The best Apple and Android smartwatches of 2021

Table of contents

  1. The best smartwatch: Apple Watch Series 6
  2. The best alternatives across 8 categories
    1. The best Android smartwatch: Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
    2. The best Samsung smartwatch: Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
    3. The best Huawei smartwatch: Huawei Watch GT 2 Pro
    4. Value-for-money recommendation: Fitbit Versa 3
    5. Smartwatch with long battery life: Mobvoi TicWatch Pro
    6. Best hybrid smartwatch: Withings ScanWatch
    7. Fossil, Armani, and others.: Smartwatches from classic watch manufacturers
  3. Buying advice: What should you look for when buying a smartwatch?
    1. Operating system
    2. Performance
    3. LTE or WLAN?
    4. Display
    5. Case size
    6. Sensors for vital data
    7. Location services
    8. Multimedia
    9. Protection
    10. Battery life
  4. Tips for buying

When preparing to write up our smartwatch comparison, we considered where do we draw the line to separate a  fitness tracker from a smartwatch. In doing so, we came to the conclusion that smartwatches should at least have WLAN connectivity to maintain a certain degree of independence from the smartphone. In addition, it is all right for smartwatches to be larger in size than usual and it does not necessarily have to be inconspicuous as a discreet fitness band wrapped around the wrist when indulging in sporting activities. Does our description of fitness trackers jive with your own idea?

Would you rather dive right into the comparison of the best fitness trackers? Head this way, then!

If not, let us take a look at our comparison of the best smartwatches available in the market. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to review all of the models released this year. But since we don’t want to give you a limited view of the smartwatch market, we’ve potentially considered every smartwatch for inclusion. We do so by basing our recommendations on the features and peer reviews.

Apple Watch Series 6
As the most powerful Apple Watch, the Series 6 is also the best smartwatch in our eyes / © Apple

Not yet reviewed

Pros

  • Intuitive UI with touchscreen and crown
  • Rich app ecosystem
  • Probably the best smartwatch OS with WatchOS
  • Sensors for pulse, SpO2, ECG, and much more
  • LTE version is extremely independent of the smartphone
 

Cons

  • Only for iPhone users
  • Unimpressive battery life
  • Expensive

Time and again, Apple’s smartwatches manage to cement themselves right at the top of any “Best Of…” lists, and for good reason. After all, the Cupertino-based manufacturer first made smartwatches socially acceptable with its original Apple Watch.

What was already good back then had only gotten better over the course of six generations. The Apple Watch Series 6 offers the same operating concept of a touch screen and a digital crown, comes with the very good smartwatch operating system known as WatchOS and offers all the important features that a user would want.

This includes basic functions such as Bluetooth, WLAN, optional LTE, GPS, and a heart rate sensor with a pulse oximeter, allowing it to measure your blood oxygen levels. As far as innovations go, compared to its predecessors, the Apple Watch Series 6 scores big especially with fast charging support, which works via USB-C and is able to power up completely in just approximately 1.5 hours.

Apple has also upgraded the display of the Apple Watch Series 6 to an Always-On Retina panel, which has a very high luminosity of a maximum of 1,000 nits. The resolution stands at 324 x 394 pixels on the smaller 40mm model and 368 x 448 pixels on the larger 44mm model. Other ‘unseen’ benefits include all the hard work done in the background by the fast S6 processor, an altimeter, sensors for ambient light or acceleration, and water protection up to a depth of 50 meters.

If you use an Apple smartphone, there is very little to stop you from pairing up with an Apple Watch, because it simply works within its own ecosystem – and that alone is good enough for the smartwatch to score points. While other smartwatches are compatible with your iPhone, many Apple users prefer to take advantage of the cohesive and complete ecosystem that runs on Apple’s own hardware. Using the Apple Watch with an Android phone is, unfortunately, impossible.

As evident from the prices above, the Apple Watch does not come cheap. If you are on a relatively low budget, the one Apple Watch you should look at is the Apple Watch SE. You can read more about the Apple Watch SE here.

