Wear OS buyer’s guide: What you need to know about Google’s smartwatch platform

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wear os buyer’s guide: what you need to know about

This article contains everything you need to know about Google’s Wear OS smartwatch operating system. We walk you through various Wear OS features and buying guidelines, as well as round up the best Wear OS smartwatches you can find. Get ready, because there is a lot to talk about when it comes to Wear OS.

What is Wear OS?

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Wear OS is a smartwatch operating system created and maintained by Google. It was announced on March 18, 2014 as Android Wear, only to be rebranded as Wear OS on March 15, 2018. Wear OS is an Android-based operating system that receives semi-regular feature and security updates, just like the version of Android that powers billions of smartphones around the world.

Google doesn’t actually make any Wear OS hardware, so a Google Pixel Watch does not exist (even though there have been plenty of rumors claiming otherwise). Instead, Google allows hardware partners to create their own smartwatches running the Wear OS operating system. A number of smartphone OEMs — including Samsung, LG, Motorola, Asus, Sony, and Huawei — were the first companies to create Wear OS watches. Now, the majority of the watches are made by fashion brands and various watchmakers, such as Fossil Group, Mobvoi, Tag Heuer, Montblanc, Casio, and others.

Why buy a Wear OS smartwatch?

diesel fadelight smartwatch 5

We’re pretty tough on Wear OS at Android Authority, but there are some good reasons to buy a Wear OS-powered smartwatch.

First and foremost, just like Android itself, Wear OS provides choice. You get a similar software experience on any device you buy, but the hardware can vary drastically. That’s because Google’s hardware partners consist of tech companies, traditional watchmakers, fashion brands, fitness companies, and more. This is in stark contrast to Wear OS’ biggest competitor — the Apple Watch — which has nearly the same hardware no matter which generation you buy.

Wear OS’ biggest strength is choice.

Wear OS watches come in all different shapes and sizes. You can buy a cheap plastic Wear OS watch if you’re on a budget, a nice stylish Wear OS watch from a fashion company if you want to wear your watch at the office, or even a top-tier luxury Wear OS watch if money is of no concern to you. Yes, buying a Wear OS watch for thousands of dollars isn’t recommended, but it represents the idea that the platform is all about choice.

The simple fact that Google makes both Android and Wear OS is also a selling point. If you use Android, Wear OS is the obvious smartwatch platform to try out. All of your notifications, (most of) your apps, and your data will all be tightly integrated into Wear OS, as your phone and your watch run on the same underlying Android platform.

What experts think of Wear OS products

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Credit: Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

We have a number of Wear OS product reviews on our website. Because there are dozens and dozens of Wear OS watches, we haven’t reviewed them all, but we always make it a point to check out the most popular devices.

In his full Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3 review, our own Oliver Cragg said the watch “raises the bar for Wear OS-based hardware with great battery life and performance.” This is due to the watch being powered by Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon Wear 4100 chipset, as well as Mobvoi’s innovative dual-screen design that allows users to eke out as much battery life as possible. The TicWatch Pro 3 is the Wear OS watch to buy if you want to best specs.

The TicWatch Pro 3 is the best Wear OS watch you can buy, followed closely by the years-old Fossil Gen 5.

If you’re okay buying a Wear OS watch with last-gen specs, consider the Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch or Skagen Falster 3. Both smartwatches are built on the same hardware platform, so they have nearly identical specs and software. Battery life isn’t the greatest on either device, but Fossil Group tries to make up for that with its custom-built battery modes that can be found on all of its Gen 5 devices. In our opinion, these watches are much better looking than any of Mobvoi’s recent offerings.

The Suunto 7 is the only one you should consider if you want a Wear OS smartwatch for fitness tracking purposes. It connects to the fantastic Suunto app, supports the company’s useful Heatmaps feature, and offers two-day battery life. The Suunto 7 is entirely overpriced compared to other GPS running watches, but it’s by far the best Wear OS watch for fitness.

There are other Wear OS reviews available on our site, some of which you can check out below. We’ll be sure to update this section when we review newer devices.

Buying the right Wear OS smartwatch for your needs

fossil gen 5 lte review vs gen 5 carlyle

Left to right: Fossil Gen 5 LTE, Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle

Credit: Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

When buying a Wear OS smartwatch, it’s important to know what you want and need. Spending extra money on features you don’t need doesn’t make sense, but you also don’t want to buy something that doesn’t have the features you need. For example, if you value long battery life over everything else, you should buy a device with extra battery-saving hardware or software features. If you want a Wear OS device to track your workouts, consider buying a watch that has additional health-tracking sensors like built-in GPS and an altimeter.

