The wearables industry, which is mostly made up of smartwatches and fitness trackers, has seen incredible growth over the last few years. A lot of that was spurred on by Apple's entry into the market with the Apple Watch. But Apple (AAPL) isn't the only company with a smartwatch that's worth considering, especially as the turn of the year approaches and we all resolve to get healthier (and this time we mean it!).
Shopping for a smartwatch can be a confusing experience, but it doesn't have to be. Below I break down three different product lineups from Apple, Fitbit (which is owned by Alphabet (GOOGL) ), and Garmin (GRMN) . Each one is made for a specific user in mind, with several different models included. With any luck, it helps you make a decision.
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Taking a closer look at the Apple Watch lineup
The Apple Watch is only compatible with the iPhone, so that limits who can use one before getting into any features or capabilities. But that's often the way things go with Apple — you need to be inside the company's walled garden in order to use some products.
That doesn't mean, however, that iPhone users don't have a choice. Fitness trackers and watches from the likes of Fitbit and Garmin work with both the iPhone and Android devices.
Because Apple controls the entire experience of how the iPhone and Apple Watch interact, there are many advantages Apple Watch owners can take advantage of. For example, if you own AirPods, they automatically pair and connect to your Apple Watch so you can listen to music or podcasts while on a run or bike ride.
With an Apple Watch, you'll be able to send and receive texts and iMessages directly on your wrist, install apps — both from Apple and third-party developers such as ESPN or Fantastical — and have direct integration with Apple's subscription workout platform, Fitness+.
One downside of using an Apple Watch is that it's one more device that locks you into using an iPhone for the foreseeable future. Another is that some people don't like that the Apple Watch's battery only lasts for about a day, so you'll need to charge it daily. Apple did add sleep tracking capabilities to the watch in the last couple of years, and the Apple Watch Series 7 has fast-charging capabilities that mean you can wear it to track your sleep and then place it on the charger while you get ready in the morning.
Apple currently sells three different models of the Apple Watch.
Apple Watch Series 7 ($329, originally $399; amazon.com)
The Apple Watch Series 7 is the newest, boasting a larger display and fast charging. It comes in two sizes, 41mm and 45mm, with prices starting at $329 and $429, respectively. You can add cellular connectivity that allows you to leave your iPhone behind and still receive messages, alerts and phone calls for an additional $100.
Apple Watch SE ($299, originally $329; amazon.com)
The Apple Watch SE is best for those who don't care about having the latest and greatest Apple has to offer. It's equipped with hardware that will ensure it runs smooth for the next few years, receiving yearly software updates at the same time as the rest of the lineup. Prices start at $249 for the 40mm model or $279 for the 44mm model. Again, you can add cellular connectivity to the watch, bumping the price up to $329 for the 44mm version and $299 for the 40mm model.
Apple Watch Series 3 (starting at $199; apple.com)
The Apple Watch Series 3 is the oldest and smallest smartwatch in Apple's lineup, and truth be told, I wouldn't recommend it for that reason. You're going to spend $199 or $229 for a 38mm/42mm Apple Watch that at one point this year didn't have enough storage to update to the latest software, so it required two different factory resets for a routine update. The first reset is to clear out all storage space and install the update, the second factory reset is required for you to restore the device from a previous backup. What a mess.
Taking a closer look at Fitbit's lineup
Fitbit is rightfully a household name when it comes to activity trackers and by extension smartwatches. The company pioneered the wearable market with its small step counters that have now expanded well beyond the small gadgets you clipped onto your hip.
Fitbit's lineup spans several different devices with different designs and use cases. Fitbit's entire lineup will work with the iPhone or Android phones, with similar features across both platforms.
Every Fitbit, be it a smartwatch or tracker, offers several days of battery life, integration with Fitbit's workout platform Fitbit Premium, step counting, sleep tracking, activity minutes and heart rate tracking.
Instead of breaking down each Fitbit model (there are many), let's take a look at Fitbit's smartwatches and trackers categories as a whole.
