Smartwatches have been slowly getting better at offering true value as both extensions of smartphones and activity trackers with fitness in mind.

Smartwatches and fitness trackers aren’t necessarily the same thing, though they may share similar features. Fitness trackers are meant to be functional devices focused on tracking daily activity, whereas smartwatches are designed to be more multifaceted, with support for apps and, in some cases, wireless network connectivity.

There is an aesthetic and functional distinction between one smartwatch to another, as in how a running watch might be different from an all-encompassing model. Here are some of the best smartwatches available now.

Apple Watch

Apple released the Watch Series 5 smartwatch in the fall, which is a modest upgrade from the previous model. For the first time, the Apple Watch gets a built-in compass inside, with information on longitude, latitude elevation and incline. An even bigger first is the always-on display. You can now keep the screen on to show the time, date and other information at all times on a lower-powered mode. Previous Apple Watches didn’t allow that feature.

Apple didn’t change a whole lot on the design side, maintaining much of the Series 4’s look. One key difference is that the new watch is also made of recycled aluminum. There are stainless steel and ceramic models, along with two titanium colour ones, but the aluminum variants are the only ones that include recycled materials.

The Series 5 cellular models have a new international emergency calling feature that works the same way it does in Canada. In case of an accidental fall, the watch can send out an SOS and contact local first responders to get help without having to use your phone.

Cellular LTE connectivity is great for making calls, sending/receiving messages and playing music without reaching for your phone to do it. The non-cellular models can do a lot of things too, save for phone calls, as there is no eSIM functionality. The watch should also get the same 18-hour battery life as the Series 4. Just remember that the Apple Watch Series 5 will only work with iOS devices.

Fitbit Versa 2

The Fitbit Versa 2 is an iterative improvement on the Versa and Versa Lite that came before it. It retains much of the design philosophy of those previous models, which is why straps are compatible with all three. The Versa 2 is the first to have an AMOLED display—a big reason why the always-on display doesn’t kill the battery as quickly.

Overall, this smartwatch has the same waterproofing, heart rate sensor, sleep tracking and music storage the others did. What’s different is the onboard microphone that enables you to use Amazon Alexa for voice commands. There’s no speaker, so the watch doesn’t say anything. Results show up on the screen instead. It’s the same reason why you can respond to incoming messages when paired with Android phones by selecting a response from the screen. There’s still no built-in GPS, so avid runners and cyclists will need to carry their phone to capture the full route map.

Spotify also gets better integration this time around. Spotify Connect gives you control over playback, but not full access to your library or playlists, which is a shame. Deezer is another music streaming service that has built-in support. App support, generally speaking, isn’t extensive, but you might find a good gem when doing a search. There are plenty of options to customize your watch face and menu layout.

While Fitbit Premium isn’t exclusive to the Versa 2, it is a subscription-based service that ties into the device. There are guided programs to a variety of different workouts or goals, including kicking a sugar habit or getting better sleep.

Fitbit rates battery life at five days, though it really depends on what you’re doing with it. Mixed usage will drive it lower for sure. The smartwatch does work with both iOS and Android phones.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2

The Galaxy Watch Active2 is actually the second smartwatch Samsung launched in 2019. The previous Galaxy Watch Active was missing a few things this model included. Chief among them is a touch-sensitive bezel that tries to emulate the physical rotating bezel of previous Samsung smartwatches.

The Watch Active2 comes in three colours and two sizes. There are 40mm and 44mm sizes to choose from, though the 40mm is more common. You can find it in aluminum in black, gold/pink and silver. A stainless steel version also comes in gold/pink.

There’s plenty to work and play with, including a heart rate sensor, GPS, altimeter, waterproof body and up to 2.5GB of free internal storage. That waterproofing also includes saltwater, letting you reach depths down to 50 metres. Just rinse it off with clear water after you get out.

It runs on Tizen, Samsung’s own operating system, which has its own app store and countless watch faces to customize how it looks. The Watch Active2 tracks dozens of exercises, about six of which are automatic. As you might expect, you can track steps, calories, sleep and more while wearing it when not working out too.

The watch works with Samsung and Android phones running version 5.0 or later with at least 1.5GB of RAM. It can work with iPhones running at least iOS 9.0, though I would recommend you don’t get this watch as an iPhone user.

Garmin Vivoactive 3

Garmin has always leaned toward building smartwatches that cater to the sportier crowd. The Vivoactive 3 is no exception, though there is a bit of a lifestyle focus here. Unlike Garmin’s Forerunner watches, which are packed with all sorts of features, this one straddles between being a sporty smartwatch and all-purpose activity tracker.

Not surprisingly, there is a built-in heart rate monitor and GPS, with over 15 sports preloaded onto it. It tracks activity and metrics, like distance, pace and time, and pairs with the Garmin Connect app to take things further. Runners can create their own routes or exercise routine that could include a running component. Garmin also lets you do it inside on a treadmill, using the phone’s data connection to measure distance when not outside.

You don’t have to customize it all. There are workouts to download and other users to glean insight and inspiration from to keep you motivated. It’s also waterproof, so take it swimming when the mood strikes.

Garmin rates battery life at up to seven days in most passive use cases, and that cuts down to 13 hours when GPS is on.

More than the group above, there’s a wide range of smart watch solutions available today.

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Editor Cellular/Mobile Technology
I’m a fortunate man in being able to do the fun job of following and reporting on one of the most exciting industries in the world today. In my time covering consumer tech, I’ve written for a number of publications, including the Globe and Mail, Yahoo! Canada, CBC.ca, Canoe, Digital Trends, MobileSyrup, G4 Tech, PC World, Faze and AppStorm. I’ve also appeared on TV as a tech expert for Global, CTV and the Shopping Channel.

11 COMMENTS

  1. I was going to get the Versa 2 but since google bought Fitbit I am thinking they might make a google Fitbit so I am holding off until then. Hopefully in the near future

  2. At the moment I am still happy with my normal watch. I find at the moment I don’t need what a smart watch can give me, but this is an article that I will definitely come back to if that changes. There are some good things to think about here.

  3. I have had two Garmin watches in the past but both have had the plastic wrist band which has broken with use. It would be great if you could replace them without replacing the watch also but I cannot find replacement bands. Can anyone assist? Maybe Garmin can build a more long lasting band?

    Scott

  4. Thanks for the amazing list Martin. In the emerging technical world, everyone is fond of getting a smart watch and I am also one among them. Your post helped me to choose best one out and now I am having my dream watch with me. Once again thanks for the great post.

  5. Tried to buy a watch at store in Richmond Hill today. Price in the case does not match the sale price on the web site and after waiting patiently for 4 different employees to finish with their existing customer only to see them walk away from me I gave up, left the other items I was going to purchase and left the store. It was not that busy – just complacent and/or lazy I guess. No wonder people are choosing to shop on line more and more.

    • Hi Jim

      Thanks for reaching out with this issue. I have forwarded your problem to our customer service department and they should be reaching out to you soon. I wish you the best for the holidays.

      Martin Renaud
      Blog Editor-in-chief

  6. I love that the S3 Frontier also lets you use any brand of straps to customize the watch to your style. Theoretically, you could have a strap for each day of the year!

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