A new wave of Android smartwatches, with better software and a huge range of styles, are due to arrive in mid to late 2017, but if you want something to wear right now, we think the Asus ZenWatch 3 is the most stylish and useful smartwatch for most Android phone owners. It is smaller and lighter than the typical gigantic Android smartwatch, and its three style options give it wider appeal than most of the competition. It lasts a full day on a full charge (and through the night, if you want to track your sleep), and can last most of the day on a 15-minute charge. It’s a newer Android Wear watch, with hardware that supports the latest Android Wear features, and it costs about $100 less than the competition.
At least a half-dozen unique Android Wear devices have been announced for 2017, along with literally hundreds of functionally identical name-brand clones, all of them running the newer, better Android Wear 2.0 operating system. We’ll test some of these watches, but the software and core hardware among them will be much the same, if not identical. For now, we recommend the Asus ZenWatch 3 because it’s an affordable Android Wear watch that will get the Android Wear 2.0 update in the second quarter of 2017, and it has three buttons that will make Wear 2.0 more useful. The ZenWatch 3 doesn’t have a heart-rate monitor, or built-in GPS or LTE hardware for use without a nearby phone, but it does relay notifications to you, can count steps and a few other exercises, and, most of all, can look good on more than one kind of wrist.
If you have a Samsung phone and you like a larger watch, Samsung’s Tizen-based Gear S3 watch could be a better option than the ZenWatch 3. Its rotating bezel gets you to notifications and useful information with fewer hassles than Android Wear’s mostly touch-based interface. The battery lasts two to three days, depending on use. And if you have an AT&T or T-Mobile plan and buy an LTE-equipped S3, you can forward phone calls and texts to your watch and truly take a quick trip without your phone. The Gear S3 can work with any Android phone running Android 4.4 or newer, but its reliance on Samsung apps and services makes it the best choice mainly for those already toting a Samsung phone, which has most of those apps preinstalled.
(If you’ve got an iPhone, check out our guide to the best smartwatch for iPhone owners.)
As a Wirecutter staff writer, I have worn, tested, and customized almost all of the major smartwatches released since the Pebble first raised $10 million on Kickstarter. I’m also well-versed in software and Android devices, having written a how-to book on Android and written for productivity and software site Lifehacker for more than three years. I also help write and edit The Wirecutter’s guide to the best smartwatch for iPhone owners.
You should buy a smartwatch if the notifications that come up on your phone—some or all of them—are important to your daily life or work. If you think you could have a better, more focused life by seeing your notifications on your wrist and responding to them, a smartwatch might be worth the cost.
I have worn a smartwatch almost daily for three years. Some of those days, I’ve been happy my smartwatch let me keep my phone in my pocket or bag all day. Other times I have felt rude, distracted, or ridiculous looking at my wrist to see that somebody replied to a text with “Thanks.” If you don’t look at your phone more than 10 times a day, you don’t need a smartwatch. If your day involves messages from multiple apps, (text, email, Hangouts, Slack, Hipchat, Basecamp, Snapchat, Twitter, or Instagram, for example), a smartwatch can show you the most important pings without requiring you to pull out your phone. If you often dictate your messages and searches to your phone, a watch can be easier to talk to. And if you want to know how much you move around all day, in addition to your notification-wrangling, a smartwatch could be a great purchase.
Does a smartwatch really help you stay fit? Although those who want to track regular workouts or exercise can (and should) buy a dedicated device like a fitness tracker or a GPS running or biking watch, it’s important to note that smartwatch manufacturers seem to be leaning more and more toward fitness-tracking features and further away from notifications. But because smartwatches often make you bring your phone along with you on your runs and bike rides, their touchscreens aren’t as easy to use during activity, and they often ship with leather or metal bands that aren’t ideal for exercise use, we recommend seeking a fitness band more suited to your everyday needs than investing in a smartwatch for the time being.