The best Android smartwatch: Samsung Galaxy Watch 3

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is available in two sizes and different colours / © NextPit

Not yet reviewed

Pros

  • Works with both Android and iOS
  • Many functions (pulse oximeter, ECG, Samsung Pay, blood pressure monitor)
  • Rotating bezel
 

Cons

  • Smaller battery than its predecessor
  • Quite large in size

The unfortunate truth with the Apple Watch is that it cannot, as of now, be used with an Android phone. The next best option for a smartwatch comes courtesy of Samsung in the form of the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3. We have strong reasons to believe that this, right now, is the best Android-compatible smartwatch you can buy.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 was only released in September 2020 and is on par with the Apple Watch Series 6 when we look at the spec sheet.

The watch offers integrated GPS, a built-in heart rate sensor that includes a pulse oximeter, WLAN, Bluetooth connectivity, and there is also an option for a cellular module if you so desire. With the promise of being able to measure blood pressure in addition to pulse and ECG data, Samsung is also positioning the Galaxy Watch 3 to be on par with Apple’s heart-monitoring functions.

Design-wise, the Galaxy Watch 3 is more reminiscent of classic wristwatches, with a 1.2-inch round display on the 41mm variant, and a 1.4-inch display on the 45mm variant. Both the models use OLED panels and can be controlled via a rotating bezel and two buttons on the right side.

Samsung’s in-house Tizen OS functions as the operating system, which is compatible with Apple iOS and Android. The “Samsung Wearable” app is available on both the App Store and the Google Play Store, which allows the smartphone and the app to communicate with the phone to exchange notifications or transmit information.

Although we were not able to review the Galaxy Watch 3 this year, the relatively short battery life of the smartwatch is always a sore point among reviewers online. Both variants of the Galaxy Watch 3 come with lower battery capacity than their respective predecessors. You should therefore be careful with power guzzling functions like GPS or WLAN. In addition, the Samsung Pay service and ECG function promised at launch have not yet been made available at the start of the watches’ launch.

The best Samsung smartwatch: Samsung Galaxy Watch 3

Without beating around the bush: We can recommend the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 right here. We’ve already explained the advantages of the Samsung smartwatch, so we’d like to briefly discuss other alternatives from Samsung.

If the Watch 3 is too expensive for you, you can also opt for the Galaxy Watch Active 2. This is a sportier model that currently retails for much lower prices. This model boasts the very same Exynos 9110 processor and 1.5 GB of RAM. While the performance should thus be the same, the Galaxy Watch Active lacks blood oxygen and blood pressure monitoring. In addition, you will also have to do without an ECG.

The Galaxy Watch Active is also more discreet and slimmer, which means it might not get in the way as much during your sporting activating. On the Internet, you can often find the statement that the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active is more of a smartwatch for women. However, we would rather leave such prejudices aside in this best-of list.

The best Huawei smartwatch: Huawei Watch GT 2 Pro

Huawei Watch GT 2 Pro
The Huawei Watch 2 GT is still the best Huawei smartwatch. / © NextPit

Rating

Evaluation of design and handling

Pros

  • Beautiful design
  • Quality build
  • Long battery life
  • Qi wireless charging supported
 

Cons

  • Does not automatically measure blood oxygen levels
  • No always-on display
  • Limited watch faces
    Expensive

The Huawei Watch GT 2 Pro is not the newest smartwatch from Huawei, but in our opinion, it is still the best from the company. While Huawei did launch a successor to the GT 2 Pro in 2021, we cannot recommend the seemingly ‘improved’ model simply because we thought the software experience on the newer model isn’t polished enough.

Among the issues we faced included incorrect logging of data and a not-so-pleasant initial setup process.  At the time of the review, the selection of available apps is not yet comparable with the variety of applications of WearOS and Apple’s watchOS.

