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Best Budget Smartwatch 2021 (Good choices for newbies)

If you are new to smartwatches and want to get your first one, here are some great and affordable choices to start your journey.

fitbit versa 3 watch face

Hmm, I was thinking about my inventory of smartwatches and how much they cost and then realized that I can only recommend one smartwatch for 2021 that qualifies as the best budget smartwatch.

A cheap smartwatch generally has some compromises but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a crappy smartwatch. Chinese smartwatch maker Mobvoi produces some really good and cheap smartwatch devices that run on the Wear OS system. The Ticwatch E2 is actually one of the better budget smartwatch choices you can have out there, and it’s reviewed below in the 2020 section.

For 2021, the only smartwatch that I can recommend is the Fitbit Versa 3. It’s priced just a little above its Fitbit Versa 2 predecessor, which Fitbit still sells, but outperforms it in a few ways.

fitbit versa 3 watch face

Fitbit Versa 3

The Fitbit Versa 3 is a good choice that will take you into 2021. I really like the Fitbit Versa 3 because it’s an excellent smartwatch with a comprehensive list of features that include sleep tracking, fitness tracking and activity tracking. It’s great value packed into a very compact package.

Compared to its predecessor, the Fitbit Versa 2, this smartwatch is now a GPS watch. The Fitbit Versa 2 did not have an internal GPS, which meant that you would always have to carry your phone around in order to get location data. This is pretty annoying if you want to go out for a run without carrying a cell phone on your arm or in your pocket.

The Fitbit Versa 3 is also a great watch because it has most of the important features from the Fitbit Sense but doesn’t cost a premium like the FItbit Sense does.

fitbit versa 3 workout

Some features that the Fitbit Sense has that the FItbit Versa 3 doesn’t include an EDA scan (stress response scan). Unfortunately, one of the biggest trends of 2020 in the smartwatch world is a movement towards more and more health information that is harder and harder to act on. Smartwatches one generations old focused on steps, sleep tracking and accurate heart rate monitoring, which are much more actionable information. This generation of smartwatches focused on SpO2 readings, which the Fitbit Versa 3 has, but it’s not something that is immediately important to most people. The Sense goes further and measures stuff like skin temperature.

The Fitbit Versa 3 can finally take calls too which is an excellent feature. It was quite a big surprise to me that the Fitbit Versa 3 had a speaker integrated into such a compact body that’s about the same size as the Fitbit Versa 2. The number of features the Fitbit Versa 3 packs into its compact package really rivals the Apple Watch Series 6.

Another great thing about the Fitbit Versa 3 is the long battery life which is very impressive. I can go a few days on the Fitbit Versa 3 without charging while wearing it 24/7 and with its always on screen activated. Small smartwatches can sometimes have poor battery life, like the Fossil Sport Smartwatch does, but not the Fitbit Versa 3. It beats the Apple Watch Series 6 in this regard.

fitbit versa 3 alexa wrong location

With their latest update, the Fitbit Versa 3 also comes with Google Assistant which is fantastic. Previously, Fitbit Versa 3 users would have to use Amazon’s Alexa, which is good, but just not as good as Google Assistant. Alexa kept thinking I was in Wilmington, Ohio, for some reason, when I was really up here in Canada. Google Assistant is more dynamic.

ticwatch e2 apps menu

Ticwatch E2, again

Mobvoi makes a bunch of smartwatches that are actually very good. Their latest smartwatch, the Ticwatch Pro 3, has really set the standard for Wear OS watch performance benchmarks and features on a Wear OS device. Mobvoi’s Ticwatches really find their niche as an affordable smartwatch brand.

There’s a much more thorough review below so I just wanted to write about why this smartwatch still makes sense for people seeking a smartwatch that is budget friendly.

It does have some major flaws. It is a Wear OS watch without the requisite hardware for a smooth experience. For example, it has a Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor which is two generations old and released in 2016. It also has 512MB of RAM.

Luckily, the Wear OS system has been improving over time and so it doesn’t feel as excruciating to use the Ticwatch E2 as it was a long time ago. The problem arises when you have a background update and you want to use your smartwatch. That’s when all hell breaks loose.

But even today, it represents one of the best smartwatches out there to use because you have access to the many advantages of the Wear OS system including a fantastic speech to text system and Google Assistant which can make your life a lot more convenient. It also has a large screen if you prefer that, and is waterproof for swimming.

Best Budget Smartwatch 2020

ticwatch e2 main menu

After years of wearing a watch, it really becomes a habit. These days, when I want to find out what time it is, I no longer head to my smartphone. Rather, I rotate my wrist and look for the time on my watch.

I expect that many watch-wearing folk are like this. Smartwatches are even better than a regular digital or analog watch in this regard because they bring greater functionality onto your wrist.

The only downside I can think of with getting a smartwatch, as compared to a traditional watch, is the battery life and waterproofing. Not all smartwatches can be taken for a swim.

