Thursday , December 13 2018 Ausdroid » Smart Accessories » Smartwatches » It’s 2018, and Wear OS is hard to recommend. Is there hope around the corner?

As much as Fossil’s Q Explorist HR 4 was the best smartwatch I’ve used so far, it’s still not good enough that I’d actually go buy one. In fact, I wouldn’t go buy any smartwatch today … because they’re all crap.

What happened?

Android Wear had the lead over Apple’s early Watch, and it looked so promising. So many manufacturers making hardware. Software innovating rapidly. Support from chipmaker Qualcomm bringing a dedicated wearable processor to the market. In short, the future of wearables looked great … a couple of years ago.

Then lots of things went wrong. Android Wear 2.0 introduced some changes in UI which made the platform counter-intuitive. Swiping left and right on the watchface to change watchfaces (something you’d not frequently do) seemed like such an idiotic move. The UI was slower than what it replaced, and though the demands on hardware increased, hardware didn’t improve. In fact, in real terms, it went backwards. Very quickly, Android Wear (and then Wear OS) became a bit of a joke, at the same time as Apple’s Watch iterated fairly rapidly, with new hardware, interface and more.

In 2018, I wouldn’t recommend anyone buy a smartwatch powered by Wear OS. If you’ve got an iPhone, go buy an Apple Watch. It’s the best wearable around. If you’re on Android, consider a Galaxy Watch (or Galaxy Gear Sport / Gear S3) … but only if you must. For everyone else, my advice is to wait and see.

Why?

Though Snapdragon Wear 3100 has been announced, it’ll be a while before its available in most smartwatches. The only smartwatches you can buy today are (with one exception) running on outdated hardware where the experience can only be described as sub-par. I’m not spending hundreds of dollars of my own money on something with grossly outdated tech .. especially where it’s just going to frustrate me no end.

Even with a new chipset, without changes to Wear OS itself, Android smartwatches will be a faster-but-still-poor experience. That part Qualcomm can’t fix; that’s up to Google, and with the glacial pace at which Wear OS gets attention, it’s hard to see that the platform will be redeemed overnight. Even fixing the UI isn’t enough. It needs significant optimisation, and parts of it need to be re-thought completely.

While Google and manufacturers could potentially get their collective acts together and produce a great watch, it will still struggle to offer us the full range of features that Apple users take for granted.

An Apple Watch user can take their LTE-enabled smartwatch to any major carrier and sign up for a second service which will share their primary mobile number to their watch. I’ve used this, and it’s damned cool. Being able to leave your watch at home, and make and receive calls on your watch (without people having to remember a 2nd number) is what a wearable should let you do in 2018, and with Apple, you can.

In Australia, no other manufacturer offers you this service. Samsung’s Galaxy Watch – which can be configured with LTE – only supports Telstra, so if you’re a Vodafone or Optus customer, you’re out of luck. The worst bit? This is Samsung, the company that can knock off (or arguably, has) Apple from its perch. If the largest personal tech company can’t manage to get its products available through our three major carriers, what hope does any other manufacturer have?

Will Fossil release an LTE-powered smartwatch that’ll work on your carrier? I doubt it. Will Huawei, LG, or Mobvoi? Not a chance. If Samsung can’t (or won’t), then there’s absolutely no chance anyone else will.

In short, one of the best features available on a wearable – besides fitness tracking – is almost certainly to be denied to Android wearable users for the forseeable future. This is profoundly disappointing, and ultimately, shit for the consumer.

What could be done to fix this mess?

Here’s a list of things that I think need to happen to make Android-powered wearables not suck as much as they do today. Some of it wouldn’t be hard. Some of it probably won’t ever happen. So here goes:

  • Google needs to fix Wear OS. Make it work on commodity hardware instead of being a bloated, demanding mess.
  • Besides optimising their code to run on both good and cheap processors, Google needs to fix the Wear OS user experience. Fix the inconsistent gestures. Make voice recognition speedy and functional. Build some stuff into the platform to standardise things .. which leads to my next point.
  • Google needs to come up with a Wear OS-standard way of incorporating eSIM into wearables, and come up with a standard, manufacturer-agnostic way of provisioning an eSIM. Individual manufacturers (that aren’t Apple) have proven that, thus far, they’re incapable of doing it. If Google did it as part of WearOS and negotiated standard processes with carriers, all manufacturers would benefit. Apple did it. Google could (and should) too.
  • Wearable manufacturers need to get into their design departments and tell them one thing – a smart watch doesn’t necessarily have to look like a treasured timepiece of old. In fact, some of the most usable, user friendly devices look nothing like a traditional timepiece. Scoff at Apple’s design all you like, but that thing is SUPER easy to use, and dare I say it, stylish.