If Huawei works to iron out these disadvantages, the Huawei Watch 3 might find itself on this list sometime later. At this point in time, however, the advantages of the Watch GT2 Pro that Edwin has tested outweigh the advantages. 

.Read our review of the Huawei Watch GT2 Pro

Value-for-money recommendation: Fitbit Versa 3

Fitbit Versa 3
The Fitbit Versa 3 is really cheap compared to the top smartwatches on the market / © NextPit

Not yet reviewed

Pros

  • Relatively cheap
  • Solid range of functions (GPS, NFC, pulse, speaker)
  • Comparatively discreet on the wrist
 

Cons

  • No LTE version
  • Some functions available only with a premium subscription
  • Operated only by touch and buttons

On the Internet, you can always find “smart” wristwatches that are advertised as smartwatches for under €100 ($122). Sure, these models are cheap, but we can’t recommend them as a rule. Because if you expect a smartwatch at that price, you might be disappointed after your purchase. Functions such as WLAN, microphones for telephony, or even internal storage space for listening to music are often missing. Furthermore, we don’t recommend smartwatches from platforms like Wish, because we can’t really judge the quality of the products there as there have been some lemons in the past.

For this reason, our value-for-money recommendation is the Fitbit Versa 3. Because for just under $200, the smartwatch offers numerous features such as GPS, a heart rate sensor, speaker, and microphone for Google Assistant and telephony purposes. It also supports a mobile payment service known as Fitbit Pay. The only con, perhaps, is the lack of support for LTE.

While we weren’t able to review the Fitbit Versa this year either, I’ve worn the first version of the Versa on my wrist for a few weeks in the past. The build quality back then was good and the case is made of water-resistant aluminum, even in the third generation. The Fitbit Versa 3 is also suitable to be worn on your swims thanks to the certified water resistance of up to 50 meters, which automatically means wearing it in the rain is not an issue at all.

However, Fitbit also limits the range of functions of the Fitbit Versa in the sense that you will need a subscription to Fitbit Premium for advanced sleep analysis, for example. I already noticed this very negatively in the Fitbit Charge 4 review. The Fitbit Versa cannot quite keep up with the top models in this article when it comes to analyzing vital signs.

The watch does not record blood pressure or ECG data. Furthermore, it lacks smart operating features like the rotating bezel of the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 or the digital crown of the Apple Watch Series 6. In addition to the Fitbit Versa, the manufacturer also offers the Fitbit Sense and the Versa Lite. These are basically a more expensive and a cheaper version of the Versa, respectively.

Smartwatch with long battery life: Mobvoi TicWatch Pro

Mobvoi Ticwatch Pro
The Ticwatch Pro features a dual-level display to save battery / © NextPit

Rating

Bewertung Design und Handling

Pros

  • GPS, NFC, and WearOS on board
  • Good battery life
  • Clever dual-layer display
 

Cons

  • Leather strap only suitable for certain sports
  • No crown or rotating bezel for operation

The following tip will possibly stir a bit of a conversation in the comments, but I stand by my opinion. The Mobvoi Tic Watch Pro is my recommendation for those looking for a “real” smartwatch with long battery life. Because as I found out in a review this summer, the dual-display really excelled in everyday use.

That’s because Mobvoi equips its watch with a color display and an AMOLED screen, offering a visually appealing transparent, single-color display. In smart mode, the watch only shows the more power-efficient display so that you can take a quick glance at the time, and that’s how the smartwatch manages to deliver a battery life of up to 82 hours.

If you’re traveling for an extended period of time, Essential mode also allows you to turn off the main display and most of the smart features, increasing the battery life to 45 days. If you combine Essential mode with normal watch use, the watch’s battery life is hard to match.

AndroidPIT Ticwatch Pro 4G LTE Battery Saving Screen
If the battery life is nearing its end, you can at least still see the time and basic info on the TicWatch Pro (Photo shows the previous model) / © NextPit

In my review of the TicWatch Pro, I also found it very handy that the smartwatch can at least display the time when the battery is low. In fact, what upsets me most with most smartwatch models, because I actually use watches most of the time when I want to know what the current time is.

