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Your watch is designed to live on your wrist, so you shouldn’t have to baby it—every scratch, ding, and splash of water should be a reminder of the baller life you lead. (Okay, most of my dings come from smacking it against the door, but I can pretend.) And while electronics and water usually don’t mix, today’s best smart watches come with water resistance to keep them protected from the elements.
Note that I just said “water resistant”—not waterproof. Despite what you may have heard, there is no such thing as a waterproof smart watch, and any product that markets itself as such is lying to you. In fact, device makers have even been sued for doing so in the past.
I, on the other hand, am not here to lie to you. Yes, I put “waterproof” in the headline, because that’s what most people are out there googling—and I’m hoping those people will come here, where I can bait and switch them into the real truth. Manufacturers may try to toe the line with words like “swimproof,” but ultimately, your device is not waterproof: it only has a certain degree of water resistance, which can make it useable for activities like washing your hands, showering, and even swimming workouts in some cases.
More importantly, that water resistance doesn’t last forever. As your device ages (and the more you expose it to water with salt chlorine, or other impurities), the water-resistant seals will begin to break down, and eventually let water into the device. Some manufacturers will replace water-damaged units, some may only offer discounts on new models—from everything I’ve read, it seems to be a crapshoot (especially after the warranty expires). Oh, and many bands aren’t water-resistant either, so be sure you have a nice silicone strap for in-water usage.
In other words: if you want your smart watch to last as long as possible, you’re best off keeping it out of the water as much as possible. But that doesn’t mean water resistance is useless: it’s still valuable if you have kids who like to splash in the tub, or if you live in a particularly rain-drenched city. So if you want something that’ll stand up to everyday elements—or if you’re dead set on tracking those swimming workouts, longevity be damned—here are a few water-resistant watches that should fit the bill.
Best Overall: Apple Watch Series 6
The Apple Watch is not only the best water-resistant smartwatch and the best option for swimming workouts, but also essentially the best smartwatch around period (assuming you wield an iPhone). The Series 6 is the current top dog, but every Apple Watch model since the Series 2 has a 50m water resistance rating and is ready for swim usage (although there are caveats worth noting). If the pricey Series 6 is more than you want to splash out for, the entry-level Apple Watch SE is a stellar alternative that starts at just $279.
Best for Samsung Users: Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
Got a Samsung phone or another Android? Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 3 is a compelling alternative, although it looks and acts nothing like the Apple Watch. It’s more traditional in style, but still has plenty of activity and health tracking features, multiple size and style options, multi-day battery life, and the option of an LTE version. It’s not advertised as a swimming watch, but Samsung offers up tips for using it in the water. The Galaxy Watch 3 is a bit large and clunky if you’re going to be using it a lot for fitness, but the streamlined Galaxy Watch Active 2 might be a bit more up your alley.
Best Fitness-Focused Alternative: Garmin Vivoactive 4
Smartwatches from Apple, Samsung, and Google are designed as all-purpose wearables with activity tracking, but Garmin’s watches make fitness tracking the biggest focus. Garmin’s Vivoactive 4 is well-priced and offers 50m of water resistance, along with swim tracking functionality built-in. It has some limits when it comes to swimming workouts, such as being unable to measure your heart rate while submerged, but otherwise it offers stellar all-around versatility.
Best for Fitbit Fans: Fitbit Versa 3
While Garmin has been making fitness trackers for almost two decades, some folks prefer the software and ecosystem provided by Fitbit. Their Versa 3 smart watch, for example—which comes with the same 50m of water resistance—contains Alexa and Google Assistant built-in for voice control, unlike the Vivoactive 4. It also has a nicer display, if you care about such things. It might not offer quite the wealth of tracking information, but it’s no slouch, so it’s a great alternative if you prefer the cut of Fitbit’s jib.
Best Fitness Tracker for Swimming: Garmin Swim 2
If you care more about swim tracking than you do smart watch features, look at Garmin’s Swim 2 fitness tracker. It’s a bit lighter on everyday smart watch features, and has a much more basic, non-touch screen—so it isn’t for the do-it-all smart watch enthusiasts. It does, however, excel at tracking swimming workouts, allowing you to see your heart rate underwater, track open-water swims, and show a ton of other useful stats that other watches don’t. (It has some basic running and other fitness tracking built-in too, so you aren’t limited to swims). If you really want to dig deep into your swimming workouts, this is the watch you want.
A Higher Water Resistance Rating: Coros Apex
Like the Swim 2, the Coros Apex is a fitness tracker first, smart watch second—with a non-touch design to match. However, as a multi-sport tracker for outdoor enthusiasts, it’s been designed to handle the elements a bit more than the others on this list, with a 100m water resistance rating—with some swim tracking features built-in (though maybe not quite as versatile as the Garmin Swim 2).
The Most Watch-Looking Smart Watch: Fossil Gen 5
Fossil’s smart watches are, frankly, the most “watch”-like of the options out there. If you’re looking for something that’s closer in appearance to an everyday watch—while offering smart features like notifications, voice control, and some activity tracking—Fossil’s Gen 5 watches are some of the best. They do, however, have a slightly lower water resistance than the other watches on this list at only 30m. Fossil says any watch with a heart rate sensor, including the Gen 5 smart watches, are “swimproof” (there’s that word again) and has passed a 10,000-stroke swim test. Though on the same page, they also say they do not recommend their 30m watches for swimming, so you can see how manufacturers get themselves into trouble. I personally wouldn’t use it for swimming workouts, but if you’re just looking for something to withstand the occasional splash, Fossil’s Gen 5 watches should be fine...provided Wear OS can overcome some of the issues it’s been having lately.
This story was originally published by Whitson Gordon on 03/05/2021 and updated by Andrew Hayward with new information on 03/15/2021.