The problem with Wear OS watches is that they are useless

The problem with Wear OS watches is that they are useless

Compared to basic watches under RTOS or very sporty models, watches under Wear OS suffer from many concerns that make them too uncompetitive.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic under Wear OS 3 // Source: Frandroid

This start of the 2022 school year is particularly marked by the impressive number of connected watches launched. Like every year, we are entitled to exciting news from Apple, Apple Watch Series 8, SE 2022 and Ultra, as well as from Samsung, Galaxy Watch 5 and Watch 5 Pro.

But in addition to these two big players, leaders in the sector, there are a lot of connected watches of all kinds. One of the most anticipated is none other than the Pixel Watch, Google’s first connected watch, whose detailed presentation is expected on October 6. Fitbit also recently introduced two new connected watches dedicated to health with the Sense 2 and Versa 4. And on Amazfit’s side, IFA was an opportunity to lift the veil on three watches: GTR 4, GTS 4 and GTS 4 Mini.

Already, and this is good news for you, it means that the next few months will be dotted with numerous tests of connected watches. But above all, while the market has never been so varied and Wear OS seemed to finally take off with Wear OS 3, this avalanche of news makes me wonder: what if we didn’t care about WearOS?

Wear OS 3 struggles to convince manufacturers

It must be said that since the announcement in the spring of 2021 of the merger of Wear OS and Tizen and Samsung’s adoption of Wear OS, few manufacturers have backed down and switched to Google’s operating system. With the exception of the Korean manufacturer, the only manufacturer that has announced Wear OS watches for a year and a half is MontBlanc with an overpriced model offered at more than 1,200 euros.

The summit of Mont Blanc 3
The summit of MontBlanc 3 // Source: MontBlanc

Behind, we find only the traditional partners of Google, Fossil and Mobvoi, who were content to announce the updates of certain older models to Wear OS 3. Even Fitbit, now owned by Google, which had announced that it wanted to launch a Wear watch system. operational sometime in 2022 is taking a long time.

The hype around Wear OS is clearly not there. And to understand it, a brief note on the types of connected watches is essential.

Sports watches, basic or with third-party apps

Over the past few months, I’ve instinctively started looking at smartwatches into three categories: sports watches, entry-level watches, and connected watches with third-party apps.

In the first category I place models from Polar, Garmin, Coros, Suunto, even Fitbit. These are often watches with a basic interface, without a large base of applications and with screens that are sometimes of poor quality. But they have the advantage of offering autonomy of more than a week and, above all, numerous and precise data on your sports training.

The Garmin Forerunner 255
The Garmin Forerunner 255 // Source: Arnaud Gelineau for Frandroid

In the second case, I classify models that use the free RTOS system, that is, watches from Xiaomi, Amazfit, Zepp, Oppo or OnePlus. These watches generally offer a non-existent app base – no third-party apps can be installed – with little interaction with notifications, but they have the advantage of integrated OLED screens, a battery life of more than a week and, in general, a pretty neat design. . It is in this context that I also place Huawei and Honor watches, even if the app base tends to expand.

The Amazfit GTR 3 Pro
The Amazfit GTR 3 Pro // Source: Frandroid

Finally, the last case is that of Apple Watch and watches under Wear OS. These are much more advanced connected watches in terms of functionality. They often offer well-made OLED screens that are bright enough to use in direct sunlight. Its system is more advanced and, above all, compatible with an impressive fleet of third-party applications. To run them, these watches usually incorporate powerful processors, such as Apple’s S6, S7 or S8 chips, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 4100 or W5 Gen 1 or Samsung’s Exynos W920. The concern of these watches is that, due to their system or the power of their processors, autonomy often has difficulty maintaining. Rare are the watches with Wear OS or watchOS that exceed three days of autonomy in ideal conditions.

Wear OS does not have the presence of Apple Watch

However, Apple has been able to get out of the game by making the Apple Watch an almost indispensable accessory for its iPhones. So much so that the firm has been at the top of the ranking of the best-selling connected watches in the world for years.

