Brilliant, Bold, and Beautiful—These Are the Best Smartwatches Available Now
When did you realize we’re living in the future?
What was once science fiction and fantasy has become a reality. I’ll never forget when Lando Calrissian pinged his trust cyborg “Lobot” with his wrist-link in Star Wars. Or when Michael Knight summoned his sassy sidekick KITT (the intelligent Trans Am) in Knight Rider.
From the Jetsons to James Bond, and the Predator movies, wearable wrist technology was once purely fantasy—and now that’s all come to real life.
Back here in reality, I think I was first truly blown away when Apple launched the Apple Watch Series 4 with their ECG System. This was the first time you could actually monitor the health of your heart with a wristwatch.
Will the smartwatches of the future be wearable “Tricorders” from Star Trek fame?
I can’t say for sure, but we’re undoubtedly heading in that direction. And to think, not even 15 years ago most people were still using BlackBerries.
Does anyone miss BlackBerry?
I had that BlackBerry Storm where the entire screen clicked when you pressed on it. That thing was an unusable mess (disaster) and was promptly returned to the Verizon Store.
Speaking of unusable messes: you won’t find any of that here!
I’ve spent the last two months reviewing every popular and recently released smartwatch of 2020 to assemble this incredibly comprehensive guide. Only the most powerful, functional, pretty, capable, and fun wearables made the cut.
The bottom line is this:
Anything you choose from my guide is going to put a smile on that face of yours. Each section is broken down into the following areas—so if you prefer to scan rather than read, I’ve made it simple and easy for you.
- The Good (what’s really great)
- The Bad (what’s not so great)
- The Ugly (this is the style section for better or worse)
- The Tech (specs, widgetry, and the data)
- Overview (the meat of the review)
- Pro-Tip (something useful that might surprise you)
Towards the end of the guide I’m going to leave you with some genuinely killer content, but for now, here’s what I want you to know…
We’ve decided here at Best Gear to have some fun.
Personally, I’m tired of reading reviews that sound like they were written by a robot, or that read like the manufacturer’s user manual. So we’re going to try something a little different and bring perhaps a bit more personality and occasional sass to tech-reviewing.
Do you think the manufacturers will appreciate our approach and tone of voice? Maybe not, but I’m writing this for you, not them. (Don’t be mad Jony and Tim, I still love you.)
No matter what, do me a favor and leave your comments at the end of the article. I’m super curious about how you’ll receive our style of reviewing.
Now that we’ve gotten to know each other let’s get into the smartwatches.
Oh, and if you wouldn’t mind:
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Top 10 Best Smart Watches of 2020
Short on time and patience? Is your boss hurtling around the corner demanding another TPS Report and you have to alt-tab back to Microsoft Excel instead of shopping for smartwatches on company time? I totally get it…There are only eight hours in the average workday, and you need to be productive for at least two of them.
You can click on any of the watches under the “Smartwatch Name” column to jump right to that section of the article.
Or click on the button under the “Check Price” column to go right to the product and specifications page where you can see pricing. Then come back to BestGear.co when you’re ready to dive back into one of our articles.
|Image||Smartwatch Name||Category||Check Price|
|Apple Watch Series 4, 44mm||Best Smartwatch for iPhone in 2020|
|Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 4G/LTE||Best Smartwatch for Android Wear OS|
|Michael Kors Sofie Heart Rate Pavé Two-Tone Smartwatch||Most Fashionable Smartwatch: Michael Kors|
|Mobvoi TicWatch E2||Best Budget Smartwatch for Android in 2020|
|Withings Move & Move ECG||Top Smartwatch Hybrid for 2020|
|Fitbit Inspire HR||Fitness Tracker: Best of the Best in 2020|
|Garmin Forerunner 945||Top GPS Tracker & GPS Navigation Smartwatch|
|SHAPER Bateau Ivre by NOWA||Most Comfortable & Lightweight Smartwatch Hybrid|
|Samsung Galaxy Watch Active||Best Samsung Watch of 2020|
|Garmin tactix Charlie||Greatest Outdoor & Military Watch of 2020|
Apple Watch Series 4, GPS + Cellular, 44mm – Best Smartwatch for iPhone in 2020
Meet This Year’s Heavyweight Champion in the Wearable Space
The display is 30% larger. Smaller bezel, plus the larger screen, means more viewable information and better user experience. First-of-its-kind heart monitor and fall detection make this a literally life-saving device for many. Best of the absolute best software for now—but Samsung is inching closer with Tizen.
Battery life ranges from unremarkable to dismal based upon tons of real-world user reviews. You need an iPhone for both the GPS and GPS + Cellular versions of the watch. Price…If you buy the least expensive Apple Watch Series 4 in the 44mm size with GPS + Cellular, and the least costly iPhone XR, you’re going to spend about $1300.
I hate to say it—but I’m not going to pull any punches here—the look of the watch is bland, bordering on unattractive. While I’m not going to post any pictures of $20 budget watches from Amazon that can compete on looks, the Apple Watch Series 4 needs to improve its overall aesthetics—especially given it’s $529 price-tag. The crazy overpriced Hermès and other assorted bands add flair for sure, but I don’t particularly care for the watch-face itself. Apple needs to get more daring in terms of its design because manufacturers like Asus, Xiaomi, and OnePlus are making some brilliant products that are breaking boundaries.
