Economists say that variety is beneficial for consumers. The more choices you have, the better your quality of life.
Now’s your chance to laugh at Apple users who really don’t have much choice because of the incompatibilities between non-Apple smartwatches and the Apple iPhone.
Except the Apple Watch Series 5 is probably the best smartwatch out there. But let’s gloss over it since Android users can’t have it.
In writing about smartwatches, I have pondered many times why I like certain watches.
Ever since becoming more of an outdoorsman, I have also become deeply drawn into the Garmin Fenix 6. It offers the best sports data and analyses, but it’s really not the best overall smartwatch.
So why do I wear it that often, even if I’m not doing sports? Well, I think it’s because it has really good battery life. I remember when I was travelling on the road. I wanted to know whether I was sleeping well as it has a sleep tracker. I also didn’t want to be digging through my luggage to find the charger. Most smartwatches require daily charging if not a charge every two days.
But I really missed the ability to send custom texts and the ability to make calls on my wrist. I didn’t miss the touchscreen as much as I thought I would, though I would really rather have a touchscreen than five buttons that require some guessing sometimes.
I severely missed the ability to use a voice assistant such as Google Assistant on the smartwatch. The Garmin’s app store is also quite lacklustre.
My Fenix 6 also has maps and music controls, but this requires you to upgrade to the Pro or Sapphire versions. The Fenix 6 also offers offline maps and a music player. While most smartwatches offer a maps app, few offer offline maps but music players can be found on almost all smartwatches.
OK, so from the Fenix 6, I learned that I care about good battery life, sports data and analysis, dynamic replies to texts, answering calls, maps and music controls.
The most common operating system on smartwatches is the Wear OS by Google. It’s a great operating system because it can do many things.
Most of all, it fills in the weaknesses of the Fenix 6. Let’s talk about it’s excellent Google Assistant.
Google Assistant is fantastic at helping you with mundane and tedious tasks such as starting a timer, checking the weather and finding random bits of information.
But some Wear OS watches are really slow. They take a while before you can start using Google Assistant.
As I am an entitled millennial with no appreciation of delayed gratification, I want Google Assistant to provide me service NOW.
Another thing I love about the Wear OS system is the ease of replying to messages. Google offers one of the best speech-to-text systems out there and you can really get by with just replying on your smartwatch. There’s also the keyboard and handwriting features, but they’re there in case of emergency. No other smartwatch platform has that many choices to reply so it’s great.
App selection is great too. The Wear OS offers one of the largest app stores for smartwatches, rivalled only by Apple’s.
What I really liked is the ability to download Google apps such as Google Maps for your smartwatch. Google Translate comes by default which is great when we can get back to travelling to exotic places and there’s also Google Keep for ease of keeping notes.
Wear OS vs the rest
What I am trying to establish here is that the Wear OS platform is superior to any other alternative out there. I truly believe it is.
Let’s talk about Samsung smartwatches when paired to a Samsung smartphone. On the surface, it might seem like a match made in heaven. After all, Apple iPhones pair the best with Apple Watches, right?
To some extent, true. What I really enjoyed is the ability to access my email and SMS logs right on the smartwatch. That’s not possible with Wear OS smartwatches.
I also preferred the watch faces, design and styling of the Samsung Tizen OS, which looks much better than the Wear OS. The Wear OS’s user interface, to put it nicely, looks very utilitarian.
Samsung also has another strength which is that it has a much better workout app and a health stats tracker. The integration into Samsung Health on the smartphone is also excellent. You also get a pool swimming tracker by default, unlike on Wear OS devices.
But Samsung smartwatches just have a poorer voice assistant, Bixby, which can do less and interprets your speech less accurately which also affects replying to texts.
Other than that, Samsung smartwatches are also limited in their range of apps. The Tizen OS has a smaller app store as compared to Google’s Wear OS.
But wow, are their watches stylish. The curved glass on the Galaxy Watch Active2 and the rotating bezels for scrolling on other models are just great innovations.
So which Wear OS smartwatch?
The best smartwatch is the Fossil Gen 5 series. I currently own a Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle and I love it.
It’s the most unique smartwatch I’ve seen in that it has a metal band and clasp rather than a leather/silicone/textile strap. What I love about it is that it’s not fiddly like a strap and you can get it on and off in one second.
I love how fast it is. One of the biggest complaints from Wear OS users and pundits is that the Wear OS is very slow and sluggish. I have noticed significant improvements in 2020 and even the weakest smartwatch that I own is now performing at a decent level.
That said, when the going was tough in early 2020, only the Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle could pass the bar. It offered a comfortable level of performance that consumers have come to expect such as instantaneous response (rather than a lag of several seconds).
It has the latest Snapdragon Wear 3100 and 1GB of RAM, making it one of the best processor-memory configurations out there.
The Fossil Gen 5s also come with a standard 22mm quick-release so you can swap the band or strap out easily. The band and clasp isn’t for everyone — it required me to find tools and pins to hammer out the links of the band before I could set it to the correct length.
In the end, it was half-an-hour of work. It was OK and it has paid off over time since the strap is always perfect for my wrist (surprisingly, I didn’t get fatter during the COVID-19 lockdown).
One final thing I’d like to write about is the crown. I mentioned above that Samsung watches have rotating bezels and that is honestly the best way of scrolling through menus. The next best thing is a crown.
Rotating a crown is so much better than all the finger swiping you would have to do watches without it such as all Mobvoi Ticwatch smartwatches.
Gen 5 Carlyle as a sports watch
My opinion of the preloaded workout and health software, Google Fit, has improved a lot over this year (2020).
The updates that it received made it much better in all aspects. For example, it finally got a step counter. Previously, it measured exercise minutes and Heart Points (intensity of exercise). While I am not very concerned about my steps, this is a feature that comes standard on many smartwatches.
Fossil’s August 2020 update gives it a sleep tracker, a cardio fitness metric and an activity tracker. Apple, with its WatchOS 7 also received certain upgrades including a sleep tracker. I don’t know what took Apple and Google so long when Fitbit, Garmin and Polar had all of these features from long ago.
In order to refresh myself about the Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle, I took it out on the water. I was paddling and found that the Carlyle couldn’t acquire my GPS coordinates. It turns out that my phone was in power saving mode, so it wouldn’t pass the data along to the watch. I lost 27 minutes of exercise data.
Still, what I really appreciated is how I could read and reply to messages without reaching for my phone, which would then be in a precarious position a few metres from the water.
Google’s speech-to-text system was excellent in composing my replies. I thought about how if I had a Garmin Fenix 6, I would not be able to do any of this.
However, later on, a call came in and I accepted it, thinking that I would be able to chat on my wrist. It turns out there’s some glitch or bug, but I am asked by the Carlyle to use my phone to chat.
This is very annoying and disappointing. Unfortunately, Wear OS will always have some bugs here and there. But I remember when it worked, it was fantastic.
Looking for a budget smartwatch?
I have established my liking for the Wear OS smartwatch and I understand not everyone is willing to splurge money on the fancist, most premium Wear OS smartwatch.
But it’s possible to save a lot of money and sacrifice just a little. The Wear OS’s functions comes standard across all smartwatches so it’s only the hardware that differs.
I’d recommend the Ticwatch E2 if you want something budget-friendly. I love the E2 because it’s lightweight and affordable. You get all the best features from Google including Google Assistant, the great speech-to-text system, Google Fit and the big app store.
It’s not as polished as the Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle with its stainless steel body, but it’s a lightweight plastic watch case and silicone strap. I don’t mind it that much.
One difference is that the Ticwatch E2 is chunkier than the Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle, and you might or might not like it.