We updated this guide in November 2021 to ensure all products vetted by the Home Improvement Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute were in stock and reflected current pricing. We also added new options, including the Apple Watch Series 7, Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 and Fitbit Sense, plus highlights about why we love each smartwatch and questions to consider before you buy.
A smartwatch alone won’t whip you into the best shape of your life, make you on time for every meeting and ensure eight hours of blissful sleep. But it can help you with all of those things — and then some. The newest generation of smartwatches deliver truly useful features while adding a flash of style to your everyday ensemble. With brands like Fossil and Kate Spade in on the action, smartwatches combine brains and beauty like never before, including slim profiles, sleek designs and bold color palettes.
The tech experts at the Good Housekeeping Institute know firsthand: We test all the latest and greatest consumer gadgets like fitness trackers and wearables. For smartwatches, we evaluated dozens of models on factors like features, fit, ease of use and accuracy, comparing pro experiences with real user feedback. We also answered all the key questions around value and reliability: Can I wear this smartwatch in the pool? What happens if I drop it on the bathroom floor? And most important of all: Are smartwatches really worth the money? We even tested smartwatches for women with “incident detection," meaning if you take a hard fall while working out, an alert will be sent to your emergency contacts.
Our top picks
- Large, always-on retina display
- Built-in GPS and LTE
- So-so battery power
Apple didn’t invent the smartwatch, but it’s done a ton to improve it, delivering the same clean design and intuitive controls you know from its smartphones and computers. That continues with the Series 7, which is, for the most part, an incremental upgrade over the Series 6 that we tested last year. Several enhancements should make for a better smartwatch, according to our engineers’ reviews of the specifications. For starters, thanks to the re-engineered border, the largest-ever retina display bests the Series 6 by nearly 20 percent, while barely changing the actual watch size. That should make it easy to read, and it allows for bigger buttons across the board, for fast, responsive touch control. Battery charge time is 33 percent faster too. And if you’ve ever broken a smart watch, like many of our consumer testers have, you’ll appreciate the Series 7’s crack-resistant crystal, which also repels dust and water.
Now let's talk health and wellness. With the introduction of Apple Fitness+ (3 months free with Apple Watch purchase, then $9.99 per month), the Series 7 offers more guided workouts than ever, including HIIT, strength, pilates and meditation. Advanced sensor technology allows the watch to measure blood oxygen levels, and it can also take an ECG reading in 30 seconds, providing useful insights into your overall heart health (of course, check with a doctor at the first sign of concern). As for aesthetics, there’s no mistaking the Apple form, but the subtly rounded case is a nice refinement, plus the Series 7 comes in more colors and a wider range of straps, including designs from Hermes.
- Durable glass screen
- Lightweight design
- Not suitable for swimming
Timex has taken its time in the smartwatch race, lagging behind the category leaders. But with the Metropolitan watch, the iconic brand gives loyalists the option of the familiar watch face with solid intelligence at a very competitive price. Our experts like the high-res, always-on display, 24/7 fitness tracker and accurate GPS, good for logging miles on the run.
“Also, its battery life was among the best of all tested models,” says Kim. Timex claims up to 12 days of battery life on a single charge when the watch is in power-saving mode. The 36mm case width and 20mm silicone strap combine for an exceptionally lightweight design, and the watch face is made out of high-impact resistant Gorilla Glass, so it can still take that lickin’ and keep on tickin' when it matters most.
- Excellent fitness tracking
- Unique bevel navigation
- A bit chunkier than some watches
Serious athletes need a smartwatch that can keep pace, and the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is up to the challenge. The Android- and IOS-compatible smartwatch impressed our engineers with its ability to track a range of exercises — running, cycling, rowing — and its fall detection provides peace of mind. “The Samsung’s heart monitor was more accurate than other watches,” adds lab expert Jamie Kim. “Take note, it’s not a medical device, but if you’re looking to improve athletic performance or manage stress throughout the day, that level of accuracy might be useful.” Another unique feature of the Galaxy 3 is the rotating bezel used to navigate the system: Our engineers found it easy to use, and it helped prevent them from clicking on the wrong item on the touch screen. In terms of overall aesthetics, you can definitely keep your Samsung smartwatch on when you’re out on the town, thanks to its rich offering of case finishes and straps.