Did you notice the title above? It was precise, wasn’t it?
I did that on purpose…
If you’re going to get an Apple Watch Series 4 and you want the best smartwatch for iPhone, you need to splurge on the GPS + Cellular option with the larger display. Unless you have tiny wrists, the larger screen is significantly more comfortable to use and prevents fat-fingering your apps.
Even more importantly, the GPS + Cellular addition allows you to leave your iPhone behind and use the watch as a stand-alone device, which is a game-changer. From going to the gym, playing with the kids, or heading out for the evening, you’ll learn to love the watch-only experience.
The latest Apple Watch is absolutely groundbreaking in many respects. Let’s start with the most essential improvements and then we’ll build-up to the good stuff. The crown of the watch (the little dial on the side) offers haptic feedback, which is a marked improvement over the Apple Watch Series 3 and makes the wearable simpler to use.
Hands-down the Series 4 has the best of the best software and most elegantly designed apps—all of which are highly responsive with impeccable user interfaces. Apple never gets enough credit for its software from reviewers…So let me state this as someone who spent 10+ years working in I.T. on Microsoft’s products: no one competes with the quality of Apple’s software. The team at Apple makes sure their software works well with simple user interfaces that are exceedingly optimized. That optimization ensures a lag-free and frustration-free experience when compared to many competing offerings.
Onto the super-good stuff. Jony Ive, Chief Design Officer at Apple, called the inclusion of an ECG (electrocardiogram) a “momentous achievement” and I couldn’t agree more. As a middle-aged man with a desk job and the maturity of a 17-year-old: I’m at the point in my life where I need to start seriously considering my health. Being able to monitor my heart with a watch is fantastic.
Furthermore, the fall-detection and Emergency SOS features are forward-looking health features I consider standout. I am absolutely buying two of these for my elderly in-laws to help keep them safe through their twilight years.
If you appreciate responsive, well-designed apps and software, this is probably the best choice you can make in terms of a wearable tech product. Do you have medical problems, heart issues, or are worried about falls, then I would consider the Apple Watch Series 4 a no-brainer, must-have purchase.
What if the price of the Apple Watch Series 4 is too much to bear?
Head on down to the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active portion of my article. Samsung had built a strong contender for the Apple Watch for less than $200.
Young kids, parents keeping track of their children, and grown-up children will love the Walkie-Talkie app.
To use the Walkie-Talkie app, do the following:
- Open the Walkie-Talkie app.
- Scroll down to select one of your contacts.
- Tap their name to send an authorization request.
- Wait for the request to be approved, and once it’s accepted…
- Select that person again from the app, then merely push-to-talk.
I would have absolutely loved this feature as a young lad!
Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 4G/LTE – Best Smartwatch for Android Wear OS
Layered Display Technology & Crazy Battery Life at an Unbeatable Price
Is this one of the best smartwatches for Android?
Two words: abso-lutely.
Two screens stacked right on top of one another allow the watch to last up to 30 days on a single charge. But more on this below in the Overview. IP68 water-resistant and rated for swimming, but I’m not sure if I would push my luck. Coming in at less than $300 and with stand-alone cellular connectivity, this smartwatch is a bargain.
Email works best if you’re on Gmail, but is a hassle or doesn’t work at all if you’re not—so you people still on AOL and Hotmail, it’s time to upgrade! Gmail is free, what are you waiting for?! The stand-alone cellular connectivity is Verizon ONLY! So if you’re on one of the other carriers, you should opt for the non-cellular version which means lugging your smartphone around with you everywhere.
Robust and masculine styling with a lot of texture combines to create a military-looking black smartwatch for Android. If you like Diesel watches then you’ll be pleased with the aesthetic of the TicWatch Pro 4G/LTE. Fair warning: this smartwatch is bulky.
Includes a massive 1GB of memory (RAM). With this much RAM all of your apps, fitness trackers, the GPS, and more will work flawlessly at the same time. Another way of thinking about this is that more RAM = better multitasking and more responsiveness. Easy to use magnetic charger is a bonus.
Can I be completely honest with you?
Mobvoi is implementing some of the wild innovation Apple was once known for. I know, it’s hard to believe, but let me explain…
Two screens, one on top of the other? Yes, they did that—on a smartwatch for Android (Wear OS) no less.
The TicWatch Pro 4G/LTE is the newest flagship smartwatch from Mobvoi, and there is a lot to unpack here.
What you need to know is this:
If you’ve ever owned or considered purchasing a Wear OS smartwatch for Android, this is a giant leap forward. Mobvoi has stacked an AMOLED (colorful) display on top of an LCD (black and white) screen. When you’re not actively using the watch, the LCD screen activates saving the battery for purposeful activities.
Switching between the “Essential Mode” for 30 days of battery life, and re-activating the fully enabled smartwatch mode is easy and intuitive.
