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25 Mar 2021

Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite review: plus other cheap alternatives to the Apple Watch

Love the look of the Apple Watch 6 but can't afford it? Check out our reviews of the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite, Oppo Watch, Amazfit GTS and Fitbit Versa 3
Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite

Apple Watches are ultra-fashionable and come with lots of features, including terrific screens, fall detection and a wealth of health and fitness features - but they're also very expensive. If you like the Apple aesthetic but not the price, or, crucially, you don't have an iPhone, there are plenty of similar-looking models around.

The latest of these is the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite, which is just £49. With the latest Apple Watch Series 6 starting at £379 - or £479 for the version with cellular connectivity, that's quite the saving.

Read on to find out what you'll get from an Apple Watch compared with these cheaper alternatives.

Or, head straight to the best smartwatches we've tested to see which come out on top.

Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite - £49

Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite
The Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite and Xiaomi Mi Watch (£119) are the first Xiaomi-branded smartwatches. While the Mi Watch has a round face, the Mi Watch Lite looks heavily inspired by Apple, and comes at just a fraction of the price.

We recently tested the Mi Watch Lite, and we'll be running the Mi Watch through our tests in the next few weeks.

For a cheap smartwatch, the Mi Watch Lite has a surprisingly good set of features.

It has a 320 x 320 pixel colour display. That's slightly lower than the smallest (40mm) Apple Watch Series 6, which has a resolution of 324 x 394 pixels but still good.

It has GPS for phone-free run-tracking, sleep-tracking, 24-hour heart rate monitoring, guided breathing for when you're feeling overwhelmed and control for music playing from your connected smartphone.

Outdoorsy types will get a compass for navigation when exercising off the beaten track, an altimeter and a barometer, and we found the screen easy to read when exercising outside in bright sunshine.

Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite

You won't get anything really sophisticated from this smartwatch: there's no music storage or NFC for contactless payments, for example, and smart notifications can only be viewed, not responded to.

You also can't download additional apps onto the watch, which is worth bearing in mind if you already use a fitness app to track your workouts and had hoped it would sync with your future watch.

And it has a few quirks: for example, you can use it to record VO2 max measured elsewhere, while many other smartwatches now, even cheap ones, are designed to calculate it for you. You can also use it as a dashboard to record ECG (electrocardiogram) readings, but we're not really sure why you'd want to.

Apple Watches have been able to take ECGs for you since the Apple Watch Series 4, so that's a major point of difference between Apple and Xiaomi. If you suspect you have a heart problem, though, speak to your doctor rather than buying an Apple Watch.

The Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite is compatible with Android and iOS. As we said before, Apple Watches only work with iPhones.

Read our full review of the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite to find out everything we liked and disliked about it.

Want an Apple Watch after all? Read our review of the Apple Watch Series 6. And our guide to Apple Watches compared drills down further into the differences between the Apple models.

Oppo Watch - £230

Oppo Watch 41mm

As you can see from the picture above, the Oppo also looks remarkably similar to the Apple, with its rounded rectangle shape. It's the first smartwatch from Chinese company Oppo and comes in two sizes: 41mm and 46mm.

We tested the 41mm version, which has a 320 x 360 resolution colour touchscreen and two physical buttons on the side for navigating the interface.

It has a fairly comprehensive set of smart features, including wi-fi connectivity, meaning you can still get notifications when your phone's out of Bluetooth range, provided you're connected to a wi-fi network.For more independence from your smartphone, you can also pay extra for an LTE version.

There's built-in GPS for phoneless route-tracking and a wide range of exercise modes which go into varying levels of detail depending on the sport. Confusingly, the 41mm version has a 3 ATM waterproof rating (not usually suitable for swimming) but offers swimming metrics - and Oppo confirmed to us that it can be used for swimming.

It runs off the Wear OS operating system and should be compatible with both Android and iOS. You can only use Oppo's HeyTap app if you're on Android, though, at the moment. iPhone users will need to use the Google Fit app instead.

Head over to our full review of the Oppo (41mm) to find out more.

Amazfit GTS - £110

As you'll see from the picture, the Amazfit GTS also looks unmistakably Apple-like, with its curved screen and crown, although this crown doesn't rotate like Apple's.

It's nice-looking in reality too - we've tested enough watches to know how flattering promo shots can be - and it feels well-built.

The GTS has a high-res AMOLED colour display (348 x 442).

The GTS is pleasantly large and scratch-resistant, albeit quite glossy and reflective in bright light, making it harder to read if you're exercising outdoors.

