Finally, Wear OS has a problem that’s seemingly random and hard to understand: “Can’t reach Google at the moment.” Having tested at least a dozen Wear OS watches, we can say that an unexplained failure when using voice commands is the most common negative trait for all of them. It’s impossible for the layperson to understand which part of the watch-to-phone-to-Internet relay is falling down, but it can happen at any time, even right after you’ve used the watch to do something else successfully. When Google Assistant is made the center of Android watches, not being able to reach Google Assistant lowers the value of that watch considerably.
Basically, smartwatches are wearable-technology devices that maintain a relatively persistent wireless connection to your mobile device—usually a smart phone—and can receive notifications of incoming calls, texts, instant messages, social-network updates, and more, from that device. Some can also let you accept and conduct phone calls right on the watch. And even newer models (the Samsung Gear S, for one) can act as smart phones all on their own, without needing a paired phone nearby.
The Explorist and Venture cases are an average thickness for a round smartwatch (at 12.5 and 11.5 millimeters, respectively), with widths of 45 mm and 42 mm, respectively. Neither watch feels too heavy or awkward on a larger wrist, though even the smaller Venture watch is still quite chunky on a smaller wrist. Each model’s battery regularly lasted a whole day in our testing, and the voice-dictation functions are on a par with those of most smartwatches; the same goes for Google Assistant’s accuracy. Both watches and their Google Fit system track day-to-day activity, and although Wear OS apps don’t have quite the buy-in from app makers that the Apple Watch does, you can likely find your favorite apps in Google’s Play Store, and most phone apps provide rich notifications that you can interact with through the watch. Both show signs of good build quality, with thoughtful attention to detail on all surfaces and no cheap connectors or pieces.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Vívosport’s screen is highly sensitive to incidental brushes and touches; we ended up activating the screen auto-lock feature, a small annoyance. Compared with a dedicated GPS running watch, the GPS tracking on any fitness band takes longer to connect to satellites; and it’s easier to see your pace and other statistics on a running watch’s larger LCD screen while moving than on a fitness band’s relatively miniscule display. Garmin doesn’t have the motivating social network of Fitbit, so it’s less likely that your friends or coworkers will connect and challenge you, or that a corporate fitness challenge will work with your Vívosport. A fitness band falls short of a full-featured smartwatch, because typically it won’t give you a voice assistant, let you install apps, or let you interact with phone notifications, and many of those notifications will be difficult to read on the Vívosport’s small screen.
Most stores that sell these smart watches feature display models that you can pick up and touch. We recommend getting a feel for how these watches operate before you invest in one of your own. Specifically, you’ll want to know the form of navigation each of these use to go through the various screens, apps, and functionalities. We were partial to twistable bezels and dials, but you might be used to swiping your way through screens.
Next is the big focus on health and fitness. The Apple Watch can monitor your heart rhythm and suggest you see a doctor if it detects something irregular, it can call the emergency services you've fallen over, and it will keep you healthy by tracking your run. These potentially life saving features are a major reason people are ditching their traditional watches for an Apple Watch.
"Sport watch" functionality often includes activity tracker features (also known as "fitness tracker") as seen in GPS watches made for training, diving, and outdoor sports. Functions may include training programs (such as intervals), lap times, speed display, GPS tracking unit, Route tracking, dive computer, heart rate monitor compatibility, Cadence sensor compatibility, and compatibility with sport transitions (as in triathlons). Other watches can cooperate with an app in a smartphone to carry out their functions. They are paired usually by Bluetooth with a smartphone. Some of these only work with a phone that runs the same mobile operating system; others use a unique watch OS, or otherwise are able to work with most smartphones. Paired, the watch may function as a remote to the phone. This allows the watch to display data such as calls, SMS messages, emails, calendar invites, and any data that may be made available by relevant phone apps. Some fitness tracker watches give users reports on the number of kilometers they walked, hours they slept, and so on.
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.
Fitbit OS 2.0 brings a new-look UI that offers more insights into your daily data and quick reply support for messages for Android phone users (iOS support coming at a later date). You can still download apps and a whole lot of watch faces, pay from your wrist using Fitbit Pay and tap into Fitbit Coach, while new women's health tracking has also been introduced for the first time, which is also available for the Ionic, too.
The LG G Watch was the first one we tried that uses Google’s Android Wear OS (the Moto 360 and Samsung Gear Live do as well). It includes Google Now, the company's Siri-like "intelligent personal assistant." Say “OK Google,” and you can do Google searches, compose texts, and make requests of your watch (“Show me my steps” or “Set an alarm”). Google Now also offers up a stream of "cards" on the watch's face, with information it determines is relevant to you. If, for example, the card tells you how many minutes it would take you to get home from your current location, you can click on the card and get specific traffic and navigation information.
For deeper integration with your Android phone, you can give Google's Wear OS platform a try with Fossil's $275 Q Control touchscreen smartwatch. It lacks GPS and support for NFC payments, which is why the Gear Sport is a better fitness-focused smartwatch for Android users, but Fossil's Google Assistant integration and stylish design make it a solid contender. However, smartwatches with Qualcomm's new Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor start shipping in October, so you may want to hold off until we put them to the test.