We have a dedicated article about the best Wear OS devices to get, which you can check out here. But if you’re in a hurry, you can get a general overview of our favorites below.

  • The Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3 is the best Wear OS smartwatch you can buy. It’s the only one with the latest-and-greatest Snapdragon chipset. It also has an additional power-saving display that allows you to extend the watch’s battery life up to 45 days.
  • The Fossil Gen 5 is growing a little old at this point, but it’s still one of our favorites. It performs well, has decent battery life, and has a microphone and speaker so you can accept calls right on your wrist.
  • The Skagen Falster 3 is built on the same Generation 5 platform as the Fossil watch listed above. It’s essentially the same watch, just designed by Skagen.
  • The Suunto 7 is the best Wear OS watch you can buy for fitness. You get access to Suunto’s wonderful Heatmaps feature and a super cool Heatmaps watch face. The watch also syncs with Suunto’s smartphone app.
  • The Moto 360 (2019) is another Wear OS smartwatch with solid battery life. If you’re not a fan of Mobvoi’s latest TicWatch, we’d recommend checking out the Moto 360 (2019).

What smartwatch features do Wear OS watches offer?

Moto 360 2019 review google assistant wear os

Think of Wear OS like an Android phone: each watch comes with a basic set of features that work out of the box. You can then supplement the experience by downloading third-party applications, games, and watch faces. All Wear OS watches offer access to the Google Play Store and the Google Assistant, in addition to other Google apps like Gmail, Google Messages, Maps, and more.

Wear OS watches are compatible with Android phones running Android 6.0 and above (excluding Android Go phones) and iPhones running iOS 11.4 and above. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but you’ll get the best experience if you use an Android phone.

You receive the same app notifications on your Wear OS device as you do on your smartphone. If a Telegram message arrives on your phone, it’ll show up on your smartwatch too. Same with Gmail, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, or any other app.

Don’t miss: The best smartwatches you can buy

You can reply to messages from your wrist using either voice dictation (easy method) or using the on-screen Wear OS keyboard (advanced method). Also, swiping notifications away from your Wear OS device also clears them on your phone. It’s this kind of tight integration with the entire ecosystem that separates Wear OS from other smartwatch platforms.

You can even answer phone calls right from your wrist on some Wear OS smartwatches. Watches that have this feature need to have a built-in microphone and speaker and also need to be connected to a nearby smartphone. No matter what Wear OS device you have, you’ll be able to accept and reject incoming calls from your wrist too.

Some devices even support LTE connections, allowing you to leave the house without your smartphone and still have access to messages, calls, and more.

Oppo Watch in hand showing apps wear os smartwatch

Credit: Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Third-party apps are a major part of the Wear OS experience. Most applications you already have installed on your smartphone likely have a Wear OS counterpart app (with some exceptions, of course). Some of our favorites include Google Maps and NavMusic. You can download apps directly on your smartwatch from the Google Play Store.

The same goes for watch faces. Each Wear OS watch comes with a set of preloaded watch faces. Depending on the company that makes your watch, you might have a huge list to choose from or you might need to scour the Play Store for something that suits your needs. Regardless, there are plenty of free and paid watch faces for Wear OS to choose from.

All Wear OS smartwatches offer access to the Google Assistant. You can trigger the voice assistant by saying the “Okay, Google” or “Hey, Google” hotwords or usually by a long-press of a physical button on your watch. Wear OS isn’t compatible with other voice assistants (at least not officially), so no Amazon Alexa support here.

Google Assistant is just a tap (or a voice command) away on Wear OS.

The Wear OS user interface is quite simple. Your main screen is your watch face. Swipe over to the leftmost page to find a basic version of the Assistant’s Snapshot feature. On this page, you’ll find an Assistant button for voice controls, app suggestions, package tracking, and even daily inspirational quotes. Swipe to to the left and you’ll find Wear OS tiles — a basic version of Android widgets, which give you quick, glanceable access to your most-used apps. You can add a Google Fit tile to see your activity data, or a weather tile to see the daily forecast.

