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9 best smartwatches that do much more than tell the time

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·11-min read
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We considered health tracking, battery life, wearability and value for money   (iStock/The Independent)
We considered health tracking, battery life, wearability and value for money (iStock/The Independent)

The current smartwatch market is confusing and full of economic jeopardy when it comes to finding a dud. For every Apple Watch, there are three rotten alternatives.

Happily, however, the top end of the market has become established, to the point that there are a few safe bets. Even at the lower end, there are brands that are making names for themselves for producing reliable, smart(ish) watches.

Your choice depends entirely on your focus. Even the top watches in this category may not be able to track your monster fitness sessions in the way you want – be sure to select a sports-specific model over a more general-purpose product if you’re undertaking an ultramarathon, for instance. For most of us there’s a balance to be found between the fitness-focused and general-use wearables: one that’s simultaneously becoming simpler to achieve and more difficult to commit to with every new release.

How we tested

We tried to test each of our contenders in a range of settings and under the strain of different demands. Could we go from a slow jog to the shower and straight out to dinner without the smartwatch buckling under the pressure?

Look and comfort were also vital considerations: a smartwatch is an accessory, after all. Could we wear each watch the entire day, or longer?

Read more:

Finally, we tested the more nuanced features of each, from mindfulness apps and sleep tracking to automatic exercise detection and 24/7 heart monitoring. While we’ve tried to come up with a definitive list of the best smartwatches, one thing’s for sure after all this testing: we need a rest.

The best smartwatches for 2022 are:

  • Best overall – Apple Watch series 7: £399,

  • Best Android smartwatch – Samsung Galaxy Watch 4: £249,

  • Best Fitbit smartwatch – Fitbit sense: £279,

  • Best newcomer – Huawei Watch 3: £279,

  • Best analogue smartwatch – Withings scanwatch: £249.95,

  • Best sports smartwatch – Garmin venu 2: £262.49,

  • Best budget sports smartwatch – Honor magic watch 2: £89.99,

  • Best higher-end budget smartwatch – Xiaomi mi watch: £119.99,

  • Best budget smartwatch – Realme watch: £49.99,

Apple Watch series 7

Best: Overall

Rating: 9/10

  • Display size: 41mm/45mm (case size; display is smaller)

  • Battery life: Up to 18 hours

  • Water-resistance: 50m water resistant

  • Health tracking: ECG, blood oxygen monitoring, irregular heart rhythm notification, mindfulness app

Apple has become the highest-selling watch company in the world, outstripping even traditional watchmakers to become the leader in wearable timepieces – at least by volume. The series 7 is the latest smartwatch that proves Apple means business in the sector. It’s a beauty: a bright, clear, comfortable watch that gives its user pretty much everything you could want from a smartwatch, including ECG and blood oxygen monitors and the (more expensive) option of a data plan, meaning you can leave your phone at home.

There are definite improvements when compared to the series 6. You can most clearly see the difference in the screen: the borders have been reduced, increasing screen size by about 20 per cent over the series 6, and 50 per cent more than the series 3. The extra space is used well, giving you more information at a glance and the opportunity to type your messages with a diminutive keyboard. The screen is also one of the clearest on the market, remaining bright without the bleed you sometimes see when brightness is turned up in other products.

If you have the series 6, it might be worth holding onto it for a little longer, as the differences are admittedly slight. However, there’s a noticeable direction of development that means the series 7 is by no means a case of slapping a new label on the front of the box (besides the characteristically poor battery). Consistency is key, and refinement is the name of the game here: the series 7 is the best all-round smartwatch you can buy. Be aware, however, that it’s only compatible with iPhones.

Buy now £399.00,

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4

Best: Android smartwatch

Rating: 8.5/10

  • Display size: 30.4mm

  • Battery life: Up to 40 hours

  • Water-resistance: 50m water resistant

  • Health tracking: ECG, accelerometer, geomagnetic sensor

The Galaxy Watch 4 builds on Samsung’s laudable wearable history, ending up as the latest of its products to lead the pack. The Watch 4’s overall offering is the best Android option around: the breadth of features once again makes a Samsung smartwatch the smartest Android watch we’ve tested. It’s also unbelievably sleek, with a unique silhouette and design ethos, and like the series 7, Samsung has included the option of a dedicated 4G data plan.

The AMOLED screen is exceptional, the fit is comfortable, and connectivity is seamless. Samsung has decided to get rid of the rotating bezel, which is a shame as this was one of the Watch 3’s highlights, and the lack of iPhone compatibility is a misstep, but this is still the best Android smartwatch you can buy.

Buy now £249.00,

Fitbit sense

Best: Fitbit smartwatch

Rating: 8/10

  • Display size: 40.5mm

  • Battery life: Up to six days

  • Water-resistance: 50m water resistant

  • Health tracking: ECG sensor, EDA scanner, SpO2 tracker, skin temperature sensor, guided mindfulness and breathing sessions, sleep tracker, menstrual health tracking

It wouldn’t be a wearables round-up without Fitbit making an appearance. The tracker superbrand has a strong range of options, from the classic charge series to the fashion-conscious (and high-tech) luxe, but when it comes to the smartwatch market, the Fitbit sense is king: in fact, it’s among the most versatile smartwatches available.

Health still comes first with the sense: it offers one of the widest skillsets in the industry, putting you in as much control as possible. Many of the tools necessitate a Fitbit premium account, but each sense comes with six months free, giving you a little try before you buy. The sense also serves as a great companion to your smartphone, offering the usual notifications and controls, along with an impressive array of watch faces and supremely comfortable strap. It’s a classic smartwatch from a brand that continues to find its place at the head of the pack.

