A new wave of Android smartwatches, with better software and a huge range of styles, are due to arrive in mid to late 2017, but if you want something to wear right now, we think the Asus ZenWatch 3 is the most stylish and useful smartwatch for most Android phone owners. It is smaller and lighter than the typical gigantic Android smartwatch, and its three style options give it wider appeal than most of the competition. It lasts a full day on a full charge (and through the night, if you want to track your sleep), and can last most of the day on a 15-minute charge. It’s a newer Android Wear watch, with hardware that supports the latest Android Wear features, and it costs about $100 less than the competition.
At least a half-dozen unique Android Wear devices have been announced for 2017, along with literally hundreds of functionally identical name-brand clones, all of them running the newer, better Android Wear 2.0 operating system. We’ll test some of these watches, but the software and core hardware among them will be much the same, if not identical. For now, we recommend the Asus ZenWatch 3 because it’s an affordable Android Wear watch that will get the Android Wear 2.0 update in the second quarter of 2017, and it has three buttons that will make Wear 2.0 more useful. The ZenWatch 3 doesn’t have a heart-rate monitor, or built-in GPS or LTE hardware for use without a nearby phone, but it does relay notifications to you, can count steps and a few other exercises, and, most of all, can look good on more than one kind of wrist.
Affordable, stylish, and competent Smart Watch
Asus ZenWatch 3
If you have a Samsung phone and you like a larger watch, Samsung’s Tizen-based Gear S3 watch could be a better option than the ZenWatch 3. Its rotating bezel gets you to notifications and useful information with fewer hassles than Android Wear’s mostly touch-based interface. The battery lasts two to three days, depending on use. And if you have an AT&T or T-Mobile plan and buy an LTE-equipped S3, you can forward phone calls and texts to your watch and truly take a quick trip without your phone. The Gear S3 can work with any Android phone running Android 4.4 or newer, but its reliance on Samsung apps and services makes it the best choice mainly for those already toting a Samsung phone, which has most of those apps pre-installed.
Best for Samsung phones
Samsung Gear S3
Long battery life, a useful turning bezel, and a decent fitness system make the S3 worth considering for owners of Samsung phones―especially if you want to leave your phone at home.
Why you should trust me
As a Technocreek staff writer, I have worn, tested, and customized almost all of the major smartwatches released since the Pebble first raised $10 million on Kickstarter.
Should you buy an Android smartwatch?
You should buy a smartwatch if the notifications that come up on your phone—some or all of them—are important to your daily life or work. If you think you could have a better, more focused life by seeing your notifications on your wrist and responding to them, a smartwatch might be worth the cost.
I have worn a smartwatch almost daily for three years. Some of those days, I’ve been happy my smartwatch let me keep my phone in my pocket or bag all day. Other times I have felt rude, distracted, or ridiculous looking at my wrist to see that somebody replied to a text with “Thanks.” If you don’t look at your phone more than 10 times a day, you don’t need a smartwatch. If your day involves messages from multiple apps, (text, email, Hangouts, Slack, Hipchat, Basecamp, Snapchat, Twitter, or Instagram, for example), a smartwatch can show you the most important pings without requiring you to pull out your phone. If you often dictate your messages and searches to your phone, a watch can be easier to talk to. And if you want to know how much you move around all day, in addition to your notification-wrangling, a smartwatch could be a great purchase.
Does a smartwatch really help you stay fit? Although those who want to track regular workouts or exercise can (and should) buy a dedicated device like a fitness tracker or a GPS running or biking watch, it’s important to note that smartwatch manufacturers seem to be leaning more and more toward fitness-tracking features and further away from notifications. But because smartwatches often make you bring your phone along with you on your runs and bike rides, their touchscreens aren’t as easy to use during activity, and they often ship with leather or metal bands that aren’t ideal for exercise use, we recommend seeking a fitness band more suited to your everyday needs than investing in a smartwatch for the time being.
How we tested
How one smartwatch compares with another depends in large part on the person wearing it. Battery life varies based on how many messages you receive and how often you wake up the screen to look at them. Heart-rate monitors are inconsistent across skin tones and activity types. Style is a matter of preference and priorities. Even your enthusiasm and skill for dictating messages and searches will decide how useful you find a smartwatch.
But patterns and quirks do emerge overextended testing. Technocreek staffers wore all of the watches we tested for multiple days, or sometimes weeks. During our testing, we walked, used dozens of apps, dictated messages, and hunted for watch faces. We also recorded battery life, noted reactions from friends and strangers, tallied quirks and bugs, and tweaked all the settings we could.
Most of the smartwatches we tested run Android Wear, Google’s operating system for watches. Android Wear, unlike the Android that runs on phones, is consistent across devices. The taps, swipes, voice dictation, and menus on a Moto 360 are identical to those on an Asus ZenWatch, an LG Urbane, or a Huawei. The newest Android Wear watches have the same processors and memory and much the same battery life. In other words, the main difference is on the outside: size, materials, and appearance, and what you can customize on the screen.
We have tested “hybrid” smartwatches in the past, which do not have full touchscreens, but instead send buzzes or flash LED lights on a traditional watch face to alert you to notifications. Some hybrid smartwatches also track steps. We do not consider these alongside fully capable smartwatches in this guide and do not think much of most of them.