the companies making them had hoped it would be at this point, smartwatch quality has steadily pressed forward in the last few years. Let's look at our six top picks, in the latest version of our Smartwatch Comparison Guide.
For this 2017 version of our guide, we're comparing the following wearables:
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Some of the products have multiple versions (42 mm and 38 mm sizes for the Apple Watches, and two different styles for the Gear and Huawei Watch). We'll denote when there are differences. If you only see one spec, then the different versions are identical in that category.
The LG Watch Sport, Gear S3 and Huawei Watch 2 are all larger watches that will (typically) make the most sense on men's wrists. The two Apple Watches and LG Watch Style are more unisex watches – more size-appropriate on women's wrists than the others are.
For spacing's sake, we omitted the smaller (38 mm) Apple Watches from this image. That model – for both Series 1 and 2 – measures 39 x 33 mm. Series 2 is 11.4-mm thick, while Series 1 is less bulgy, at 10.5 mm.
These are the (main body) build materials you'll be working with. The Series 2 Apple Watch varies depending on whether you go with the entry-level (aluminum), higher-end (stainless steel) or highest-end (ceramic) variant.
The Huawei Watch 2 also varies in materials: The standard version uses ceramic and plastic, while the "Classic" version is made of steel and plastic.
All but the Apple Watches play nice with Android phones.
All six watches will work with an iPhone, but due to iOS' restrictions, the Android Wear and Samsung watches will be more limited in some ways while paired with an Apple handset. (For example, the LG Watch Sport won't receive notifications from your phone when in standalone mode if you use an iPhone – but it will if you have an Android phone.)
Only a few of the watches give you the option of staying connected when your smartphone isn't around.
The LG Watch Sport is an all-LTE smartwatch – there's no Bluetooth-only option. The Samsung Gear S3 ships in both cellular and Bluetooth-only variants.
The Huawei Watch 2 has an LTE variant too, but that model isn't sold in the US.
The LG Watch Sport has the biggest display, followed by the Gear S3.
The area percentage for the Apple Watches points to the 42 mm model. The screen of the 38 mm Apple Watch is just 57-percent as big as the Sport's huge display.
The Watch Sport also has the highest pixel density, though none of the watches' pixel counts are any cause for concern.
While resolution is the same on the two series of Apple Watch, note that Series 2 has a brighter display that's easier to read outdoors.
The more expensive (steel and ceramic) versions of the Apple Watch jump up to sapphire display coverings, for the strongest protection in this bunch. The rest use either Corning's Gorilla Glass or Apple's equivalent Ion-X glass.
All but the Apple Watches give you the option of having an always-on clock face. The two LG watches, though, earned those asterisks: Their batteries probably won't make it through a full day if you turn that setting on.
Similar to the 3D Touch feature found on recent iPhones, you can deep press on the Apple Watch's screen to activate various shortcuts throughout its operating system.
It might sound odd, but we're fans of twisty input methods on smartwatches. The rotating crowns on the Apple Watch and LG watches, along with the rotating bezel on the Samsung Gear, let you scroll through menus and notifications without repeatedly dragging your finger over their tiny screens.
App button shortcuts
The LG Watch Sport has two physical buttons that can be set as customizable app shortcuts (for something like starting a workout, using Android Pay or checking the weather). The Huawei Watch has one such button.
All the watches have some sort of water resistance, though only the Apple Watch Series 2 is recommended for swimming.
All six have some sort of voice assistant onboard: Google Assistant for the three Android Wear watches, Siri for the Apple Watches and Samsung's (worst in the bunch) S Voice for the Gear.
Keep in mind, though, that all the voice assistants have limitations compared to their smartphone counterparts. In our experience, the watch version of Siri is more capable than the watch versions of Google Assistant and S Voice. (Whereas on phones, we'd put Google Assistant ahead.)
Only the LG Watch Style lacks any sort of mobile payment functionality.
Android Pay and Apple Pay use NFC tech exclusively, which means vendors will need to have special equipment installed to support those services. Samsung Pay includes tech that allows it to work with standard magnetic swipe-reading credit card machines (in addition to NFC).
All but the Style let you make and pick up calls on the watch.
And here's one of the reasons the Style doesn't support those calls.
Heart rate sensor
The limitations of the Style are becoming more apparent, as it also lacks a heart rate sensor.
All six watches have built-in apps and sensors that can track your steps or individual workouts. Keep in mind, though, that tracking a workout can drain batteries faster.
All but the Style and Series 1 Apple Watch have built-in GPS, so they don't need to leech your phone's location-tracking.
None of the watches should give you much trouble making it through a full day, though remember you'll want to turn off the always-on display option for the two LG watches.
The LG Watch Style's battery life isn't very impressive, even with the always-on display turned off.
Five of the watches let you swap out for a different band, if you aren't a fan of the one it shipped with.
There's a very good reason you can't switch the Sport's band: Its cellular antennae live inside the band.
We only included watches that have recent (fairly fast) processors. Even the Apple Watch Series 1, which is a very minor update over the original (often called "Series 0") Apple Watch, has a pretty zippy dual-core chip.
The Apple Watches and Watch Style have a bit less RAM than the rest, but we didn't notice any major performance concerns on any of them.
Apple's watchOS has by far the best app selection.
On the other hand, the Android Wear watches have the perk of using an onboard version of the Google Play Store, so you can install apps without the help of your phone.
Only the Apple and Samsung watches are late 2016 products; the rest came out earlier this year.
The Series 2 Apple Watch is the most expensive in this group, with that base price representing the smaller (38 mm) model. The 42 mm one (aluminum) starts at a heftier US$399.
If you want a stainless steel/sapphire Apple Watch Series 2, you're looking at a minimum $549 (38 mm) or $599 (42 mm). The ceramic "Edition" Apple Watch starts at $1,249 (38 mm) or $1,299 (42 mm).
For more, you can revisit New Atlas' reviews of these six watches:
- LG Watch Sport review
- Apple Watch Series 2 review
- Samsung Gear S3 review
- LG Watch Style review
- Huawei Watch 2 review
- Apple Watch Series 1 review