In early 2017, the smartwatch business, especially the Android segment, is in turmoil, and the outlook is nowhere near as strong as it once was. Early mover Pebble has shut down after a sale of its assets to Fitbit (more on that in What to look forward to). The maker of our top pick, Motorola (part of Lenovo), along with LG and Huawei (the latter the maker of our other pick), confirmed they would not make a new model in late 2016 or early 2017. And some analysts indicate that the Apple Watch, perhaps the leader of the category in critical appreciation and media attention, may be seeing declines in shipments, though Apple claims Apple Watches are selling better than ever. All of that is to say: Better Android smartwatches could be coming, and perhaps they’ll be better looking and have built-in cellular, but we don’t know—and no purchase right now is guaranteed to be as relevant in a few years.
How one smartwatch compares with another depends in large part on the person wearing it. Battery life varies based on how many messages you receive and how often you wake up the screen to look at them. Heart-rate monitors are inconsistent across skin tones and activity types. Style is a matter of preference and priorities. Even your enthusiasm and skill for dictating messages and searches will decide how useful you find a smartwatch.
But patterns and quirks do emerge over extended testing. Wirecutter staffers wore all of the watches we tested for multiple days, or sometimes weeks. During our testing, we walked, used dozens of apps, dictated messages, and hunted for watch faces. We also recorded battery life, noted reactions from friends and strangers, tallied quirks and bugs, and tweaked all the settings we could.
Most of the smartwatches we tested run Android Wear, Google’s operating system for watches. Android Wear, unlike the Android that runs on phones, is consistent across devices. The taps, swipes, voice dictation, and menus on a Moto 360 are identical to those on an Asus ZenWatch, an LG Urbane, or a Huawei. The newest Android Wear watches have the same processors and memory and much the same battery life. In other words, the main difference is on the outside: size, materials, and appearance, and what you can customize on the screen.
We have tested “hybrid” smartwatches in the past, which do not have full touchscreens, but instead send buzzes or flash LED lights on a traditional watch face to alert you to notifications. Some hybrid smartwatches also track steps. We do not consider these alongside fully capable smartwatches in this guide, and do not think much of most of them.
The Asus ZenWatch 3 is a lightweight and stylish smartwatch, available in a few different looks, that fits more medium- and large-size wrists than the competition. It lasts all day and through the night on a full charge, and you can get its battery to 60 percent with just a 15-minute charge. It does most of the same things other Android Wear watches do―notifications, light apps, step tracking, and speakerphone calls―for about $100 less. The ZenWatch has a fully round display that’s sharp enough and automatically adjusts to the surrounding light. And it’s due to receive Android Wear 2.0 in the second quarter of 2017, which will provide a better interface.
The circular ZenWatch 3 body is 45 millimeters (1.7 inches) across. That’s just 1 millimeter narrower than either the Moto 360 or the Gear S3, yet though those watches feel big, the ZenWatch doesn’t. Its bezel is thin, and the bezel’s two-layer metal design makes the glass face meld into the body. That body, just under 10 millimeters thick, is a millimeter thinner than the Moto 360 and 3 millimeters thinner than the Gear S3, and those differences are noticeable.
The ZenWatch 3’s fixed downward-curved lugs also help the watch fit narrow or medium wrists, although they can create gaps on smaller wrists. The watch’s size and color options don’t disqualify smaller wrists or more-modest sensibilities. The leather straps are comfortable and don’t seem as cheaply made as the ones we’ve seen fray smartwatches like the Pebble Steel, or even the ZenWatch 2. Overall, it’s a smartwatch with broader wrist appeal than most.
Because it runs Android Wear, the ZenWatch can do the same things as other Android Wear watches when paired with an Android phone: run slimmed-down versions of Android apps, show notifications, take voice dictation for messages and replies, and handle small tasks such as set timers or reminders. It can also track steps, track sleep, and alert you if you’ve been sitting still more than an hour. It lacks a heart-rate monitor, as well as built-in GPS for tracking outdoor running or cycling (without a phone), but you probably won’t want to wear a metal watch with leather straps during a workout, anyway. (If you need more-accurate mapping of outdoor exercise, consider a GPS running watch.)
