There’s no slam-dunk of the best smartwatch for Android users.
From one perspective, that’s a great thing, because it means that there’s real competition between a bunch of companies on a level playing field. Another, though, is a bummer because no smartwatch on Android is as good as Apple Watch for iPhone users.
Even though there’s no perfect, do-everything smartwatch for Android users, you can still get a lot of use out of one. They make it a lot easier to track your steps and workouts, look at your notifications, and quickly check the weather the last one sounds stupid, but it’s one of the things I use most on my smartwatch.
Another interesting trend in the last few years is that getting LTE on your smartwatch has begun to become more mainstream. You can do a lot more than you might expect on your wrist, even if your phone is back at home. You’ll still be able to stream music, make calls, and even get notifications from your phone apps. Even texting is easier now, thanks to a more accurate voice transcript.
That doesn’t mean that we’re recommending that most people spend extra money on the LTE version of a watch, though. The extra price for the watch itself is usually too high but more importantly, most U.S. carriers charge a high enough monthly fee for number sharing to make the whole deal not worth the price.
Our honest advice is not to spend too much of your budget on an Android smartwatch right now. Google may be developing one now that it’s buying Fitbit, for example. It seems likely that something better is going to be around the corner, so it makes sense to wait to upgrade if you can. But if you’re looking to get a smartwatch today, there’s a clear winner who’s better than the rest of us, even though it’s not perfect.
THE SAMSUNG GALAXY WATCH ACTIVE 2
Samsung released two smartwatches this year, and the second one is a smartwatch. It runs on Samsung’s custom Tizen software, but it’s perfectly compatible with any Android phone you want. However, if you don’t have a Samsung phone, set aside extra time for setup as it requires you to install a bunch of apps on your phone.
The Active 2 is good because it controls all the most important smartwatch boxes: it looks pretty good, is fast enough, and has a few good fitness options. The battery lasts a little more than one day. The cleanest part of the watch is the touch-sensitive bezel around the circular screen. It lets you move through the watch software by spinning your finger around the watch it’s a lot more intuitive than the short swipes that other watches make you use.
Unfortunately, the Active 2 software ecosystem is pretty bad don’t use a map for anything other than tracking a run. But the software ecosystems are even worse for all competition, so there’s that.
It’s not the most exciting endorsement, but it’s hard to get any enthusiasm for any smartwatch options for Android this year. Hope that’s going to change soon, but in the meantime, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is your best bet if you want to buy a smartwatch right now.
Google is trying to buy Fitbit right now, but don’t let those corporate machinations concern you: today’s Fitbit watch is a very good fitness tracker. It’s not our first pick, because while it’s good at fitness, it’s not great to be a smartwatch.
Beauty is in the eye of the viewer, but most people would probably agree that Versa 2 looks like an Apple Watch knock-off. What’s not a knock-off, however, is the life of the battery: Versa 2 lasted about five days in our testing. Finally, it supports Spotify, but some of the basics you’d expect from a smartwatch are missing. For example, you can only have one watch face loaded at a time and switching it involves a bumpy and annoying trip to the support app on your smartphone.
Another competition for Android users is Google’s own Wear OS and some other hybrids. There’s no Wear OS watch that can reliably take more than 18 hours of battery life that we’ve tested. The various “hybrid” watches may look nice as watches, but they lack the features of a smartwatch. While Versa is a good fitness tracker and a mediocre smartwatch, it’s still more than enough to make it a runner-up for Android users.
Although we don’t think most people are going to be happy with Wear OS watches, if you really like the way you look and don’t mind a kind of slow experience, you could check them out. If possible, however, aim to get a 1 GB version of RAM and a Snapdragon 3100 processor that combination is the only way to really get a decent experience. Fossil’s “Gen 5” watch fits the bill.
If you’re looking for a hybrid watch, we like Withings Steel HR or HR Sport. Fossil has a new e-paper display and a little more features, but we haven’t fully reviewed it and don’t know if we can recommend it.