The modern firefighter can benefit from modern technology and what could be more so than a smartwatch? Unfortunately, not all smartwatches are created equal and they’re not all suitable for firefighter’s needs. The good news is that we can to help narrow down your options.
The 5 best smartwatches for firefighters are:
- The Apple Series 3
- Ticwatch Pro 2020 Smartwatch
- The Samsung Gear Sport
- The Fitbit Versa 2
- The Garmin Instinct
They’re all excellent value for money and have most or all of the features you will want as a firefighter.
After we review each watch, we will examine the reasons a firefighter needs a smartwatch and what to look out for when choosing a smartwatch.
The 5 Best Smartwatches For Firefighters And First Responders
The focus here is on watches that provide value for the money and the features that most firefighters want. The Apple Watch Series 5 is undoubtedly a great watch, for example, but the price tag is just too high to justify its cost. Similarly, you won’t find any $30 no-name-brand Chinese watches on the list because none of them will stand up to the rigors of the job.
If you want to balance functionality and value, the Apple Watch Series 3 is head and shoulders a better deal than the pricier Apple Watch Series 5. The 2017 form factor might look a little dated, but we think it adds to the appeal and it looks solid on your wrist.
You can choose from 38mm and 42mm sizes and it’s only 11.4 mmm thick. It’s completely water-resistant up to 50 meters deep which is more than enough for our needs as firefighters. The 18 hour battery life reflects that this is voice call enabled too.
We’ve found it to be an extremely comfortable device to wear and the display is rich and beautiful. However, it’s worth noting that you can’t set the display to “always on” and you will need to wake it up to see the time.
The combination of LTE, GPS, heart rate sensor, etc. means that you have all the core functionality and connectivity that you’d really want from a smartwatch.
Apple’s biggest selling point, however, is usability. We liked a lot of the other models but we can’t help but notice how much easier it is to use an Apple Watch when compared to the others – it shows that they really put all of their design talents into producing not just a watch but a user experience.
You may need to also invest in some Apple Airpods though if you want to use the calling functionality and they can add a bit to the price of the smartwatch.
The only thing that we felt was missing from this watch was a solid sleep tracking app, but we think that’s probably coming in the near future. Apple did acquire “Beddit” after all.
This is our top pick because overall – it works and works well.
You can find the Apple Watch Series 3 on Amazon.
If you do buy this watch, here is a video with 15 tips and tricks for use:
If you want Android compatibility and access to the Google Play store then you’ll be pleased to know that the Ticwatch Pro 2020 has you covered. The Ticwatch Pro 2020 is a big upgrade on the 2018 model and has incorporated much better drop and shock resistance.
The material composition of this watch is excellent. It’s definitely a matter of taste if you like the design but we thought it looked solid and robust, which is important for firefighters. The layered display means that you can switch to a lower quality output to conserve battery life and then to a top quality output when you really need it.
There are a couple of buttons on the watch that we found assisted with using the navigation system. The calling quality was pretty reasonable too and we found that using Google assistant was fine as the mic seems to be reliable and clear.
The health features aren’t quite as good as those on other watches, you’re limited to a bunch of generic Google apps from the Play store rather than a fully customized suite of options, but they’re not noticeably lacking in any particular area. Though we do note that many of these apps seem to duplicate each other’s functionality and that can be a touch annoying.
If you want to use the watch with your Android Phone you need both the manufacturer’s app and the Wear OS app.
Overall, there’s a lot to like about this watch but it is so much trickier to get everything working than it is with the Apple smartwatch.
You can find the Ticwatch Pro 2020 on Amazon.
Samsung may be battling it out neck and neck with Apple in the smartphone marketplace but the Gear Sport Smartwatch shows that they’ve still got a way to go when it comes to smartwatches.
Having said that the price tag for this watch is reasonable and you have both GPS and phone capabilities built-in too. We prefer the styling of the Samsung Gear Sport, it looks more modern and form-fitting than the Apple.
There’s only once casing choice though and it’s 42mm. Unlike the Apple there’s no LTE support, so, if you want to use the Samsung smartwatch as a phone – you need your smartphone in the vicinity to do the heavy lifting.
