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10 best smartwatches that will make your life much easier

David Phelan
iStock/ The Independent

What makes a smartwatch smart? Well, along with telling the time – often with greater accuracy than a regular watch – it can count your steps, the number of calories burnt and more.

​Some smartwatches monitor your heart rate, use GPS to accurately track your outdoor run or include apps that offer extra features.

Some need to be near your smartphone to have their full functionality, though a couple connect directly to the mobile phone network so you can make phone calls from your wrist – if that’s not too Dick Tracy for you.

What do you want a smartwatch for? If you just want to know how fit you’re getting, oh, and tell the time of course, then you can get away with a simpler gadget.

But if you want to receive your text messages and other notifications on your wrist, or get directions as you’re walking through town late at night without pulling your smartphone out of your pocket or bag, then a fully-featured smartwatch is what you’ll need.

Most need to be recharged either daily or every few days, though some have batteries that last for months and then need to be replaced. Almost all have electronic displays.

We tested each watch extensively, checking everything from ease of use to build quality, variety of features to how well they worked.

We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Apple Watch Series 5: From £399, Apple

Screen size: 1.5in, 1.78in
Operating system: watchOS 5
Battery life: 1 to 2 days
Water-resistant? Yes
Works with: Apple iPhone

Since the first Apple Watch was released in April 2015, it has been the best smartwatch on the market by some distance. This latest edition, released in September, is slick and spectacularly well-built, with four different metal cases to choose from: aluminium, stainless steel, titanium and ceramic. The screen is bright and colourful and, on Series 5 only, has an always-on display so you don’t need to raise your wrist to turn the screen on. You do need to charge it every night as a result, though.

You can choose models which have a wifi connection only so they need your iPhone to be nearby to work fully or choose one with a cellular connection so that it can make phone calls and receive texts, for instance, almost anywhere. Series 5 has advanced heart monitoring and you can set it so that it warns you if it spots your heart rate going too high unexpectedly, for instance. You can also take an ECG reading on the watch.

The watch can tell if you have a hard fall. If you then don’t get up for the next minute, it can call specified contacts and emergency services. There are lots of other useful features, like dictating notes to ask your watch to remind you to do something when you get home (and your wrist will then buzz, prompting you about that task, as you get through the door). Directions using Apple Maps are very useful and the watch can monitor scores of exercise types from running to cycling to yoga to swimming (it’s waterproof). It comes in two different sizes and several colours, with special editions from Nike and Hermes. Oh, and there are a lot of different straps to choose from.

Buy now

Huawei Watch GT 2: £199, Argos

Screen size: 1.2in, 1.4in
Operating system: Huawei Lite OS
Battery life: 1 to 2 weeks
Water-resistant? Up to 50m
Works with: Android phones and Apple iPhone

Huawei’s latest is a big upgrade from the previous model with improved styling and extra features, such as stress tracking. It also has sleep monitoring, though it’s not as advanced as the Samsung and Fitbit in that regard. There’s a wide range of watch faces, but unlike Apple, Samsung and others, you can’t download apps to the watch GT 2. Battery life is strong at easily a week or as much as two if you don’t use it for fitness tracking solidly. In some ways this is a fitness tracker dressed as a smartwatch, which at least means it’s great for tracking your workouts – 16 different kinds of exercise are monitored.

Buy now

Fitbit Versa 2: £199.99, Fitbit

Screen size: 1.34in
Operating system: Fitbit OS
Battery life: up to 5 days
Water-resistant? Yes
Works with: Android phones and Apple iPhone

Fitbit, which has recently been acquired by Google, is known for the high accuracy of its activity tracking measurements. Its operating software is straightforward and easy to use and there are lots of advanced fitness features, such as sophisticated sleep tracking which helps you understand how you’re sleeping thanks to a nightly sleep rating. It can do this because the battery life is enough to last up to five days so there’s time to recharge it. It also has a “smart wake” feature, coming soon, which cleverly wakes you when it spots you are going from deep to light in a 30-minute period before your alarm time, aimed at helping you wake refreshed.

This new Versa has Alexa built-in: press and hold the side button to ask it questions, set a timer or start a workout. This is a very effective tracker, especially for monitoring. However, if you have an iPhone, then the Apple Watch Series 3 offers more for the same money. If you have an Android phone, the Versa 2 is hard to beat.

Buy now

Apple Watch Series 3: From £199, Apple

Screen size: 1.45in, 1.65in
Operating system: watchOS 5
Battery life: 1 to 2 days
Water-resistant? Yes
Works with: Apple iPhone

Although it was first released two years ago, the Apple Watch Series 3 is now excellent value. It is fractionally smaller than the Series 5 though the display is noticeably smaller. It doesn’t have the always-on display or some of the advanced heart metrics as Series 5 (though it will still warn you if your heart rate is irregular). Otherwise, this is a superbly capable watch that looks great and works brilliantly. Like series 5, you can choose between wifi or wifi and cellular models, though it’s only available in one metal finish: aluminium.

