The smartwatches we've picked out below are our top-scoring models overall, assessed across parameters such as how they perform when it comes to notifications and smart features, how accurately they track your fitness, how long it takes to fully charge your device, how much battery life you can expect to get and whether they have clear and reactive screens.
That's not to say each model here is the absolute best in every way, but these perform well enough in all tests to be our best smartwatches overall.
Which Smartwatch brands offer the best software and security support policies?
Software and security support are important considerations when buying a smartwatch, since this will dictate how long the brand aims to continue updating the device with new features and security patches, to guard against emerging threats.
We asked a range of popular smartwatch brands how long they'd support devices with important security updates after launch. Unfortunately, many weren't willing to tell us. In the case of those who did, you might consider the support periods to be not nearly long enough.
Samsung leads the line here, promising at least three years after launch on Galaxy Watches, and with the latest Galaxy Watch4 range, this is extended to four years.
Fitbit said its devices 'typically receive' software updates for at least two years after a device is last sold on its website.
Garmin will provide updates for a minimum of two years from launch for its consumer products.
Honor, which has a limited range of smartwatches, will support these for a minimum of two years from launch.
Conspicuous in its absence is Apple. It did not specify a minimum support period, and instead referred us to the Apple Security Updates website, where you can check to see whether a watch has received the latest update.
Other smartwatch brands that did not provide us with information on minimum update support periods include: Amazfit, Huawei, Mobvoi, Polar, Realme and Xiaomi.
While you may not be at immediate risk if you're using a device that's unsupported, it's obviously desirable to buy and use a device that you know will receive update support for a decent period of time. For more information, read our guide to smart devices and security.
What is a smartwatch?
A smartwatch is a watch that brings features you'd normally use on your smartphone or laptop to your wrist. Many have digital screens but a few 'hybrid' watches have traditional analogue faces and hidden smart features.
You'll need to own a smartphone that your smartwatch can be paired to. Your first step is to install the companion app on your phone, through which you'll be able to control the settings on the watch and view any fitness data it has gathered.
How much do I need to pay for a good smartwatch?
Smartwatches cost from around £20 to more than £500. We've found good models for a little over £100, and there are a range of Which? Best Buy smartwatches for less than £150. In fact, hundreds of pounds separate our cheapest and most expensive Best Buy smartwatches.
Paying more can get you features such as advanced activity tracking, premium materials, or perhaps a strap and bezel made of stainless steel or aluminium rather than plastic. New models, especially from bigger brands, usually command a premium.
Shop carefully and pick the right model for your needs, and you may be surprised at how little you have to spend.
One of the most important factors to consider when buying a smartwatch is whether it’s compatible with your smartphone, as you’ll need to pair or connect them to access incoming calls, texts, emails and apps.
Fortunately, cross-compatibility is a lot better than it used to be, but there are still some things to bear in mind.
iPhone If you're an iPhone user, an Apple Watch is hands down the best option. Apple Watches don't work well with Android phones, although there are ways to get some limited functionality. If you're not interested in a smartphone, but still want a smartwatch, you could use the new Apple Family Setup feature, whereby multiple Apple Watches can be paired with the same iPhone.
Samsung Samsung watches run the Tizen operating system. Just as Apple Watches are best with an iPhone, you're best off with a Samsung-branded phone here. However, you will find good compatibility with other Android brands, and some compatibility with iPhones.
Google Wear OS, Google's smartwatch operating system is the most versatile and works fairly seamlessly across all Android brands. iPhone users will have a pretty smooth experience, but will miss out on some features, so it's worth checking reviews before buying. For example, you probably won't be able to respond to messages, via text or using your voice, even if your watch supports it for Android.
What is a hybrid smartwatch?
Some watches, including many that run Wear OS, combine classic design with modern tech, hiding their smart features behind a traditional-looking watch face.
These watches will often have a decent set of smart features, but aren't intended for hardcore fitness fans who want accurate, detailed tracking for particular sports. Some, due to their design and materials, are primarily about fashion, and won't really be suitable for wearing at the gym.
Even if all you're after is a chic-looking watch with a smattering of smart features, it's worth checking our reviews before you buy, as we've found some that look cheaper in reality than in their marketing pictures – which is disappointing for the high price, particularly if you're buying it for someone for a present.
Android (Wear OS), Samsung (Tizen) or Apple (watchOS)?
Wear OS by Google
Wear OS was built to work with Android devices, but offers (more limited) iPhone compatibility too. It's another interface designed to direct messages, calls and diary appointments to your wrist. Previously known as Android Wear 2.0, Wear OS has a host of features including the ability to customise watch faces to retrieve the most important information from your favourite apps, and control over notifications. It can give you greater freedom from your smartphone, as standalone apps will work with any Bluetooth or wi-fi connection, even without your phone nearby.