I sincerely appreciate how quick, snappy, and responsive the user interface is. Clicking the top-right button opens up all of your apps. The bottom-right button is customizable, but you might consider setting it to activate “Essential Mode” if you don’t want to charge the smart watch every single day.
Wear OS (formerly called Android Wear) improves with every release. In this instance, Mobvoi has done a stellar job integrating its hardware with Google’s operating system. Make sure to set up and customize your “Tiles” to show the features and apps that you will be using consistently.
And don’t forget:
The TicWatch has a smartphone app that mirrors the settings of the watch, allowing you to adjust things like watch-faces and more.
There are so many features crammed into this fantastic little watch I can’t hope to cover everything in this short review (a long review is coming soon!) but here are some of the most engaging specs:
- IP68 + Pool Swimming Suitable
- Corning Gorilla Glass Screen
- LTE Voice & Data through Verizon (so you can leave your smartphone at home)
- Snapdragon Wear 2100 Processor
- Proactive Motion Tracking for Fitness Activity
- 24-hour Heart Rate Monitoring
- NFC Payments
Without a doubt, this is one of the most feature-packed smartwatches I’ve ever reviewed. If you use an Android smartphone or are attached to Google’s ecosystem, the TicWatch Pro 4G/LTE should be at the top of your list, but remember, it’s Verizon only.
Recent versions of Google’s Wear OS give you access to thousands of watch faces. Try two, three, or a dozen, and see which suits your personal style. Switch to “Essential Mode” to get up to 30 days of battery life between charges. In Essential Mode, you can still access the date, time, monitor your steps taken, and keep the heart rate sensor turned on.
Michael Kors Sofie Heart Rate Pavé Two-Tone Smartwatch – Most Fashionable Smartwatch: Michael Kors
A Fashionable Fave Gets a Fabulous Upgrade for 2020
Gorgeous, super-cute design, and paired with creative Michael Kors inspired version of Google Wear OS. Heart-rate tracking, GPS for outdoor workouts, and contactless payments add much-needed functionality that was missing from the previous version of the Sofie.
Like many other Google Wear OS smartwatches for Android, the Sofie Heart Rate has the older Snapdragon 2100 processor which isn’t nearly as power efficient. If you get a flurry of notifications, the watch’s interface may lag or freeze for a few seconds, but this behavior is rare. Some users have reported lower than average battery life which may indicate a faulty product, but you have a 2-year warranty if you’re one of those unlucky few.
You won’t be able to get over how beautiful this watch is. The crystals around the bezel and down the middle of the strap are magnificent. I’m particularly impressed with the two-tone color scheme and how striking the side-profile is. Michael Kors has created a flawless high-fashion smartwatch at a price-point nearly everyone can afford if you’re willing to skip a trip or two to Sephora. The overall design aesthetic is unabashedly feminine, which is a refreshing change when compared to so many masculine black or dark-grey colored smartwatches.
Quite a few upgrades when compared to the previous version of the Michael Kors Access Sofie smartwatch. Built-in NFC payments allow you to pay without using a credit or debit card. A heart-rate monitor is now standard, and there is onboard GPS so you can use Google maps or track your outdoor workouts.
Stunning looks are once again front and center on Michael Kors’ latest update to the Sofie Access smartwatch, but beauty is more than skin deep here.
There are a few noticeable changes upon first glance. Where there was once one button, there are now three. The top and bottom buttons can be assigned as shortcuts to whatever apps you use most often. Where the middle button takes you to all the apps or with a long-press, launches Google Assistant.
One thing that surprised me:
Was the AMOLED screen. I expected less, but it’s actually incredibly crisp, bright, and displays rich, vibrant colors. Now, I’ve mentioned this in other reviews: but the design team at MK has been working overtime to add their own icing to the Google Wear OS cake…The user interface and the software itself has been beautified and designed to mesh with other MK fashion products. It’s a welcome departure from the more tech-focused variants of Wear OS.
When you think “smartwatch Michael Kors” you might think that fashion trumps function. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Here’s the low-down on the best features, with more to come in my full feature-length review (which I’m still working on, please have patience):
- Heart-Rate Tracking
- NFC Contactless Payments with Google Pay
- Swimproof Functionality (but I wouldn’t push my luck)
- 41mm Case and Crisp, Bright AMOLED Display
- Text, Email, and Social Media Alerts
- Built-in Fitness Tracking
- GPS Distance Tracking
- 2-Year Warranty (this is better than most)
For high-fashion at a reasonable price, plus fitness tracking, heart-rate, monitoring, and stellar looks—the Michael Kors Access Sofie Heart Rate Pavé Two-Tone Smartwatch is a worthy piece of technology you will want to consider twice.
I’ve noticed that the watch bands trend to being somewhat large on the Michael Kors Access smartwatches; But don’t let that deter you. A quick trip to any MK store and they’ll resize the band for you at no charge. One more fantastic tip: Just follow this link to view all the Michael Kors Access Smartwatch Training Videos.