There remains the case of Wear OS. If Apple’s brand image manages to override the weak autonomy of its watches, this is far from the case with Google’s operating system. The Mountain View company is aware of this and likes to repeat that autonomy is reinforced with each new update. The same goes for Qualcomm with its processors to power Wear OS watches. With each new chip, the promise is the same: “Promised jury, this time it’s the right one, autonomy is really improved”. Without really convincing.

Qualcomm Snapdragon W5+ Gen 1 chip
Qualcomm Snapdragon W5+ Gen 1 chip // Source: Qualcomm

Take note: we even salute the autonomy of a Wear OS watch when it exceeds two days of autonomy, even when watches equipped with other systems exceed a week of use.

The main interest of Wear OS is however simple: to allow the installation of applications outside those integrated by the manufacturer. The promise is beautiful. During the first years, we thus saw the appearance of many applications compatible with what was still called Android Wear: applications for orientation and sports, of course, but also for watching videos, even playing games directly on the wrist. The developers had a lot of fun, the users too.

Apps are rarely essential

But it’s clear that, eight years after the launch of Wear OS, apps have taken a backseat. Watching a video on your watch is pointless, as is playing a game on such a small screen. In fact, when we look at the list of the most installed applications in the Play Store, we find quite classic applications: Spotify, iHeart, YouTube Music, Call App, Shazam, Messages, Google Wallet, Outlook or Contact. These are usually music control apps, guidance apps, or sports or health apps.

Applications installed on the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3
Applications installed on Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3 // Source: Frandroid

However, these features are often natively supported by many connected watches. RTOS, for example, allows you to control the music you listen to, regardless of the application used on your smartphone. Management of messages and notifications is also supported, although it is not always possible to respond to them. Finally, all connected watches offer sports training monitoring applications. Sometimes even with the ability to sync sessions with third-party services like Strava or Runkeeper right from the watch companion app.

When we look at the main use of connected watches by their users, the observation is clear. At the end of August, I asked a simple question on Twitter: “what is the main use you give to your connected watch”. I then offered four answers: notifications, third-party apps, health tracking or step counting, and workout tracking.

⌚️ For connected watch users, I have a question.

For you, what is the main use you give it? 🤔

— Geoffroy Husson (@Griffoooo) August 29, 2022

Notifications and health control stand out with 45.2 and 34.2% respectively of the almost 600 votes. Trailing behind, 16.8% of respondents primarily use their watch for training tracking. Finally, far behind, third-party applications are only the main argument for 3.9% of users.

Of course, this Twitter poll is not meant to be exhaustive. Especially since, as several users have told me, third-party apps are rarely the primary use, but can be the second criteria. But, it reinforces my point: these apps are used sparingly.

Much less autonomy in Wear OS, but a ray of hope

However, if a user buys a watch mainly to have notifications on the wrist, measure the number of steps or accurately track their sports performance, they do not need a connected watch – many times the bracelets for less than 100 euros offer the same functions -. – let alone see under Wear OS. If we add that watches equipped with the Google system are usually more expensive than models under RTOS with much less autonomy, this begins to give many arguments against the Google ecosystem.

The Samsung Galaxy 5 Pro watch
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro // Source: Chloé Pertuis for Frandroid

Of course, I’m just waiting to be proven wrong. The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is already a step in the right direction with its two to three day battery life. But we are still far from the seven to fourteen days of autonomy that RTOS or Harmony OS watches show despite their equally vibrant and bright Oled screen. Perhaps Qualcomm will surprise us with its new Snapdragon W5+ Gen 1 chip later this year.

Until then, the case for Wear OS will always have a hard time convincing in the face of its flaws. The uses proposed by the Google operating system, that is, hundreds of third-party applications, have little weight in the face of limited autonomy and prices much higher than those of simpler watches.

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