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It’s never been easier to connect with your friends and family than it is today, thanks to the near-universal adoption of the smartphone. In many ways, this constant source of connection is a good thing, allowing users to receive breaking news alerts, weather warnings, directions to nearby areas, and of course, messages from people all around the world. Unfortunately, this never-ending connection means we’re never fully aware of the world around us. Even in places where it should be easy to take in our surroundings, like when waiting in line at a store or walking down a city sidewalk, you’re likely to see people with their phones out, checking up on their Twitter feed or looking through their collection of Snapchat stories. It feels nearly impossible to escape the barrage of notifications and the continuous feeling of being connected to the internet at all times. Something as simple as having a conversation with someone becomes a challenge to avoid looking at your smartphone.
Luckily, a problem created by gadgets can also be solved by gadgets. Smartwatches have been a product on the market for a few years now, and while there is no singular perfect smartwatch, it is an incredibly interesting product lineup. There are watches for all different kinds of people and interests, from smaller, more fashion-focused watches to sport watches designed to track your personal fitness, to watches that mix and match both types of devices. And while a smartwatch might seem like an unnecessary gadget, using it as a utility throughout your day can help you keep your phone in your pocket in social situations or in important meetings, only pulling it out to look at a specific notification when absolutely necessary.
If you’re tired of interrupting conversations with your smartphone, or you’re looking for something to keep track of your physical activity throughout the day, there’s really nothing better you can grab than a smartwatch to help you through your day. They may not revolutionize your world like the smartphone did, but when used correctly, they can make your day just a little bit easier. Let’s take a look at the best smartwatches for Android users.
Wear OS is a bit of a mess these days, which means it can be tough to find a good smartwatch for your Android smartphone. Whether you’re already invested in the Samsung ecosystem or you’re an Android user looking for a great smartwatch to pair with your phone, you owe it to yourself to look at Samsung’s Galaxy Watch Active 2. Despite the first-gen watch having just launched this past spring, the Watch Active 2 is a massive improvement on the first watch, and easily one of the best smartwatches on the market today.
Outside of some small changes, the general design with the Watch Active 2 remains the same as its predecessor. A circular face with rounded glass along the edge of the device crosses the bridge between old-fashioned watch design and the boxier appearances of other devices like the Apple Watch. Instead of making major changes to the Active 2’s design, Samsung righted two wrongs made with the first-gen device. First, the Active 2 is now available in both 40mm and 44mm sizes, instead of just offering the smaller size. The original Watch Active was just too small for some wrists, so the larger size is a nice change of pace.
The bigger change, however, helps to improve usability with the watch. After removing the feature this past spring, Samsung replaced the rotating bezel for scrolling through menus within your software. Unlike older Galaxy Watch devices, the Active 2 now offers the bezel as a capacitive ring instead of the physical dial. It’s not quite as satisfying to use as the older hardware wheel, but frankly, just having a rotating bezel of any kind is a win for Samsung.
The rest of the watch basically remains unchanged from the last model. It still features a great Super AMOLED display, out of the box software support for apps like Spotify, and a custom Exynos processor that helps to make the Watch Active 2 feel like one of the smoothest, fastest smartwatches on the market today. It also doubles as a great fitness tracker. Like any good fitness device, Samsung’s newest smartwatch can track calories burned, distance traveled, heart rate, and your daily steps, but the smartphone giant didn’t stop there. Altitude changes, blood pressure, swimming distance and lap count, and stair climbing is all supported on this watch.
So what’s not to like? Well, as we mentioned at the top of this review, this watch works best with Samsung’s ecosystem. If you’re using an Android device not made by Samsung, you’ll have to download a bunch of apps to get the watch to work properly with your phone. If you’re invested in apps like Google Fit, you’ll also have to make the move over to Samsung’s line of health apps and services, since the Watch Active 2 relies solely on Samsung’s software.
Same goes for app support on the watch. While Wear OS doesn’t have the largest library of apps to download, it’s practically endless compared to Samsung’s app store for their watch. The Watch Active 2 runs on Tizen, not on Wear OS, which means you’re out of luck if there’s a Wear OS app or watchface you want to use. You’ll also have to use Bixby, Samsung’s custom virtual assistant, for voice commands on the Watch Active 2. That’s a major downgrade from the Google Assistant on Wear OS, and even Fitbit offers support for Amazon’s Alexa assistant.
These downsides don’t stop the Galaxy Watch Active 2 from being our pick for the best Android-compatible smartwatch. It’s not perfect—no smartwatch is—but for fitness tracking, notifications, and music playback, it’s hard to beat the Watch Active 2 in 2019.
Fossil is one of the few companies pushing forward with Wear OS watches, and their newest devices are easily the best yet. Fossil’s fifth-generation smartwatches arrived on the scene just in time for the 2019 holiday shopping season, complete with a series of brand new designs and improved specs. Fossil has kept a consistent design language with their watches, and their fifth-generation devices—the Carlyle and the Julianna—continue this trend. Three buttons and a rotating crown line the right side of the device, offering button customization and improved navigation throughout the interface, while the circular display keeps the look of a traditional watch. It might not be a new design, but it’s timeless, and whether you choose a 41mm or 44mm watchface, it’ll look great on your wrist.