Otherwise, I’d choose a smartwatch any day. Not only can it tell time, it’ll bring phone notifications right to your wrist as well as other functionality.

So here’s the framework to decide what is the best budget smartwatch. First of all, it must be budget friendly to allow folks to dip their toes in the smartwatch world and it should ideally have all the features of a traditional watch as well as a decent battery life.

Some contenders that I have found are the Fossil Sport Smartwatch, the Ticwatch E2 and the Ticwatch S2 and the Fitbit Versa 2.

Related: Best smartwatches overall

ticwatch e2 covid-19 wash your hands coronavirus

Wear OS

If you are new to smartwatches, you should know that the first three watches mentioned above all use Google’s Wear OS smartwatch operating system.

The Wear OS is one of my favourite smartwatch OSes. Granted, I find the Wear OS design to be ugly, but its features are just amazing and you are more likely than not going to be using this operating system on budget smartwatches.

What I love about the Wear OS is that it has some of the best features from Google.

This includes having an excellent speech-to-text system that allows you to reply to messages and emails conveniently. One frustration I have had with Samsung’s speech-to-text system is that it sometimes transcribes speech poorly and leads to further frustration. It’s generally not common with the Wear OS’s speech-to-text system as it considers the context of your speech.

Note that you can’t reply to messages or emails if you are paired to an iPhone.

Having a great speech-to-text system really brings a further level of dynamism into Google Assistant. Since you can reliably tell Google Assistant what you want it to do, hence you can trust Google Assistant to do your bidding without requiring you to do the tedious work of scrolling and tapping on the watch’s touchscreen.

ticwatch e2 google assistant

Google Assistant is powerful. From doing calculations to setting appointments to searching the web, it can do a lot more than most other voice assistants. You can’t find a better voice assistant in a budget smartwatch. That I can guarantee unless Apple Watches suddenly plummet in price in the same way the stock market did in March 2020.

ticwatch e2 google maps

The Wear OS also has a massive app store where you’d find apps that enhance the capabilities of the smartwatch. And given that you’re using a Google watch, you also get Google apps on your smartwatch including Maps, Keep and Translate.

Google Maps is particularly useful when biking because you can get directions on your wrist. Translate is great if you are in a foreign country and want to get things translated directly on your wrist (rather than holding a brick of a cellphone).

All Wear OS smartwatches also come with Google Fit which is a health and workout tracker. It tracks steps, intensity of workouts and also has a breathing timer. The one thing that’s lacking from Google Fit is the ability to track swimming.

Budget Wear OS vs premium Wear OS

The difference between budget Wear OS and premium Wear OS watches comes down to a few features. I thought I’d write this section for your consideration as to whether it’s worth spending the extra money to get a premium Wear OS watch.

Pay more money and you generally get better hardware. For example, you might get 1GB of RAM compared to 512MB which is standard across all Wear OS watches named in this review. 

You also get a speaker which opens up the Phone app.

I really like being able to answer calls on my wrist. It makes me look like a quirky technophile as well as… sometimes I really don’t want to carry my brick of a phone (Samsung Note 9 with the most robust Otter case). Getting fatter every year also makes it hard to take the massive phone out of my pocket.

The speaker also allows you to hear responses from Google Assistant.

Fossil Sport Smartwatch

On to the reviews, then!

The Fossil Sport Smartwatch is the ultimate budget smartwatch out there. It regularly goes on sale and the watch is so cheap yet so feature-rich.

It’s a really lightweight watch not far off from a digital watch from the 90s but it can do much more than an antiquated digital watch.

I really like the design and I like how the Fossil Sport Smartwatch really feels like an “out of mind” smartwatch. It’s there when you want to know what time it is or when you receive a notification but otherwise you don’t really feel its presence.

One big complaint I have with modern smartwatches is that they are generally very noticeable. The Ticwatch E2 and S2 that I have mentioned above fall into this category. They’re really, really big and I can feel them being strapped onto my wrist.

The Fossil Sport Smartwatch is water resistant enough for you to take it swimming. It also has NFC for contactless payments through Google Pay, something that the Ticwatch E2 and S2 do not have.

Plus, it has a crown that is really useful for navigation. All the other watches mentioned do not have a crown and so you’re swiping all the way to navigate. Not ideal but not a dealbreaker.

But here’s the biggest downside of the Fossil Sport Smartwatch — its battery life is truly atrocious. 

This is based on my expectations that a smartwatch should be able to last through a full day. The Fossil Sport struggles to achieve this with the always-on screen turned on and with the heart rate sensor activated.

If you are taking the watch out to track your exercise, then be prepared to have no juice left, especially if you use its internal GPS.

fossil sport smartwatch battery saver

If you run out of battery, the watch will go into power saving mode, which pushes the Fossil Sport Smartwatch back to the ‘90s, when watches could only tell time and date. 