Mobvoi TicWatch E2 – Best Budget Smartwatch for Android in 2020
For Price Conscious Buyers, This is as Good as it Gets
The Mobvoi TicWatch E2 has definitely earned a spot in my Top 10 Smartwatches of 2020. Mobvoi has packed a ton of features into the E2, making it one of the best smartwatches for Google—all for under $160. On the larger side, you’ll be surprised by how lightweight and comfortable it is for everyday wear. Mobvoi’s built-in set of watch faces are well designed, oddly attractive (especially the white, orange, and black option) and decently customizable.
If you want to sync to Google Fit, you’ll wind up with a total of eight separate apps to manage your fitness…Three Google Fit apps and five TicWatch apps. Mobvoi requires your location and uses it constantly, which significantly impacts battery life in a bad way. Lag, slowness, and stuttering can happen from time to time, so buyer beware: you’re going to make small compromises at this price. Finally, there is still no ambient light sensor for automatic screen brightness adjustments.
It has a hard plastic body, and a cheap-feeling silicon band. But for the price, this smartwatch will mesh well with most casual clothing and streetwear without detracting from your ensemble. The upside of the plastic construction is that it’s incredibly light, making it a robust fitness-focused wearable device.
Three words: smart watch waterproof. No, really you can take this sub-$200 watch for a swim. In comparison, most other watches on this list are water-resistant, but the TicWatch E2 is meant for the pool and comes pre-loaded with a swim monitoring mode. I’m shocked to see the swim-features on a smartwatch for Google Wear at this price. Another jaw-dropper is how accurate the heart-rate monitor actually is. It’s comparable to Samsung’s offerings in terms of the quality of the reading, but a bit slower to actually take the measurement.
Price is the best selling point of this watch, period. If you want basic smartwatch functionality like GPS and fitness tracking, the TicWatch E2 is worth a long look, but…there are some minor tradeoffs. First, the watch uses the older Qualcomm Snapdragon 2100 processor, which when combined with Wear OS produces some lag, application-stutter, and other occasional annoyances for those who are impatient (like me).
Let me be clear in all fairness to Mobvoi: these issues are primarily related to the Google Wear OS and will continue to improve over time.
Battery life is passable when you activate the always-on heart-rate monitor and activity tracking coming in between 10-12 hours. Before you make your final decision consider two last small points: there is no NFC for cardless payments or a speaker—but for $160 does it really matter?
Here are some of the more important specs and features you’ll want to consider:
- 1.39 inch AMOLED Display
- Snapdragon Wear 2100 Processor
- 512MB RAM (memory)
- GPS is Standard
- Waterproof to 50 Meters (certified 5ATM)
- 2-Day Battery Life (under light usage)
- Fully Automated Activity Recognition via TicMotion 1.0
- 24-Hour Heart-Rate Monitor
- Sleep Tracking
- Straps are Removable and Replaceable to Suit Your Taste
- Lots of Attractive Watch-Faces to Choose Between
- Both Google Android and Apple iOS are Supported
At the $160 price point, if you want a new watch and are comfortable with occasional lag and a bit of stuttering, the TicWatch E2 is the top choice. In contrast, the only well-rounded smartwatches at this price are going to be refurbished options like the Samsung Gear S3.
If you need a more ruggedized version of the TicWatch E2, you can purchase the TicWatch S2 for $20 more. Second Pro-Tip: this is not a standalone cellular-connected smartwatch, so you’ll need to pair it to your smartphone.
Withings Move & Move ECG – Top Smartwatch Hybrid for 2020
Hybrid Luxury & Beautiful Style Combine to Create a Compelling Package
Ridiculously low price for a hybrid smartwatch that’s both functional and gorgeous. A new version of the Withings Move is coming out soon that will have ECG (heart-rate monitoring) functionality. But, at the time of this writing, the Withings Move ECG has yet to be released for purchase. 18 months of battery life is perfect for those of us who don’t want to hassle with the daily charging required by most other lifestyle smart watches.
There is no laser-cutting tool to help James Bond get out of trouble. I don’t know, is there really anything I didn’t like about the Withings Move hybrid smartwatch? There are a few reports of inaccuracy in the step tracking, but given the scarcity of these reports, I believe they received a faulty device. Accuracy is not going to be on par with a $600 Garmin, but for $70 I really have no major complaints.
Can anyone show me a prettier wearable that is less than $70?
I think you would be hard-pressed to find a better-looking smartwatch hybrid than the Withings Move. While all of the “Basic Essentials” models have been artfully done, I personally love the Black & Mint version due to the sharp contrast between the watch face and the band.
In all: I have zero complaints with what Withings has accomplished in the style department for the Withings Move and Move ECG.
For a smartwatch hybrid, you get a wide array of features you’d expect on more focused fitness trackers. It automatically tracks walking, running, swimming, and sleeping. Connected GPS will sync with the Health Mate smartphone app to chart your path.
If you purchase a Withings Move purely for its thoughtful design and vivid array of color combinations, then you’d be overlooking the fact that this hybrid wearable is feature-packed.
Before we get to features, you should know:
One of the things that Withing is planning on bringing out is the ability to build-to-order a Withings Move or Move ECG to your exact stylistic specifications. It’s not available yet, but you can play with the builder right now by clicking on “Customize“—and there are a ton of cute options.