Fitbit Sense ($218.49, originally $299.95; amazon.com)
The Fitbit Sense is loaded with various health sensors that go beyond measuring the staple fitness metrics we've grown to expect from all wearables. For instance, the Sense can detect electrodermal activity which is an indication of your stress level. There's also an ECG app that can detect atrial fibrillation and a temperature sensor that measures your skin temp to track trends over time.
Fitbit Versa 3 ($160, originally $229.95; amazon.com)
The Versa 3 and Versa 2 are similar in design and features, with the Versa 3 being the most recent model. It has a better display than the Versa 2, and built-in GPS to track outdoor workouts without a phone nearby.
Fitbit Charge 5 ($126.99, originally $149.95; amazon.com)
The Charge 5 and Luxe are the two most recent trackers from Fitbit, with the Charge 5 looking like the company's more traditional tracker design, and the Luxe taking on a fashion-first and stylish approach. The Charge 5 can record ECGs, measure your stress level, skin temperature and let you know when your body needs a rest day.
Fitbit Luxe ($92.99 originally $129.95; amazon.com)
The Luxe can also let you know when it's time to take a day off from working out, along with measuring your heart rate and counting your steps — in other words, it lacks the hardware to measure ECG, stress and skin temperature.
It comes with a 6-month trial of Fitbit Premium when activated with 60-days of purchase. The battery claims to last for 5 days before needing a charge and can connect to your phone GPS for real-time pace and distance.
Fitbit Inspire 2 ($74.50, originally $99.95; amazon.com)
The Inspire 2 is similar to the Luxe in features, but its design looks like something you'd expect a fitness tracker to look like — a rectangular piece of black plastic with a small display on the top.
A common complaint about Fitbit's approach is the lack of high-quality third-party apps and services. Fitbit has its own app and watch face storefronts within the Fitbit app, but it hasn't seen mass adoption by developers. Instead, you'll have to rely on getting alerts from your smartphone pushed to the watch as a way to keep up to date.
Taking a closer look at Garmin's lineup
Garmin's smartwatch lineup is full of options ranging from a more traditional smartwatch design and capabilities to a rugged watch that has a miniature solar panel embedded in the display that can be used to passively charge the watch while you explore the outdoors.
Traditionally, Garmin's fitness devices have been a hit with hardcore runners and outdoor enthusiasts. The watches work with either Android phones or the iPhone, and span a wide range of different use cases.
Garmin Lilly ($196.66; amazon.com)
For example, the $196 Lily is a smaller and more stylish smartwatch designed for women. It tracks all of the standard fitness metrics, including stress, women's health, hydration, sleep and heart rate.
Garmin Instinct Solar Tactical ($431.69; amazon.com)
Or there's the Instinct Solar Tactical that's built to withstand a beating, has three different location tracking technologies built into it for improved accuracy, and the screen doubles as a solar panel that keeps it charged while you're outside.
Garmin Venu 2 ($194.41, originally $349.99; amazon.com)
The Venu 2 looks more like a traditional watch that tracks your workouts, syncs with Spotify and puts your smartphone notifications directly on your wrist (just like the rest of Garmins' offerings). It also has 11 days of battery life.
Garmin has a few more smartwatches, each of which with a different design and slightly different approach. At the end of the day, they all serve the same primary purpose — track your daily activity, stress level and sleep.
Again, Garmin's approach is one that's mostly been for fitness-focused users and not someone who wants a watch that's smart. Using the watches will require a learning curve that's arguably steeper than what you'll go through with a Fitbit or Apple Watch.
That said, if you're a fitness buff that wants as much information as possible about your body and daily activity, and capabilities like advanced location tracking or solar charging, then Garmin is where it's at for you.
Most of this can be distilled down into this:
- If you have an iPhone, the Apple Watch is going to provide the best overall smartwatch experience.
- Fitbit's product lineup does a fantastic job of tracking your health metrics with some unique features, but its software can be a frustration point.
- Garmin, on the other, er, wrist, is arguably the best fit for fitness enthusiasts. Heck, the watches have a way to measure your body's battery and tell you how much energy you have left for the day. It's crazy.
Prices are accurate and items are in stock at the time of publishing.