- Customizable watch face
- 42mm case will be big for some wrists
- No sleep monitoring
Even if you don’t use the Scallop 2’s 'Choose Your Look' feature to coordinate your smartwatch with your outfit of the day, the stylish Kate Spade design is sure to turn heads. But this wearable is more than just a pretty face: Our experts like the heart rate sensor and built-in GPS, and the NFC (near field communication) mobile payment feature comes in handy when shopping. Meanwhile, Google Assistant voice activation lets you take calls without reaching into your Sam Bag for the phone. The Scallop 2 also features 3ATM water resistance, so after color-coordinating the watch with your favorite swimsuit, you can leave it on during dunks in the pool.
- Intuitive design
- Health and wellness features
- Membership required for much of the content
Fitbit’s top-of-the-line smartwatch earned solid marks in our tests, combining intuitive set up and controls with a sleek design. “We found the app to be particularly straightforward, guiding users through the step-by-step set-up, as well as providing instructions on how to wear the watch,” says Kim. That makes the Sense a good fit if this is your first smartwatch. Another user-friendly feature: the built-in Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, which allows you to quickly check the weather or news and also to control other connected devices in the home by voice command.
The Sense offers many health and wellness features, including basic insights into activity, sleep and nutrition, as well as access to introductory workouts and meditations. For the full experience, you'll want consider a Premium membership (3-month free trial, $9.99 thereafter), with enhancements like a stress management score, detailed breakdown of your sleep, access to more than 200 workouts and meditations, and even exclusive mindfulness tips from the actor Will Smith. If you’re not interested in all that added content, you’ll get a watch that performs its basic tasks just as well for less money with the Fitbit Versa 3 (reviewed below).
- Built-in microphone
- Android and iPhone compatible
- Mobile payments
- 44mm case will be big for some wrists
If you run your life through Google, having a watch powered by the same Android-based operating system will enable seamless integration of things like Gmail and Google Assistant. Among WearOS smartwatches, our experts single out the Fossil Gen 5 Julianna for its built-in microphone, allowing you to answer calls at your wrist. You can also issue voice commands to smart devices in your home: adjust the temperature, turn on the lights, lock the front door and so on. The option of contactless payments through Google Pay is another nice perk. And the Fossil Gen 5 Julianna is compatible with both Android phones and iPhones.At 44mm, the case is on the chunky side, but the Fossil design is still feminine. If you’re looking for something smaller, consider the 40mm Fossil Gen 4 Venture, which combines the same functionality with a more refined design.
- Good value
- Fall detection
- Optional cellular
- Does not include always-on display
The Apple Watch SE is billed as entry-level, but it doesn’t actually sacrifice all that much compared with many top-of-the-line smartwatches. Its competitive price will appeal to the widest array of iPhone users. The Series 3 features the same large display as the Apple Watch Series 6 and many of the same WatchOS7 features, including water resistance, optical heart sensor, fall detection and available WiFi/cellular options (for $50 more).You’ll miss out on some of the latest Apple health features, like the blood oxygen and ECG apps, and you’ll have to settle for an aluminum finish (no stainless steel or titanium). Maybe the biggest trade-off with the SE: no always-on display, so you have to decide if the black box on your wrist is worth saving $100.
- Built-in GPS
- 24/7 heart rate tracking
- Sleep monitoring
- Lacking some features, like fall detection
Fitbit started the whole wearable craze with its original fitness tracker more than a decade ago. With the Fitbit Versa 3, it’s now been in the smartwatch market long enough to warrant serious consideration. True to its roots, the smartwatch is packed with fitness and wellness features, including built-in GPS, 24/7 heart rate tracking and a daily Sleep Score feature through the Fitbit app, which our testers found incredibly intuitive in their roundup of the 6 Best Fitbit Smartwatches and Trackers of 2020.