In addition to the clever battery-saving features, the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3 shines with Google’s WearOS smartwatch operating system. This provides you with control of Google Assistant from the watch and responds to incoming messages via voice input.

Under the hood lies a very capable Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 4100-SoC and 8 GB of internal storage, in addition to very capable sensors. The watch comes with GPS, NFC, a gyroscope, a barometer, a heart rate sensor, and even a cellular modem in the LTE version as a basic. In addition, the watch is IP68 rated and has two buttons as well as a microphone and a speaker.

On the flip side, it lacks an ECG compared to the Apple Watch Series 6 and a blood pressure monitor that is found on the Samsung model. It is also a rather hefty timepiece, tipping the scales at 41.9 grams, not to mention a relatively large and bulky form factor.

Read our Mobvoi TicWatch Pro review here

Best hybrid smartwatch: Withings ScanWatch

Withings ScanWatch
At first glance, the capability of the ScanWatch is not quite obvious / © NextPit

Rating

Bewertung Design und Handling

Pros

  • Wide range of functions
  • Simple to operate
  • Carries a charming analog design
  • Good health app
 

Cons

  • Inaccurate pedometer
  • Inaccurate sleep tracking
  • Unsuitable as a sports watch
  • Problems with pulse measurement
  • Expensive

Are you reading this comparison review and put off by a few days of battery life or displays that turn off automatically? If that is the case, perhaps a hybrid smartwatch is perfect for you. These are analog wristwatches that come with a few smart features and, at most, a small display. The battery life of these models is usually significantly longer than conventional smartwatches. However, you usually have to put up with a few shortcomings when using them.

In our opinion, the Withings ScanWatch, which combines a classic watch face with a small display, offers the best middle ground. Unlike many other hybrid smartwatches, notifications are not only communicated via hand positions or vibrations. Instead, the operation of the watch was particularly impressive in the test, which mainly works via the large crown on the right side of the case and through the PMOLED display.

Smart functions of the Withings ScanWatch include a single-channel ECG, which, according to my colleague Berti, can even detect atrial fibrillation. In addition, a pulse oximeter measures the oxygen content in your blood and can thus find out, among other things, whether you are suffering from breathing problems in the form of sleep apnea.

As you have already guessed, the watch supports sleep tracking and can also record your vital signs during sporting activities. However, you will have to make do without GPS, as the watch requires your smartphone for this.

The missing GPS feature is one of the big flaws of the watch and compared to a classic wristwatch, you might miss the second hand. In the test, we also experienced minor problems with heart rate measurement and other fitness functions.

Read our Withings ScanWatch review

Fossil, Armani, and others: Smartwatches from classic watch manufacturers

AndroidPIT fossil q control 8282
The Fossil Q Control did not score very well reviews / © AndroidPIT

Shortly after the first tech manufacturers experienced success with smartwatches, classic watch manufacturers also entered the fray. Brands like Fossil, Armani, or even Michael Kors offer their own models, which often work with Google’s WearOS. In the past, we were able to try out the following smartwatches from well-known watch brands:

Unfortunately, these are rather older models. The current Armani homepage, however, shows quite clearly the focus manufacturers place on your watches. Here, the details do not talk about functions such as sensors for heart rate measurement, but the Armani logo is listed as a feature. In our review of the Emporio Armani Connected, this also emphasized in detail.

While the watch is visually very appealing (also a point of contention, because design is always a matter of taste), both the performance and the battery life leave something to be desired. These models are also rarely found in smartwatch best lists, precisely because they can’t quite keep up technically with the models from tech manufacturers.

If you are still interested in one of these smartwatches, I recommend the detailed buying guide below. This allows you to check before buying, whether at the very least, the basic functions found on a smartwatch are there.

So far, we have suggested certain models as buying recommendations and shared our thoughts about selected categories after discussing them with the editorial team. However, every technology purchase is an individual choice and for this reason, we would like to give you some tips for your own smartwatch search.