Pros: Wear OS is well maintained by Google and recent updates have resulted in a far sleeker, more intuitive experience. There's also a wealth of apps available to browse in the Play Store.
Cons: Compatibility with iPhones is limited, quality of some apps is hit and miss.
Samsung smartwatches run off an operating system called Tizen; initially only compatible with Samsung smartphones, it now works with a range of Android handsets and the iPhone 5 and newer, albeit with limitations.
Pros: Samsung smartwatches are generally constructed from premium materials and have a good range of fitness features. If you're sporty, something like the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active or Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 will be more suitable than most of the Wear OS watches, and they have a fashionable, neutral-looking, unisex design that pairs well with both office and sports gear.
Cons: Apps have historically been more limited on Tizen than on Wear OS, although this is slowly improving, with popular apps such as Spotify, Uber and Nest now available.
Designed to work exclusively with iPhones, Apple’s watchOS offers a touch-based interface that lets you scroll through your contacts, dictate texts and build your own fitness regime. Apple periodically releases new versions of the OS to keep things fresh – and for iPhone users, at least, maintains a wide selection of useful and informative apps. Recent developments in particular maintain a strong focus on health, fitness and wellbeing.
Pros: watchOS is simple to use and works well with the iPhone, delivering all the notifications you’d expect and allowing you to customise the look and feel of the interface through apps.
Cons: It’s exclusive to Apple Watches, which are expensive devices, even when we're talking about cheaper models such as the Apple Watch SE.
All smartwatches can cover the basics, such as step and distance tracking. Most have heart-rate monitors, and an increasing number have built-in GPS, so you can track your running route without taking your phone. Many are also waterproof, which is handy if you want to keep your watch on in the pool (although not many offer detailed swimming metrics).
At Which? we run all smartwatches through a rigorous test to see just how accurate its exercise-logging capabilities really are.
Good battery life Most smartwatches use a rechargeable battery, but how long it lasts varies significantly between models. What features a smartwatch has will also have an impact on battery life – models with a large screen, heart-rate monitor or advanced sensors, for example, are likely to run out of juice quite quickly. And switching on GPS will also drain the battery faster.
Internal storage Most good smartwatches should have a reasonable amount of internal memory: look for 4GB or more. This not only allows you to download new apps, but also store music so you can listen to tunes without a smartphone in tow.
Wi-fi connectivity A smartwatch with wi-fi can connect to local networks, so you can continue to receive notifications and use online functions even if your phone is out of Bluetooth range, so long as both your watch and phone have access to a wi-fi network.
NFC (near-field communication) If you're looking to make contactless payments via your smartwatch, make sure it has built in near-field communication (NFC). Also make sure your bank is compatible.
Built-in GPS Most smartwatches will be able to use the GPS on your smartphone. If you like to exercise outside and don’t want to be tied to your phone, though, built-in GPS is the feature to look for so you can track your route and distance while leaving your smartphone safely at home.
Accuracy We put every smartwatch through the same tests as fitness and activity trackers, including checking the accuracy of step and calorie count, distance travelled and the built-in heart-rate monitor.
We know consistency is important, too – if a smartwatch is accurate on some days but not on others, it will be difficult to track improvements in your fitness levels. We repeat our walking test to see if the smartwatches consistently overstate, understate or hit the accuracy mark.
Waterproofing Most smartwatches should be at least splashproof, and ideally IP67- or IP68-certified for immersion in water. Note that this doesn't meant the watch is suitable for swimming; this capability is usually measured in atmospheres (ATM). For example, 5 ATM means a smartwatch is water-resistant up to a depth of 50 metres.
Built-in heart-rate monitor Measuring your heart rate is one of the best ways to track improvements in your fitness levels, as well as being a useful metric for those looking to burn fat. The best smartwatches for fitness will measure your heart rate all day, as well as telling you when you’ve reached your active heart-rate zone during exercise. Some will even measure the time it takes for your heart rate to return to a resting rate after exercise, which is indicative of your fitness.
4G connectivity Also known as cellular connectivity and LTE, this allows you to make and receive calls, texts and other notifications without your phone nearby. It's not available for everyone, as only a small number of network carriers offer LTE. Connectivity will also have a large impact on the battery life of the watch. And you'll need to consider the ongoing monthly cost.
Built-in speaker Most smartwatches have a built-in microphone (useful for dictating voice messages as responses, or using a voice assistant to issue commands), but it's less common to find a speaker. This won't be essential for everyone, but if you want to make phone calls using just your watch, it's a must-have. It's also useful for alarms and reminders as an alternative to the vibration alert.
22mm watch strap Some smartwatches (including the Apple Watch and older Samsung Gear watches) use a proprietary strap connection, which means you'll have to stick to fairly limited set of branded replacements (or passable imitations). Choose a smartwatch with a removable 22mm watch strap, and you'll find a massive range of designs and materials available, with prices starting from just a few pounds.
