How to buy the best Android Wear OS smartwatch
By Hannah Walsh
The successor to Android Wear, Wear OS runs on smartwatches from a host of big names, including Fossil, LG and Motorola. But what is Wear OS and is it right for you?
You’ve decided to buy a smartwatch and, after reading our guide on how to buy the best smartwatch, have picked Wear OS by Google as the operating system for you.
The best Wear OS smartwatches from our testing will look stylish, feel great on the wrist and be a breeze to use. But we’ve found some smartwatches that aren’t up to the task, with inadequate features, low resolution screens, uncomfortable straps and disappointing battery life.
In this guide, we explain what Wear OS is, including what recent updates mean, how much you’ll need to spend to get a decent device and the smartwatch features to look out for.
Once you know what you’re looking for, find the best smartwatch by using our in-depth smartwatch reviews.
Android Wear and Wear OS
Google’s Android Wear operating system was announced back in 2014, and was the first dedicated smartwatch OS based on the Android smartphone platform. It was initially implemented by a range of brands, including Asus, LG, Motorola and Sony.
The previous big update to the OS, Android Wear 2.0, was a significant upgrade designed to help make smartwatches faster, easier and more intuitive to use. Wear 2.0 also introduced a host of new features, including the ability to customise watch faces to retrieve the most important information from your favourite apps, greater control over notifications and better compatibility with Apple iPhones.
In March 2018, Google renamed Android Wear 2.0 to Wear OS. The latest version of Google's operating system is available on all Wear OS smartwatches.
One of the biggest changes was designed to give greater freedom from your smartphone – standalone apps on Wear OS will work with any Bluetooth or wi-fi connection and won’t need your phone nearby. There will be a standalone Play Store for adding apps directly to a smartwatch, too.
Wear OS smartwatches should also suit fitness fanatics as they come with the latest version of Google Fit preloaded. which lets you track steps, calories, distance and sleep - but we've found devices that offer these metrics that struggled with accuracy, so check out our reviews first. Advanced sports tracking added strength training to the Google Fit app, and since you can use many of these and other features without your smartphone, it’s one less thing to carry around when you’re working out.
Unlike watchOS for the Apple Watch Series 1 and Series 3, Wear OS watches will work with different brands of Android phone. The smartwatches running Wear OS will also work with iPhones running iOS 9 or higher.
How much will an Wear OS smartwatch cost?
Wear OS smartwatches cost anywhere between £200 right up to well over £1,000 for the most expensive models. Given that they all run on Wear OS, you’ll find most of the same OS features available regardless of price.
One of the key differences between smartwatches from the low end of the price range to the eye wateringly expensive is how well these features are organised and dealt with by the watch. For example, the speed of the processor, available on-board storage, how you scroll though menus or apps and the responsiveness of the touchscreen. At the top end, you will often be paying extra for the look and design of the smartwatch, and perhaps a designer brand name, too.
Recently more traditional watch designers, such as Fossil, Hugo Boss and Guess, expected to launch Wear OS smartwatches, and place a clear emphasis on style. These will run Wear OS, and are likely to represent some of the pricier options on the market.
Which features does my Wear OS smartwatch need?
There are a wide range of Wear OS smartwatches currently available, and they can vary considerably in size, design and also performance. A large screen can make your device easier to use – but there’s a trade-off here with having something more cumbersome on your wrist. More sensors can often add bulk, too – for example, a poorly integrated heart rate monitor may mean the smartwatch sticks out from your wrist uncomfortably. We rate all smartwatches for their comfort and obtrusiveness, but the golden rule is to check out devices in store before buying to check they suit your wrist.
If you like the appeal of a smartwatch but prefer the design of a traditional watch, your best bet is a model with a round face. There are various models that fit the bill, including the Mobvoi Ticwatch Pro, Skagen Faslter 2 and Michael Kors Access Runway.
If your smartwatch is primarily for day to day use, look for devices with stainless steel or leather straps, and a ceramic or aluminium bezel for a more traditional look. For those with expensive tastes, there are even a handful of Wear OS smartwatches with gold or platinum bezels.
If you plan to wear your smartwatch while exercising, however, a rubber strap will be easier to keep clean.
It’s also worth looking for an Wear OS smartwatch with an easily removable strap – typically measuring 22mm – so you can accessorise with any of a range of very affordable generic replacements.
Fitness tracking is one of the most popular uses for wearables, and many Wear OS smartwatches are just as capable as a dedicated activity tracker. If this is one of your main considerations, what should you look out for to ensure your smartwatch is a great fitness companion?
- Built-in GPS A great way to avoid being tethered to your smartphone, built-in GPS will let you track your routes and distances. It will have an impact on the battery life of your device, though.
- Heart rate monitor If you want to monitor improvements in your fitness levels, then keeping an eye on changes in your heart rate is one of the best ways. Look for a smartwatch with a built-in heart rate monitor.
- Internal memory Some Wear OS smartwatches come with enough internal memory to store quite a large selection of your favourite tunes. Alongside a Bluetooth headset, this means you can enjoy some motivational music while you work out without having to carry your smartphone.
- Accuracy If fitness is your goal, it’s important to get an accurate idea of how far you’re running, how many calories you’re burning and how close you are to your targets. We put all of the smartwatches we review through the same detailed activity tracking tests as fitness trackers and fitness watches. In some cases we’ve found smartwatches that aren’t up to the task, including one that understated steps taken by nearly 50%.
Our Best smartwatches guide will help you choose a smartwatch that won’t lag behind.
The longest battery life of a Wear OS smartwatch in our tests was more than three days, while the shortest was less than two
Regardless of the operating system your smartwatch runs, a big concern will be how frequently you’ll need to recharge. Most smartwatches use a rechargeable battery, but how long it lasts varies significantly between models.
Models with a large screen, heart rate monitor or advanced sensors, for example, are likely to run out of juice quite quickly.
Top smartwatches - find out which models ace our tests.