As a market segment, Android-powered wearables are a shambles at the moment. It shouldn’t be up to just one brand to fix this mess, though Google is arguably in a position to fix much of it. Once they do, though, wearable makers are going to have to get serious about making quality, powerful, usable product.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel; updates to the Wear OS platform promise to fix much of the horrid user interface, and will drag the platform into 2018 in terms of functionality. Though we’ve not seen it on any actual watches yet, the announced features and changes to the Wear OS UI are at least promising.

What’s less promising is the new hardware and lack of cohesive effort in bringing new features to the platform. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor is more power efficient (we’re told) but not significantly more capable than what we’ve already got. Equally, absent a major push from Google, it seems that the LTE-connected Wear OS device will remain an edge case, and it won’t work very well.

No, if Android-powered wearables are to succeed, we need great product. Equally, we in the media need to hold manufacturers to account; if we see a product that couldn’t be described as excellent, we need to be very clear in identifying it.

A lot of current smartwatches are not excellent. Many are far, far from it. Some are just OK, but we need better than just OK; just OK isn’t good enough.

What do you think? Are the current crop of smartwatches good enough? What can be done to fix them?

 

Chris Rowland   Chief Executive

Chris Rowland

Chris has been at the forefront of smartphone reporting in Australia since smartphones were a thing, and has used mobile phones since they came with giant lead-acid batteries that were "transportable" and were carried in a shoulder bag.

Today, Chris publishes one of Australia's most popular technology websites, Ausdroid. His interests include mobile (of course), as well as connected technology and how it can make all our lives easier.

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Vjai
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Vjai

Happy customer of wear os (Lg Urbane 2nd edition)
Using LTE- Amaysim prepaid (6 months for $7 groupon)
Using G assist to control devices
Using G pay for payments
Using G Fit tracking at Gym
Using G music for offline session in Gym with my icon-x
Battery – i charge every day 🙁

Michael
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Michael

You make some great points. After going for the original Pebble and Pebble Time, I’ve been waiting… and waiting.. for 2 years for a decent WearOS watch. Still waiting. Can’t wait any longer as the Pebble feels like it’s 10years old now. The new Apple watch does have some great features (but still no sleep tracking or custom faces? WTF). In the end though, it looks like a 1980’s calculator watch to me. I figure there’s at least another 1-2years before any decent WearOS comes out (if Google get their sh*t together). So I’ve just made the dive for a… Read more »

Frankip
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Frankip

All I want from my watch is good health and Fitness, and the ability to use Google Pay. Sounds like current WearOS watches don’t offer a good experience with this. As soon as they do, then I will look to buy. E-Sim is interesting, not so much for being able to take calls (taking into your watch and having the world hear the conversation seems daft, but being able to be data connected for messaging and the like is what sounds good.

Nizar
Ausdroid Reader

All I want is a good looking, fashionable Wear OS that is swimproof and equipped with battery/chip that lasts several days. The interface needs to be smooth as well (i.e. 60fps).

Phil
Guest
Phil

I agree wear os needs improvement, and thank you for highlighting Google’s failure to improve it. However having had a Asus zen watch and now a Huawei watch 2 classic I’m happy with it and I’ll never switch to anything from Apple. Apple ios is a closed ecosystem that I fundamentally disagree with and will never support. Hate wear os all you like but at least it works with both iOS and Android. It’s also my preferred place to read messages and notifications. I think LTE, NFC, gps are overrated on watches, most people don’t need them. Reviewers love them… Read more »

Adam
Ausdroid Reader

I have a Garmin watch and at a time when I want to be spending less, not more, time on my phone the notifications annoyed me so much I turned the functionality off within a week. I also found I was having to dismiss two notifications because that didn’t sync, which just made it worse. So I use the Garmin for activity tracking, including with GPS, and the time, and my phone for everything else. About the only thing I might possibly want in a future watch is Google Pay, no interest in LTE or any other “smarts”. I guess… Read more »

Dean Lewis
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Dean Lewis

I recommend the Amazfit Pace. It’s about $150 from China, has about a battery that lasts a working week, instead of a day, and a true always on even screen (transitive).