The waterproofing is excellent. You can head down to 50 meters without any issue whatsoever and you can use their “water lock” mode for extra protection if you want to go swimming while wearing a smartwatch.
The fitness features are a big highlight of this watch – as the name “Sport” implies. One minor quirk is the need to initialize an exercise manually before the GPS kicks in – we don’t think that’s particularly intuitive but the data it produces is very good, indeed.
This watch runs on Tizen and that means no access to Apple’s superior app store or even Google’s app store and that is a bit of a drawback. They do offer some native Tizen apps but it’s a very limited selection.
The Samsung is a really solid contender, overall, but it can’t match the excellence of the Apple Watch.
You can find the Samsung Gear Sport Smartwatch on Amazon.
The Fitbit Versa 2 is the lightest model in the roundup and it was built for being an exercise partner. However, there’s no GPS chip and no LTE support and that means – you’re always going to need to have your phone somewhere nearby to get the most out of it.
Health and activity tracking are the absolute core of what the Fitbit does and along with the Garmin, it’s the best smartwatch in our tests in this respect. However, if you want the complete Fitbit experience – you will need to subscribe to the Fitbit Premium service (you get a free trial included in the box to decide if this is worth it for you).
We were also pretty impressed with the inclusion of smart home support. The watch also supports Amazon’s Alexa system.
The best app of them all is the sleep tracking functionality which is light years ahead of everyone else’s.
The square screen design reminds us of the original Apple Watch all those years back, now, and yet, it still looks ultra-stylish. It’s a little thicker than the Apple Series 3 but not so much that you’d notice it and the 40mm screen size is fine on most wrists.
There is only a single button which can help a little when navigating what is a fairly simple menu system. The battery life is good with a 5 day life expectancy when using the “always on” screen functionality.
We weren’t impressed by the apps on the phone though and the Spotify app, for example, only plays music from your phone – you can’t store it on the device. You can store other music on the device but you need to use a different player.
This watch is a great budget-friendly option for those that care most about fitness tracking features. The Fitbit Versa 2 is still a very capable device.
You can find the Fitbit Versa 2 on Amazon.
This is a slightly bigger watch than others in our tests and it comes in a 45mm form factor. However, we think it’s fair to say that it lives up to its name of “rugged” and doesn’t cross the line into “bulky”. We also like the fact you can use any strap from any of Garmin’s watch ranges to support its use.
The body is one of the most durable you’re ever going to come across and you’ll find it hard to scratch or smash the screen on this watch. If you don’t like relying on just a touch screen, the 5 button layout which is unique to Garmin watches has you covered.
Garmin is a big brand for fitness and its activity tracking is superb. The workout data is excellent and the ability to track more unusual forms of exercise (such as rowing or stair-stepping) on top of the usual running, swimming and cycling is really nice.
The inbuilt GPS system is very good too and we found that it was very accurate even in places we weren’t positive that it would be. However, there are no onboard topography maps like there are on some of their other watches. If you like to hike on weekends – the backtracking mode means that you’ll never get lost.
The battery life is superb too, you can get up to 14 days on regular use and up to 16 hours when using GPS.
Unfortunately, the biggest letdown of this watch is that you are only able to use the features that the watch comes with. You can’t even use Garmin’s, admittedly quite limited, Connect IQ App store with it. It also doesn’t support Garmin Pay and you can’t use Spotify with it.
For most users, this watch doesn’t offer quite enough but if you do a lot of outdoor leisure activities, you might want to pick this up as it’s unbeatable for hikers, orienteers, etc.
You can find the Garmin Instinct on Amazon.
Why Do You Need A Smartwatch As A Firefighter?
OK, “need” might be putting it a little strongly, but there is a very good case for firefighters to ditch the more traditional watch and to start using a smartwatch.
Equipment in almost every area of life has been upgraded in recent years from LED “bulbs” in flashlights to material tech to improve the breathability of a firefighter’s boots.