The following activities are seamlessly and automatically tracked:
- Walking (steps, distance, and calories)
- Running (steps, distance, and calories)
- Swimming (session duration and calories)
- Biking (session duration and calories)
To launch a workout session, you need to have the Health Mate smartphone app connected to the Withings Move, and then long-press the single side-button. Starting a workout session activates a chronograph (stopwatch) and connected GPS. With connected GPS, you can view your duration, distance, elevation, and your path in the Health Mate app after your workout is finished.
Do you have trouble sleeping?
No, not yet? Just wait until you hit middle age, because getting a full eight hours seems more onerous as time goes on…And I know this because my youth is rapidly fading, but that’s neither here nor there.
Sleeping Scoring, Sleep Cycles, and Smart Wake-Up are also standard fare. I particularly like the Smart Wake-Up feature that helps you get out of bed during the right point in your sleep cycle. Waking up at the proper time can prevent grogginess or the need to start your morning with three cups of coffee.
Coming soon will be the Withings Move ECG that offers heart-rate monitoring. While not out yet, the rumor-mill is saying it should drop somewhere around August or September of 2020.
Not convinced that the Withings Move is for you? That’s okay, even I get it wrong sometimes. Check out the Top 10 Best Smart Watches for Women for some other incredible options; I know you’ll find something you love.
Bonus Pro-Tip: make sure to sync at least once every five days with the Health Mate app. The local storage only keeps five days worth of your activities.
Fitbit Inspire HR – Fitness Tracker: Best of the Best in 2020
No Doubt, the Top Fitness Tracker for Under $100 this Year
Super lightweight and comfortable form-factor in a refreshingly minimal design. 5-day battery life, sleep and activity tracking, and 24/7 heart rate monitoring are all part of this slim package—all for under $100.
Being real for a minute…
I don’t have many complaints here. The screen is greyscaled so there isn’t color, but I think the white text on a black background is useful for exercising in bright sunlight. Some users experienced bands breaking or device failures, but these issues were uncommon, and they happened within the first week of use—all of which is covered by the warranty.
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
When I unboxed the Fitbit Inspire HR, I was struck by how clean and attractive the wearable was. It’s a minimalist fitness tracker that is incredibly well done. You’ll be struck by how light and comfortable it is to wear 24/7. Being comfy is critical if you’re serious about wearing a fitness tracker day and night. And the last thing you want is something bulky, heavy, and metallic-feeling strapped to your wrist.
A final note on the design:
Fitbit’s designers crushed it in terms of the colors, user interface, icons, and fonts or typography…It’s all just stellar.
Much brighter screen compared to older Fitbits, which is helpful for outdoor activities in bright sunlight. Memory saves seven days of detailed motion data, so make sure to sync with the Fitbit smartphone app at least once per week.
Not everyone needs nor wants a full-featured lifestyle smartwatch with all the drawbacks like high cost, weight, bulk, and feature-bloat.
If you’re a minimalist or fitness-focused:
Then the Fitbit Inspire HR is probably the fitness tracker best suited for you in 2020.
Simplicity is front and center, and it’s a refreshing departure from some of the hardcore fitness trackers offered by companies like Garmin, Polar, or Suunto. A single-tap on the display, cycles through crucial information like your step-count, heart-rate, calories burned, and more.
A simple yet effective interface shows you where your current heart-rate lies within one of four zones or quadrants. To get even more information about your heart, activity levels, and all other aspects of the Fitbit experience, you’ll want to use the connected smartphone app.
Swiping up repeatedly shows you a variety of metrics such as:
- Heart-Rate & Heart-Rate Zones
- Calories Burned
- Activity Timer for that Day
- Distance Traveled for that Day
- Steps for that Hour
- How Many Consecutive Days You’ve Reached Activity Goals
- Time Slept for Previous Night
From the top of the screen, you can swipe down and begin tracking various exercises such as:
- 15+ Goal-Based Exercise Modes (covers most popular activities)
Automatic Exercise Recognition is personally one of my favorite features. If you start a walk, run, swim, or take a bike ride, the Fitbit Inspire HR will begin tracking immediately without you having to swipe-down to activate the tracker.
Since this is a fitness tracker you’ll get friendly reminders to get moving, goal celebrations for reaching certain milestones, and swim-proof packaging so you can wear the device in the shower or pool.
There’s way too much to cover in this short mini-review so come revisit us soon for the full feature-length edition.
I’ll leave you with one final comment: the Fitbit App is phenomenal. All the data you need is easy to access and clearly laid out.
Bands on the Fitbit Inspire HR have a simple quick-release mechanism if you turn the watch over. In other words, you don’t need any tools to change out the band, and there are a ton of options to suit your sartorial tastes. Try one of the Horween Leather bands to class things up a bit.
Garmin Forerunner 945 – Top GPS Tracker & GPS Navigation Smartwatch
Ultra-Premium GPS Smart Watch for Extreme Athletes
A truly impressive piece of gear in terms of functionality, accuracy, and athletics-focused capability. Long battery life blows away traditional lifestyle smart watches like the Apple Watch Series 4 or the Samsung Galaxy Active.
