Apple Watch comes out tops in Consumer Reports' smartwatch tests

We rate 11 models from eight manufacturers, and Apple's sapphire screen and easy pairing give its models the edge

Published: May 04, 2015 07:00 PM

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We’ve been spot-testing smartwatches for a while now, but the with the arrival of the Apple Watch, the category has catapulted into mainstream status. (Even analysts who are down on the Watch’s prospects have Apple selling 30 million of these devices next year.) But Apple isn’t the only game in town. Manufacturers such as Samsung, Pebble, and Martian have been selling high-tech wristwear for years, and some of the watches from these companies are in their second and third generations.

For the last several weeks, we’ve run 11 smartwatches through our labs to test for durability, health functionality, readability in bright and low light, ease of use, and ease of interaction.

As part of our durability testing, we run all smartwatches through a scratch-resistance test with a series of picks calibrated to the Mohs scale, which uses 10 minerals of increasing hardness as reference points. As we’ve reported previously, the stainless-steel Apple Watch, with its sapphire crystal face, was a standout in this test. It survived a number 9 Mohs pick (just below diamond hardness) and earned an excellent score. The Apple Watch Sport with an Ion-X glass face, along with other watches sporting Gorilla Glass, scored slightly lower in this test.

Looking for a high-tech timepiece? Check our smartwatch buying guide and Ratings.

For water resistance, we use a depth-test chamber that can be pressurized to simulate any depth up to 230 feet. Although Apple doesn’t claim that its smartwatches are waterproof, the company says the devices conform to IPX7 under IEC standard 60529, which means that they should be able to withstand submersion in 3.3 feet of water for 30 minutes.

We set our depth-test chamber to match the water-resistance specification claimed by each smartwatch manufacturer. We submerge the watches, then check them for proper functionality immediately upon removal from the chamber, then again 24 hours later. The stainless-steel Apple Watch passed the test on the first try. The first aluminum Apple Watch Sport we put through our immersion test seemed fine when we took it out of the tank, but we experienced problems with it 24 hours later. We then tried two more samples, which showed no problems, so the Apple Watch Sport passed our water-resistance test.

The Sony SmartWatch 3 was the only watch that did not pass our water-resistance test. Two consecutive samples did not function properly after being submerged for 30 minutes at 3.3 feet. Because of its poor performance in this test, the Sony fell to the bottom of our rankings.

In the end, our top-rated smartwatch is the stainless-steel Apple Watch. Its performance on the scratch-resistance test and excellent scores for ease of pairing and ease of interaction make it our top choice. Not an iPhone user? Not to worry, several Android-compatible models and one multi-OS-compatible smartwatch got very good overall scores as well. Check our smartwatch page for more information.  

—Glenn Derene

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