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Best Overall Smartwatch 2021 (for iPhone and Android users)

It's easy to guess what's the best smartwatch for an iPhone but for Android users, you have so many choices that it's harder.

Apple Watch Series 6 main screen

The best smartwatches on the market today are pretty premium devices that help you with activity tracking, serve as a heart rate monitor, have good battery life, function as a sleep tracker among other features.

However, due to the difference in compatibilities, a person using an Android would seek something different than an iPhone user.

Apple is really good at what they do and it shows. The Apple Watch Series 6 is so good that it remains unbeaten as the best smartwatch for Apple users.

Whereas Fossil loses its shine as the best smartwatch for Android users. Unfortunately, it got nudged out by the Ticwatch Pro 3 which is a really fantastic smartwatch with the latest hardware.

Apple Watch Series 6 display

Apple Watch Series 6

The Apple Watch Series 6 is an amazing smartwatch that goes one step further than any of its predecessors.

One thing it ain’t: a cheap smartwatch. It’s one of the most expensive general purpose smartwatches out there.

It’s very similar to the Apple Watch Series 5 but has new features including fitness features such as SpO2 tracking which is the feature that’s all over their marketing material along with a newer processor and a bunch of new straps to choose from.

Apple Watch Series 6 input methods

Why is the Apple Watch still the best for iPhone users?

The Apple Watch Series 6 continues to be the best smartwatch for iPhone users because everything just works perfectly.

If you bought any other smartwatch that isn’t Apple-made, you’ll find the whole experience a little less streamlined and a little less feature-rich.

For example, only Apple Watches can send replies after an email or text comes in. On other smartwatches, you won’t be able to do this.

Using the Apple Watch Series 6 also allows you access to your email and text logs. These are features which are “nice to have” but I never found it to be too important.

What’s really special about the Apple Watch Series 6 (and all other Apple Watches) is that you will be able to view emails in a formatted way. In most other smartwatches, emails tend to be reduced to plain text and therefore things can sometimes read out of order. Not with the Apple Watch, though.

Apple Watch Series 6 heart rate sensor blood oxygen sensor

New stuff in the Series 6

The Apple Watch Series 6 comes with the always on display that was introduced in the Series 5 and because of its new S6 processor, it is apparently more efficient than the Series 5. The screen can also output more light, meaning it is more resilient in bright sunlight.

The other thing that you might notice being new to the Series 6 is the addition of two new watch straps including the Solo Loop which is the first strap I’ve ever seen with no buckles, notches or pins. It’s essentially a rubber band for the Apple Watch Series 6.

The heart rate sensor is also upgraded in order to match its latest fitness tracking features. The red LEDs in there help you track your SpO2.

There’s also the Sport Loop which is a nylon weave with a hook-and-loop fastener. It’s pretty cool and colourful.

Apple Watch Series 6 Siri

Wait… that sounds a lot like the Series 5

If the previous section looked a bit empty, that’s because the Apple Watch Series 6 is pretty limited in the enhancements from the Apple Watch Series 5.

Truth is that you just can’t get the Apple Watch Series 5 easily anymore and for most people, the only introduction to the Apple Watch is through the Series 6.

The Apple Watch Series 6 is a great smartwatch but to most people who have owned the Apple Watch Series 5, you won’t really notice a huge improvement by getting the Apple Watch Series 6.

Essentially, they look the same and they have a lot of functions that overlap.

If you can get the Apple Watch Series 5 for a huge saving over the Apple Watch Series 6, then go ahead. Otherwise, the Apple Watch Series 6 is the best smartwatch for iPhone users because it’s the Apple Watch Series 5 plus a few features and you can also buy it really easily.

Mobvoi Ticwatch Pro 3

The Ticwatch Pro 3 is a massive improvement over every other smartwatch in Mobvoi’s line of smartwatches.

It also sets the benchmark for premium Wear OS smartwatches, beating every other smartwatch manufacturer with Google’s operating system including last year’s best overall smartwatch Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle.

So fast, so efficient

One big complaint about the previous Ticwatch Pro was that it was very slow and laggy. I experienced it first hand and didn’t think it was all that enjoyable to use.

It had really antiquated hardware. First off, it used the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor that was first made available in 2016, then the original Ticwatch Pro only had 512MB of RAM which really exacerbated the sluggishness of the whole watch.

The Ticwatch Pro 3 now comes with the latest processor, the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 4100 and 1GB of RAM. Everything is fast and responsive just the way people expect things to be in 2021.

For example, no longer do you need to wait a few seconds before Google Assistant is able to take your voice commands. With the Ticwatch Pro 3, once you activate Google Assistant, you can say whatever you want.