Smartwatches simply do more than their “dumb” counterparts. In particular, smartwatches allow you to run apps that can add real value to your day-to-day life and we think that fitness tracking is such a huge benefit in a job where the number one cause of death is heart attacks.
Firefighters should embrace technology to make them more efficient and productive at their job.
However, there are some challenges associated with using a smartwatch on the job and before you buy a smart watch you should read through our buyer’s guide so that you can make a decision on a smartwatch that will support you effectively.
What Makes A Good Smartwatch?
There are 12 key elements to look for in a smartwatch and we’ve broken them down so that you can get a feel for each of them. This way you can decide which features are most important for you.
1. Smartphone/OS Compatibility
There’s not much point in buying a smartwatch that doesn’t work well with the rest of your chosen phone and computer ecosystem. Our favorite smartwatch for firefighters is made by Apple and if you carry an iPhone and/or use a Mac this is a no brainer decision.
However, if you’re carrying an Android phone and you use a Windows machine at home – you might want to think twice. While you can use an Apple Smartwatch with Windows, it’s not always the best fit and the functionality with Android phones is non-existent, they support iPhone and that’s it.
Very few people have the resources to change their entire IT and communications environment at the same time, so, it’s always a good idea to ensure that your smartwatch complements your existing choices and you’re not trying to shoehorn in something that’s not particularly compatible with your other devices.
2. Fitness Tracking
Instead of buying a separate fitness tracker and a watch – it’s better to have the two combined and smartwatches have made huge inroads in this territory.
The cheapest models all have at least a built-in pedometer and the offerings from Garmin and Fitbit, as you might expect from fitness tracker manufacturers, offer full fitness trackers.
Testers have reported that Apple and Samsung can both be a little less accurate when it comes to tracking heart rate than the specialist fitness smartwatches.
You can even use GPS tracking while cycling or running to ensure that the route you cover is measured and then the burn calculated. However, we’d point out that GPS tracking is a great way to drain a watch battery.
3. Battery Life
One area that we really hope will improve over the coming years when it comes to smartwatches is the abysmal battery life. You should get 24 hours or just a bit more out of most smartwatches but that’s about it.
If you’re a heavy used, we doubt that you’d even make it that far. Many watches when used for calls will drop off even more.
We really like the wireless charging options for many smartwatches and find them super convenient at home but we’d like to see a plugged variant for work as the wireless bays are pretty expensive and you don’t want to buy more than one if you can help it.
4. Waterproofing And Shockproofing
There isn’t, yet, a specialist firefighter’s smartwatch and that means that flame resistance isn’t a thing. However, as you’ll be wearing it under your coat, that shouldn’t matter too much. Though we know that many firefighters choose to remove their watch when they go on a call as a matter of best practice.
You can get smartwatches which are both shock-resistant (though you will never get perfect shock proofing) and which are water proof, so, if you do wear your watch on a call – it ought to be just fine when you get back to the fire station.
5. Display Quality
Your smartwatch, assuming it’s new, will have a reasonable display quality and it will be a color display. This means a manufacturing compromise though and your watch will switch off the display when it’s not in use to conserve power.
The upside is you can view photos, use more apps, etc. on a color screen, the downside is always that the more you use the screen, the shorter your battery life will be.
6. Interface Options
This is a personal preference area. Some people absolutely love touch screens even the tiny ones that are smartwatch screens. Others prefer a few buttons to help them get around menus, etc. because they find it hard to push the screen exactly where they want it.
We figure that in the long run most of the buttons on watches are going to be phased out as smartphone screens and gesture control become the norm but for now, you have a choice and what’s right for you is what’s right for you.
7. Design And Personalization Options
One of the biggest things for us about cheap smartwatches is that it’s often very hard to get them to work with a different strap and they often don’t have much in the way of strap choice from the manufacturer.
The better smartwatch manufacturers offer a range of choices of materials and you can often customize the color, face, finish, size, etc. as well as the strap.
You can spend as much as you like on a smartwatch nowadays and many of the marquee brands such as Tag Heuer, Louis Vuitton, etc. have moved into making smartwatches.