As with the Xiaomi Mi Watch Lite, the GTS can't compete with Apple for features, whether we're talking smart or fitness. You won't have the long list of sports-tracking modes you'll get with Apple or NFC for contactless payments. And you won't have quite as wonderful a screen.

You won't be able to respond to messages or emails, make or receive phone calls, and you won't get any of the really interesting features the Apple Watch Series 6, 5 or 4 are famous for, such as fall detection, beautiful moving watch faces, sophisticated motivational features or the ability to take ECGs.

But you might not want all that anyway. The GTS can measure the usual steps, distance and calories burned, plus heart-rate and sleep, and it has GPS (so no need to take your phone out with you for it to track your route). It's also water-resistant for pool swimming.

Head to our full review of the Amazfit GTS to find out if it tracks your fitness stats accurately.

Fitbit Versa 3 - £199.99

Fitbit Versa 3
Next up is the Fitbit Versa 3 which also has a similar 'squircle' design to the Apple Watch.

As with its predecessors, the Fitbit Versa (discontinued but still available through third party retailers for around £110) and Fitbit Versa 2 (£169.99), the Versa 3 is which shared the same rounded rectangle shape - the Versa 2 is pleasantly simple to use and lightweight on the wrist.

The Versa 3 has a 330 x 330 AMOLED display that's bright and crisp, although also reflective.

It has a wealth of fitness features (this is Fitbit, after all). and Fitbit offers its own detailed sleep-tracking app. Apple now does too (as of 2020), but you'll probably find the battery on your Apple Watch doesn't last the night after a day of use anyway.

The Fitbit Versa 3 has built-in GPS. But, if you're considering saving more money by going for the Versa 2, be aware that the older model doesn't have it, rather surprisingly considering Fitbit's focus on fitness.

Use our Fitbit Versa 3 review and Fitbit Versa 2 review to check all the features you want are present and correct before you buy.

We've also reviewed the Fitbit Sense (£299.99). The Sense is very similar to the Versa 3 but has extra health features such as an ECG feature and stress monitoring.

Apachie and Aquarius smartwatches - cheap Apple lookalikes from Groupon

You might have also seen Apple Watch lookalikes on discount site Groupon, which often has smartwatches for a tiny fraction of the typical price you might expect to pay. Some of these are clearly aimed at people who hope others will think they're wearing an Apple Watch.

The Apachie GT08 (£45), Apachie Cobalt Z40 (£30, pictured above) and Aquarius AQ130 (£15) are three such watches. They'renot currently available on Groupon, but tend to reappear, so you're more than likely to see them again in the future, and to see models from the same brands.

Some come with a surprisingly wide range of features. The Aquarius AQ130 (£15), for example, takes a Sim card, and can be used to make calls and take photos.

But, of course, you don't wear an Apple Watch simply for its functionality. Like with any luxury product, you're subtly signalling to others that you're the sort of person who can afford Apple. From that perspective, an ultra-cheap Apple copycat obviously isn't going to make the same impression.

Sadly, when we've got our hands on some of these watches, they've often looked and felt cheap, with low-tech screens (as you can see in these pictures of the Apachie Cobalt above and below) and plasticky straps. In stark contrast to the Apple (and Amazfit and Fitbit) you're probably going to feel faintly embarrassed wearing them.

And some are only compatible with Android, so double check before buying if you've got an iPhone.

Are you better off with an older Apple Watch?

The Apple Watch Series 1, 2, 4 and 5 have all been discontinued.

Apple still sellsApple Watch Series 3 (pictured below), but presumably hopes most people will opt for the Series 6 or SE, given how old the Series 3 is now. If you go for the Series 3, you won't get the sophisticated health features that the later models are known for, such as ECG monitoring or the ability to detect hard falls. The Series 3 also has a less impressive speaker and is slightly thicker and heavier.

Still, the Series 3 isn't short on features by any means. It comes with plenty of exercise modes, a bright, responsive touchscreen (272 x 340), GPS and lots of scope for customisation.

The Series 3 starts at £199 (aluminium case and sport band), so, if you've got your heart set on an Apple but can't afford the latest version, the Series 3 could be a good shout.

Or you could buy a second-hand version of an older model. Apple's refurbished store is selling the Series 4 for £259 (aluminium case with sport band, non-cellular version) for example. There are fewer differences between the Series 4 and 5, or Series 5 and Series 6 (pictured below), than between the Series 3 and 4.

Apple Watch Series 6

Another option would be to buy the Apple Watch SE, which could be a better choice for many people than the Series 6.

Fancy a different style of watch after all? Head to our smartwatch reviews to see all those we've tested.