Dual layer screen now improved

The dual layer screen on the Ticwatch Pro 3 is significantly improved.

Mobvoi is the only smartwatch manufacturer to put a LCD screen and an LED screen into one watch. The LCD screen operates very well as long as there’s ambient light and that gives it a huge battery power advantage over a smartwatch that needs to crank up its backlight in order to ensure visibility on their LED screens.

Being only monochrome allows the LCD screen to save even more power which is amazing. If you need a full colour LED screen, you now have to activate it through pressing a button.

It has a backlight which means that you will be able to see the power saving LCD screen’s display even when ambient light isn’t available.

The LCD screen is also integrated into Mobvoi’s own exercise app, named TicExercise. Now you can get information such as time elapsed, heart rate and elevation change without needing to activate the LED screen.

Mobvoi’s own apps

Mobvoi joins the 2020 trend of including interesting health statistics that go beyond heart rate tracking.

The Ticwatch Pro 3 can track your sleep, noise levels, stress levels and SpO2, each through an app that is meant for tracking that vital stat.

Some apps augment Google’s Wear OS experience. For example, Wear OS’s default health and workout suite does not have a swimming tracking mode, but the TicExercise does. That’s great.

Long battery life

The long battery life of the Ticwatch Pro 3 can be attributed to the very efficient Snapdragon Wear 4100 and also the LCD screen. It’s one of the best in the business.

It’s not up there with the Polar Grit X, Garmin Fenix 6 or other smartwatch that uses solely a LCD screen, but for a Wear OS smartwatch, lasting over two days without needing a charge is a real achievement, especially if you are wearing it 24/7 for sleep tracking.

Good ol’ productivity features

The Ticwatch Pro 3 has many great productivity features that come from Google’s Wear OS include the ability to access Google Assistant and reply to messages and emails.

The fantastic speech to text system aids these two functions really well. I am still constantly impressed by how much I can get done on my smartwatch when my phone is in an inconvenient location such as when it’s buried deep in my bag.

The large app store also comes with some very useful Google apps including Maps. Having Google Maps on your wrist is actually very useful because it can help you find your way to different places when carrying a phone isn’t very convenient, such as when you’re cycling.

Samsung Galaxy Watch samsung health

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3

Samsung‘s new Galaxy Watch 3 is something that I really hesitate to call a best overall smartwatch.

It leaves me a bit conflicted. It’s the Samsung smartwatch that has been released in 2020 and therefore it should be the best overall smartwatch for Samsung users. But only because it’s the only one. What an achievement.

What you get with this smartwatch is the Samsung Galaxy Active2 with a bezel, essentially. A bunch of features like the SpO2 tracker on this Samsung smartwatch hasn’t been activated. It does have sleep tracking and a heart rate monitor though. Not very exciting since even a basic fitness tracker might be able to do this at a cheaper price.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Bixby

It comes with the Tizen OS, typical of a Samsung watch, and has a bunch of really useful fitness features such as Samsung Health which is a very comprehensive fitness tracker that can track your water intake, caffeine intake, nutritional intake and exercise stats. The workout mode also has a running coach which is a pretty advanced feature among the other more typical fitness features that it has.

The one great thing about the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 are its fitness features. I commend Samsung smartwatches for having some of the best looking watch faces out there on the market. The default watch face on the Galaxy Watch 3 is really pretty and colourful.

Samsung has come a long way since the Samsung Gear S3 that I owned a long time ago, and it still runs as a great companion to my Samsung smartphone. Nonetheless, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 feels a lot like the Apple Watch Series 6 in that it isn’t really much of an upgrade from its predecessor.

garmin fenix 6 main screen

Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire

I can’t tell you how much I still love this smartwatch despite it being a bit of an older watch as compared to the rest of the watches here.

It’s a really reliable smartwatch with fantastic fitness features and activity tracking features including sleep tracking and SpO2 functions. It’s perfect for people who need offline maps.

The Garmin runs on its own operating system and really suffers when it tries to compete with all the smartwatches listed above on productivity features. When you receive a smartphone notification, it gets forwarded to the Garmin Fenix 6, but you just can’t reply to messages and emails beyond a few prepared, rudimentary short message that you can customize. The Garmin Fenix 6 doesn’t even have a touchscreen, by the way.

Nonetheless, if I were going out on an expedition, I would take the Garmin any day. It has the best smartwatch features for hardcore sports people and a long battery life that cannot be beaten.


Best Overall Smartwatch 2020

fossil gen 5 carlyle vs apple watch series 5 analog watch face

I really like smartwatches and it was really difficult to pick the best overall smartwatch. Different smartwatches have different advantages. 