Most Wear OS watches nowadays support Google Pay, the company’s contactless payment system. Google Pay on Wear OS is incredibly easy to use and only takes a few minutes to set up. You can learn more here.

oppo watch wear os smartwatch navmusic music player

Credit: Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

Finally, we should talk about onboard music support, one of the most unfortunate parts of the Wear OS platform. All Wear OS smartwatches offer around 4-8GB of onboard storage for things like music and apps. Unfortunately, that storage is basically limited to local music files. Wear OS does not currently have support for offline music playback from any of the popular music services, including Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, and even YouTube Music. In fact, as of this writing, there isn’t even a YouTube Music app on Wear OS!

Music support is one of the most unfortunate parts of the Wear OS platform.

The best music app we’ve found for Wear OS is NavMusic, a third-party app that lets you load up local music files to your smartwatch, allowing you to stream music from your watch without needing a phone nearby.

You can, however, control the music playing on your phone from your Wear OS watch using dedicated music streaming apps. For instance, the Spotify Wear OS app lets you control your phone’s music, favorite tracks, and more.

What fitness tracking features do Wear OS devices have?

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Because there is so much variation in Wear OS hardware, fitness tracking features vary depending on the smartwatch.

At the very least, Wear OS smartwatches are able to track basic activity metrics. These include steps taken, calories burned, distance traveled, and resting and active heart rate — provided your device has a heart rate sensor, of course. Sleep tracking is supported by Google Fit (more on this later), though it’s not natively built into the Wear OS platform. Thus, only companies that have done the extra legwork to build sleep tracking into their watches will support the feature.

Other auxiliary health features like breathing exercises, stress tracking, and SpO2 monitoring are, again, supported on a device-by-device basis.

Some Wear OS watches take fitness and health tracking to another level. The TicWatch Pro 3 and Suunto 7 stand out as two of the more health-focused Wear OS watches you can buy. Mobvoi’s latest watch supports blood oxygen saturation and stress tracking via heart rate variability. The Suunto 7 is the very first Wear OS watch aimed at outdoor enthusiasts, with offline maps and tracking for over 70 sports modes.

fossil gen 5 smartwatch review google fit wear os

Every Wear OS watch uses Google Fit as its primary method to track fitness and activity data. All of your steps, workouts, heart rate, and more are automatically uploaded to Google’s fitness app. You can view this data on your watch or download the Google Fit app for Android or iOS to dig into the numbers even more.

Google Fit has received mixed reviews from long-time Wear OS users. Some cherish its simplicity and ease of use, while others feel the platform is too light on features. Google rolls out new feature updates to the platform every few months. However, the app is still far behind other fitness app staples like Fitbit, Strava, and MyFitnessPal. You can read more on Google Fit in our comprehensive guide linked below.

Read: Google Fit guide: What you need to know about Google’s fitness platform

While Google Fit is the de facto fitness app for Wear OS, some companies ship their watches with additional fitness apps. Suunto’s watch uses Google Fit for basic activity data, while workout data is sent to the Suunto app. It’s not a seamless system, but it works. Mobvoi’s watches ship with a handful of basic health apps for tracking exercise and health data, again in addition to Google Fit.

If you’re not all-in on Google Fit, remember, this is Android we’re talking about. You can always download a third-party fitness app or workout app to use with your Wear OS device. Many of the most popular fitness apps on Android support Wear OS, so odds are you’ll find something that suits your needs.

Generally speaking, Wear OS watches are fine for tracking basic activity metrics and the occasional workout. We’d suggest you look at devices from Fitbit, Garmin, or other health-focused companies if you’re looking specifically for a fitness watch.

Fitbit and Google: What’s the deal?

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I have covered this topic extensively in our detailed Fitbit guide. To avoid repeating myself, I’ll give you the “greatest hits” of what’s going on with the Google-Fitbit deal.

Google officially purchased Fitbit, one of the biggest health and wellness companies in the world, for $2.1 billion on January 14, 2021. Google intends to utilize Fitbit’s hardware portfolio to bolster its bigger wearable ambitions. As Google’s Rick Osterloh said in the announcement, this deal is about “devices, not data.”

The future of Wear OS is uncertain now that Google owns Fitbit.

But what will come of Wear OS now that Google owns a successful wearables company? We are not sure. Google has been quiet on the subject of Wear OS since the Fitbit deal went through. We have theorized that Google could fizzle out the Wear OS platform over time. This might be the most likely outcome, as Google still provides the software for a plethora of Wear OS devices from different manufacturers. It would make sense for Google to focus its resources on an already-established platform like Fitbit.

