(Pocket-lint) - Google's Wear OS is one of the most widely used smartwatch operating systems.
Known as Android Wear until it was rebadged several years back, there's been plenty of new features added to help it compete with the likes of Apple, Samsung and Fitbit. Most recently, in 2021, Google and Samsung actually teamed up to develop Wear OS 3.
Unlike previous big software updates, Wear OS 3 is taking its time to roll out to the wider stable of smartwatches under Google's banner, but we do already have an example of how the platform performs. And we also know which watches will and won't be making the jump to the next generation, which was a big factor we considered when deciding between different watches.
In this guide, then, we'll be detailing what we believe are very best watches to run on Wear OS by Google. There's something for every budget and every style - and, if you're still not sure which to opt for after reading our choices, dive into the section on how to choose the right Wear OS smartwatch.
What is the best Wear OS smartwatch you can buy? Currently, we recommend the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4. However, other great options include the TicWatch Pro 3, Fossil Gen 6, TicWatch E3 and Tag Heuer Connected.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 4
- Accurate fitness tracking
- Two-day battery
- Fluid interface
- Design is relatively plain
- Only works with Android
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 isn't just the top pick among Wear OS smartwatches; for anybody with an Android device, this is the best overall selection, in our view.
It runs Wear OS 3, thanks to that partnership with Google we alluded to above, and, though it is still a very Tizen-like experience, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Whether it's the Galaxy Watch 4 or the more smart-looking Classic model, you're getting an excellent smartwatch and fitness tracker experience.
They're accurate in tracking, more powerful than predecessors and feature slimmer designs, meaning they're more comfortable to wear over long periods. It's living proof of how good Wear OS can be, given the right attention, with features like watch faces, interactive notifications, payments and music all shining.
Our only real gripe is that the regular version, although cheaper, is quite plain on the design front. Neither model will work with iPhone, as well, which makes them purely for Android phone users.
Wear OS smartwatches we also recommend
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 is our current favourite among Wear OS smartwatches, but that doesn't mean it's the only option you could consider. We've tested out a host of watches that fit the bill, so here are four additional picks that are worth exploring further.
TicWatch Pro 3
- Relatively slim and light design
- Speedy performance
- Superb battery life
- Heart rate is hit and miss
- Sports tracking isn't elite
- Wear OS 3 may not be available until 2022
Mobvoi's TicWatch Pro 3 steers the company's premier smartwatch line back in the right direction, bolstering a slimmer, lighter design and a snappy performance boost.
It features Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 4100 under the hood, which helps power the refreshed UI for even longer - expect three days of full use and the option of 45 days in a stripped-back mode.
Our only concern is that it's still not a bonafide watch for exercisers, but, for those who want a stylish Wear OS watch with all the basics, this is definitely one to consider.
We should also mention that this is one of the few already-released watches set to receive the Wear OS 3 update. This won't be landing until 2022, but, in the bigger picture, it's still a big positive that keeps this watch relevant in the long term.
Fossil Gen 6
- Fast and responsive
- Clean, crisp design
- Wear OS 3 is coming in 2022
- Fitness tracking is basic
- GPS inaccuracies
As you would expect from the latest generation of Fossil's smartwatch line, the Gen 6 represents a very solid step forward compared to previous models. It's responsive, thanks to the Snapdragon Wear 4100+ chip under the hood, attractive on the wrist and available at a fairly reasonable price.
It's a true smartwatch-first experience, and it's a great pick, but it's also not entirely complete just yet. Wear OS 3 is coming in 2022, but its omission means that there's plenty of room for the comparatively barebones experience to grow.
We'd also steer you away from this one if you're looking for a rounded fitness tracking experience. The GPS accuracy is mixed, to say the least, and activity modes are lacking.
- Neat design
- Packed with features
- Super price tag
- Battery life isn't the best
- Wear OS 3 not arriving until 2022
- Mobvoi companion app is clunky
If you want a more basic TicWatch model, the E3 provides a beautifully simple design, a smart, zippy mix of Mobvoi and Google software and some really nice fitness and health features.
It's not quite got the smartwatch capabilities of other models on this list, but it's an ideal candidate for those who want a Wear OS smartwatch that can really hold its own on the tracking front. You'll likely receive the odd sensor hiccup, but this, and the middling battery life, are our only real gripes with the TicWatch E3.
There may be better mid-range options that eventually receive the Wear OS 3 update, but this is a very solid option for the time being - and for a very reasonable price, too.