Buy now £279.00,

Huawei Watch 3

Best: Newcomer

Rating: 8/10

  • Display size: 36.3mm

  • Battery life: Up to three days, 14 days in ultra-long battery life mode

  • Water-resistance: 50m water resistant

  • Health tracking: 24/7 heart and blood oxygen monitors, 100+ sports modes, skin temperature detector

Huawei has improved on its promising Watch 2 with the straightforwardly named Watch 3. It’s the first smartwatch to use Huawei’s HarmonyOS, and it really takes advantage of this, providing a clean experience and smooth performance. The AMOLED display is crisp and bright, and fitness options are pretty comprehensive. It’s not yet on a par with the very best wearables due to a slight lack of apps, but these are surely coming soon in future updates and the potential is huge. A real contender for Android users.

Buy now £279.00,

Withings scanwatch

Best: Analogue smartwatch

Rating: 9/10

  • Face size: 38.4mm/42mm

  • Battery life: Up to 30 days normal usage, with an extra 20 days in power reserve mode

  • Water-resistance: 50m water resistant

  • Health tracking: Heart rate, blood oxygen, ECG, step counter, elevation tracker

Just because you want the benefits of a smartwatch, doesn’t necessarily mean you want the neon colouring, fake watch faces and modern stylings that sometimes come with them. Enter Withings and its French eye for style. The scanwatch does much of what the best health trackers can achieve, with an impressive partner app that gives users clear information, ranging from oxygen saturation to heart rate. Mental health is a focus of the app, with useful tips and tricks for reducing stress, and even a stress tracker.

To look at the scanwatch, you wouldn’t expect there to be smarts underneath the face: during testing, multiple people noted their surprise that this was a smartwatch, thanks to the small smart screen switching off when not in use. This is the watch that brilliantly bridges the gap between the beauty of traditional timepieces and the usability of a smartwatch.

Buy now £249.95,

Garmin venu 2

Best: Sports smartwatch

Rating: 8.5/10

  • Display size: 33m

  • Battery life: Up to 11 days, up to 12 days in battery saver mode

  • Water-resistance: 50m water resistant

  • Health tracking: Heart rate, blood oxygen, fitness age, body battery energy monitor, stress, sleep, hydration, women’s health

While Garmin might have the rugged subsection of the wearables market pretty wrapped up, it also offers some great “prettier” watches for when you’re not on your ultramarathon training runs. The best smartwatch the brand currently produces is the venu 2, an all-powerful sports watch that doubles as a very good smartwatch. Garmin’s class-leading GPS is on show, along with the brand’s classic almost-indestructibility. The screen is fantastic, and manages to cram in a phenomenal amount of information. It also looks fantastic, fitting in nicely with the more delicate rivals in this list. It’s the smartwatch that would continue being useful at the end of the world. It’ll outlive us all.

Buy now £262.49,

Honor magic watch 2

Best: Budget sports smartwatch

Rating: 8/10

  • Display size: 35.3mm

  • Battery life: Up to 14 days

  • Water-resistance: Splash- and waterproof

  • Health tracking: Heart rate and blood oxygen monitors, stress monitoring, 15 fitness modes

Honor’s improved magic watch 2 manages to look the part of a “proper” watch, designed with a traditional slant while providing a good-sized screen and bright display. The design is particularly reminiscent of some of Huawei’s previous-generation smartwatches, with comparable dimensions and a light feel on the wrist.

Its fitness package is impressive, giving athletes – and you – everything needed for professional tracking. Its range of more lifestyle-led apps isn’t the widest on this list, but for anyone who wants to focus on health and fitness while benefiting from a decent level of smartwatch features, the magic watch 2 is great value.

Buy now £89.99,

Xiaomi mi watch

Best: Higher-end budget smartwatch

Rating: 7.5/10

  • Display: Size: 35.3mm

  • Battery life: Up to 16 days, up to 22 days in power saving mode

  • Water-resistance: 50m water resistant

  • Health tracking: Heart rate, 24-hour heart rate monitor, blood oxygen, breathing, stress, sleep

Xiaomi continues to produce good-quality tech at enviable prices. The Mi watch is a solid option for a lower budget: it looks the part, taking design influence from some of the bigger hitters, and delivers a clean user experience. It certainly focuses on health – in-built GPS and 117 workout modes will do that for you – but with extras such as music control and message notifications, along with a big screen, it works well as a no-nonsense smartwatch.

Buy now £119.00,

Realme watch

Best: Budget smartwatch

Rating: 7.5/10

  • Display size: 36.5mm

  • Battery life: Up to nine days, 20 days on power saving mode

  • Water-resistance: IP68 dust and water resistant (up to 1.5m)

  • Health tracking: Heart rate, blood oxygen, sleep detection, 14 activity modes

Realme produced one of the best mid-range phones of the year in the Realme GT: a high-end handset for a ludicrous price. The Realme Watch might not pull up the same trees as the GT, but it still performs at a level above its price bracket, with most of the bells and whistles (watch faces, call and text notifications, music and camera controls) of the top dogs.

It also provides an intelligent activity tracker and real-time heart monitor, along with a very handy 36.5mm colour touchscreen. If you’re not sure about wearable tech and want to try something a little less risky for your pocket, Realme has you covered.

Buy now £49.99,

The verdict: Smartwatches

There’s never been a better line-up of quality smartwatches than the crop we have now. The Apple Watch series 7 offers the best experience you can find in a smartwatch, but the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 runs close, although a lack of compatibility from both loses some marks from us. For a classic look, the Withings scanwatch is a fantastic fitness tracker in a stunning case, while the traditional stylings and colour screen of the Huawei watch 3 make it a top option for the traditionalists among us that want some mod-cons.

Voucher codes

For offers on smartwatches and other tech products, try our discount code pages:

If you’re looking for exercise-focused model, read our review of the best fitness trackers

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