What is the best smartwatch to buy in 2018?
Apple outclassed itself with 2018’s Apple Watch Series 4 taking over from its predecessor, the Apple Watch Series 3, as the best smartwatch out there, but both are only viable options if you’re an iPhone user. Our best value recommendation would be the Mobvoi Ticwatch S, which has dropped in price considerably since we first reviewed it.
There are also a load of new watches coming soon; mainly offerings from the likes of the Fossil Group such as the recently announced Skagen Falster 2 leading the pack.
How we pick the best smartwatches
Before we score any smartwatch (or any other wearable for that matter) one of our expert reviewers will don the device for at least a week before passing judgement. During testing, we see how each smartwatch operates, test all of the advertised claims and features, and conduct a variety of battery tests based on different use cases (logging longevity with and without constant heart-rate monitoring, enabled for example).
We try and keep the test conditions as uniform as possible so that we can draw fair comparisons between similarly-capable rival devices.
Apple Watch Series 4
- Feels great to wear
- Screen is gorgeous
- Huge amount of strap options
- Fantastic array of fitness and health features
- It motivates you so well to be active
- It won’t last multiple days without needing a charge
- Still won’t track sleep natively
- No always-on display is irritating
Easily the most fully-featured smartwatch we’ve ever tested, the Apple Watch Series 4 surpasses everything else on the market with regards to its hardware, performance and broad feature set, not to mention the established accessory and strap ecosystem now in place supporting it.
Standout features include its near bezel-free display, GPS, LTE, Bluetooth, water resistance and swim tracking, fall detection and advanced heart rate tracking with ECG functionality. It’s also beautiful.
Apple Watch Series 3
- Snappy performance
- Super-bright and clear display
- Decent battery life (when not reliant on LTE)
- Apple Pay
- LTE has a big impact on battery life
- Needs more dedicated watch apps to make use of LTE
- Siri doesn’t always work
- No LTE roaming
Unlike the Series 1 before it, you can still choose between GPS-only and cellular versions of the Series 3, however, the finish options have now been cut right back to just silver or black-bodied aluminium with a white or black Sport Band respectively.
Over its predecessor, the Series 3 introduced an altimeter for elevation tracking and like the Series 2 and subsequently the Series 4, the Series 3 is still good for swim tracking with water resistance up to 50m.
Updated watchOS 5 support is also a nice upgrade, meaning a consistent experience with its successor.
Samsung Galaxy Watch
- Smart design
- Rotating bezel is a clever trick
- Great array of fitness sensors
- Bright and sharp display
- Offline Spotify support
- Lack of apps
- Bixby is poor
- Samsung Pay support is limited
The Galaxy Watch is the best wearable from Samsung yet. It has an elegant design, a vast array of sensor-tech and still impresses with its general smartwatch features.
Apps are something of an issue and aside from the clever Spotify integration there isn’t much going on. That can be said about most smartwatches though and even the Apple Watch is losing apps.
Battery life is strong at a couple of days; it’s water-resistant to 5ATM and packs a lovely, crisp circular OLED display. There are also multiple sizes and the option to include LTE connectivity if that’s something you require.
Mobvoi TicWatch Pro
- Flagship-class feature set
- Competitively priced
- Excellent battery life
- Stylish design
- Limited fitness tracking options
- Laggy performance
- No cellular option
For under £220, the TicWatch Pro is one of the better Wear OS buys right now. The design is stylish and it boasts pretty much every feature you could want: GPS, NFC and excellent battery life. It’s coolest addition though is the display, which features a secondary FSTN panel that offers up basic watch features and extends overall longevity.
This secondary screen is monochrome and always-on, with the watch jumping to the more traditional full-colour Wear OS face when you raise it.
As with other Wear OS devices the performance is merely so-so. The Snapdragon 2100 SoC is old and needs replacing, giving everything an extra laggy feel. There’s also no cellular option and the fitness tracking is limited.
Mobvoi TicWatch S
- Comfortable to wear
- Big, sharp display
- Solid sports tracking
- Budget-friendly price
- No NFC
- Average battery life
- Proprietary straps
Built by Mobvoi, a company founded by ex-Google employees, the TicWatch S is one of the best value smartwatches currently available. It’s the sporty option in the company’s current line-up, sitting next to the more fashion-focused Ticwatch E.
Despite costing a modest £120, it offers a number of great features. Highlights include a comfortable, fairly slimline design, super sharp 1.4-inch OLED display and surprisingly smooth performance (for the price).
The inclusion of GPS and a heart rate monitor and the fact it’s running on Google’s Wear OS also means it can double as a running watch, or entry-level fitness tracker, which is pretty darned impressive considering its price.
The only minor downsides are its so-so battery life and complete lack of NFC. Though you’ll struggle to get these on any smartwatch at this price point.