However, we think that for most firefighters these watches are far too costly and they are offering only fashion rather than functional advantages over the phones in our review.
8. Notifications And Alerts
Pretty much every smartwatch in existence is going to deliver e-mail, calls or texts to your wrist and that’s kind of nice because you can just take a quick peek and decide if you need to do anything about these things. However, the better ones are fully integrated with social networking alerts, etc.
The best, however, allows you to fully customize which notifications that you receive and when you receive them too. Samsung’s Gear Manager utility is a really good example of how flexible a smartwatch can be with the right software. Apple also offers solid notification adjustment features even if they are a little bit harder to access than the Gear Manager.
9. App Support
You don’t want your smartwatch just to be a minor extension of your smartphone – you want it to deliver additional functionality and that means you want apps. There are fewer apps that are smartwatch compatible than there are smartphone apps.
There is no doubt that, at this moment in time, this is Apple’s biggest selling point. The iWatch, at launch, was such a well-rounded product compared to other smartwatches of the time that app developers were very keen to get on board and make things for it.
That’s not to say that the Google Play store is bad, far from it, but it doesn’t have quite as many options as Apple, for now, and we’d note that there’s no quality control on Google Play whereas Apple’s “walled garden” approach to apps means that they are usually completely fit for purpose.
10. Call Support
Not all smartwatches have calling support and we’re not 100% certain that this matters for many smartwatch users. Obviously both Apple and Samsung support this kind of calling because they sell phones.
You should be aware that many cellphone calling plan providers are going to expect you to pay for an additional data plan for the smartwatch – that can be $10-$20 a month. So, think carefully before you decide that this is what you want from a smartwatch.
11. Mobile Payments
Some smartwatches (most of the better ones) come equipped with chips that allow you to make mobile payments. Apple, of course, has Apple Pay enabled and you don’t need your iPhone at hand for it to work.
Many other watches work perfectly well with Samsung Pay or another payment service provider. If this is important to you – you probably want to make sure your mobile payment provider is supported by the smartwatch that you want.
It is super convenient to be able to pay for things with your watch assuming you remember to put it on every morning. Being able to buy dinner for your crew on the way back from a call, when no one has their wallet, is a huge convenience for firefighters.
Budget is always a consideration, but you should be able to find a smartwatch that suits nearly any budget. Older models of new watches can be particularly cheap even if they don’t have all the latest bells and whistles – often you won’t care. Starting prices can be around $150 for a reputable manufacturer’s offering.
You can also spend as much as you want too. Some of the designer brands are selling smartwatches for thousands of dollars.
Ignoring styling, however, most of the best smartwatches for firefighters will be in the $200 to $500 range. Much of what you spend will depend on how many features you feel are necessary.
Should You Take Your Smartwatch On An Emergency Call?
It’s fair to say that you ought to be safe to take a smartwatch on a call but there is a very slight possibility of puncture damage and, in turn, there’s a slight possibility that you might puncture the lithium-ion battery and that might cause issues.
We can’t calculate the odds on this, and we suspect that they are very low but, at the same time, we’d never advise firefighters to risk their personal safety. It may be a good idea to invest in a smartwatch protective case to prevent damage.
Something like this: SupCase Unicorn Beetle Pro for Apple Watch 3. Just make sure to get the right case for the smartwatch you purchase, as they are all different.
You also need to be aware that these electronics are only designed to be exposed to certain temperatures.
Apple recommends not exposing their watches to heat above 113 degrees Fahrenheit, however, I know multiple firefighters that have been using their smartwatches for years (even while fighting fires (making sure the watch is protected under their turnout coat)) and they have not had any issues.
We hope that our guide to the 5 best smartwatches for firefighters and first responders has been useful to you. We remain convinced that the best smartwatch for first responders and firefighters is the Apple Series 3, but we can see that the competition is making huge leaps forward too.
The only reason to avoid the Apple Watch is if it truly won’t fit with your smartphone and home computer operating system. In which case, all of the other watches in our roundup are perfectly capable, if not quite as straightforward to use as the Apple.