Tag Heuer Connected
- Outstanding build quality
- Intuitive Tag Heuer Sports app
- Won't receive Wear OS 3
- Exceptionally pricey
There's no escaping the price tag attached to Tag Heuer's premium smartwatch, but this has always been a line more focused on style over substance.
Wear OS does its best to match the superb build quality and luxury feel of the latest Tag smartwatch, and, thanks to Qualcomm's Wear 3100 processor, 1GB RAM and 8GB of storage, it's a comfortably smooth experience.
If you crave the best-looking smartwatch on the market, this is the pick, but we'd look elsewhere if you just want a better blend of affordability, style and functionality.
Also, keep in mind that this model won't receive the Wear OS 3 update, so it's likely to become fairly outdated over the next few years.
Other products we considered
When picking what we believe to be the best crop of Wear OS smartwatches available, we spent many hours wearing, testing and researching. As we mention throughout this guide, we considered many factors before deciding on the current list - and do the same if and when new devices come along and challenge for a spot. These choices aren't exclusively based on our own testing, either. In every buying guide, we take into account consumer reviews, brand quality and value, as well as the many individual factors affecting a specific device category.
In all of our roundups, there are also many products we test that don't make the final cut. Since they may be the right fit for some people, however, we've listed them below.
How to choose a Wear OS smartwatch
It's actually a very interesting time to buy a Wear OS smartwatch - and that's something that hasn't necessarily been true over the last few years. With Wear OS 3 ushering in a new generation of performance, then, what should you consider before you buy?
Well, we've answered the following queries to help you narrow down your choice from the options above.
Does your smartwatch need Wear OS 3?
As we've covered throughout this guide, the arrival of Wear OS 3 is a fairly big landmark for the platform. You can read all about the ins and outs of the update in our Wear OS 3 explainer, but, essentially, Samsung's Tizen and Google's Wear OS has now blended into one unified platform. The result is big performance increases, new features (like app switching, improved watch faces, improved Tiles) and a fitness tracking experience that will be powered by Google-owned Fitbit.
The issue here is that it's only coming to a select number of Wear OS smartwatches, most of which we've featured in our picks above. It's not absolutely essential that you pick a watch that has (or will receive) the latest update and future updates, but we'd strongly recommend future-proofing your device - or waiting for a compatible one that releases in 2022.
What will you use a smartwatch for?
No matter which Wear OS smartwatch you settle on, it needs to fit into your lifestyle. As we always advise with our smartwatch or fitness tracker guides, you need to understand what you'll actually use your smartwatch for.
Do you exercise a lot? Chances are you need to focus your attention on something like the TicWatch E3. Do you prefer something that promotes style and smartwatch features? You're likely best looking at the Fossil Gen 6 range. Want something that can do it all, no matter the price tag? Check out the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 duo.
How much do you need to spend?
Price is always a very important factor, which is why our list features a varied range. However, this is made pretty simple, too, by the fact that Wear OS smartwatches are, in our view, very reasonably priced compared to rival models from Apple.
The truth is, unlike with Apple Watch devices, spending more doesn't necessarily grant you a better Wear OS experience. The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 is an outstanding watch, but it also doesn't break the bank. The Tag Heuer Connected, meanwhile, is more basic on the software front but costs a four-figure sum.
As we've outlined, it's more important to pick a watch that's futureproofed that fits your lifestyle.
Wear OS v Apple Watch - which is best?
Historically, the Apple Watch has far outperformed the capabilities of Wear OS. However, with the arrival of Wear OS 3, that gap will likely close over the coming year or two. It's not there just yet, but the latest Samsung watches are, as we've said, a great example of what the platform is capable of.
For a full ranking of devices from across different ecosystems, check out our complete best smartwatch guide.
More about this story
Every smartwatch in this list has been tested in real-life situations, just as you would use it in your day-to-day life.
Given that you'll likely wear your smartwatch around the clock, that's how we test each of the devices considered for this guide. This gives us the best idea of which are capable of being your full-time wrist companion, and which have limitations that are too great to overcome.
When deciding between the top options in the Wear OS market, we look at tons of factors. Style, features, price, tracking experience and compatibility with future software updates are all major factors in this area. This is on top of the consumer reviews and brand quality we've already mentioned above.
As with any roundup, though, it's not possible to provide a list of devices that works for every type of user. It's why we try to consider all the most important factors before deciding on our list - or, indeed, adding anything new in.
What we always tend to avoid when compiling these picks are dreary spec comparisons and marketing lines; we just want to provide an easy to understand summary that gives you an idea of what each watch is like to use. Our verdicts are concise, but this is purely in the interest of brevity. Read our full smartwatch reviews for a more in-depth take on each device featured.