Best smartwatches for accurate step counting
Walking is a super-easy form of exercise – and it's free. If you're not a fan of more intense exercise, aiming for a daily step target is a good, gentle way to build up your fitness. Any smartwatch will record your step count, but whether it does so accurately or not is another matter.
Our Best Buy smartwatches track steps accurately both during walks and runs and during everyday household activities.
How do we test step-tracking accuracy?
We test how accurately smartwatches log steps during walks and runs, as well as household activities, including packing and unpacking the dishwasher, sweeping the floor, going up and down stairs and sitting reading a magazine.
Some smartwatches wildly overstate or understate step count, missing steps or being so sensitive that they clock up too many. In particular, many smartwatches miscalculate steps during everyday household activities, mistaking any hand movement for you swinging your arm while taking a step.
Some smartwatches from well-known brands have been out by around 80% in this part of our test.
If you're worried about your heart health, you should speak to your GP. If you're generally healthy and more casually interested in monitoring your heart rate with a view to getting more out of your workouts, then look for a smartwatch with an in-built heart-rate monitor.
By keeping an eye on your heart rate, you can check that you're pushing yourself hard enough during exercise and recovering enough afterwards.
Monitoring heart-rate patterns long term can help you spot things that are causing spikes in your day-to-day life, and motivate you to take a more active interest in your cardiovascular health.
Some watches go much further, allowing you to take electrocardiograms (ECGs) to check for signs of atrial fibrillation. It's important to note that these aren't medical devices – they're more like toys for the worried well. But you can flag anything unusual with your GP and your device can help you build a more detailed overall picture of your health.
How do we test heart-rate tracking accuracy?
We test smartwatches during low-intensity exercise, high-intensity running and cycling, and while resting, to see how accurately each one can monitor heart rate. We compare these results to those taken by chest belts, which are known to be much more accurate.
Again, we see big differences in how accurately smartwatches measure heart rate.
Some, for example, track accurately during high-intensity exercise but really struggle during low-intensity exercise or at rest. One smartwatch we tested from a popular brand was more than 60% out when measuring heart rate at rest.
Best GPS smartwatches for running
Not all smartwatches have built-in GPS. Some have to rely on your phone's GPS, meaning you'll need to take your phone out with you when you for a run if you want it to track your route and distance. If you leave your phone behind, your distance will be based on step count.
If you're a keen runner, we recommend looking for a watch with in-built GPS, as GPS-based distance calculations are often (although not always) more accurate than those based on step count alone.
Be aware that GPS will drain your battery faster, though.
How we test smartwatches for distance accuracy
All smartwatches are taken on runs and walks along routes of a known length, to see how accurately they track your distance travelled. Our routes include woods with dense tree coverage.
Best waterproof smartwatches for swimming
Some smartwatches shouldn't be used in the water at all. Others can be if you've got the right sort of strap, usually silicone.
Some waterproof watches don't actually give you much in the way of swim-tracking data, but some go into plenty of detail. Some give you lots of useful information such as:
number of lengths
stroke detection, whether you're doing front crawl, breast stroke or butterfly, say
SWOLF, a measure of your swimming efficiency
Many can't give you heart-rate data in swim mode, but a few can be paired with a heart-rate monitor chest strap.
Water ratings explained
You'll sometimes see wearables' ability to withstand water described according to different ratings. Ingress Protection (IP) ratings are set by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), and refer to the protection provided by the casing of an electrical device in fresh water.
The first digit after the IP reflects the level of protection against solids, such as dust or grit. The second represents the protection against moisture. An IP code with an X in place of either number means the device hasn't been tested for that element.
For example, a smartwatch with a rating of IPX7 has been tested for moisture protection, but has not been tested for dust.
Level of protection
Protection against light rain
Protected from immersion in water at a depth of up to 1 metre for up to 30 minutes
Protected from continuous immersion in water at a depth of more than 1 metre
You can also look for a water pressure rating. These are standards set by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO).
Pressure tests are measured in atmospheres (ATMs) and replicate the level of pressure at certain depths of water.
Level of protection
Resistant to pressure equivalent to a depth of 10 metres. Splashproof but not shower- or swim-proof.
Resistant to pressure equivalent to a depth of 30 metres. Splash- and shower-proof; should be fine if accidentally submerged in water. Not designed for swimming.
Resistant to pressure equivalent to a depth of 50 metres. Splash- and showerproof, can be worn swimming and snorkelling in shallow water.
Resistant to pressure equivalent to a depth of 100 metres. Splash- and showerproof; suitable for swimming and snorkelling. Not designed for deep-water diving or watersports.
Resistant to pressure equivalent to a depth of 200 metres. Splash- and showerproof; suitable for swimming and snorkelling, surface diving and watersports but not deep-water diving.