Asus claims that the ZenWatch 3 can last a day on a 15-minute charge (which can boost a dead watch to a 60-percent battery level), and we’ve found that to be true. The ZenWatch 3 can last a couple days on a full charge if you turn it off at night. Or, if you find it comfortable enough, you can leave it on to track your sleep and charge it the next morning. The ZenWatch probably won’t make it 3 days, which means you’ll still need to pack the proprietary ZenWatch charger on long trips. But if you forget to charge it overnight, the 15-minute quick charge means you can get it ready for the day by charging it during your shower. As a failsafe, there’s a battery-saving Eco Mode that shuts off the watch’s network connection and notification wake-ups—if you can live without messages (or just get them on your phone), you’ll be able to use the watch for time and alarms. We got an extra day of use (about 18 more hours) by enabling Eco Mode early one morning, when the ZenWatch was at 20 percent.
The ZenWatch 3’s display is a bit crisper than that of most smartwatches, at 400×400 pixels; its color balance is fine, if a bit cool. What makes the display stand out is that it is fully round, and also offers automatic brightness adjustment. Until now, round Android Wear watches had a cut-out section at bottom of the screen to accommodate the ambient-lightness sensor (creating a “flat tire” look, as with our previous pick, the Moto 360), or they lacked automatic brightness (as with our previous runner-up pick, the original Huawei Watch). It’s a real annoyance to have to adjust your watch’s display brightness each time you go outside, but the flat-tire screen understandably offends some sensibilities, so the ZenWatch 3 display is a good step forward.
You can configure the top and bottom buttons on the right side of the ZenWatch 3 (near the 2:00 and 4:00 positions) for different functions, if you install the ZenWatch Manager app on your phone: alarms, messages, or any app or function you like. Pressing the crown button dims the screen; holding that button down brings up the main list of settings and apps. With Android Wear 2.0, which should arrive on the ZenWatch 3 in the second quarter of 2017, you won’t need an extra app to configure those buttons. Given these hardware features, and the ZenWatch 3’s recent arrival, it’s more likely to receive Android Wear updates for longer than most current Android Wear watches.
The worst thing about the ZenWatch 3 is its proprietary, hard-to-find straps. Standard pin-release watch straps won’t fit into the ZenWatch 3’s notched lugs, unless you custom-cut the ends. ZenWatch’s own site has sparse offerings, and at the time of this writing we couldn’t find any compatible straps available on Amazon. That makes your initial choice of watch case and strap quite important.
Though the ZenWatch 3 hardware is subtle, Asus’s watch faces and companion phone software look like they’re from a different world—or at least a few years back in Android design. The ZenWatch Manager app, which lets you customize watch faces and adds some exclusive Asus apps, is full of aggressive bright colors, tiny interface arrows, and confusing interaction flows. Many of the built-in watch faces (which you cannot remove) are forgettable, regrettable, or just odd. Thankfully, you can, with patience and practice, create watch faces from scratch to better suit your tastes.
The same goes for Asus ZenFit, the activity-tracking software, but at least you can connect that to Google Fit and use Google’s more app- and hardware-compatible service to track your activity. The ZenWatch 3 doesn’t have a heart-rate monitor, but does track steps. You can install the same fitness apps as on other Android Wear watches, and show notifications from whatever apps you prefer to use to encourage healthy habits.
The Samsung Gear S3, which runs on the Tizen operating system rather than Android Wear, is easy to recommend to people who already own a Samsung phone, and especially those who can buy a cellular-equipped Gear S3 from their mobile carrier (perhaps in a bundled discount with a new phone) to allow for a mobile LTE connection and forwarding of calls and SMS messages. The Gear S3’s rotating bezel feels good to turn, and you can tweak the screen’s sensitivity so when you do need to touch the screen, you can even use regular winter gloves. The watch itself provides the quickest response to bezel-turns and taps we’ve seen in any smartwatch—Apple Watch included. And the Frontier model looks rugged on medium to large wrists, and the Classic model looks business casual.
