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The best Apple Watch apps we've used in 2020

Best Apple Watch sleep apps

It's worth noting that there aren't a lot of apps for sleep tracking, as the Apple Watch can't really last overnight on battery.

That said, there are some clever apps to do it, and many people are now on their sequel Apple Watch and can even have one for the day and one for the night - so sleep tracking with your 'Night Watch' is possible.

NapBot

(Image credit: Majid Jabrayilov)
  • NapBot
  • Free with in-app purchases

NapBot is an interesting addition to the rather crowded sleep tracking market, and in the absence of Apple’s own sleep tracker – which was widely expected to launch with watchOS 6 – it’s one of the better options.

It automatically tracks and records your sleep, and it also monitors (but doesn’t record) the ambient noise while you’re asleep. If you’ve ever suspected that your sleep is being affected by noisy neighbors, low-flying planes or other environmental factors, NapBot will help you identify when it’s happening.

To get the most from NapBot you’ll need to subscribe, which at the time of writing is $0.99/£0.99/AU$1.49 a month or $9.99/£9.99/AU$15.99 a year. That unlocks two key features: Sleep History, which as you’d expect gives you an overview of how much sleep you’ve been getting, and Sleep Trends, which enables you to discern whether there are particular patterns that might be affecting your sleep quality.

The app integrates well with Apple Health, with which it not only shares data but pulls data: its heart rate analysis comes from the Health app rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. Data is presented in clear, easy to read graphs and it’s all very straightforward and effective – although at the time of writing there is an unresolved bug that means manually editing sleep times doesn’t always work.

Pillow Automatic Sleep Tracker

(Image credit: Neybox Digital Ltd.)

The next time you go to bed, take an extra pillow – one that lives in your Watch. Pillow is a sleep tracker with an interface very similar to Apple’s own Activity app, but where that analyzes what you do when you’re awake, Pillow does the same when you’re asleep.

The app is designed to do two things: to let you know about the quality of sleep you’re getting, and to use that information to detect the optimum time to gently buzz you awake so you bound out of bed full of joy and optimism for the beautiful day ahead.

It syncs with the Apple Health app to input into the wider picture of your overall health, so for example if you also sync data from fitness trackers or from Apple’s own fitness tracking then you can develop insights into what behaviors seem to lead to the best night’s sleep.

If you wish, the app can also record any frightening noises you happen to make in the night or play a particular song from your iTunes library to wake you up, although audio features are not available in the automatic tracking mode: you’ll need to stick with manual mode if you want recordings or music playback.

AutoSleep Tracker

There are plenty of sleep tracking apps in the App Store, but AutoSleep is among the best. Now in version 6 it delivers more information than you could ever ask for, with good use of color-coding to prioritize information. 

AutoSleep presents its analysis in three key areas: Sleep, which as you’d expect tells you how long you slept for; Quality, which tells you how restless you were; and Readiness, which is an attempt to predict how well you’re going to cope with the day’s demands based on your recent sleep history. The interface is strongly and deliberately reminiscent of Apple’s own activity tracking, with the same use of colored rings to show what you’ve achieved.

The Watch app even works if you don’t wear your Apple Watch to bed: simply touch the Watch in the morning and AutoSleep knows you’re up. If you do wear it to bed, though, the app will analyze sleep quality based on restlessness, time awake and heart rate – and you can adjust the sensitivity if you’re a very restless sleeper. It integrates with Apple Health and Siri Shortcuts, and it also works as a complication for your chosen watch face.

Best Apple Watch apps for music, podcasts and audiobooks

Pandora: Music & Podcasts

(Image credit: Pandora Media, Inc.)

It seems like just yesterday that we were writing about Pandora’s Apple Watch improvements, and it was: February 2020, to be precise. A few months later and there’s another big update to look at, this time based around Siri.

Siri support is now in both the iOS and Apple Watch app; the former enables you to add music to your collection or to a specific playlist if you have a premium subscription, while both iPhone and Watch enable you to use Siri to record that you like or dislike a song. You can also control the Apple Watch playback with Siri, for example by telling Siri to play a particular radio station, album or podcast.

As before, Pandora is simple and effective, making good use of the Apple Watch’s limited screen real estate, and it works across all your devices: iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and Watch.

It has a truly massive music library and lots of really good features to help you discover music it thinks you’ll like or that other people are liking, and the Premium version boosts the sound quality, offers even more customization, and banishes adverts. Unfortunately it’s still not available globally: this one’s strictly for US consumers.

Overcast

(Image credit: Overcast Radio, LLC)

We’ve recommended Overcast before: it’s our favorite iOS podcast player. And we’re going to recommend it again because it’s just had an important update to make it even better.

The latest version of Overcast introduces support for Apple’s AirPlay 2, with optimized playback when you’re streaming to HomePods and other AirPlay 2 devices, and it has a brand new version of Voice Boost.

As the name suggests, Voice Boost is designed to make voices clearer, and while it has always worked very well it wasn’t great with podcasts that mixed speech and music: the music would sound overly compressed and a bit weird. Voice Boost 2 solves that problem, reliably boosting speech without doing strange things to music.