Our smartwatch reviews are based on extensive lab tests, as well as road tests of new model releases of past top performers. Lab evaluations include more than a dozen individual tests designed to measure performance, ease-of-use and durability.We also have consumer panelists provide qualitative feedback — for example, calling out specific features they appreciate, like a watch’s sleep score or reminders to stand and stretch throughout the day. By the time our experts arrive at a final score for each watch, they’ve collected more than 300 separate data points. Here are the details:
✔️ Performance: This is the most heavily weighted part of our evaluation. We consider the overall functionality of each smartwatch, including the total number of performance features. Our engineers also measure battery life and the accuracy of the pedometer and heart monitor, when relevant. Finally, we check to see that any smart features function seamlessly, without glitches or syncing issues.
✔️ Ease-of-use: This evaluation begins right out of the box, with noting how easy the smartwatch is to set up, including how intuitive it is to use the device and how seamless it is to use the watch with its app, if applicable. Once the watch is up and running, our experts measure how simple it is to navigate and check for notifications. They also pay attention to overall comfort, including the strap design.
✔️ Durability: This consists of two main lab tests. There’s the drop test, in which we drop smartwatches from 30 inches (the height of a typical countertop), then check to see that they’re still fully functional. And there's the water-resistance test, where we put each watch in approximately 8 inches of water for 1 minute to simulate full submersion; we then wait 24 hours before checking for functionality. A smartwatch that fails either test is automatically disqualified from our recommended list.
As you shop around for the perfect smartwatch, keep these three factors in mind.✔️ Budget: Smartwatches range in price from $150 to $750 or more. Budget models are little more than fitness trackers that tell time, while pricey smartwatches tend to be feature-rich with full-color touchscreens and whip-fast processing power.
✔️ Compatibility: Many smartwatches work with any phone, but some are compatible with only Apple or Samsung. Smartwatches with built-in cellular don't need to be paired to your phone to deliver GPS, mobile payments and the like.
✔️ Comfort: Smartwatches with big cases (44mm and up) can look and feel clunky. Especially if you have a small wrist, a 36mm or 38mm smartwatch might be a better fit.
It depends on how you plan to use it. “Smartwatches have taken on so many new features and functions, from fitness tracking to help managing your day-to-day life,” says Jamie Kim, the consumer products expert who reviewed many of the models in this report. “If you’re going to pay extra for all those bells and whistles, just make sure you’ll actually use them.
”It’s also important to choose a smartwatch that will stand the test of time. Our impact and water-resistance tests are designed to weed out any duds. As with all smart products (a fast-moving category with lots of newcomers), it is generally wise to stick with more established brands. Apple, Samsung and Fitbit have performed consistently well over the years, though we've been impressed by other brands too.
Bottom line: Choose the watch with the right look and feature set for you. Our top picks are geared toward a variety of lifestyles and will help you on your buying journey. The winners are based upon our comprehensive lab testing, road testing newer models and reviewing updates to past favorites.
Dan DiClerico is the Director of Home Improvement & Outdoors at the Good Housekeeping Institute. For more than two decades, he has written about all things home-related, from big-ticket remodeling projects to routine home maintenance. During his time at GHI — as well as prior stints at This Old House, Martha Stewart Living and Consumer Reports — Dan has reviewed thousands of consumer products across a wide range of categories, including appliances, building materials, fixtures, outdoor power equipment, home technology, and more. Dan also has extensive hands-on experience in home improvement; he worked as a roofer for many years and he has completed multiple home remodels, including the gut renovation of the Brooklyn brownstone where he lives with his wife and kids. The total experience has made Dan a sought-after thought leader in the space; he has spoken at such industry events as KBIS and CES and he has been quoted in The New York Times, Washington Post among other publications.
Rachel Rothman, Chief Technologist and head engineer, has a B.S.E. in mechanical engineering and applied mechanics with a mathematics minor from the University of Pennsylvania and has been at GH for 14 years. She leads efforts for the constant evolution of GH’s technical and testing protocols, responding both to market drivers and growth opportunities. Rachel is the lead expert and key brand ambassador for GH across a number of categories — including electronics, smart home, automotive, toys, parenting, fitness, tech, startups and more — and a sought-after speaker at large-scale events like CES.