The 6 best smartwatches in 2021 for fitness, sleep tracking, and style

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • The Apple Watch Series 6 is the best smartwatch overall because of its ease-of-use and robust health features.
  • For Android users, the sleek and round Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is a great choice.
  • But if sleep tracking is your top priority, consider Fitbit instead.
  • Check out our guides to the best smartwatches for women and the best Apple Watches for more buying advice.

Smartwatches can be very useful for making sure you don’t miss anything when you’re away from your phone. They’re also a great tool for staying motivated to move, especially as we’ve all been spending more time at home over the past year.

There’s a smartwatch for everyone on this list, whether you’re loyal to iPhone or Android, want a watch primarily for fitness tracking, or are looking for something that looks more elegant than your average smartwatch.

I’ve been reviewing tech products for nearly a decade, and that includes testing smartwatches over the course of the past seven years. That means I’ve tested and researched many wearables from companies like Apple, Fitbit, Samsung and others and have a strong sense of what makes a good smartwatch for the price.

Here are the best smartwatches you can buy:

The best smartwatch overall

Apple Watch 6 Red

The Apple Watch has long been our favorite smartwatch for its ease of use, comprehensive health tracking, and polished design, and the Series 6 is the best iteration yet. 

Pros: Large always-on display, polished design and software, wide variety of health-focused and smartwatch-oriented features

Cons: Expensive, shorter battery life than some rivals, only offers basic sleep tracking

The $400 Apple Watch Series 6 is Apple’s most expensive smartwatch, and for good reason. With an always-on display that’s brighter than the Series 5’s, fast charging, new color options, and blood oxygen monitoring, it’s the best Apple Watch you can buy. 

Apple also sells the less expensive Apple Watch SE for $280, another great choice if you want an Apple Watch that still feels new and fast at a more reasonable price. But you’ll be missing out on advanced health features like blood oxygen level monitoring and the ability to take an ECG from your wrist.

Those features may not matter for everyone; if you’re the type of person that just wants to stay active and challenge yourself with fitness goals, the  SE will do just fine. It’s these features combined with the Series 6’s always-on display and faster charging that make it our top choice in the lineup.

More broadly, the Apple Watch stands out from other smartwatches for its modern design that easily fits with any style, broad customization options, smooth performance and wide variety of apps, and polished software. Our writers and editors have tested dozens of WearOS and Fitbit watches over the years, and the Apple Watch has consistently been the best when it comes to the overall experience.

That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, though. The Apple Watch’s biggest drawbacks compared to rivals from Fitbit and other companies are its high price tag, shorter battery life, and lackluster sleep tracking.

The best smartwatch for Android users

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2 is a fantastic fitness-focused smartwatch for Samsung fans.

Pros: Sleek design, gorgeous screen, great fitness tracking, heart rate monitor, LTE option, auto workout tracking, sleep tracking, swim-proof

Cons: Requires a bunch of extra Samsung apps to work if you don’t own a Samsung smartphone

Samsung’s Galaxy smartwatch lineup has been getting better every year as more apps and features are added. While it has the word “Active” in its name, the Galaxy Watch Active2 is perfectly suitable for fitness or general use.

Samsung also added a feature to the Galaxy Watch Active2 that helps it better compete with Apple: ECG readings. The feature launched in September after gaining approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration. However, it only works if the watch is connected to a compatible Samsung Galaxy smartphone. 

You can get it in two sizes: 40mm and 44mm — just like the Apple Watch. It has a slim, sleek round watch case so it looks more like a normal watch than a piece of tech. The bezel is also touch-sensitive, which makes the software easier to navigate since you don’t always have to obscure the tiny screen with your finger.

You can get it in aluminum (WiFi/Bluetooth) and stainless steel (LTE) and choose between silver, gold, and black finishes. It’s rated at 5ATM for water resistance, so you can swim with it.

The Galaxy Watch Active2 can automatically track workouts, which is surprisingly a big plus for the Samsung watch, as Google’s Wear OS watches don’t have automatic workout detection. The heart rate monitor also helps the watch track the intensity of your workout.

The watch even has sleep tracking built in, a feature that’s common on smartwatches but only recently came to the Apple Watch.

But it doesn’t have the Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa since it uses Samsung’s Bixby assistant. And its battery life is decent, with reviewers rating it as lasting roughly between 1.5 to two days, but it’s not as long-lasting as Fitbit’s watches.

The best smartwatch for sleep tracking

Fitbit versa 3

The Fitbit Versa 3 is a relatively affordable smartwatch that checks all the boxes, but truly shines when it comes to sleep tracking and battery life.

Pros: In-depth sleep tracking, long battery life, plenty of fitness features

Cons: No LTE version, software isn’t as polished as the Apple Watch

Fitbit is far from being the only smartwatch to offer sleep tracking. But if you’re looking for a general-purpose smartwatch that can provide deep insights into your sleep, the $229.95 Fitbit Versa 3 is the best pick for most people.

Fitbit’s sleep tracking goes beyond the basics by offering time spent in REM, light, and deep sleep, as well as the time you spent awake. It also tells you how much time you spent asleep and issues a Sleep Score that tells you about the quality of your sleep.

In addition to just seeing data indicating how well you slept last night, you can also view a 30-day average and see how your sleeping pattern compares to others of your age and gender. Some of Fitbit’s sleep-oriented features, like metrics that show restlessness, are only available if you subscribe to the $9.99 per month Fitbit Premium service. 

Still, even in the free tier, Fitbit offers more comprehensive sleep tracking metrics than most smartwatches, especially the Apple Watch. The Versa 3 also offers impressively long multi-day battery life that makes it much easier to track your sleep without worrying about draining your battery during the day. 

