Smartwatches: fancy features or better battery?

The more fully featured your fitness tracker is, the more often you have to recharge it.

Overhead view of four people standing together using their smart devices after a workout session outdoors.

Our latest test of smartwatches and fitness trackers shows that the more features and better tracking precision a wearable device has, the faster its battery drains. Is that a sacrifice you’re willing to make?

The Apple Watch Series 5 is the best-performing smartwatch in our test right now. It has an abundance of smart features, such as remote payment and voice calling, and its fitness functions have top-notch accuracy.

Apple Watch Series 5.
Apple Watch Series 5

There’s one big problem, though – the battery doesn’t last. At all. While the average wearable in our test lasts 6-7 days on a charge, the Apple Watch could only manage 31 hours. That means, realistically, it needs to be charged daily.

In fact, our battery life test is conservative as it doesn’t include the use of advanced features, such as GPS. It tends to overestimate battery life compared to manufacturers’ claims, which assume intense use. Apple only claims an 18-hour recharge cycle for the Series 5.

Disappointingly, manufacturers of high-end smartwatches don’t seem to be trying to extend battery life. Apple released the Watch Series 6 and the cheaper Watch SE last week, and both carry the same 18-hour claim.

It’s not just Apple – the trend across our entire test is that functionality improves at the expense of battery life. The question becomes whether the benefits of those cutting-edge features outweigh the convenience of a week-long battery – and likely a longer overall lifespan, since batteries last for a finite number of charging cycles.


Our pick

Huawei GT 2e.
Huawei GT 2e

If you want the best of both worlds, our pick is Huawei’s new GT 2e watch. It’s marginally less accurate than the Apple Watch (83% vs 84%), but it’s a lot cheaper and its battery lasted 12 days in our test. However, it does lack some fancy features including WiFi and NFC.

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Sportswoman looking at smartwatch at gym.

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In the market for a smartwatch or fitness tracker? We've tested 28 models.

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James C.
26 Sep 2020
Security and privacy absent

These test overlook a key consumer requirement, i.e. that your usage and personal information is kept private and safe when not stored on the watch. That should be a key consideration in any test of a product that connects online or to the manufacturers own servers in the cloud.
I wouldn't use a Chinese product for the simple reason that the Chinese manufacturers are all at the mercy of the authoritarian Government, even as a private company. Meaning if the Chinese authorities want access to a Chinese companies data, there is nothing you can do but comply.
At least Apple enables users to lock access to products so that even the authorities can't get in, and keep their users data safe.

Paul M.
01 Oct 2020
NSA spying

If you are really worried about security you SHOULD be buying a chinese product. It is already proven thanks to Edward Snowden and Wikileaks that US government is spying on everybody. Including Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, through her Apple phone (a US product). The reason US calls Huawei a "threat to national security" is because their products are too secure and NSA would be unable to continue their spying on everybody. Where do you think all the anti-China rhetoric is coming from?