What Fossil has improved for 2019 is the specs of the device. The watch now comes with 8GB of storage—doubling the amount included by last generation—and more importantly, a full gigabyte of RAM. The 512mb of memory in the 2018 watches was part of the reason for those watches feeling so slow, but the combination of 1GB of RAM and the Snapdragon 3100, these watches feel significantly faster in day to day use. They aren’t quite as smooth as the Apple Watch or Samsung’s Galaxy Watch Active 2, but performance is finally at a state that feels finished. Google has continued to try to improve Wear OS on their end as well, now offering tiles to the right of the watchface. We’re still waiting on a major revision to Wear OS, but if and when Google pushes out a version 3.0 in 2020, the Fossil Gen 5 watches will be your best bet for performance.
Fitbit’s moved up in the wearable world from fitness trackers to full-blown smartwatches, thanks to their acquisition of Pebble a few years ago. The Fitbit Versa 2 is their latest smartwatch revision, offering a great focus on fitness while also allowing Android users to view and reply to notifications. The outside of the device remains unchanged from the previous generation, but the Versa 2 has been outfitted with a new OLED display that looks much better in direct sunlight while also marking the first time a Fitbit device has had an always-on display. Battery life is improved here as well: Fitbit says most users should get five days of use between charges with the always-on display turned off, while leaving that feature on reduces your battery range to about two days in regular use.
On the software side, Fitbit’s made some minor changes that allow for a better experience than ever before. Spotify is now natively integrated with your Fitbit, so you won’t have to rely on add-ons to listen to your music collection. Alexa support allows you to use your watch to issue Alexa commands, which means you can turn your lights off, lock your doors, and do anything else Alexa supports without lifting your phone. Fitbit now offers Fitbit Premium, a subscription service for fitness tracking that supplies custom workouts, exercise programs, relaxation tools, and more for $10 per month, though the subscription isn’t necessary to use the product.
The only thing holding us back from wholeheartedly recommending the Versa 2 is the questionable future surrounding the company. Google bought Fitbit on November 1st, and it remains unclear what their plan is with the company. Still, if you’re unconcerned about the future of Fitbit, the Versa 2 remains a great option for today. Just be prepared for change coming in 2020 and beyond.
The Galaxy Watch Active already has a successor in the Active 2, but if you’re looking for a more affordable watch, Samsung’s first Active-branded device is still a great buy. At only $200, it’s a well-priced, fitness-focused watch that feels light on your wrist and has great battery life. The Galaxy Watch Active runs Tizen instead of Wear OS, so while it will work with any Android phone, non-Samsung devices will need up to four additional applications installed to get the most from the watch. The biggest downside to choosing the first-gen Active is the missing rotating bezel that makes it easy to select content without using the touchscreen, which made a return in the Active 2. For those who already own Samsung devices, or those who aren’t against switching over to a non-Wear OS platform, the Galaxy Watch Active is a great budget option.
Fossil’s Generation 5 smartwatches are newer and faster than ever before, but at only $200, the fourth-gen Fossil Sport is a great choice for anyone shopping for a cheaper Wear OS watch. While it’s not as good as either generation of Samsung’s Active series, the Fossil Sport comes in two sizes and a number of bright colors. Despite being a year old, the Sport is still using the newest smartwatch processor from Qualcomm—the Snapdragon 3100. That chip helps to improve battery life, though unfortunately, the minimal amount of RAM in the Fossil Sport helps to keep it from matching the performance seen in Fossil’s newer fifth-gen watches. Still, with a solid minimal design and a three-button customizable interface, the look of this watch really shines. Despite a bezel that happens to be larger than we’d like, the Sport continues to be a great pick for Android fans. Just make sure you don’t pay more than $200 for it.
Garmin’s own smartwatch lineup seem to be more focused on taking on the Fitbit series than Wear OS devices, but they remain solid picks for any athletes looking for a quality device. The company once well-known for the GPS systems have smartwatches priced up and down the market, but you’ll find their Fenix line to be some of the best watches on the market for anyone truly interested in tracking their fitness and workout regimen. These are not cheap watches—the Fenix 5S recommended here is prices at $599, and the 5X is even pricier—but the devices are incredibly powerful for the cost.
With its basic LCD display, it can last up to a week on a single charge and can be seen in direct sunlight. You won’t find a full app market on the Fenix line, but it can display notifications from your device, and its rugged design means you don’t have to worry about dropping it and destroying your investment. The size of the newer Fenix devices have been significantly reduced, and with a built-in GPS, barometer, altimeter, compass, and the option to track your heart rate and your sleep schedule, it’s ideal for anyone focused on training. If you want a watch that will focus primarily on athletics over everything else, you’ll want to consider one of Garmin’s specific fitness watches. They’re expensive, but should be considered an investment in a great piece of tech. Definitely check them out.
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