Wrist computers finally show their style.
Apple Watch Series 2 ($599)
Gear of the Year
The second iteration of Apple’s smartwatch earned our Gear of the Year nod for doing one thing insanely well: worming its way into every corner of our lives. It patches through texts and calls directly to our wrists. It tracks daily motion and automatically prompts us to keep active throughout the day. No wearable has simpler navigation, and it integrates that famous ease of use into each of its fitness functions as well. Want to go for a run? Just say “Hey, Siri, let’s run,” and once you’re on the trail you get verbal pace, distance, and elapsed-time updates. When you’re finished, the watch will keep track of your daily, weekly, and monthly mileage goals. Like its predecessor, the Series 2 is more welcoming than other watches when it comes to third-party fitness apps like Strava and MapMyRun. And those revamped good looks are indicative of a larger trend in wearables: shedding all that teched-out styling for something you’re not embarrassed to wear on a date. After all, nobody wants to broadcast “Look at me—I run!” even if that’s exactly what you’d rather be doing, every chance you get.
Garmin Fenix 5S ($599)
Best For: Superb on-wrist heart-rate monitoring.
The Test: The svelte 5S is one of Garmin’s smallest, most sophisticated models yet. It delivers up to nine days of battery life (or 14 hours of continuous GPS tracking), and its fitness diagnostics are superb. After a run, we synced our workout to the Garmin Connect app and manipulated overlay charts that showed, for instance, average steps per minute against pace to see if our form fell apart as we increased speed. There are also interval modes and custom alerts for pace and distance. On-wrist heart-rate capture was among the best in our test, matching the Suunto Spartan Sport. The only bummer: Garmin doesn’t allow onboard music storage.
The Verdict: A long-lifed wearable with fitness chops.
Samsung Gear S3 Frontier ($350)
Best For: Samsung devotees.
The Test: Too many timepieces that combine altimeter, barometer, and compass (ABC) functions feel like they’re stuck in 1999. Samsung’s Gear S3 Frontier, on the other hand, is wholly 2017, with analog ABC sensors that work together with Wi-Fi and a built-in SIM card to triangulate your precise location. Thanks to that SIM, the watch also lets you send an SOS beacon to friends and family. Three days of battery life make it a great weekend-escape watch, too. Did we mention it may have the most versatile pay-from-your-wrist system on earth? So you can leave not only your phone at home but also your wallet. The interface—a slick rotating bezel—is clever and easy to use. We especially love that Samsung’s proprietary S Health app automatically logs various workout activities. Plus, you can run other fitness apps, including Under Armour Record and MapMyRun.
The Verdict: ABC watches, welcome to the 21st century.
LG Watch Sport ($349)
Best For: Dialed user-friendliness.
The Test: Android wearables came out of the gate a bit clunky—physically big, with illogical, cumbersome interfaces. However, the new LG Watch Sport is one of the first timepieces to get Android Wear 2.0, streamlining things considerably. The watch has its own SIM, so you can listen to Spotify and make calls sans phone. Like the Samsung, navigation is smooth: rotate the watch crown to scroll through menus rather than tapping and swiping the screen, which can be a real problem with sweaty fingers in the middle of a jog. Android lets you download fitness apps (Runtastic, Strava, Seven, and more) directly to the watch. All told, though, we wish it had a slightly slimmer design.
The Verdict: The best Android Wear watch on the market.
New Balance RunIQ ($299)
Best For: Fleet-of-foot Android fans.
The Test: Strava fanatics, this is your watch. Sure, it runs Android Wear 2.0, but Strava comes preloaded and fully integrated; simply tap the upper-right button to fire it up. Plus, Strava boasts a few features just for the RunIQ that you won’t see on other Android or iOS watches, like footfall cadence, accurate speed metrics, and easy-to-use lap mode. The RunIQ’s five-hour battery life (with GPS running) doesn’t even match the half-as-costly Polar, but it’s fully waterproof down to 50 meters—good news for triathletes. And New Balance—with R&D by Intel—includes highly accurate heart-rate monitoring that held up impressively well during high-intensity intervals. Also, this puppy stores up to 50 hours of music.
The Verdict: A dedicated running watch with stealth wearable capability.
Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR ($499)
Best For: Going hard.
The Test: The name may be a mouthful, but the watch is impressive—12 hours of battery in GPS mode, water-resistant to 100 meters, and 80 different preloaded sport modes, including trail running, open-water swimming, and adventure racing. It has an easy-to-read touchscreen, but the physical buttons on the side were clutch when our hands got sweaty. On-wrist heart-rate accuracy was matched only by the Garmin, and GPS was top-notch. Workouts get logged in Suunto’s MovesCount app and desktop program, and you can use the latter to download nearby routes and preplanned training calendars.
The Verdict: A multisport workhorse.
Polar M200 ($150)
Best For: Giving you gobs and gobs of data.
The Test: The M200 is lightweight and comfortable, and despite its price, it tracks a ridiculous number of sports, including badminton, disc golf, and literally a hundred more. Using it couldn’t be easier, with just two buttons and an intuitive operating system. Like most wearables, the M200 has GPS and accurate on-wrist heart rate, and your workout data syncs to your phone via the Polar Flow app. The M200 also works with Android’s Google Fit and can populate Apple’s Health Kit. However, its six hours of GPS battery life left us hanging on all-day epics.
The Verdict: Looking to track your handball stats? There’s a watch for that.
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