The S3’s battery lasts for multiple days, even if you wear it for sleep tracking (as uncomfortable as that might be with a watch of this size). The watch works with Samsung’s S Health app to track steps, monitor your heart rate, and encourage you to keep moving—both the Classic and Frontier models can be decent workout trackers for casual athletes, given their built-in GPS. The Gear S3 can relay and let you act on any of your phone’s notifications, and offers smarter contextual replies to text messages than you get with Android Wear. And if you’re already using Samsung Pay, S-Health, and the S-Voice assistant, the Gear S3 is a convenient way to use them more frequently.
You can pair the Gear S3 with any Android phone running Android 4.4 or later, but we don’t recommend using it with a non-Samsung phone: You’ll have to download at least eight apps and services to make use of all of the watch’s functions; you won’t be able to use the clever contextual replies; and in our testing with two different non-Samsung Android phones, we saw some Gear apps constantly trying to update, crashing upon launching, and sparking a lot of annoying notifications.
The Gear S3’s bezel rotates, with firm clicks as it hits each of 24 notches around the dial. (The Frontier model provides a larger bezel to grab onto than the Classic, and for some reason the Frontier’s bezel feels easier to turn, too.) The bezel lets you navigate your notifications and any home screen widgets you’ve set up, like music controls, shortcuts to text a contact, calendar, and the like. It can also scroll through lists of options and long bits of text, spin around a clock to set an alarm, and turn to answer or decline a call or to dismiss an alarm. As noted above, the Gear S3’s interface is snappy, and moving through it with the bezel is fun.
That said, the interface itself needs some work, and it takes a while to get used to; but trial and error will teach you the difference between flicking items up versus down, and what the buttons on the side do. (The top button goes back one screen; the bottom button takes you to the home screen.) It’s strange that you need to tap the touchscreen for most actions, given the bezel and buttons, but the screen is responsive. We recommend increasing the screen’s sensitivity (in the watch’s settings), which lets you use the screen with gloves on—we’ve found no real downside to doing so.
The Gear S3’s screen is fully round, with a 1.3-inch Super AMOLED display sporting a 360×360-pixel resolution, which is average for the category. Battery life is impressive, even when using LTE and GPS features: You can expect two to three days of performance, even if you wear the watch to bed for sleep tracking. (Setting the display to always be on shortens battery life, but you can still go a whole day on a full charge.) When the battery is almost drained, a drastic battery-saving mode can reduce functionality to showing you just the time, giving you many more hours—perhaps an entire day.
Like Android Wear watches, the Gear S3 can receive notifications from any of your phone’s apps, and let you act on them in the same way you would on your phone. For example, you can check “Done” on Google Now reminders, set your to-do app to snooze a deadline for an hour, or enter quick replies to notifications from any app that offers the feature (including Slack and Gmail). We like the way the Gear S3 offers contextual quick replies for text messages (though this feature is available only when used with a Samsung phone and Samsung’s default Messages app). If someone texts you with a message that starts with “Can I,” the first quick replies you rotate through include “Sure.” If someone texts with “Sorry, I can’t,” you’ll get something like “No problem” among the first suggestions. Voice replies work, too, although not as well as on a good Android Wear watch or the Apple Watch.
The Gear S3 is decent as an activity and fitness tracker, especially if you pick the Frontier model with its default rubberized, sweat-resistant band. (You can also swap in a standard 22 mm band.) Both Gear S3 models count steps and monitor heart rate (passively through the day, or actively during a workout), and can measure your outdoor running, biking, or other excursions with built-in GPS (which is faster and more accurate on an LTE-equipped model). The Gear S3 is tied to Samsung’s S Health app, which is decent, if overambitious in trying to monitor everything, including coffee and water intake, and stress levels. S Health can tie into many third-party fitness apps, including Strava, Fitbit, and MyFitnessPal, but we wish it tied into the more broadly available Google Fit, as well.
