Google announced in late August a substantial new version of Wear OS, which should roll out to nearly every smartwatch running Android Wear 2.0 as of September 2018. The biggest changes are to the navigation of Wear OS’s homescreen, which means it could make these watches significantly easier to use. The updated UI will give you four primary places to go from your watch face: Swiping left gets you to the new Google Fit and its Heart Points and Move Minutes; swiping right brings you to a hopefully fast-loading, better-responding Google Assistant interface for asking questions or issuing commands; swipe up and you’ll see a long stream of all of your notifications, which you can interact with and respond to; swipe down, as with Wear 2.0, to access quick settings. Google told Engadget that the update focuses on reducing loading times and improving Assistant responsiveness, which addresses some of our major our misgivings about Wear OS. We’ll test this latest Wear OS and update this guide after we have a better sense of the changes.
The LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live, and Motorola Moto 360—the Android Wear models—have intuitive color touchscreen interfaces and were judged easiest to interact with. The Martian Notifier, Cookoo 2, and MetaWatch M1, which have push-button navigation, were determined to be the most difficult to use. In particular, the Cookoo 2's buttons were very hard to press.
A smart watch is nice to have and it can be a neat buffer when deciding if you want to answer an incoming call or let it go to voicemail. Smart watches with apps for fitness and travel are also a lot more convenient in some cases than having your smartphone. However, if you prefer to use your iPhone for these and other activities, you probably won’t get much more out of a smart watch.
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Huawei’s Watch 2 looks like a logical follow-up to the original Huawei Watch, a former pick in this guide. It adds built-in GPS capability, plus NFC for mobile payments, and it ships with Android Wear 2.0. The problem is that the Huawei Watch 2’s bezel does not rotate, and it has no rotating crown to take advantage of Android Wear 2.0’s scrolling interfaces. That wouldn’t be so bad if the thick, notched bezel weren’t significantly raised around the screen, making it more difficult than it should be to swipe between screens, scroll through apps, or perform pinpoint taps near the edge of the screen. Beyond that, the watch is thick (12.6 millimeters, or 2.6 mm more than the ZenWatch 3, though that’s still slightly thinner than the original Huawei Watch), and it seems slower to respond to input and to launch apps than other modern Wear OS watches. It doesn’t seem worth its price for most people.
The TicWatch Pro shares the TicWatch E model’s older processor and late arrival, and it would be just another big (45 mm case), thick (12.6 mm) Android smartwatch, if not for its trick of having an old-fashioned-looking LCD screen that the watch switches to when you’re not actively looking at it or using it. This feature extends battery life significantly, especially if you go for periods in Essential Mode, where you see only the LCD screen showing the time, date, and your step count. But the transition from the LCD screen back to a “smart” OLED screen is not smooth or quick, and if you switch the watch to Essential Mode, you have to reboot it to get back to regular smartwatch functions.
The newest member of the TicWatch family from Mobvoi is the TicWatch Pro. The biggest feature about this smartwatch is that it actually has two displays. The first is a transparent and low-power FTSN LCD display, and that is placed on top of its OLED display. While the top FTSN display shows you basic info like the time, the date, your heart rate and step count, you can switch over to the OLED display, which shows off all of the features of Google’s Wear OS.
The TicWatch E uses outdated processors and arrives very late in the lifespan of this version of Wear OS—with a new Qualcomm chip arriving in early September, there’s not a compelling reason to invest in an Android smartwatch from a lesser-known vendor right now. Beyond that, although it packs in a lot of features for less than $150, including onboard GPS, a heart-rate monitor, and a light-adjusting display, the TicWatch E looks and feels toylike, with an all-plastic body, matte silicone strap, and undistinguished look. It also has a single, non-turning button, which makes it less usable with the latest Wear OS interface. It runs Wear OS fairly well on its budget-minded processor, but Wear OS running even at its intended responsiveness is still not that exciting. The TicWatch E is not a bad budget entry as far as Android Wear watches go, but a better budget smartwatch, probably from the TicWatch’s own maker, is likely in the making.
The Fitbit Versa is nearly a full smartwatch, but the way it handles notifications prevents it from being a pick. Fitbit’s sleep, step, and workout tracking features beat our current picks’, and in our testing the Versa regularly lasted for four or more days between full charges. It lacks GPS, which the Ionic has, but it has a lower price as a result. You can choose from a decent variety of band types, although the bands are an odd 23 mm size (rather than a standard 22 mm), and slot in at an angle, making it hard to know if an unofficial band will fit. You can cache Deezer or Pandora radio stations to the Versa’s 2.5 GB of reserved space, control the music on your phone (after reconnecting your watch in “classic mode”), or transfer your own music to the watch, though it’s a tedious process involving a computer and cable. Where the Versa falls short is in working with notifications from your phone. The notifications pile up, and it can be a hassle to clear them; most notifications don’t expand to show more text; and though a software update has given you quick replies to select from, you’re limited to five of them. Like the Ionic, it’s more of a smartened-up fitness tracker than a fitness-savvy smartwatch.
The build is fantastic with IP68 waterproof and Corning Gorilla Glass DX+, and the display looks great with a resolution up to 360 x 360 and Circular Super AMOLED tech. On the larger model, the battery sports a capacity of 472 mAh, which powers the snappy Exynos 9110 Dual core processor. You can choose between Silver, Midnight Black, or Rose Gold color options, and the bands are interchangeable to match your style. But most importantly, with the Tizen-Based Wearable OS 4.0 that Samsung has optimized to work with their proprietary controls and apps, this will be the perfect sidekick to your Samsung phone.
These new smartwatches build on a pretty familiar package. Both are powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor and run on Wear OS. Both also get GPS, NFC for Google Pay, and heart rate sensors as well. The Venture is the smaller of the two, measuring in at 40mm with an 18mm band. The Explorist, on the other hand, is a 45mm watch with a 22mm band.
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Plus, these smartwatches are made by Fitbit, so they’re incredible fitness and health trackers. They both offer 24/7 heart rate tracking, on-screen workouts with Fitbit Coach, over 15 exercise modes, GPS (Connected GPS in the Versa’s case), and swim tracking thanks to their 5ATM rating. There’s also room to store your music, as well as Fitbit Pay support (Ionic and Special Edition Versa only).
The Apple Watch boasts cutting-edge smartwatch tech including mobile payments with Apple Pay, stand-alone GPS, full waterproofing up to 50 meters, and thousands of apps. The user interface is very simple and attractive. It's easy to use and it has advanced, easy-to-use fitness tracking features, thanks to a plethora of sensors and an excellent heart rate monitor.
Why we like it: Fossil’s Q Explorist and Venture watches are good-looking watches with a decent range of case and band options, and decent responsiveness and battery life—this is high praise given the current state of Android smartwatches. They can track steps, control music playback, give you turn-by-turn directions on your wrist, and allow you to respond to messages with your voice or quick-reply taps. But these two models are not unique: The Fossil Group offers an array of more than 300 smartwatches under different fashion brands—including Diesel, Skagen, Tag Heuer, Kate Spade, and Movado—that have essentially the same internal components and software, so you can pick the watch design you like best.
We loved Samsung’s characteristic bezel navigation. Instead of having to swipe your finger across the touchscreen repeatedly, all you have to do is gently twist the bezel. It’s a much smoother way of scrolling through your list and it just feels more natural. The are other side buttons which lie almost flush with the side of the watch, making it difficult for them to catch on sleeves.