It’s been a busy year for smartwatches, as they continue to steal the focus from simpler, plainer fitness trackers – almost every fitness tracker now can at least tell the time, blurring the lines even further. Here’s a look at the most notable smartwatch launches of the past 12 months, and what they say about the future of the market.
1. Apple Watch Series 5
Apple continues to dominate the smartwatch scene, and the Apple Watch is the obvious choice of wearable for anyone using an iPhone rather than an Android phone day-to-day. With the Apple Watch Series 5 launched this year, a minor rather than a major improvement over the Series 4, Apple has consolidated its position at the top of the smartwatch tree, and it continues to keep the Series 3 on sale as a cheaper alternative.
The major upgrade for 2019 is an always-on display, so the time and basic fitness metrics are always on show. Add to that new ceramic and titanium casing options, plus all the usual Apple Watch tricks – great health and fitness features, an optional LTE model, a smooth and slick interface – and it’s going to be the smartwatch to beat in 2020. Maybe sleep tracking and a battery that lasts beyond a single day are next on Apple’s to do list.
2. Fossil Gen 5
Fossil remains one of the biggest names behind Google’s Wear OS smartwatch platform, and the Fossil Gen 5 wearables launched this year are just about the best you can get if Wear OS is the right fit for you. From on-board GPS to heart rate tracking, it’s hard to think of a feature that these watches don’t offer – they can even track your sleep if you’re prepared to wear them through the night, which is something the Apple Watch can’t do.
The Gen 5 timepieces certainly benefit from Fossil’s years of expertise in making watches – they look stylish and sharp, and come with a variety of case and strap options. As for Wear OS, it’s not as intuitive or as speedy as watchOS, but it does have the Google Assistant: you can access the full power of Assistant right from your wrist. Improvements over the Gen 4 model include customizable battery settings for getting more juice out of the watch.
3. Garmin fēnix 6
Garmin makes all kinds of smartwatches, but the fēnix series is its flagship line: packed with features, sensors and settings, and appropriately bulky as well. The fēnix smartwatches are built to get you down off a mountainside alive in the middle of a thunderstorm, as well as keep track of a huge number of health and fitness metrics, and with the fēnix 6 launched this year Garmin has produced its best smartwatch yet.
You won’t find any major upgrades over the earlier fēnix 5 version, but Garmin has improved various tracking technologies this year and made battery management easier, as well as increasing the size of the screen on some models. The fēnix 6 shows there’s still a market for premium, high-end smartwatches in 2019: devices capable of much more than counting your steps, showing your incoming phone messages, and telling the time.
4. Fitbit Versa 2
The original Fitbit Versa appeared in our 2018 smartwatch round-up, and this year we got a Fitbit Versa 2 with Amazon Alexa voice control, an improved screen, and some other goodies on top. The strengths of the original are carried over though: this is a lightweight, good-looking, versatile wearable, that’s as good on the health and fitness side as you would expect from Fitbit, and which covers all the basics that a smartwatch needs.
The second-generation Versa still lacks some of the features that its rivals can offer, like LTE connectivity and on-board GPS, but it sells for a very competitive price, and has an impressive five days of battery life (take that, Apple Watch). With Google buying Fitbit for $2.1 billion towards the end of 2019, it’s going to be interesting to see where the company goes next in 2020 – we might even see the long-rumored Pixel Watch make an appearance.
5. Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2
Samsung may have abandoned Wear OS for its own Tizen software on wearables, but it’s still keen on the smartwatch form factor and the Galaxy Watch Active2 is one of its best efforts in the space yet: it introduces a touch-sensitive bezel that makes getting around the watch’s menus very straightforward and intuitive, and adds an LTE connectivity option so you can make and receive phone calls from your wrist even if your phone isn’t connected.
To some extent it feels like Samsung is carrying on with the Galaxy Watch line just so it has a product to compete directly with the Apple Watch, but the Galaxy Watch Active2 is a fine smartwatch for the price – and it’s available in two sizes, with a variety of colors and casings to pick from. While it doesn’t necessarily have any features that make it stand out from the crowd, it covers all the necessary bases in a stylish and reliable gadget.
6. Withings Move
Withings continues to provide something a little different with its smartwatch offerings, and this year’s Withings Move is a classic example – a smartwatch that’s mostly a traditional analog watch, priced very affordably, and with a battery that you replace after 18 months rather than recharge every evening. If all the smarts you need in a watch are activity tracking and sleep tracking, then the Withings Move might be the wearable for you.
Of course at this price and with this sort of design you can’t do anything fancy with the watch, like display your smartphone messages or track your location on a map, but there are plenty of alternatives that’ll do that for you. As an added bonus it’s water resistant up to 50 meters (164 feet), and while you can’t change the watch faces after you’ve bought it, you do at least get a wide variety of design customization options when you order.
7. Misfit Vapor X
If you’re looking for an affordable Wear OS smartwatch to strap to your wrist in 2020, you could do a lot worse than the Misfit Vapor X: not only does it offer an appealing design and a very appealing price, its battery also lasts for three days if you dial down some of the more advanced features. It’s worth noting that Misfit is now owned and run by Fossil, so you’re getting the same watchmaking heritage here as with the Gen 5 models listed above.
It’s one of the lighter and smaller smartwatches on the market at the moment, and available in numerous colors, so it’ll suit anyone who’s going to be spending a lot of time working out, cycling or running (or who just has small wrists). Despite the lower price, you get waterproofing to 30 meters (nearly 100 feet), NFC for mobile payments, a heart rate monitor, and even on-board GPS for tracking your location without a connected phone.