The Gear S3’s biggest problem is its considerable size and chunky style. It’s a bulky watch, 49 mm tall by 46 mm wide (1.9 by 1.8 inches), and the bulge on the back from its large battery raises its face a half-inch off the wrist. The face is about as wide as the bottom of a muffin tin. It’s going to look out of place on small or medium wrists, and it’s going to feel out of place if you don’t like a thick, prominent watch. Its styling is also either gunmetal-gray rugged (the Frontier) or shiny-silver financial sector (the Classic).
The Gear S3 runs on Samsung-backed Tizen software, which does not have the same range and quality of apps as the Apple Watch’s watchOS, Android Wear, or even the (dead) Pebble platform. There are also potential security concerns. A security researcher has discovered a number of deeply rooted security issues and potential exploits in the Tizen system, as reported by Motherboard, which affects the Gear S3. Samsung has stated that it will work with the researcher on repairing these issues, and we’ll watch to see if any working exploits surface. For now, we think the Gear S3 is still a good smartwatch for those with (Android-based) Samsung phones.
Another problem is the mess of a market for Gear apps and watch faces. Samsung touts apps by Spotify and Uber, but most everything else is from independent developers. There’s a $2 third-party app to control the Nest thermostat, for example, but many of its reviews cite problems with battery life, crashes, and connectivity. The same goes for extra watch faces: They exist, but they tend toward gaudy design and niche interest. In other words, the Gear S3 works well with its built-in apps and the notifications from your phone apps, but don’t expect to find apps for every other app or device you use.
Despite its flaws, we think the Gear S3 is a useful device, especially for those who don’t mind a larger watch, and for Samsung phone owners who already have all the apps and services in place to get the most from this smartwatch.
The ZenWatch, and most Android-compatible smartwatches today, run Android Wear. Although Android Wear itself is improving as a helpful companion to an Android phone (and, in a much more limited way, to iPhones), and the 2.0 update (released in February, and rolling out to devices later this year) represents a substantial step forward, it still has some inherent inconveniences.
Using Android Wear means tapping, swiping, and speaking replies and commands, actions that are sometimes less convenient than using buttons or scrolling a dial. In Android Wear 2.0, the main watch interface is far less complicated. Swiping left or right changes watch faces, swiping down brings up a quick settings panel, swiping up shows your notifications, tapping the watch’s main button brings you to a scrollable list of apps installed on your watch, and holding that button activates the Google Assistant for voice commands. On newer watches that have rotating dials, you can use them to scroll through apps and text, or to zoom in or out of maps. That’s quite a few things you can do, but nowhere near the level of tapping, swiping, holding, and confused guessing that the three-year-old original Android Wear demanded. Still, Wear watches are mostly touch-focused, which can be tough in cold weather or with your hands full.
The usefulness of Wear’s contextual “cards” and reminders depends on how well Google Now knows you—and how well Google Now knows you depends on your use of Google offerings like Gmail, Maps, and search. And without a stable Internet connection on your phone or through your watch’s Wi-Fi (present on all but the oldest models), Android Wear watches can’t do much besides set an alarm, play offline music, and relay reminders already set.
Still, by saying “Okay, Google” to your Wear watch, you can get nearly all the searches and functions you can get by saying “Okay, Google” to your phone. With the addition of the Google Assistant in Android Wear 2.0, you can now use more-natural language to ask questions, work with apps, and control smart-home devices. You can send and respond to messages by using your voice, by drawing or choosing emoji, or by choosing prewritten replies. On most newer models, like the ZenWatch 3, you can use the speakerphone for phone calls. You can do a lot of things you used to have to pull out your phone to do. Once you learn how it works, Android Wear can fit into your life—but you have to be willing to learn how it fits.