It’s not perfect, I would want to see my schedule of upcoming events, which it doesn’t. It also doesn’t support third party apps, but it’s a watch. It does notifications and hits the right function / price point.

I’m not paying $400 for a watch that isn’t awesome. There’s nothing awesome about a day of battery on a watch.

Ron A
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Ron A

I have to disagree, though I have only experienced Wear OS on 1 device, my Ticwatch E. I moved from a Pebble Time, which I loved, to a Ticwatch when my Pebble died. I didn’t want to spend too much on an Android watch, for fear I would find it a waste of money, and @ 175 AUD this watch fit the bill. (Still available for 191AUD on their own (Mobvoi) website as well as Amazon.). I didn’t think I would like it nearly as much as my Pebble, and yet, here I am. The 1.4 inch OLED screen is… Read more »

Brad
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Brad

Your article didn’t mention Android non-Wear watches at all.
These watches support the standard 4G bands and are much cheaper without the cost of paying the Wear licence.
Try reviewing LEMFO or KW watches.

Terry
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Terry

I really want to buy a smartwatch but after looked for a while, Apple watch is the only one I would like to buy others are so hardly to attract me. Now I am thinking the big question, should I switch to iPhone from Pixel just because of Apple watch? I really don’t like iOS, but Apple watch, airpods and iPad are so awesome and no other manufacturers can beat.

Fred
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Fred

I still use a smartwatch …… a Pebble.

The Google attempts, the Apple attempts, they are all pretty poor really. You need a few key functions, a cheap price, and a battery life such that charging isn’t a pain.

And when this watch finally dies, it will be something like the Amazfit Bip or successor – something that does what’s needed, is less than $100, and keeps going, and going, and going, and going …….

Dean Lewis
Guest
Dean Lewis

Amazfit Nip looks like a great watch. My Amazfit Pace leaves Wear OS in its dust for battery life, which the Bio does too the Pace with its month of battery.

I just wish both watches had a calendar / schedule.

whitelunchbag
Ausdroid Reader
whitelunchbag

I dunno, I am quite happy with my Ticwatch and I don’t get what all the complaining is about

Mike
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Mike

… and give me a god damn modern looking watch that is rectangular and not the size of a dinner plate and as thick as my wrist. Apple Watch is stylish and not a throwback to a bygone era

Lindsay unfunk Freeman
Ausdroid Reader

I dunno, you couldn’t pay me to wear a square/rectangular watch. The original Huawei Watch is still the best-looking smartwatch, IMO

But yeah, Google really dropped the ball with WearOS 2.0. What shits me is that literally none of “the media” covered how awful WearOS 2 was while it was in the Developer Preview stages. Users were well aware that it was going to be horrendous to use, but the media coverage was all “wow, it has the Play Store on it at last!” and “you can have multiple favourite watch faces!”.

Ugh.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Totally agree. I’m an Android fan, part time developer and Nexus/Pixel phone user. I also have Chromecast, Google Home/Mini/Max and an Nvidia Shield Android TV. If the watches are so bad I won’t go near one as a fan boy … It shows how very very very very far behind the platform is. … I’m even considering a swap to iOS just to get an Apple Watch Sries 4, which is better in every way than any WearOS device. I doubt we’ll have a quality WearOS watch from any manufacturer for 2-3 years minimum … even if all of the… Read more »

Jamie S
Guest
Jamie S

Nice write up Chris. I agree with you, I wouldn’t buy any smartwatch today unless it was a Apple watch. However, I really like my Gear S3 Frontier and the implementation of the rotating dial and maybe this is what Wear OS needs along with some big software changes to freshen it up. Mind you, I think Wear OS devices are gonna go the same way as Android tablets did and Google will abandon them all together if they haven’t already.

Craig Hassell
Ausdroid Reader

Been an Android user for eight years. HTC and Pixel phones, Nexus 10 & Pixel C, LG Urban watch, but am seriously considering getting an iPhone so I can get an Apple watch. Sad history of disappointment with half done Google products. Sick of paying top dollar to be involved in their experiments.

Eggman
Guest
Eggman

I’ve started going the opposite way: the ability to get basic notification information and actually be able to tell the time at a glance, and, so important: multi day battery, has led me from much-mourned Pebble to a Skagen connected hybrid. I’m now eyeing a Withings watch. I had hopes for the rumoured LG hybrid watch, but that seems to be vapour ware. I don’t need LTE in my watch. That’s what my phone is for.

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