Wearable tech is growing more popular every year. We’ve seen fitness trackers soar, smart jewelry take off, and luxury brands are beginning to get in on the act with hybrid smartwatches. But true smartwatches are one of the most popular choices among early adopters of wearable tech. Big names such as Huawei and LG offer devices running Google’s Wear OS (previously known as Android Wear) smartwatch platform, while Apple is on its own with the Apple Watch.
If you’re ready to strap on a smartwatch, you have a choice between two dominant platforms: Google’s Wear OS or Apple’s Watch OS. Which one will suit you better, and which should you avoid? We’ve compared the specs, features, and designs to help you decide where to spend your cash.
|Controls||Touchscreen, “Digital Crown” depends on manufacturer||Touchscreen, “Digital Crown” dial|
|Voice Control||Google Assistant||Siri|
|App marketplace||Google Play||Apple App Store|
|Fitness and health monitoring||Google Fit (or watch manufacturer app)||Apple Health|
|Heart rate sensor||Depends on manufacturer||Yes|
|Waterproof||Depends on manufacturer||Splash/water resistant to IPX7|
|Smartphone compatibility||Android 4.3+ and iOS 9+||iPhone 5 and later|
When you’re dealing with a smartwatch, design is just as important as functionality. A watch is more than just a timepiece — it’s an accessory. Both Google and Apple have gone out of their way to ensure their flagship smartwatches bring out the best in design and aesthetics.
Wear OS watches run the gamut in terms of design. Some, like the LG Watch Sport, have Apple Watch-like rotating crowns. Others boast physical keys that launch apps, and other special features, like Casio’s WSD-F20.
While older versions of Wear OS (Android Wear) were sometimes awkward to use on rounded screens, the Android Wear 2.0 update brought a welcome redesign. Rather than having to swipe left or right to navigate menus and select apps, the new interface is a simple, vertical design that focuses on up/down gestures. Wear OS smartwatches provide ample opportunities for customization, from changing the watch face to buying an aftermarket strap. The LG Watch Sport is the exception to the rule — its band houses a cellular radio, so it isn’t swappable — but watches like the Huawei Watch 2 and Fossil Q Venture can be accessorized to your heart’s content.
The Apple Watch, on the other hand, has a square screen. You can choose from various watch faces, and there’s an extensive range of Apple Watch bands that cater to fashionistas and fitness freaks alike. Each of the Apple Watch models — the Apple Watch Series 3, Apple Watch Series 2, the Watch Series 1, the Watch Nike+, the Watch Hermès — support a slew of different band and case materials, and come in two sizes: 38mm and 42mm.
The Apple Watch Series 3 comes with an aluminum, stainless steel, or ceramic body and a choice of different straps, but prices vary wildly. The design is consistent across the range of Apple Watch models: A square body with rounded edges and a bright little screen. It’s characterized by the digital crown, a clever, functional wheel that adds a touch of flair. It’s far thinner and slimmer than most of Wear OS’s offerings, though we are seeing more refined designs over time.
In terms of features, Google’s Wear OS and Apple’s Watch OS have a lot in common.
Wear OS has complications — widget-like subdials that act as shortcuts for apps. They’re an easier way to see information at a glance, such as calendar appointments, fitness goal progress, and more. You can customize watch faces to perform actions with a single tap, or download additional apps with complications support from the Play Store.
The Apple Watch’s complications are identical in most ways. They show up-to-the-minute information and act as shortcuts to your favorite apps.
On Wear OS, saying, “OK Google” pulls up the Google Assistant, Google’s AI-powered digital helper. You can ask it questions about your calendar, control your smart home, find flight times, sports scores, nearby restaurants, directions, the weather, and more to get detailed, curated responses. You can also ask it to dictate text messages and set alarms, or to toggle settings like Bluetooth and Airplane mode.
The Apple Watch’s answer to the Google Assistant is Siri. Just like the Assistant, Siri supplies directions, launches apps, sets alarms, sends texts, and performs other actions on command. It integrates with third-party apps like Zova (“Hey Siri, start a workout in Zova”) and PayPal (“Hey Siri, book a ride with Lyft”), and it’s fully compatible with HomeKit, Apple’s smart home platform. If you have a Philips Hue bulb, you can ask your watch to switch it off or change its color.
Fitness is front and center in both products. Wear OS boasts the ability to set activity goals and reminders, and a dashboard shows all of your fitness data right on the watch. Android Wear 2.0 added automatic activity recognition — it’ll track sit-ups, squats, push-ups, and weight-lifting reps, plus the calories you burn while walking, biking, or running. All of these features are built into Google’s fitness platform and designed around easy-to-use APIs for third-party developers.
Many of the same health features are present and accounted for on the Apple Watch. The Apple Health app tracks your progress across three categories (Move, Stand, and Exercise), and colored rings indicate how close you are to reaching your fitness goals. The Apple Watch’s Workout app, meanwhile, lets you track and log activities like running, walking, and cycling, and shows real-time metrics while you’re working out.
Wear OS’s smartphone integration makes managing watches easy. Any notifications you swipe away on your watch disappears from your smartphone’s notification shade, so you’ll never see the same message twice. You can adjust your smartwatch’s speaker volume from your wrist, moreover, or control music and video playback. And you can even use it as a camera viewfinder.
The Apple Watch features a comparable level of integration when it comes to notifications. Incoming messages like texts, email alerts, or missed calls appear on the Watch when you’re wearing it. You won’t receive alerts on the Watch when you’re actively using your phone, and once you view the notification on either the Watch or your iPhone, they’ll automatically dismiss themselves.