Cost is already incredibly high for the GPS tracker smartwatch only. If you opt for the Forerunner 945 “Blue Bundle” (which includes the HRM-Tri and HRM-Swim heart-straps) you’re going to pay $749.99. Ouch! For that much money, you should be an earnest triathlete or swimmer, and if you’re not, you might seriously consider a Fitbit instead. The screen could be a little brighter, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
Well, what I can I say other than I’m not entirely thrilled. For $600, I certainly expected more in terms of the design. In no way, shape, or form does this look like an ultra-premium smart watch targeted at triathletes. It’s bulky, black, is paired with a basic-looking silicon wrist-strap, and while rugged, it doesn’t give you any indication about the build quality. That isn’t to say the build quality is terrible, because it’s not—you just can’t tell by looking at the GPS tracker.
The point of this micro-tirade is this:
If you’re buying this watch for fashion, save your money because there are better looking comparable GPS navigation watches from Suunto, Polar, and Coros.
Five buttons are used to interact with the watch instead of a touch-screen interface—which is preferable for an outdoor-focused GPS navigation and triathlon wearable device. The Garmin Forerunner 945 can sync music from streaming services or store up to 1,000 songs directly on the watch. Music integration is a must-have for those long runs or when biking…For those about to rock, we salute you!
You might be wondering…
Who would pay $600 for a plain-looking GPS tracker and GPS navigation smartwatch? The answer is hardcore athletes. Specifically, those people who swim, bike, run or compete in triathlons. And let me be clear I don’t mean people who do a lap or two at the local 24-Hour Fitness, I mean those who train seriously. You didn’t think I accidentally put this wearable on our 10 Best list for no good reason, did you?
Now, you have to understand: I can only scratch the surface of what the Garmin Forerunner 945 does in this short review, so stay tuned for more in-depth coverage at a later date.
Here’s what you really need to know for now:
- Workout customization options are off the chart. You can tailor your training to match your regiment, again in a way for hardcore athletes and not the average Joe or Jane from a Spin-class.
- You can create your own courses in the Garmin Connect App or Garmin website and load them into the GPS tracker. Then you can actually run the course and get highly accurate turn-by-turn GPS navigation directly on the smartwatch.
- Built-in GPS maps are full-color, and the GPS navigation ensures you won’t get lost.
- Notifications can be synced from your smartphone, but you can’t interact with them. You might consider turning them off during intense workouts.
- NFC wireless payments are available, but unlocking the watch to make a payment is clumsy due to the lack of a touch-screen interface.
- By purchasing the “Blue Bundle” and using the straps, you’ll get all sorts of running and training dynamics information when you sync to the watch post-workout.
- Battery life is up to two weeks in smartwatch mode.
From tracking your VO2 max, Pulse Ox sensor (oxygen), accurate GPS that connects and updates quickly, and custom workouts, this is a serious wearable for driven people.
The number of metrics, data, tracking, and tools available could fill a review that is 30 pages long. So buy this for those reasons, and save your money if you care about fashion or are merely wanting a basic fitness tracker—because then a Fitbit would be the better choice.
Out of the box, there is a mountain of embedded functionality. But don’t forget to check out the Garmin Connect IQ store to find additional widgets, data fields, apps, and watch faces. Garmin has made it crazy easy to see what’s available for your specific device.
SHAPER Bateau Ivre by NOWA – Most Comfortable & Lightweight Smartwatch Hybrid
French Fashion Meets Minimalist Masterpiece
Minimalist feature-set and refined style are a clear departure from what everyone else is doing. This is a no-frills smartwatch hybrid that adds a large dollop of class to virtually any outfit. Fantastic price for such an elegant timepiece.
NOWA is a French company, they are new, and they are still coming to grips with the customer service portion of their company. Responses from customer service can be a little slow, but they do answer and respond to requests. They have a new Apple iOS app in development, which will improve upon the smart functionality of their watches. Some users have expressed that the current version of the iOS app needs more work.
There are no significant issues with NOWA at this time, and they back up all their watches with a 24-month warranty and 14-day return policy, so your risk is zero.
Flawless. No really and I hardly ever say that. These are my favorite timepieces under $200. They look far more expensive than they are. You’ll appreciate that NOWA makes the slimmest and one of the lightest weight smartwatch hybrids on the market in 2020. If you don’t care for the SHAPER Bateau Ivre, they have eight other quality options at the time of this writing.
Completely uncomplicated. Tired of wading through 200 pages of features on your last Polar or Samsung smartwatch? Perhaps the SHAPER Bateau Ivre by NOWA is worth a glance. Activity tracking of steps, distance, and calories burned. Smart controls allow you to reject calls, find your phone, or control your smartphone’s camera.
Have you heard of NOWA?
It’s okay if you haven’t because they are a new entrant into the world of smartwatches and wearables. Here’s a short history lesson about them. Back in 2016, an engineer met with a respected French designer at an art exhibition in Paris, and together they decided to create NOWA.
NOWA’s entire line of hybrid smartwatches merges minimalist elegance, fashion, and technology, eschewing the feature-bloat of their more recognizable competitors. In the short time since they were founded, they have created over 10 brilliant smart watches whose designs are nuanced, yet striking at the same time.
