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Wearable Tech

Time to think about the best watch for back-to-school

Messages? Fitness? Get something on your wrist to help.

galaxy-watch-vs-apple-watch-3

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active and Apple Watch Series 4.

Angela Lang/CNET

School is closer than you think, and odds are, you'll be running around a lot once you're back. Something useful on your wrist could help, as long as you know what you want to use it for. Smartwatches and fitness trackers can be fantastic companions for a busy campus life, from the obviously popular Apple Watch to social fitness companions like Fitbit. Whether you value staying connected to your phone, high-performance fitness tracking, or a little helpful motivation on a budget, here are some solid picks.

These all come with one giant caveat, however: Students may wish to ask for an IOU for now. That's because Apple is expected to release its newest watches in the fall -- and other brands may well follow. That said, if you need something now, here are our top picks.

Note that CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page.  

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Apple revamped the whole feel of its watch a year ago, adding a larger screen and some extras like ECG to spot-check your heart rhythm, or fall detection. You could also just get the older Series 3 and still have GPS, music, on-wrist Apple Pay and speakerphone functions. Apple Watch is absolutely the best way to stay connected on your wrist, and it's a fun fitness companion. But its limited battery life and higher price, and need for an iPhone to use, might not fit everyone. (And again, you should wait to see what Apple announces in September!)

A note on pricing: For the Series 4, don't pay more than $350 for the 40mm version, or $380 for the 44mm (with standard bands and no cellular). That's $50 off the Apple Store price, and the general "street price" for these models. For the Series 3, you want to get the 38mm for $200 or less, the 42mm for $230 or less -- that's $80 off list price.

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Fitbit's attempt at a smartwatch works best as a casual way to track stats and load a variety of crazy watch faces. It can be worn while swimming (but only the step-up regular Versa can do swim tracking), has a longer battery life (lasting four days) so it can track sleep, gets phone notifications, and tracks heart rate, but it doesn't have GPS (you can use your phone's GPS to track runs, though). Still, for everyday fitness, it's an excellent budget choice at around $160. But again, you can also wait to see if any price drops or updates come in the fall.

Angela Lang/CNET

Samsung may also have a new watch soon, so let's see what happens. But the version that arrived in the spring is a great, affordable, full-featured $200 watch that can do almost anything, and pairs well with Android phones. Samsung's fitness tracking features are also a lot better than you might think.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Bip is affordable, and its battery life and always-on screen are great. It's almost like a modern version of a Casio watch. The phone app feels a little off-brand compared to Samsung, Fitbit, Google and Apple's apps, but it's fine. The best part of Bip is how long the battery life is (weeks), and how it can be worn anywhere, even swimming. The Bip can do some basic fitness tracking, but it's great as a casual watch that can also get phone notifications. And it's usually $80 or less.

Read: Apple Watch vs. Amazfit Bip

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

If you're a serious runner who wants something with longer battery life for GPS, Garmin's smartwatch might be for you. It lasts about 13 hours on standalone GPS, or a week for everyday on-wrist use. A step-up model offers music, if you think you'd want that.