It’s important to note that many of Wear OS’s features won’t work on an iPhone. You can’t respond to iMessages on a Wear OS watch. Calendars don’t sync properly — you’re forced to choose between Google Calendar or Apple Calendar. And connecting to Wi-Fi requires that you enter the password manually on your iPhone.
Calling and messaging
The calling functions in Wear OS are just as tightly integrated as notifications. Watches have built-in speakers and microphones and can answer and place calls. Some Wear OS watches are cellular-enabled — with a compatible data plan, they can call and text contacts without a paired smartphone.
The Apple Watch can handle calls, too, and its latest Series 3 model supports a cellular data plan so you can leave your iPhone behind.
Both Wear OS and Watch OS take note of your exact location to give you relevant notifications and contextual reminders. Any applications you’ve downloaded on your smartphone automatically install on your Wear OS watch once the two sync. Applications also update simultaneously on your smartphone and smartwatch to ensure you’re always using the most up to date version of the app. The same goes for the Apple Watch, meaning new apps will automatically install when you download a compatible app on your iPhone after the initial setup process.
Wear OS has a really cool messaging trick up its sleeve: AI-powered replies. They’re called Smart Replies, and they use machine learning to get to know your writing style and generate responses to incoming messages. For example, say you get a message asking if you’re still on for dinner; Wear OS will suggest replies like “Sure thing,” “Definitely,” or “I don’t think so.”
The Apple Watch features a messaging system that’s a little more personal. Using iMessage, you can send a sketch, a tap, or even your heart rate to those you connect with most. It sounds a bit creepy, but sent to the right person, it’s surprisingly intimate.
Wear OS works just fine without a smartwatch. It connects to the internet via Wi-Fi (or cellular, if available), and syncs notifications via Google’s servers. You can listen to downloaded music from the Play Music app on your smartphone, check messages, and ask the Google Assistant for directions. Thanks to a new standalone Google Play store, you can search for, install, update, and uninstall applications straight from your wrist.
The Apple Watch is just as self-sufficient. With a Wi-Fi connection, you can use Siri, send and receive messages, place calls, check the weather, control smart home devices, and set reminders. Offline, you can track workouts and activity, make purchases with Apple Pay, see your current hear rate, view photos synced in the photos app, and listen to playlists synced from the music app.
Both Wear OS devices and the Apple Watch support contactless payments, albeit a little differently.
Wear OS watches with NFC use Google Pay, Google’s payment platform. At compatible point-of-sales terminals, you can tap your wrist against the register to pay for goods and services. You’ll have to check to see if your watch has NFC and supports Google Pay.
The Apple Watch relies on Apple Pay (imaginative names, right?) Pressing the button under the digital crown twice brings up your default debit or credit card, and holding the Apple Watch near a terminal completes the transaction.
Price and availability
A healthy choice of Wear OS smartwatches are already on sale, and deciding which one is for you comes down to which you find the most attractive. Prices vary but are mostly between $100 and under $600. We’ve enjoyed using the Huawei Watch 2, the Movado Connect, and the Fossil Q Venture, for example.
We’ve outlined some Wear OS-compatible smartwatches below, with their accompanying review scores and prices, where available.
|Huawei Watch 2||$300+||3.5 out of 5 stars|
|LG Watch Sport||$350||3 out of 5 stars|
|ZTE Quartz||$192||3.5 out of 5 stars|
|Misfit Vapor||$200||3.5 out of 5 stars|
|Fossil Q Founder||$300||4 out of 5 stars|
|Fossil Q Venture||$255||3.5 out of 5 stars|
|Movado Connect||$595||3 out of 5 stars|
|Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45||$1,550+||Hands on|
The Apple Watch tends to run a little steeper. Prices range between $250 for the Apple Watch Series 1 up to $1,300 and higher for the Apple Watch Edition. The 38-millimeter version of the Apple Watch Series 3 retails for $330, while the 42-millimeter version runs $360. Prices on all the ranges vary depending on your desired size, strap, and casing.
|Apple Watch Series 3||$330+||4 out of 5 stars|
|Apple Watch Series 2||$300+||4 out of 5 stars|
|Apple Watch Series 1||$250+||4 out of 5 stars|
|Apple Watch Nike+||$330+||N/A|
|Apple Watch Hermès||$1,150||N/A|
|Apple Watch Edition||$1,300+||N/A|
Deciding which smartwatch you want depends heavily on what smartphone you own. Both Wear OS and Apple Watch offer tons of functionality and plenty of choices, though if you have to buy a new smartphone along with your new smartwatch, the decision might be harder. For now, Wear OS works best with Android phones, and the Apple Watch is compatible only with Apple iPhones.
We consider the Apple Watch to be the best smartwatch we’ve tested to date, but it comes at a high price and remains limited to Apple’s ecosystem. Google has worked hard to improve Wear OS and there’s a much more diverse set of smartwatches available at different prices. Try them all out before making your final decision, and remember to pay attention to comfort. After all, you’re potentially going to be wearing it all day, every day.
- The best smartwatches for 2021
- Fossil Gen 5E smartwatch review: Just a little too ordinary for its own good
- Smartwatches don’t come flashier than the new Michael Kors Access Gen 5E Darci
- The best Android smartwatches for 2021
- Fossil launches the Gen 5 LTE, its first smartwatch with a cellular connection