While we've not seen any dramatic innovations in the world of smartwatches during 2018, we have seen some steady progress: more features, better battery life, slimmer designs. If you're in the market for a new smartwatch before 2018 ends, these are the models from the last year to put on your radar.
Apple Watch Series 4
Apple's made impressive progress with the Apple Watch, so much so that whenever a new model drops it's almost guaranteed to be one of the best smartwatches of the year. The Apple Watch Series 4 edition for 2018 brings with it a bigger screen, an on-board ECG monitor for detecting heart irregularities, and faster internal components. Meanwhile, watchOS continues to add improved workout and activity monitoring from your wrist.
Add that to everything the Apple Watch could already do – including making calls over 4G LTE without an attached phone – and it's easy to see why the wearable remains popular. The only real mark in the negative column is that you need an iPhone to use it, so Android users are out in the cold. If you're already in the Apple ecosystem though, it's the obvious choice, with a lot of the early Apple Watch teething problems now fully ironed out.
With Google Wear OS languishing for much of 2018, perhaps Apple's stiffest competition over the last 12 months has been the Fitbit Versa – all of Fitbit's health and fitness know-how, packed into a smartwatch that looks stylish and discreet on the wrist. While it lacks some major features (like built-in GPS), it compensates with a competitive price and a battery life that's longer than a lot of its rivals, with up to four days between charges.
The app selection isn't quite as impressive as on Wear OS or the Apple Watch, but really the excellent Fitbit app is all you need, plus a selection of cool watch faces. It'll display alerts from your phone in basic form, and works with Android and iOS, which is another reason you might pick it over Apple's smartwatch. If you're missing what the Pebble smartwatches had to offer, then the Fitbit Versa makes a very good replacement device.
Samsung Galaxy Watch
Samsung has a good track record down the years when it comes to smartwatches, and the Samsung Galaxy Watch doesn't disappoint. With an appealing design (and two sizes), plenty of features, and now LTE call capabilities, it's got just about everything you could want from a smartwatch. It'll track just about everything, including heart rates and sleep quality, it comes with on-board GPS, and it's waterproof to 5 meters (16 feet) as well.
Samsung sticks with its own Tizen OS rather than Wear OS, so third-party app support isn't as broad as it might be, but if you're just after the basics in terms of phone alerts it does the job perfectly well – and you've got a decent number of watch face designs to pick from. Also worth noting is the 80 hours of battery life quoted by Samsung, so you should be able to go several days with this on your wrist before you need to reach for the charger.
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus
Garmin has quietly been carving out its own particular niche in the smartwatch market, offering rugged and reliable timepieces for those who spend a lot of time in the great outdoors. The Fenix 5 Plus is an upgrade on the original Fenix 5, which was itself a fantastic device. The Plus model adds on the option to sync music to the watch, and make contactless payments from it, so you've got just about everything you need included here.
One of the main reasons you'd buy a Fenix is for the onboard mapping, which can get you home from the top of a mountain or the bottom of a valley without the aid of your phone. Add in the ability to track a bewildering number of activities – from hiking to swimming – and sync all these stats back to your phone, and it's a comprehensive package. Check out the other models in the Garmin Fenix line-up if you'd rather pay less or more money.
Fossil Q Explorist HR
Fossil has been one of the few watchmakers prepared to keep on pushing out new models for Wear OS, and the latest and greatest is the Fossil Q Explorist HR. New with this version of the watch is onboard GPS, contactless payment support, a heart rate monitor, and a waterproofing design. It's a serious upgrade over the previous Explorist watch from Fossil, and one of the most feature-packed watches you can currently get running Wear OS.
In fact, in the absence of a Google Pixel smartwatch, this has a good claim to be the flagship wearable for Wear OS. It's relatively affordable, and you get all of that fantastic Fossil design and build quality thrown in as well – it looks just as good as Fossil's analog watches. The one day of battery life that the wearable averages isn't as impressive as everything else, but if you can live with charging it every evening, it's a fine smartwatch.
Withings Steel HR Sport
The Withings Steel HR Sport is a comeback, of sorts, after Withings was sold to Nokia and then sold back to one of the original co-founders. Withings has always looked to marry analog watch stylings with a little dash of smarts on the side, and the Steel HR Sport continues that tradition. You get a watch that actually looks like a watch, with a few activity tracking extras thrown in, and a small integrated monochrome OLED display.
It's light, it's stylish, and it'll handle the demands of all but the most serious fitness enthusiasts – you can even measure VO2 Max with this (how much oxygen you're using during exercise). There's no built-in GPS, so you have to use your phone to track location, and nothing as fancy as a music player, but if you're happy with health and fitness features, and basic phone alerts, the Withings Steel HR Sport may well be right for you.
Huawei Watch GT
We've been impressed with Huawei smartwatches in the past, but the Huawei Watch GT could perhaps be the best yet. It eschews Wear OS for Huawei's own Lite OS, stripping down the watch to focus more on health and fitness and less on packing in dozens of apps (a bit like the Fitbit Versa). That's combined with a device that feels solid and well-built, which you would expect from a company with a track record in wearables like Huawei has.
The screen is bright and large, and thanks to various power-saving measures, you can get close to two weeks of battery life from the Huawei Watch GT when used normally. All the usual activity tracking features are available here, including heart rate monitoring, and it's waterproof to 5 meters (16 feet) too. There's even onboard GPS. The only major downside of note: at the time of writing, the smartwatch isn't available direct from US retailers.
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