The rest of the app is pretty great too, with offline playback, excellent subscription options, custom playlists and adjustable speeds.

Overcast is free, or $9.99/£8.99/AU$12.99 without the ads. We’d recommend going for the ad-free version, because while the advertising isn’t too invasive, this is an app that’s been put together by people who really care about the end user experience. If you do too, making Overcast ad-free is a great way to help secure the app’s future.

SoundHound

Music discovery, you say? Isn’t that what Shazam is for? The answer to that is yes, but also no – because while Shazam does a brilliant job of finding songs based on listening to the currently playing music, it doesn’t attempt to recognize your humming and singing.

That’s SoundHound’s speciality. It promises to identify that song that’s driving you crazy: all you have to do is hum or sing a reasonably accurate version of it and SoundHound will do the rest. As you’d expect, it’s extremely hit and miss.

That’s not all SoundHound offers, though. It brings up the lyrics of the song it has matched, which is helpful if you fancy singing along, and if your Watch is the cellular version you can recognize songs and grab lyrics without needing a connection to your phone.

On your iPhone the app also offers a few features that Shazam doesn’t. You can bookmark songs and add them to Spotify playlists, and there are some useful voice-controlled features such as “okay Hound, show me lyrics for…” or “okay Hound, play today’s top songs.” 

It’s that voice control that really elevates SoundHound over rival apps, as it turns the app into a voice-controlled hub for pretty much any musical task.

Pocket Casts

Pocket Casts is a firm favorite among podcast users, with 8 years of constant improvements under its belt. Now in its seventh incarnation, it’s one of the best ways to stay on top of your podcast pile. It’s also eminently sociable with support not just for the Apple Watch but for Chromecast, Sonos, CarPlay and AirPlay.

Although the app is perfect for beginners, there’s a lot here for serious listeners, including excellent filters, automatic downloads, listening history and extensive notifications.

Version 7 enables you to listen to individual episodes without subscribing, streamlines the user interface, has excellent archiving that retains your playback history and supports Siri Shortcuts. There’s been a big effort to improve discovery, so the app makes it much easier to find new podcasts it thinks you’ll like as well as the podcasts you’ve found for yourself.

As with other apps of this ilk most of the heavy lifting is done by the iPhone app, with the Watch app there to provide access to the features that make sense on your wrist: playback control, of course, but also speeding the podcast up or down, trimming silence and boosting the volume. You can see what’s next, browse new releases and scroll through the podcast charts too.

Spotify Music

At last! Spotify finally makes its way to the Apple Watch with an app that does everything you might expect it to do. It plays music! It pauses music! It connects to other devices via the magic of Spotify Connect! It gives you playlists! It has a shuffle button!

The one thing it doesn’t do, though, is stream: the music you hear via your Watch is coming from your iPhone, not directly to the Apple Watch. We’d expect that to change in future versions of the app. It hasn’t been optimized for the larger display of the Apple Watch 4 either, so it looks a bit odd on the most recent models.

We’re big fans of and subscribers to Spotify: its catalog is enormous and it’s enormously sociable too, with apps for every conceivable platform. Being able to pay once for an ad-free subscription that works on your phone, tablet, Watch, TV, console and in the car is a fantastic thing.

While the ad-funded version isn’t too annoying we think the higher quality and convenient offline listening features (already available on iPhone but coming soon to the Watch app too) of the paid-for Premium version are well worth the money.

Castro Podcasts

The Castro podcast app has been around for a while and has developed a loyal fanbase, and it’s just been given a major overhaul as well as an Apple Watch companion app.

On your wrist it’s really very simple: it enables you to move around the audio, change the volume or move between episodes.

On the iPhone the main app has been completely rebuilt with a brand-new playback engine to significantly boost speed and responsiveness, and the player screen now incorporates AirPlay controls for easier streaming to compatible hardware.

It’s a very good app, and there are extra features if you go for the optional Castro Plus subscription, including getting rid of silent sections, mixing stereo down to mono, episode limits to prevent your device from downloading entire volumes of podcasts, and automatic start positions to skip past standard intros and other pre-content content.

You can set these preferences on a per-podcast basis, which is a really useful option for power podcast users. You can try Castro Plus for a week before deciding whether to get it, and it’s available as a quarterly or yearly sub.

Audible

You may know Audible already: it’s the Amazon-owned audiobook service that enables you to devour books on the move, in bed or anywhere else you can get comfortable. The catalog is vast, books are often narrated by very big names and the overall quality is very high. And now, you can use it without taking your phone with you thanks to its Apple Watch app.

The app is compatible with every Apple Watch made so far and enables you to transfer audiobooks to your Watch, provided of course that you have enough available storage.

It’s important to note that Audible doesn’t stream to your watch: you need to sync your audiobook(s) from your iPhone, which can take a while over the Watch’s desperately slow connection. But once the book has been transferred you can play, pause, fast forward and rewind. You could listen via the Watch’s speaker but we wouldn’t recommend it; Audible is best experienced on a decent pair of wireless headphones.

We think the Audible Watch app is best suited to environments where you don’t want to have your phone: the gym is the one that springs immediately to mind: we can’t be the only people who’d rather listen to a book than pumping techno on a treadmill.