We recommend the Versa 3 over the $299.95 Fitbit Sense since it’s more affordable and still has many of Fitbit’s most important features. 

These include heart rate monitoring, the ability to deliver notifications from your phone, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant support, exercise tracking, comprehensive sleep tracking, and a swim proof design. 

The downside, however, is that there’s no LTE option for the Versa 3 for those who want to receive calls and texts when their phone isn’t nearby. For iPhone owners, the software and app experience is also much more polished on the Apple Watch than it is on Fitbit’s watches.

The best feminine smartwatch

Julianna HR slide

The Fossil Julianna HR is a sleek smartwatch with a feminine design, a heart rate monitor, GPS, NFC, and the power of WearOS.

Pros: Classic watch design, stylish color options, lots of compatible watch straps, and it’s compatible with iPhones and Android phones

Cons: It’s a bit chunky, not as good with iPhone

If you’re an Android user who wants a feminine smartwatch, you’re in luck. Over the past few years, fashion brands and watchmakers have been making great Wear OS smartwatches. 

Fossil’s smartwatch line continues to grow each year, and we are looking forward to testing its new Gen 5 LTE watches that were announced in January. As the name implies, the new model adds support for LTE connectivity on Android through Verizon, a feature that most competing smartwatches have offered for years. 

In the meantime, we still recommend the Juliana HR. Fossil offers several different finishes for the Julianna’s watch casing. I love the simple rose gold casing and leather strap option, but you can also get one with a metal bracelet.

It’s a chunky watch, which is great for those who prefer that style. Even though it’s fashionable , this smartwatch is also waterproof up to 3 ATM, so you can swim with it on.

As for the tech inside, the Julianna runs Wear OS (previously known as Android Wear) and works with thousands of apps on the Google Play Store. You can answer texts, interact with notifications, and choose your own watch face — just like you would on any other smartwatch. Fossil has lots of nice watch faces in feminine colors, too.

The Julianna HR works with both Android phones and the iPhone, but it’s best with Android devices. When Android Wear watches are paired to the iPhone, a lot of functions no longer work, and you’re left with a pretty watch that only gives you notifications.

Julianna HR (button)
The best smartwatch for fashionable men

Fossil Carlyle HR

Fashion-forward men who aren’t into the high-tech futuristic look will love Fossil’s Q Carlyle HR with its classic design and smartwatch powers.

Pros: Classic watch look, WearOS, use any 2mm watch band you like

Cons: No LTE

Fossil is one of the few fashion brands and watchmakers that’s making actively gorgeous smartwatches. The Q Carlyle HR is the ultimate WearOS watch for men who want their smartwatch to look like a high-end wristwatch.

It’s a hefty smartwatch that feels luxurious, but it doesn’t cost a couple thousand dollars like the Tag Heuer Connected smartwatch. The stainless steel casing paired with a  chunky metal watch band give it a premium look and feel, but you can choose a number of different finishes.

You can get the smartwatch in dark gray, black, and silver finishes with metal or leather straps. The straps are interchangeable with any 22mm watch band you can buy from Fossil and others.

When it comes to tech, the Q Carlyle isn’t the most high-end one on this list, but it runs WearOS and it’s compatible with thousands of apps. You can send texts, view your notifications, and track your activity — just like you would on any smartwatch. The latest generation also has NFC for mobile payments, GPS, and a heart rate monitor.

Q Carlyle HR (button)
Best smartwatch for fitness enthusiasts

Garmin Forerunner 935

The Garmin Forerunner 935 Running GPS Watch is a fitness enthusiast’s dream that has long battery life and measures several metrics you won’t find on general purpose watches.

Pros: Long battery life, waterproof, durable glass face, built-in barometer and thermometer, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections, and the ability to measure more metrics than we can list here

Cons: Expensive, reduced GPS accuracy when running on a track, built-in thermometer only measures temperature right above your skin

Smartwatches running Apple’s, Samsung’s, and Google’s operating systems come with decent fitness tracking features and functionality, but then there are smartwatches that bring fitness tracking to a whole other level. We’re talking about smartwatches from Garmin. 

We had a competitive distance runner try the $500 Garmin Forerunner 935 for 1,000 miles — and it’s better than any running watch he’s ever used. With that testimonial in mind, the Forerunner 935 is our top choice for fitness enthusiasts, at least for those who can allocate up to $500 for a device that’s specifically geared towards fitness. 

When you’re spending this much on a fitness tracking device, you’re better off reading the full review to find out what’s good and what’s not about the Forerunner 935. And realizing that the Forerunner 935 is expensive, we know of some less expensive fitness trackers that will work just fine for the majority of fitness folk. 

Forerunner 935 (button)
What else we considered

Fitbit Versa 2

While these are our top picks, there are several other options worth considering based on your needs, preferences, and budget. Here’s a look at some other contenders: 

  • Garmin Vivoactive 4: Garmin’s Vivoactive 4 is a more affordable alternative to its Forerunner and Fenix lines that still offers more in-depth health features than your standard smartwatch. It also comes with many of the other features around connectivity you’d demand from a watch of its price.
  • Fitbit Sense: The Sense is Fitbit’s top-of-the-line smartwatch and its first to offer the ability to measure how your body reacts to stress. The Sense, like Fitbit’s other smartwatches, serves as a compelling Apple Watch alternative for non-Apple users and those seeking a more affordable watch. However, we chose the Versa 3 instead as one of our top picks because it has many of the benefits of the Sense at a more reasonable price.
  • Michael Kors Access Lexington 2: Michael Kors has been making smartwatches alongside Fossil for years now. If you like MK, you’ll probably like this watch as it has many of the same features.
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