Below you’ll find topics with features of specific smartwatches and an explanation of how and when each feature is important.

Operating system: WearOS, WatchOS, or Tizen?

If the hardware is the heart of a smartwatch, the operating system is the soul. And soul-wise, there are basically three major smartwatch operating systems that have established themselves. Google’s WearOS, Apple’s WatchOS, which is found on every Apple Watch, and Tizen, which you’ll find on models from Samsung.

If you have an Apple Watch, there’s literally no way around Apple’s WatchOS. That’s not a bad thing, because the operating system is firmly and securely integrated into Apple’s own ecosystem and works very well with iOS, macOS, or iPadOS. What’s more, it’s intuitive to use and generally speaking, WatchOS is considered the best smartwatch operating system.

Apple Watch Zifferblatt watchOS 7 Bild Apple
With creative watch faces and a strong design, Apple’s WatchOS can always hold its own as a smartwatch operating system / © Apple.

Google’s WearOS is perhaps the best alternative for users who have an Android smartphone in their pocket. The Android-derived operating system is found on many smartwatches, making it far less customisable compared to WatchOS. However, with Google Assistant and the handy Gboard, your smartwatch almost becomes a tiny smartphone. In addition, there are very many available apps for Google WearOS.

Last but not least, let’s take a quick look at Tizen. Again, this is a software that can be adapted by the manufacturer to a small selection of smartwatches. Tizen offers fewer apps compared to WearOS, but it scores points for ease of use. Moreover, it is the same here as with Apple: If you find a Samsung smartwatch cool, you cannot avoid Tizen.

Processor, working memory, and internal storage

Time and again, reviews list smartwatch processors as if some reader could use the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 4100+ to draw conclusions about the performance of the watch they reviewed. Sure, an up-to-date processor provides more performance, but in this aspect, you should rely on practical impressions left by the timepiece, or at least try the watch out for yourself once.

You should also not be put off by the rather small memory sizes. Even the Apple Watch Series 6 only has one gigabyte of RAM, which should be enough for most smartwatch functions. Multi-tasking or elaborate mobile games that require far more RAM is not something that your smartwatch has to handle.

Much more important would be the internal memory, especially if the smartwatch of your choice has an integrated music player. Smartwatches do not have expandable memory, such as smartphones with a micro SD card slot. If listening to music on the go is important to you, you should pay attention to this. An alternative in this case would be to pick a model that allows you to stream music on-the-go.

LTE or WLAN?

Smartwatches often come in two flavours: One model can only connect to the Internet via WLAN, the other has an LTE module. With an eSIM, which is a digital SIM card, you can use smartphone contracts on the smartwatch and thus access the Internet anywhere. Smartwatches like the Apple Watch Series 6 can even accept or make calls completely on its own, i.e. without a connected smartphone.

However, if you can’t order an additional SIM card to your existing smartphone contract, you’ll have to take out a second contract for your smartwatch, which will, of course, incur additional costs. Smartwatches with an LTE module are also generally more expensive.

Display and operation

The good news with almost every smartwatch is that touch-sensitive screens are now commonplace. The bad news: some manufacturers leave you with a small touchscreen and then expect you to type messages on a microscopic digital keyboard. The control concept of a smartwatch is especially important, and it’s part of the reason why the Apple Watch is so successful.

AndroidPIT Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2 Menu 1
Bezels that can be moved or work capacitively make smartwatches immensely easier to use / © NextPit

Because with additional bezels, crowns, and buttons, the operation of a smartwatch gains comfort and you should also pay attention to this when making a purchase decision. These hardware alternatives will also allow operation with gloves, which could run into touchscreen issues as with the smartphone.

Case size

Are you standing in front of the digital or real store showcase and wondering why there are two versions with different millimeter specifications? Then you’re looking at a model that comes in two different case sizes. This rarely affects the internal components. Usually, the display is also minimally larger in a larger case, and Samsung only offers an LTE module in the 45-millimeter version of its Galaxy Watch Series 3.