Huawei Watch 2
- Comfortable and lightweight design
- Plenty of sports sensors
- NFC and Android Pay
- Small display
- Thick bezels
- Uninspiring design
We’ve had to revise our view on the Huawei Watch 2, predominantly because its price has dropped so drastically since our initial review. It first launched at £329, but is now readily available for around £200, which makes it a great value combination device offering smartwatch features with sports watch capabilities.
The Huawei Watch 2 comes into its own if you’re looking for a smartwatch that can double as a sports watch, thanks to built-in GPS and a heart rate monitor on its rear. Use the 4GB of built-in storage to save your Google Play Music playlists offline and you can pair Bluetooth headphones for a phone-free experience. The Huawei Watch 2 will work with Huawei’s own suite of fitness apps, Google Fit, or other third-party apps such as Strava, offering excellent choice.
Overall, the updated lower price makes the Huawei Watch 2 a much better prospect if you’re in the market for a smartwatch, especially if you’re an Android user. While Wear OS smartwatches will work with iPhones, the experience is more limited compared to pairing with Android. For this reason, if you’re an iPhone user for whom money is no problem, then we’d still recommend opting for an Apple Watch.
Casio Pro Trek Smart WSD-F20
- Plenty of sensors
- Great hiking features
- Versatile two-layer screen
- A bit bulky
- Typical Android Wear battery life
- Low-end CPU
This isn’t a smartwatch for everyone but if you’re outdoor-inclined then it might just be the best choice for you. Casio’s second Wear OS smartwatch is a serious piece of kit that’s been tested against the MIL-STD-810G standard, so you know it’s capable of withstanding some serious wear and tear. It’s also water-resistant to 50m.
It has all the sensors you might want if you’re an avid runner but it goes so much further. If you’re a hiker, you’ll love the altimeter, air pressure read-outs, the clock showing the sunrise and sunset times, compass and the indicator of the day’s tide levels. You can also download map data for use offline, meaning if you’re the Bear Grylls type then you’ll be well prepared.
Of course, since this watch runs Wear OS, you can also bolster its capabilities with a raft of apps as well as benefit from having access to the usual smartphone controls.
Samsung Gear Sport
- Accurate GPS/GLONASS
- Rotating bezel interface is still great
- Spotify offline playback
- Good activity tracking
- Shortage of Tizen apps
- No Bluetooth HRMs
- S Voice is forgettable
- Limited Samsung Pay support
It’s a smaller smartwatch and so will be suitable for a greater number of people compared to its predecessor. It shares many of the best elements of Samsung’s other Gear smartwatches, including the excellent rotating bezel that makes navigating intuitive without obscuring the display.
It also has an excellent AMOLED display with vibrant colours. The Gear Sport is water-resistant to 50 metres, which makes it more resilient than the Gear S3 and on a par with the newer Galaxy Watch and recent Apple Watch models.
As you’d expect, it has GPS and GLONASS alongside a heart rate monitor to bolster its fitness credentials. Other features include offline Spotify support, which is great for anyone who wants music without having to carry along their phone. Tizen is currently the only watch operating system to offer offline Spotify, too. Unfortunately, Tizen app support is otherwise lacking compared to rivals.
- Comfortable to run with
- Accurate GPS and HRM
- Wear OS
- Silicone strap picks up lint and fluff
- Poor-quality display
- Charging is slightly fiddly
If you’re looking for a sports running watch that serves double duty as an Android Wear-powered smartwatch, take a serious look at the Polar M600. While it isn’t the most stylish-looking wearable around (it looks like a sports watch) it will happily stand up to some serious workouts thanks to its rugged IPX8 water-resistance.
With GPS to track your distance and pace and a heart rate monitor, it ticks all the boxes for serious runners looking to improve their performance. All of the data it pulls into Polar’s Flow app, so you can keep tabs on your exercise routines.
Those are our top picks of the best smartwatches. If you want to know more about smartwatches and what to look out for when buying one then read on.
Best smartwatches – Which operating system?
Currently, there are three big smartwatch operating systems: watchOS from Apple, Wear OS from Google and Tizen from Samsung. Fitbit is a relative newcomer to the smartwatch space and has its own Fitbit OS but so far none of its smartwatches has made this list. A big reason for this is the lack of app support.
That’s what you’ll want to consider when picking your smartwatch. Right now, watchOS is by far the best supported for apps, followed by Wear OS, then Tizen lagging behind.
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Best smartwatches – What to look for?
Aside from the operating system, it’s worth considering how you intend to use your smartwatch. Many smartwatches now double as fitness trackers and sports watches, so if this is important to you then you’ll want a smartwatch with built-in GPS and a heart rate sensor. Often, these watches are much bigger as a result.
Water-resistance is ideally something you’ll have. Even if you’re not a swimmer, it’s nice to not have to take your smartwatch off to shower or worry about it during a downpour.
Battery life is the other big consideration. Many smartwatches have improved considerably in this regard, with most now offering at least two days stamina. That’s the minimum we’d recommend. In the early days, many smartwatches would struggle to even make it through a single day.