Buy now

Withings Move ECG: £129.95, Withings

Screen size: 1.5in
Operating system: Withings​
Battery life 12 months
Water-resistant? Yes
Works with: Android phones and Apple iPhone

Withings smartwatches are different from rivals because they have analogue faces with, you know, real hands. This latest model is also capable of measuring an ECG (as the name suggests) but is much more affordable than the Apple Watch Series 5. Like that watch, this one can also look out for irregular heart rates which may suggest atrial fibrillation. Because there’s no digital screen at all here – some Withings watches have a small screen area as well – data is read on the accompanying smartphone app. That’s apart from your step count: a secondary dial spins round to show how close to your target you are. A replaceable battery means you never need to charge the Move ECG, merely change the battery once a year.

Buy now

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2: From £269, Samsung

Screen size: 1.2in, 1.4in
Operating system: Tizen​
Battery life: Up to 2 days
Water-resistant? Yes
Works with: Android phones and Apple iPhone

The latest Samsung is the closest in capability to the Apple Watch, including heart monitoring with notifications if it spots your heart rate going unusually high or low. It will also be capable of measuring an ECG but this is not yet active.

Some previous Galaxy watches had a rotating bezel which was a neat way to interact with it. This has something even cooler: the bezel doesn’t move but digitally recognises your touch and responds accordingly, to move between menus, for instance. It includes sleep tracking and advanced exercise tracking features. Although it works with the iPhone, there are some extra features when pairing it with an Android phone. For instance, you can snap a picture of what you’re wearing with your phone and the watch can generate a face with complementary colours. There’s also a version with cellular connectivity available from EE, with a slightly bigger display.

Buy now

Sony Wena Watch band: From £349, Sony Centre

Screen size: Varies
Operating system: Sony Wena
Battery life: Up to a week
Water-resistant? Yes
Works with: regular watches

Strictly speaking, this isn’t a smartwatch at all: it’s a smart band. The idea is that if you have a favourite traditional watch but want the connectivity and other features a smartwatch offers, you can connect it to the Wena strap with its advanced capabilities. On the band, next to the buckle there’s a small smart screen and it’s capable of GPS tracking, contactless payments and more. A sport version includes a heart rate monitor and smart alarm while a more elegant version features a bigger OLED screen. Both track your activity. Sony makes its own analogue watch heads to go with the bands, costing from £99. It’s an unusual concept but ideal if you can’t bear to give up your favourite watch.

Buy now

Withings Steel HR sport: £189.95, Withings

Screen size: 1.6in
Operating system: Withings​
Battery life: 25 days
Water-resistant? Yes
Works with: Android and Apple phones

Think Steel HR with extra sportiness. It’s only available in the larger of the two sizes of the Steel HR. It feels chunky but comfy and matches the Steel HR for the monochrome OLED circle for displaying heart rates and other measurements. And it has an extra sensor, to measure VO2 Max, which helps work out exactly how much oxygen you use during exercise. This is not common on smartwatches and contributes to the watch’s assessment of the wearer’s fitness level. It’s especially useful for committed athletes.

Buy now

Samsung Galaxy Watch: From £279, Samsung

Screen size: 1.2in, 1.3in
Operating system: Tizen OS
Battery life: Up to 4 days
Water-resistant? Yes
Works with: Android and Apple phones

The display on the circular-faced Samsung Galaxy watch is very well-designed, to the extent that it really almost looks like real hands ticking round. This is an older model than the new Galaxy Watch Active2 and features the rotary bezel which proved to be a clever way to interact with the menus and other screens by twisting the bezel to cycle through them. It also protects the watch glass because it projects above it. Like the Apple Watch, you can buy a model that has a virtual sim card inside so you don’t need your smartphone with you to connect to the internet or make phones. It has sleep tracking, but you may find it too heavy and chunky to wear at night.

Buy now

Withings Move: £59.95, Withings

Screen size: 1.45in
Operating system: Withings​
Battery life: 18 months
Water-resistant? Yes
Works with: Android and Apple phones

The Withings Move is highly affordable, looks tremendous and comes in a funky range of colours. Battery life is best on test – 18 months – as it uses a non-rechargeable cell. Note that as the watch is waterproof, Withings recommends battery replacement should be done by a professional like a jeweller. You can choose the colour of the dial, watch face, case and wristband. It has a second dial to track your steps but lacks the OLED notifications screen of pricier models. Very fun.

Buy now

The verdict: Smartwatches

Really, if you have an iPhone there are only two choices, the Apple Watch Series 5 or the less capable but much more affordable Apple Watch Series 3 which, although it was first released two years ago is still as good as any non-Apple watch here. If you don’t have an iPhone then the Withings Move ECG is advanced and attractive, while the Fitbit Versa 2 packs in a lot for the money.

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