Larger models are usually also slightly more expensive. It’s best to orient yourself to the size of your wrist. Smaller models are also less conspicuous during sports and may be more suitable for use as a fitness tracker. This is a matter of taste and preference!

Sensors for vital signs

Smartwatches can monitor your vital signs throughout the day with a variety of sensors. Step counters and a heart rate sensor are part of the basic features. More powerful models also offer pulse oximeters to measure blood oxygen, ECG to detect heart disease, or measure your blood pressure at the wrist. However, this data is not completely reliable and you should always consult a doctor if you have any concerns.

Fitbit Collage
Vital signs are processed in apps and can be viewed well after exercise or sleep (Photo shows Fitbit Premium) / © Fitbit / Screenshot: NextPit

Because even the pulse is a very individual matter that varies from one person to another, so if it registers too high a resting pulse, you should not immediately lose your head. Fitness trackers and smartwatches are always just aids, but you can take their data with you to your next doctor’s appointment.

GPS and altitude

When running with a smartwatch, it is also advantageous to have an integrated GPS module. This means you don’t have to take your smartphone with you when you run in order to track your jogging route.

Another practical feature is the altimeter, which measures the differences in altitude while running or cycling even more accurately than the GPS module. This function is also important for hiking or climbing and could prove to be useful for paragliding or other high-altitude hobbies/activities.

Multimedia functions like music player

Independence from the smartphone doesn’t have to be boring with a smartwatch either. As mentioned in the description about memory earlier, smartwatches have internal memory which you can use to store music files or download tracks. Do pay attention to the type of music you want to use, though.

MP3s from your computer can’t be stored on the internal memory of every model. In this case, you will need a subscription to Spotify, Deezer, or Apple Music. Music streaming on your wrist becomes particularly flexible if you buy a watch with an LTE module.

Water and dust protection

Of course, you continue to leave the smartwatch on your wrist in the rain, no question about it. There is also IP certification available for inexpensive models. As for conventional watches, however, the industry relies on a waterproof rating that allows permanent submersion to a depth of several meters.

For what purpose are the various ATM designations of watches suitable?

ATM ratings in comparison (source:
Mister Minit)
  Rain Hand washing Showering Swimming Snorkeling Diving
3 ATM (30 meters)
5 ATM (50 meters)
10 ATM (100 meters)
20 ATM (200 meters)

The ATM code, which you may know from your analogue watch, indicates the amount of water pressure that the watch can withstand. 50 ATM means that the watch could withstand the pressure of a water column of 50 meters in the test. In the swimming pool or even when diving, you can leave such models on.

Battery life

The crux of any smartwatch would be the battery life, which is usually less than a week. If you find it annoying to constantly think about the battery life of your watch, you can consider buying a hybrid smartwatch. These models usually have no display at all or only very small displays but have long battery lives that last for several weeks.

Another compromise would be smartwatches like the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro. Creative solutions that fall back to the basic functions like displaying the time when the battery life runs low. In our reviews, we always go into detail about battery life and also mention how convenient and fast charging is.

Fundamentally, the online shopping principles we recommend in every best list also apply to smartwatches. Be sure to check for comparative prices, make sure they’re not used or on Marketplace deals, and check for discount days or promotional weeks.

For very expensive smartwatches with an LTE module, it’s also worth taking a look at the offers from mobile providers. You can buy smartwatches together with smartphone contracts and thus pay off the purchase price month by month. Another tip for expensive models: Look for extended warranties and insurance policies that cover you in the event of a broken display or water damage.

But since smartwatches have to please you first and foremost and, above all, fit your wrist, we recommend that you visit an electronics retailer for a closer look. Here you can ask an employee to take the watch you want out of the holder and then you can test it out on your own wrist.


This article was revised and republished in June 2021. Existing comments have been preserved.

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