The ZenWatch 3 offers built-in step counting, movement reminders, and a few extra workout trackers, like push-up counting. Some Android Wear watches add an optical heart-rate monitor on the bottom of their case. Paired with a phone, the ZenWatch can serve as a wrist-mounted display of your running or biking pace using RunKeeper, Strava, or other fitness platforms. And the Gear S3 has built-in GPS tracking and, in some models, a built-in LTE data connection. But you should not buy a smartwatch primarily for activity and exercise functions. They’re good enough for some people, but they’ll disappoint those looking for serious exercise or health insights.
For starters, most Android Wear watches cannot track your outdoor movement without requiring you to also carry a smartphone with GPS and data enabled; and running with a paired smartphone puts a heavy battery drain on both the watch and the phone. The heart-rate monitors are also not as reliable the one on the Apple Watch (which is itself far from perfect). In running with all the top contenders, I found that Android Wear heart-rate monitors cannot reliably give readings while moving any faster than a brisk walk. And most smartwatches come with leather or metal bands that aren’t ideal for running. Though quick-release pins make band-swapping easier, it’s still not something you want to do in a hurry—if you want your smartwatch to go on your runs, you’ll want to find a sweat-resistant strap you can wear every day.
Still, Android Wear watches can give some people a good-enough level of activity monitoring, as a bonus to the notification forwarding that is their primary benefit. If you don’t need great accuracy, they can provide a sense of progress and allow you to avoid having to wear another dedicated device. And once you upgrade to Android Wear 2.0, watches with heart-rate sensors will be able to automatically detect workouts and show fitness statistics on their primary watch faces.
Android Wear watches can pair with iPhones, but they’re not worth the expense or hassle unless you already own one of these watches and decide to switch to an iPhone. With limited exceptions, an Android Wear smartwatch cannot respond or otherwise act on notifications coming from an iPhone other than to dismiss them. We wrote about the failings of Android Wear as an Apple Watch alternative in our guide to the best smartwatch for iPhone owners.
Android Wear 2.0 was released on February 8, 2017. It was originally supposed to roll out to existing Android Wear watches in “a matter of weeks,” but as of early April 2017, only a few obscure watches have received updates, and few manufacturers have even announced upgrades to come. Our Android Wear watch pick, the ZenWatch 3, is expected to receive an upgrade to 2.0 in the second quarter of 2017. We detailed the update’s major changes in the About Android Wear section, and we’re looking forward to fully testing Android Wear 2.0.
The ZTE Quartz is an Android Wear 2.0 watch that costs less than $200 and lacks a heart-rate monitor; it also omits NFC for mobile payments. But it has a few upgrades you might not expect at this price, including built-in GPS support, a serious battery (500 mAh), and 3G connectivity, without a phone, for T-Mobile customers. The trade-off for all those features: It’s 0.3 mm thicker than the notably thick LG Watch Sport, and it’s not a small watch, at 46 mm in diameter. The ZTE Quartz is available as of April 14, 2017, on T-Mobile’s site, and April 21 in T-Mobile stores. We expect to test the Quartz soon after its release.
Samsung announced that the Classic model of its Gear S3 watch, one of our picks, will be available with built-in LTE (but didn’t provide a date for it). Cellular connectivity was previously an exclusive to the Frontier model.
A huge range of luxury brands, licensed by the Fossil Group, intend to launch close to 300 new hybrid and touchscreen smartwatches in 2017. These are not unique devices, however, but the same hardware with different watch materials and watch face styling. They’re likely to be similar hardware to Fossil’s own Q line, although it’s unknown which models will receive speedy software updates when available.
Misfit’s Vapor smartwatch, due in summer 2017, stands out from the Fossil-licensed crowd, due to its built-in GPS, a “virtual bezel” that turns to navigate the system, stand-alone Bluetooth music playback, and swim-ready waterproofing to 5 atmospheres. It looks interesting, and we aim to test it.