The Garmin Fenix 6 is a fantastic sports smartwatch but has too many trade-offs to make it the best overall smartwatch, but I wear it very often, especially if I am doing some sporting activity. It just has the best analysis of your workout.

Android users have a wide range of choices. You can basically use anything but an Apple Watch and all features such as replying to texts will be available to you.

Apple Watch Series 5 apps

Apple user? Stay in the ecosystem

Luckily, Apple iPhone users have little choice unless they want to trade off a lot of conveniences.

Apple has the Apple Watch series and it has evolved into its fifth version, the Apple Watch Series 5.

This is the watch that feels truly at home with the Apple iPhone. Nothing else works so well with this phone like the Apple Watch Series 5.

It’s like meeting someone online and then clicking instantly with that person (or as Gen Z says, “we vibe”).

Talking about vibes, the Apple Watch Series 5 is so elegantly and exquisitely done even down to the vibration notifications. 

Most smartphones and smartwatches cannot modulate their vibration pulses. It’s full power all the time.

Upon receiving a notification the Apple Watch vibrates at full power then gently eases it off gradually. It feels so distinct. It only happens on an Apple Watch.

Apple Watch Series 5 voice input

All the features in a compact package

Then there’s the design. It is small but is a full feature smartwatch. It defies the expectations of a watch of its size. 

I mean, if we look at its similarly-sized counterparts, such as the Ticwatch C2, Fossil Sport Smartwatch, all of them require compromise. 

Both those watches do not have a speaker and the Fossil Sport has atrocious battery life.

But to be fair, both those alternatives are a lot cheaper.

apple watch series 5 customization

With the Apple Watch, you can get many additional features and customization. You could buy a bigger watch case, LTE functionality and customize colour and strap type.

In terms of software, the Apple Watch allows you to reply to notifications and messages. This is not possible with any other watch system. On Fitbits, Wear OS devices and other smartwatches, you can receive notifications but you cannot reply to them.

apple watch series 5 reply to message

Replying to messages and emails is a great experience because of Apple’s fantastic speech-to-text system. I frequently enjoy how easy it is to reply to messages from my Apple Watch Series 5. It really helps keep the phone away.

Also, since this smartwatch has a speaker, you can make and answer calls on it. This is really convenient and I love it. Just like replying to texts, no other smartwatch can make calls when paired to an iPhone except the Fossil Gen 5 smartwatches.

The Apple Watch Series 5 is also helped by having Siri, which is actually very good and humorous. It really rivals Google Assistant with its abilities. Having a good voice assistant on your wrist makes tedious tasks like starting a timer much easier.

apple watch series 5 workout

What I also liked about the Apple Watch Series 5 is the fantastic health and exercise apps. Only Apple has a smartwatch app that monitors for noise. The Workout app is also very attractively designed and it looks better than Google Fit for sure. The Activity app also keeps you on track for a healthy lifestyle by reminding you that you haven’t hit your activity requirements.

One big reason why I like the Apple Watch Series 5 is because of its always-on screen. This is a feature that I must have because I like being able to see the time without jerking my wrist to wake up the screen. It’s standard on almost all smartwatches, but not on the Apple Watch Series 3.

Apple Watch Series 5 noise meter

Just buy an Apple Watch

There really isn’t much debate to be had if you’re an Apple iPhone user. There’s only one best overall smartwatch which is the latest Apple Watch, the Series 5. 

The Apple Watch provides the most seamless experience for iPhone users. It really mimics the functions of a smartphone and I think that’s really useful. For example, you can access your message and email logs directly from your Apple Watch — this is a feature that most smartwatches do not offer.

There are just too many incompatibilities and inconveniences of using a non-Apple smartwatch with the Apple iPhone that I’d say it’s worth shelling out for the premium price of an Apple Watch. You’ll get a premium experience… as long as you continue using an iPhone. You can’t pair an Apple Watch with an Android.

fossil gen 5 carlyle dog watch face

Android users: Look to Fossil

Android users have a plethora of smartwatches to choose from depending on how much you want to spend and what you need.

So with so much choice, I’m wondering how I can be fair and designate one watch as the one. There are many aspects to look out for but my top three things are: Ease of replying to texts, messages and calls, good battery life and good voice assistant.

In experiencing many smartwatches, I have come to conclude that it’s important to be able to reply to texts and emails on the smartwatch. Phones have been getting bigger and bigger. I find them to be a bit inconvenient to pull out of my pockets.