You won’t find NOWA on many other Top 10 or 10 Best lists, but I vigorously believe they’ve earned a spot. Each watch is practical, comfortable, lightweight, and suited for everyday use. But, it’s the understated and refined design aesthetics that genuinely caught my eye.
Given that we’re in the middle of summer the SHAPER Bateau Ivre by NOWA would be the perfect companion for an elegant day-party, thoroughbred horseracing in Del Mar California, or while sailing. It’s also one of the few hybrid smartwatches that would be perfect for a his-and-hers look.
Let’s start with the build quality. Each strap is made from Italian leather, paired to a polished stainless steel watch face, Swiss-movement for each watch hand, and sapphire-coated glass.
Another differentiating feature of NOWA’s watches is that they are meant to be a travel companion. The most essential elements of the hybrid wearable are:
- Automatically Adjust Timezones
- Sleep Tracking
- Step Counter and Step Goals
- Calories Burnt
- Support for Apple HealthKit and Google Fit is Standard
Rounding out the benefits of this shapely and luxurious smartwatch hybrid is up to eight months of battery life via the coin-cell battery. In all, this is one of the absolute best smart watches for those who put form over function and want a timepiece that is comfortable, slim, and lightweight.
Don’t get frustrated if NOWA sells out of one of their hybrid smartwatches. They’re a newer designer in the smartwatch game, and their watches tend to come back around for sale reasonably quickly.
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active – Best Samsung Watch of 2020
A Top Contender for the Champion of Smartwatches
A full-featured lifestyle smartwatch for half the price of an Apple Watch Series 4. Weighing in at 25 grams this is a featherweight in the wearable arena. For comparison, the regular Galaxy Watch weighs between 49-63 grams.
No active or rotating bezel which is standard fare on other Samsung smart watches. Battery life is mediocre, but relatively on par with comparable wearable devices at this price.
Do you think the recently released Samsung Galaxy Watch Active is better looking than the Apple Watch Series 4?
I absolutely do!
Each version of this wearable has paired a beautiful watch band with a different colored watch face. Samsung’s designers have taken more significant risks than Apple, and they have come out on top this time around. Remember: if you don’t like the band that comes with the watch, there are a ton of other options ranging from $29.99 to $39.99.
No rotating bezel may be a detractor for some people, but there’s an upside here which is that the watch face is compact with a diameter of only 39.5mm. The watch face on the Galaxy Active is perfect for those people who want a slimmer wearable device or if you have smaller wrists.
Shall we address the elephant in the room first?
While I vigorously recommend the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active—an upgraded model is coming out in September of 2020. Samsung is calling it the Galaxy Watch Active2. Let me be clear here: the Active2 is not a replacement to the Galaxy Watch Active. Both watches will be sold at the same time. With the Active2 you’re going to get a variety of upgrades, but it’s going to cost at least $100 more than the current Active watch. (I plan on creating an article on the Active2 just as soon as it launches).
Now that we’ve cleared that up, here’s why the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active is worth a long hard look. Firstly, the Active was released just six months ago—so it is a very recent entrant into the wearable device space.
Next, let’s talk about the software: Tizen. I touch on this in the Top 10 Smart Watches for Women article, but it bears repeating here. Samsung uses Tizen on all of its smartwatches. It’s an incredibly capable and user-friendly operating system. Competitors to Tizen are Google’s Wear OS and Apple WatchOS. For the sake of comparison: I put Tizen on par with WatchOS and above WearOS.
It’s that good. Tizen’s initial setup is a breeze compared to WearOS, and the user-interface is crazy simple to use.
On the hardware side of the equation, there is no speaker, but you get a microphone that allows you to issue voice commands to Bixby (Samsung’s version of Siri). A circular Super AMOLED display is paired with Corning Gorilla Glass which protects the internals of the watch. Expect a high-contrast and vibrant experience every time you peer at the watch face. The screen is incredibly impressive for a sub-$200 device.
There’s so much ground to cover with this Samsung watch that I’ll have to create an in-depth standalone guide for you down the road.
For now, these are the best features, tech, and tools that comprise Galaxy Watch Active:
- Morning & Evening Summary
- Store & Stream Music without a Connected Smartphone
- Heart-rate & Sleep-Cycle Tracking are Standard via an Optical Sensor
- Water Resistant to 50 Meters with Swim Tracking
- Samsung Health & Fitness Autodetects Exercises
- Use your Samsung smartphone to Charge the Smartwatch
- (No really just lay it on the back of the phone!)
- Smaller & Lightweight Form-Factor are Perfect for Working Out
- Stress Tracking & Guided Meditation
- Samsung Pay Wireless Payments & Digital Wallet
- (Samsung Pay is not available when paired with an Apple iPhone!)
If you’re pining for a thoughtfully designed lifestyle smartwatch, but you’re not ready to pay the Apple-tax, the Samsung Galaxy Active is hands-down the best choice in 2020. And remember: it’s compatible with both Apple iOS and Google Android smartphones.
Are you having trouble deciding whether to pull the trigger on the Active watch or hold off and wait for the release of the Active2 in September?