OK, not really. Watches from the ‘90s also had a stopwatch and alarm feature. So power saving mode makes it even less useful than a traditional digital watch.

If you are happy to use this watch frugally by turning off some features, then you’ll do well with the Fossil Sport Smartwatch. Otherwise, it’s time to consider the other watches.

The Ticwatch E2, Ticwatch S2 and Fitbit Versa 2 do not have these problems. And that’s why they’re worth a consideration.

ticwatch e2 vs ticwatch s2 app list

Ticwatch E2 and S2

The only difference between the Ticwatch E2 and S2 is that the Ticwatch S2 has a MIL-STD-810G rating. This means it has been tested to withstand certain less-than-usual conditions. It’s a more rugged, durable watch as a result. 

If you feel this gives you an extra layer of piece of mind, then paying the extra bucks to get it is worth it.

But to the lay user, it’s probably like one of those pickup trucks that advertise themselves as using “military-grade aluminum” — that is to say, meaningless marketing drivel meant to appeal to fully-bearded masculinity.

ticwatch e2 vs ticwatch s2 maps apps

And so, that’s why, if you don’t care for it, you can always go for the basic Ticwatch E2. The Ticwatch E2 looks pretty solid. It has a recessed display and a thick bezel which keeps the screen from direct contact against a hard surface. This is the same with the Ticwatch S2.

You get all the goodness of the Wear OS, and as compared to the Fossil Sport Smartwatch, you get much, much better battery life. It’ll take you through a full day, and then maybe half of the second day.

You could use its internal GPS and you won’t see the watch shut down into power saving mode.

Mobvoi, the makers of the Ticwatches, also include their TicHealth/TicPulse/TicExercise suite. They had many advantages such as having a step counter before Google Fit updated itself with that feature. Currently, the gap between Google Fit and Mobvoi’s suite has shrunk.

ticwatch e2 swimming

But TicExercise has one major plus — its Pool Swim app. This means that all Ticwatches can record swims without requiring you to download a third-party app. That is a great convenience.

Unlike the Fossil Sport Smartwatch, these two watches do not have an NFC chip so you can’t use Google Pay.

Fitbit Versa 2 default watch face

Fitbit Versa 2

The Fitbit Versa 2 is a great watch that is the least budget-friendly among all these watches. However, it’s worth some consideration given that it is a good alternative to the Wear OS watches.

The big plus with the Versa 2 is that it gives you access to Fitbit’s great app.

The watch has a deep fitness and exercise focus and I really liked how it could help you improve your lifestyle and exercise without breaking the bank like the Polar Vantage V or Garmin Fenix 6 would.

Although to be fair, those aforementioned smartwatches are really specialized and they are miles ahead of  the Fitbit Versa 2 in their domain of specialization.

fitbit versa 2 sleep app

The Fitbit Versa 2’s app is great. It tracks sleep, which no Wear OS watch does by default. It also has a calorie counter where you can search a database of local products to make it easier for you to track your calorie count. The exercise analysis is also better as it tells you which zones you are working out in.

Finally, the app also gives you access to certain exercise programs, although most of them are paywalled and you can’t get to them unless you get Fitbit Premium.

fitbit versa 2 app

I also really like the Versa 2’s user interface. It’s beautiful!

Although I can honestly say any mass-market smartwatch really looks better than the Wear OS. The Wear OS is very utilitarian but looks unattractive.

Fitbit Versa 2 app menu

The battery life of the Versa 2 is also the best among all the above smartwatches. It lasts two full days but if you use it conservatively, you could go for longer.

How does it do it? For one, this watch does not have an internal GPS, which actually can make this watch a lot less attractive than the Ticwatch E2 and S2.


Fitbit Versa 2 exercise menu

I like going on the water and sometimes I don’t bring my phone along. I keep it in the car. So it’d be a pity if I couldn’t see my route because I didn’t bring my smartphone to supply GPS location data. It wasn’t a big deal until I became a fan of watersports.

Fitbit Versa 2 Alexa speech to text

Also, the Fitbit Versa 2 has Alexa which is good but not as good as Google Assistant. Replying to messages is OK but if you want something really contextualized and technical, you will do just a bit better with Google’s speech-to-text system.

ticwatch e2 google fit

So, which is the best?

The Ticwatch E2 is the best.

All things considered, the Ticwatch E2 offers the best value and has many features that beats out the rest.

Its price is in the middle of the other three watches, but its features are the same with the more expensive Ticwatch S2. Compared to the Fossil Sport Smartwatch, it also offers greater battery life which I have learned is important after using the Fossil Sport Smartwatch.

I can’t take it when the smartphone goes into limping mode. “Get me back to a charging station,” seems to be its daily cri de coeur as it goes into power saving mode.

The Fitbit Versa 2 is a great watch although its price really puts it on the edge of a “budget” product. Its features are more specialized but it also is worse than any Wear OS watch at certain daily tasks.

So… Ticwatch E2 it is.