I’d also like to be able to make and answer calls on my smartwatch. It might seem very weird at first but I really enjoy the convenience of not having to hunt for my smartphone when someone calls me.

A good voice assistant is very important to me because using a smartwatch can be very tedious. For example, setting a timer would be more time consuming and a lot of tapping and scrolling if you did it manually as compared to giving an instruction that’s four words long, “Timer for five minutes”.

Good battery life is important too, but I didn’t include it as a priority because I find that . It’s especially so if you plan to use its internal GPS on workouts that are a few hours long. At least, the watch should be able to get through your waking hours (about 16 hours).

So which smartwatch fulfills these conditions? I’d say Fossil Gen 5 smartwatches are great contenders.

I tested a Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle and I really love it. It is a fully-featured smartwatch with a speaker, integrated GPS and Wear OS. The Carlyle is also unique in that it comes with a metal band and clasp rather than a strap as is typical with other smartwatches.

Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle main screen

Google Assistant doesn’t disappoint

The experience with Google Assistant across all Wear OS smartwatches is generally good but the Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle really takes it to a new level. 

Fossil’s Gen 5 watches have the best hardware of all Wear OS smartwatches including the latest Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor and 1GB of RAM which is twice what most Wear OS smartwatches have.

Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle Google Assistant

This means there’s less lag when activating Google Assistant. On other smartwatches, I get a bit annoyed when the watch says “Speak now” but in reality Google Assistant isn’t capturing your speech. This happens less with the Gen 5 Carlyle.

Google Assistant’s results are excellent. Not only does it transcribe your instructions well, it is also very dynamic in that it can help you find a navigation route with the help of Google Maps. If you ask Google Assistant something it doesn’t know, it will search the internet for the answer. This is really helpful.

Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle Google Maps

Great apps

I really liked how the Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle has access to a really large app store. If you aren’t finding what you need installed by default, you are most likely to be able to install a third-party app that fits your needs on the Google Play Store.

Google also offers up some of its web apps as smartwatch apps including Google Keep, Translate and Maps. Maps was particularly useful for me because I no longer needed to pull my watch out to navigate when I am on a bike.

Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle keyboard replying to message

Replying is easy

The more you can do on your smartwatch and the less you have to pull out your smartphone, the better the smartwatch.

The Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle keeps you from pulling out your smartphone because it can reply to texts and emails, as well as answer calls.

The Wear OS’s reply function is probably one of the best. In addition to an accurate speech-to-text function, you can also reply using a 26-alphabet keyboard, draw letters with your finger or use a dynamically generated response.

fossil gen 5 carlyle phone

Calls that go to your smartphone also end up ringing the smartwatch. From there, you can answer those calls. You can also make calls through the Phone app. Sound quality is good and it’s very usable even in public settings where there’s ambient noise.

fossil carlyle sport workout

Sports

Sports with the Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle is offered through Google Fit. 

Google Fit has been getting better and better, though it has one major downside which is that it can’t track swimming.

Luckily, you can download a third-party app for that but still, I feel it’s a real pity.

Nonetheless, I like how Google Fit allows you to track many different exercises. I also love how Google Fit has a pretty good smartphone app.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Bixby

Where’s the Samsung watches?

If you’re a Samsung user like I am, then you’d be wondering why those watches weren’t featured.

Samsung smartphones and smartwatches make a good pair and mimics the Apple Watch’s capabilities most closely. It goes above and beyond what Wear OS can offer.

However, it is really not competitive in terms of the depth of its functionalities. Yes, it has a voice assistant, Bixby, but Bixby is worse at transcribing speech. It’s worse than Google Assistant, Alexa (on Fitbits) and Siri.

There are two reasons for this. For one, it can’t understand me accurately. Google and Siri can, but Bixby will more often not transcribe accurately.

Bixby also can’t do as many things as Google Assistant or Siri. You’re only able to command it to do things that is within the capabilities of its apps. So if you ask a random question like, “Where is Australia,” prepare for everything to go south.

I like Samsung’s watches, particularly the Galaxy Watch Active 2. The design is amazing. The rotating bezels on some of their smartwatches are ingenious. The user interface is very attractive. But its software needs improvement.

Verdict

Now you know.

If you own an Apple iPhone, buy an Apple Watch Series 5. That is the best overall smartwatch for iPhones. 

If you own an Android smartphone, you’re free to buy whatever you want except Apple Watches. As a general rule, the more expensive the Wear OS watch, the better it is. The software is standardized across all Wear OS watches so it comes down to spending for better hardware. I recommend the Fossil Gen 5 smartwatches.

=> Skip to the chase: Our Epic guide on the best smartwatches for different uses and devices
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