It’s also possible Google could eventually combine Fitbit OS and Wear OS. However, knowing the development issues Wear OS has gone through over the last year, we’re skeptical that Google would put in the time and effort necessary to make that happen.

Could we one day see a Fitbit device running Wear OS? Maybe. What about a Pixel smartwatch running Fitbit OS? Possibly. We just don’t know at this point, but we will keep you updated if we hear anything further on the situation.

Related: The best Fitbit fitness trackers and smartwatches

Problems and solutions

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Credit: Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

We’ve alluded to many of the Wear OS issues that are present in today’s build of the operating system. Since there are so many devices from so many manufacturers, we’ll stick to the main software issues that are present no matter which device you have.

The main issue most people have with Wear OS is poor battery life. Depending on which device you buy, your watch might last anywhere from 18 hours to two days on a single charge. We have never been able to get a Wear OS device to last into the third day. Battery life was a big problem with early Wear OS devices, which oftentimes had smaller batteries and old processors. Now, companies are getting smarter with battery-saving features.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many easy ways to fix Wear OS battery drain. You can turn off certain functions like the always-on display, GPS for location, or NFC, but these are system-level features that should be able to be kept on at all times.

Many of the most prevalent Wear OS problems are out of users’ hands.

Many Wear OS users also complain about poor performance. Again, this was very much a problem with early devices, but not so much any more. Remember, your Wear OS watch is not nearly as powerful as your smartphone, so every once in a while you may experience an app that takes a few seconds to load. We’ve also noticed laggy Google Assistant voice prompts on some of our units.

We polled you, dear Android Authority reader, in December 2020 to figure out which part of Wear OS was your least favorite. Poor battery life and lack of software updates were by far the top choices, followed by nearly a four-way tie between lack of hardware choices, the software interface, the limited app selection, and the overall package.

Wear OS and the competition

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Credit: Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

Wear OS has tons of competitors from various companies from all around the world. On Android, Wear OS’ biggest competitors are Samsung with its Galaxy Watch devices, Fitbit with its Versa smartwatches, and Garmin with its fitness watches. On iOS, Wear OS’ biggest competition is the Apple Watch. We won’t list out every single Wear OS competitor (there are far too many), but we’ll point you toward the main devices here:

  • The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is the best Wear OS competitor and one of the best smartwatches you can buy for your Android phone. It’s versatile, good-looking, and offers a unique rotatable bezel for device navigation.
  • The Fitbit Versa 3 and Fitbit Sense are Wear OS’ biggest competitors from Fitbit. Both watches have plenty of smart features, built-in Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, and far better fitness and health tracking.
  • The Garmin Venu and Garmin Vivoactive 4 are two of the best mid-range multisport watches out there, and they’re Garmin’s best smartwatches. The Venu, specifically, has an OLED display — a first for Garmin.
  • The Apple Watch Series 6 is the best smartwatch you can buy, full stop. If you’re looking for something a little cheaper but still in the Apple ecosystem, the Apple Watch SE is much cheaper and offers many of the same features.

Top Wear OS-related questions and answers

Q: Can Wear OS track sleep?
A: Yes, sort of. Wear OS watches do not have native sleep tracking built in, so the only way to track sleep is through a third-party application. We recommend Sleep as Android.

Q: Can I use Wear OS with an iPhone?
A: Yes, Wear OS watches can pair with iPhones via the Wear OS app for iOS. You must have an iOS device running iOS 11.4 or later. You will get the best experience using an Android phone, though.

Q: How do I update Wear OS?
A: On your Wear OS watch, navigate to Settings, then select System, then About, then System updates. Your Wear OS watch will begin downloading a new Wear OS update if one is available.

Q: What is the latest Wear OS version?
A: The latest Wear OS version is v2.23, which rolled out in December 2020. The latest Wear OS security patch rolled out September 1, 2020.

Q: Will Fitbit get Wear OS?
A: Truth be told, we don’t know the answer to that question right now. However, it appears unlikely that Google will completely get rid of Fitbit OS in favor of Wear OS.

Q: Can I use Wear OS on a Galaxy Watch?
A: No, your Samsung Galaxy Watch cannot run Wear OS. Samsung’s smartwatches run a Samsung-made operating system called Tizen.

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