Maybe this will help…Dan’s got a great video with a nice preview of the Galaxy Watch Active2 right here for you.
You can also click on our link and see more pictures, pricing, and customer reviews if you need more info on the current Active watch.
Garmin tactix Charlie – Greatest Outdoor & Military Watch of 2020
The 1st Choice for Navy SEALs & Mall-Ninjas Everywhere
Crammed full of literally everything you’ll ever need—this is the most distinguished military watch, outdoor watch, and perfect for hardcore camping in the middle of absolutely nowhere.
Very cool night-vision mode reduces backlight settings to a level that won’t interfere with night-vision goggles (yes, I’m serious about this feature). Water-resistant to 100 meters. 20 Hours in GPS mode and up to 12 days in smartwatch mode. Preloaded TOPO (topographical) maps plus routable map navigation and integration with Garmin BaseCamp is standard.
Need to know how to read a topographical map? I’ve got you right here, recruit!
This is an extremely specific smartwatch that completes its intended mission admirably. The only downside is the price if you’re looking at this wearable as a competitor to everything else in this article. But here’s the thing: there is no competition. With the various built-in tactical features, nothing does what this watch can—making the price entirely fair.
I scorched the other Garmin watch on this list in terms of style, but the tactix Charlie appeals to the 14-year old in me like nothing else. What I’m trying to say is that I love the design and think it would pair nicely with a flak jacket and Enhanced Combat Helmet.
For a military and law enforcement focused wonder-watch, the matte black design is coming on strong. There is a noticeable increase in quality in terms of manufacturing and materials compared to some of Garmin’s less expensive offerings. A chunky black silicon band is standard, and I would advise you not to swap it out for anything made of nylon. A nylon strap will rub your wrists raw if you’re out in the field for an extended period of time.
So many sensors and not enough words. You’re just going to have to click on the link above to check out the full specs. But there is: GPS, GLONASS, a Heart-Rate Monitor, Altimeter, Compass, Gyroscope and much more.
Let’s not spend too much time on the standard fare…Yes, this watch has daily tracking, advanced workout recording, and Bluetooth. You know what else it has? For starters, it has high sensitivity GPS, support for GLONASS (Russia’s GPS system), supports three jump types like HALO, Statics, and HAHO. And when I say “jump” I mean jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.
There is a barometer to let you know when a storm is coming—which could be useful cover and concealment if you’re infiltrating an enemy’s base or a supervillain’s castle nestled in the Swiss Alps.
For military personal, there is support for Jumpmaster activities, projected waypoints, and MGRS (military grid reference system).
You’re going to have to come back when I post the in-depth review of this watch…There is literally too much fun and exciting stuff I can’t cover in this short summary.
Here’s the key takeaway:
If I were still in the military (Oorah! / YAT-YAS!) the Garmin tactix Charlie would be a worthwhile investment. I could see situations where this military smartwatch would be a life-saver. It would have certainly saved my squad from spending six hours lost in Okinawa’s triple-canopy jungle during a bungled training operation. That’s a story for another time, but I still blame Corporal Keys for that entire SNAFU.
If you have $750 to spend on a new Samurai sword from your local strip-mall, instead, invest in this watch.
Do you know how to tell a real Navy SEAL from that hefty guy at the airport spinning a yarn? One way is to ask, “what color was your helmet in Phase 1, 2, and 3?” Here are all the other ways to tell a real Navy SEAL from the fakers.
We made it to the end!
…Or perhaps you cheated and skipped all of my hard work that went into writing this and came straight here to the Conclusion? That’s okay, I forgive you.
You’re probably looking for me to tell you which one of these watches is the “best.” But the stone-cold truth of it is this: all of the watches are the best in their category. The research I put into this article was extensive, and I hope it provided you with some entertainment and useful information.
If you really did skip to the end, here’s a very concise recap…
Apple Watch Series 4 is the best wearable if you own an iPhone and want a lifestyle watch. Three gorgeous fashion-focused watches made the list starting with the Michael Kors Sofie Heart Rate Pavé, the Withings Move, and the SHAPER Bateau Ivre by NOWA.
My top overall favorite right here and now is definitely the Samsung Galaxy Active for an all-around performer. But my heart melts for the Garmin tactix Charlie if you have the budget for something exotic.
Do yourself a favor and pick your top two or three favorite wearables and click on the links I provided. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you find out.
The final critical piece of information I want to communicate: is that you need to consider hardware specs vs. software and optimization. Most reviewers don’t cover this very clearly, but the hardware specs are not always indicative of the highest performing device. The software usually plays a much more significant part in terms of your overall user experience.
What I’m trying to say is that…
If the software was well-written and highly optimized, chances are that watch would perform better than one with higher specs and poorly designed software. If it makes things easier: I tested everything on this list thoroughly, and each smartwatch is absolutely awesome! Some of the watches I left off the list are not so awesome, and you should be careful if you’re considering buying one of these.
Once again, this about wraps things up, and I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. My name is Ryan, and my info is below if you want to give me a shout or shout at me. Hope to see you all again soon, here on BestGear.co!
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