The year 2021 saw our favorite wearable tech get some solid quality of life improvements and upgrades. Our list has the usual inclusions from Apple, Samsung, and Fitbit, along with a couple of honorable mentions as well. We’ve compiled our favorite smartwatch picks into our list of top wearables for 2021.
Apple Watch Series 7
Apple Watch has continued to be a mainstay in our “best of year” picks, and for good reason. The newest model, the Apple Watch Series 7, continues the excellence we've come to expect from Apple. The latest iteration of Apple’s wearable device adds a reengineered Always-On Retina display with more screen area and thinner borders. The display features a subtle wraparound design and the increased screen real estate allows for on-screen information to be 20% larger.
The Series 7 keeps the same great already-exhaustive list of health-tracking features, including a blood-oxygen sensor for measuring blood-oxygen saturation (SpO2) levels. Alongside its new features, the Series 7 also boasts the same great 18-hour battery life, 33% faster charging, and all the extra features that come with the new WatchOS8. These features are, of course, in addition to all the highlights the Watch Series 7 carries over from its predecessors. The list of those highlights is too long to detail adequately, but the result of all those features is one of the best wearables of the year and one of the best smartwatches ever made to date.
Samsung's Galaxy Watch4 is the first of its wearables to utilize Google's Wear OS 3 instead of the Tizen operating system previous iterations were running. Stated simply, Samsung’s newest wearable is the best smartwatch the company has ever made and, without a doubt, is the best Android watch you can buy right now.
What do we love about this watch? For starters, the design is phenomenal. Based on looks alone, this would be our favorite wearable. The Watch4 Classic (the step-up version) keeps the same fantastic rotating bezel that we loved on last year's Watch3. It should be noted that if you opt for the standard Watch4, Samsung has instead opted for a touch-sensitive bezel. External differences aside, internally both watches share more or less the same specs. They’re both powered by the same 5nm Exynos W920 processor paired with 1.5GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. Battery capacity varies between sizes but, according to Samsung, you’ll average around 40 hours of battery life regardless of model, which isn’t bad by any means.
Another huge improvement to these watches comes in the health department. Samsung has added multiple sensors to the back of the watch to track everything from workouts to your blood-oxygen level. It includes all the features you’d expect from a premium smartwatch; however, it’s important to keep in mind that if you’re not a Samsung user, the Galaxy Watch4 all but forces you into Samsung’s ecosystem (much like Apple does) but, if you are already there, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better wearable.
Fitbit Versa 3
Despite the newly released Fitbit Sense being the company’s flagship wearable, we still think the Versa 3 is its best device in 2021. Other than a few health bells and whistles, you'll find that the watches are largely the same. The Fitbit Sense adds ECG, stress sensing, and a skin temperature sensor but, aside from that, the Versa 3 still has SpO2, GPS, and all the Fitbit tracking features you'd expect.
This third-generation smartwatch ports over everything that was great about its predecessor and adds some nice updates. Some of those enhancements are relatively minor: the already pleasing aesthetic features of a new AMOLED display that looks a little nicer, and there’s a new, more accurate optical heart rate sensor (the PurePulse 2.0). The Versa 3 also has GPS. With it, you’re no longer tethered to your phone for GPS-based sports tracking, which is a big deal to a lot of people, us included.
Other notable upgrades include an improved quick release system for accessory bands, additional tracking metrics, and the upcoming rollouts of Google Assistant and a wrist-based call feature. Almost everything else (battery life, sport tracking modes, even the price) are pretty similar to what we saw in the Versa 2, which is good thing, considering that year’s model was one of the best smartwatches of 2019. Now, thanks to some savvy upgrades, the Fitbit Versa 3 is at the top of the 2021 class.
Honorable Mention: Fitbit Charge 5
Fitness tracking pioneer Fitbit is largely responsible for ushering the activity tracker category into the mainstream. The company's newest fitness tracker, the Charge 5, is the biggest change to the Charge line yet. We think the Charge 5 is a fantastic alternative for those who care more about tracking their fitness, sleep, heart rate, and activity throughout the day than they do about apps and notifications, and who don’t need all the features of a high-end GPS watch.
Of all the trackers we tested, the Fitbit Charge 5 is the simplest to use and among the most accurate for measuring steps and heart rate. It reliably senses, correctly identifies, and begins to record your workouts. The Charge 5 includes features like built-in GPS that are usually seen only in much more expensive trackers. It can also track how long you sleep, and wins in the battery department with battery life that can last up to seven days.
The user-friendly app also connects you to the community of other Fitbit users who can help motivate you. In addition, you can use that app to choose which smartphone notifications to receive. If you’re looking for a premium wearable that’s as fitness-focused as you, the Charge 5 will not disappoint.
There you have it! These are our favorite wearables of the year. Were there any we missed? Let us know!