The newest watches from LG, the Watch Sport and Watch Style, come with Android Wear 2.0 installed and were designed in collaboration with Google. The Sport is the most feature-loaded Android Wear watch you can buy right now, offering integrated GPS and LTE circuitry (sharing a phone number with an Android phone), a speaker, a heart-rate monitor, three buttons, and NFC support for using Android Pay directly from the watch. Early reviews, however, suggest that the Sport suffers for those add-ons in thickness, comfort, and appearance. The Style, for $100 less than the Sport, is thinner and more comfortable; it offers Bluetooth and Wi-Fi but has a look that The Verge’s Dan Seifert describes as “kind of cheap.” We aim to test both devices soon.
Huawei announced a Watch 2 in late February 2017, with US availability in April 2017. It’s much more activity-minded than the original Huawei Watch, with built-in GPS and 4G capabilities, improved dust and water resistance, and integrated VO2 max measurements to accompany a heart-rate monitor. We’ll test it when it’s available.
We learned from Motorola in mid-March 2017 that the company was no longer making the second-generation Moto 360, our previous top pick. Stock of the smartwatch is also dwindling at many retailers, and, perhaps most significant, you can no longer customize the 360 through Motorola’s Moto Maker program. We still consider the watch—flat-tire screen and all—to be among the best Android Wear devices available, and the 360 is due to receive an upgrade to Android Wear 2.0 in 2017. If you can find a model that fits your style, at a suitable price for a last-generation device, it’s worth considering.
We previously recommended the Pebble Time Round as a stylish budget pick. On December 7, 2016, Pebble announced the closing of the company and the sale of assets to Fitbit. Pebble does not “expect to release regular software updates or new Pebble features.” Pebble watches sold before December 7, 2016, are no longer eligible for direct support or for warranty returns or exchanges, and no further Pebble models will be sold. Given these facts, we cannot recommend that anyone buy a Pebble now.
People who own a Pebble can keep using their devices through 2017. After that, Pebble’s servers will no longer provide an official app store, timeline syncing, and certain other services. But Pebble watches will still be able to be set up and used offline, and community projects like Rebble may be able to replace Pebble’s services.
The Huawei Watch was a previous pick in this guide for those seeking a more traditional “men’s luxury” style. It’s still a good Android Wear watch, with a fully round, crisp OLED screen, and more styles than with any smartwatch but the Moto 360. Its battery life is solid, and it’s due to receive an Android Wear 2.0 upgrade. But with the announcement of the Huawei Watch 2, the original Huawei Watch is only for those who can find it on sale.
Fossil’s Q line of smartwatches (distinct from its step-tracking, message-buzzing “hybrid” lines) offers two models, the Q Marshal and the Q Wander, that look and feel like the Moto 360. In most respects they work just the same as the Moto 360, because their software is the exact same Android Wear system, minus Fossil’s custom watch faces and a helper app. If you like the look and price of a Fossil Q watch, you can buy one and enjoy a good Android Wear experience. What keeps us from recommending the Fossil Q models is their thickness (13.5 mm, 2.1 mm more than the Moto 360, itself not all that thin) and their own “flat tire” section at the bottom of their otherwise circular screens. The Moto 360 and other watches have a similar flat section, but the purported trade-off is that this area is used to house the circuitry necessary to adjust the watch brightness automatically; the Q watches we tested did not offer an automatic brightness setting. For some people, the lack of this feature won’t be a dealbreaker—setting the brightness to 3 or 4 should be okay in most cases―but it makes the “flat tire” screen less acceptable.
We have not yet tested TAG Heuer’s Connected watches, although our initial assessment of them is much the same as of the Fossil Q watches. If you like one of the available styles, and if you have the money to spend, the Connected watches are likely to be similar to the Moto 360 in how the screen and software look, respond, and operate. But Motorola is more likely to keep its device updated than a relative newcomer to smartwatch software like TAG Heuer.
