Smartwatches and wearables are finally finding their place in tech. They’ve become robust health-trackers in recent years, and what better way to help your loved ones care for themselves than with a gift that will help monitor their wellbeing? Smartwatches have also become more affordable lately, and even Apple has a new sub-$300 watch in its lineup. Though the most popular products in this category are wristwear and wireless earbuds since they can be worn by most people, there are other gadgets to consider, and we’ve included a few in this guide.
Apple Watch SE
Starting at $280, the Watch SE offers plenty of modern features for the price. It has a big, bright screen, the same speedy processor as the Series 5 and runs the new watchOS 7. Your loved one will appreciate features like automatic hand-wash detection, robust fitness tracking and helpful apps. While its sleep-tracking tool lags the competition, the Watch SE still beats every other smartwatch when it comes to iPhone integration and everyday performance.
For someone who’s never owned a smartwatch, the Watch SE will be an exciting introduction to the category. Plus, with Apple’s new Family Setup tool, your parents or children don’t even have to own an iPhone to be able to use the Watch SE -- just use your own iPhone once to set it up for them. If you have more room in your budget, the Series 6 brings blood oxygen monitoring and ECG , which the health-obsessed will appreciate.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
For Android fans, there is no better smartwatch than the Galaxy Watch 3. It uses Samsung’s intuitive Tizen OS, and features a slimmed-down spinning bezel, which we’ve found is the best way to interact with a smartwatch. The Watch 3 offers a suite of health-tracking tools like ECG, fall detection, blood oxygen sensing and sleep-tracking that uses your heart rate to figure out what sleep zone you’re in. Your giftee can also use it to send and reply to messages, log their food and water intake and track their workouts.
The Watch 3 is a little chunky, though, so if your relative might prefer something smaller, consider the Galaxy Watch Active 2 instead. It offers many of the same features in a thinner, lighter frame, and at a cheaper price too. But note that the convenient rotating bezel has been replaced by a touch-sensitive bezel here, so if easy navigation is a priority, stick with the Watch 3.
The most useful thing about wearables is their ability to keep tabs on your overall well-being, and the watch with the most robust set of health-tracking tools is the Fitbit Sense. In addition to features like sleep and blood oxygen monitoring, the Sense also senses your skin temperature and electro-dermal activity. It uses this data to understand your body’s response to stress and help detect when you might have a fever.
While Fitbit’s OS isn’t as full-featured as Apple or even Samsung, it has the upper hand when it comes to health-monitoring. If your loved one is less of a techie and more into analyzing their metrics, this wearable will serve up all the physiological data they could want. Just make sure to remind them the device isn’t meant for medical purposes and they should still see their doctor when something seems amiss.
Garmin Vivomove HR
For those who prefer a more traditional aesthetic, a hybrid smartwatch is an excellent option. There are plenty of brands to choose from like Withings, Timex or Fossil, but we recommend the Garmin Vivomove HR for its comprehensive feature set and attractive design. It offers constant heart rate monitoring, stress and sleep tracking, music controls and a subtle touchscreen display on top of a traditional watch face. This panel will show your giftee’s steps, calories, heart rate and VO2Max, as well as message alerts and more.
Because it does so much, the Vivomove HR will last just five days in smart mode, but it’ll hang around for an extra two weeks with its hands just telling the time. This is one of the best-looking hybrid watches around with plenty of customization options, too, so it’ll be easy to find a style the fashionable techie on your list will like.
Fossil Gen 5 watches
Fashion houses are some of the biggest smartwatch makers, often infusing classic timepieces with Google’s limited Wear OS to offer connected versions of customer favorites. If you’re shopping for someone who loves labels like Michael Kors, Skagen and Kate Spade loyalist, you’ll easily find a smartwatch from each brand. Of all the smartwatches parent company Fossil offers in its portfolio of designers, though, the Fossil Gen 5 series offers the best set of features. It combines Google’s software with some Fossil-specific tweaks for improved battery life and some extra activity and health-tracking tools.
Fossil’s watches also tend to be a lot prettier than the competition. You’ll be able to pick from two main Gen 5 styles for your loved one and a handful of case finishes and strap options for each. For more style and size options, consider the Gen 5e series, which offer the same features in more colors and cases. While Wear OS isn’t the best smartwatch system around, it’s a good introduction to wearable tech, especially for someone who doesn’t need their watch to do much more than tell them what alert they just got on their phone.
Fitbit Inspire 2
When most people hear the words “fitness tracker,” they probably imagine a Fitbit band. It’s no surprise, since the company pioneered the category and makes some of the best devices available. The Inspire 2 is this year’s update to the company’s popular line of low-profile health-monitoring bands, and it brings a brighter display plus longer 10-day battery life. Plus, it offers a constant heart rate monitor, which allows it to understand what sleep zones your giftee is in when they wear the device to bed.
They’ll also be able to wear this in the pool to track laps and use the Fitbit app to keep an eye on their menstrual cycles. The Inspire 2 doesn’t have built-in GPS, so your friend will need to bring their phone with them to map their runs. But for the price, the Inspire 2 is a solid option for someone who prefers the subtle look of a bangle or wristband.
Google x Samsonite Konnect-i Smart Backpack
None of us have been traveling a lot lately, but a backpack is still a sound investment, especially for students, hikers and cyclists on your list. Samsonite’s Konnect-i bag has touch-sensitive fibers woven into the left strap to offer Google’s Jacquard technology so your loved one can control their music or get alerts without having to whip out their phone. You can customize what the gestures do -- a swipe up could skip a song or pin a location, for example.
The backpack itself offers plenty of pockets and compartments and is sturdy enough to stuff into a locker or under an airplane seat (whenever we get to ride them again) -- without having to worry about breaking your precious cargo. Plus, it’ll hold laptops as large as 15.6 inches and can keep your belongings dry with the help of water-repellent fabric. And you won’t have to worry about whether your giftee uses iOS or Android -- the Konnect-i plays nice with both. All told, the variety of available functions here makes the smart backpack a bit more useful than earbuds.
Snap Spectacles 3
We all know that person who’s always taking videos for Instagram Stories, TikTok or Snapchat. The Snap Spectacles 3 is perfect for the influencer-wannabe on your list, since it makes taking hands-free first-person videos incredibly easy. With one tap on the frames, they’ll be able to record a 10-second video clip or snap quick pictures by holding down. While they’ll need to use the Snapchat app for setup and downloading their footage, your friend can share their clips to any social media outlet they prefer.
The Spectacles’ quirky aesthetic might not appeal to everyone, but it certainly makes for eye-catching selfies. And you don’t have to worry about your gift being used to record you without your knowledge, either. The glasses have an LED ring above the lenses that light up when it’s recording so you’ll be aware if you’re being filmed.