The first-generation LG Watch Urbane is a large, thick watch that sits wide on the wrist. Its strap never fit right on my mid-size wrist, as I seemed to need an in-between notch. And on a small wrist it’s, in a word, ostentatious. The update to the Watch Urbane, the Urbane 2nd Edition, has a larger screen, built-in LTE, and a thinner—but still chunky—body. After about a week of sales, LG recalled the Urbane 2nd Edition because of a “hardware issue which affects the day-to-day functionality of the device.” Although it’s now available (for AT&T and Verizon), Dan Seifert of The Verge thinks “the Urbane 2 is a bit too large, a bit too expensive, and not differentiated enough from other Android Wear options to justify its higher cost and monthly fees.”
We tested the CoWatch, made by Cronologics and featuring integration with Amazon’s well-regarded Alexa digital assistant. The big catch: The Alexa feature works only when your CoWatch is connected to Wi-Fi—say, at your home or office—or if you connect the CoWatch to a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi hotspot from your phone. Unlike most smartwatches, the CoWatch cannot maintain a passive data connection to your phone, whether for Alexa interaction or voice replies. Beyond Alexa, which was hit-and-miss in our testing on Wi-Fi, the CoWatch uses a seemingly modified version of the Android Wear interface that in our tests was often sluggish to respond. The CoWatch didn’t offer enough for us to recommend it over a good Android Wear watch. As the CoWatch’s parent company was purchased by Google, the CoWatch may be a limited-edition item now, anyway.
Motorola’s Moto 360 Sport adds a few exercise features to the standard Moto 360. The Sport’s built-in GPS circuitry lets you track outdoor workouts without carrying a phone. An AnyLight hybrid display switches to e-ink when in bright sunlight for easier viewing. And the watchband is made of a moisture-wicking silicone that also surrounds the entire watch body (except the screen) for added protection. Though the independent GPS does give the watch an edge in activity tracking, the built-in software is singularly focused on running to the exclusion of biking, hiking, or other activities. The strap also attracts an uncomfortable amount of lint and dirt in everyday use, and Consumer Reports cast doubt on Motorola’s water-resistance claims, seeing failure on a test unit after 30 minutes of immersion. For serious runners, a GPS watch still seems like the best option.
Casio’s Android-based Smart Outdoor Watch is just what it claims to be: a smartwatch focused on outdoor activities and information. The watch has sensors for altitude and atmospheric pressure, a monochrome “timepiece mode” for extended battery life, and military-rated durability. Although Sam Byford of The Verge praises the Casio Smart Outdoor Watch for being that “rare Android device” where the manufacturer customizations are more useful than its stock software, if you’re not looking for a hiking-specific smartwatch, we don’t recommend it over our main picks.
The Asus ZenWatch 2 was a budget-level Android Wear watch, priced below $150 for most configurations, and it showed. Its bezel was huge. The curved plastic bottom lifted the flat body, making it sit high on your wrist and creating a gap where the straps attached. Though most new Android Wear watches improved upon the laggy experience that marred earlier watches, the ZenWatch 2 was crash prone and seemed to lag in its responses. The larger size was very, very large, and the smaller size seemed mismatched to its narrow straps. Although the ZenWatch 2 was affordable, it was discontinued.
We wore one of Martian’s newest Voice Command watches, the Alpha, for a week. It’s an analog watch that shows notifications from your phone on a small OLED panel near the bottom of the watch face. It can also access your phone’s virtual assistant (Google Now or Siri) if you hold a button and speak into the microphone, although it worked only about half the time in our testing. There are many decent ideas in the Martian Voice Command watch, but many more touted features that don’t seem all that useful. The screen is small and the interface scrolls slowly: A text message of more than five words takes a long time to scroll through, and if you miss part of it, it’s bothersome to go back. The buttons are difficult to press, and the ring around the glass on our test watch had a jagged lip that caught clothes and fingers. The speaker is loud and clear, even on phone calls, but that does not seem like a major selling point for most people.
Nixon announced The Mission, a rugged Android Wear watch aimed at skiing, snowboarding, and surfing enthusiasts. It should be waterproof to 10 atmospheres, with real-time ski/surf conditions on custom watch faces. It’s a $400 specialty watch for a narrow set of buyers.
(Photos by Kevin Purdy.)
Originally published: April 4, 2017