One of the greatest conveniences of having a smartwatch is the ability to reply to texts without having to seek out your phone.
This is really great when your phone is in a hard-to-reach place such as in a bag while you’re out jetskiing, motorcycling or cycling.
All smartwatches try to bring this convenience to you as best as they can but some do it much better than others. Others try hard but offer so little that you might as well go through the trouble of digging out your smartphone and replying with the device.
So what makes a good texting system on a smartwatch? The best systems are able to help you send a complete and coherent text on your smartwatch. They avoid needing to go seek out your smartphone in order to reply.
So what’s important here? I think we need to start by talking about how the smartwatch interacts with messages and emails. Can it access your inbox? Does it have various methods of inputting text? How good is its speech-to-text system, if available?
Apple users, look no further
Apple users have pretty much only one choice for texting and email purposes.
If you want to reply, you have to get an Apple Watch. I have the Apple Watch Series 5 and it’s a fantastic smartwatch.
It’s also the only smartwatch that will allow you to reply to messages and emails. Most other smartwatches, when paired to an iPhone, can’t reply to messages. Yes, they can receive notifications of texts and emails, and read a snippet of it, but you won’t be afforded the convenience of replying directly on the smartwatch.
And so, Apple iPhone users, your only choice is the Apple Watch.
That’s not a bad thing. While the Apple Watch commands a premium, especially the newer Apple Watch Series 5, the experience with the Apple Watch really makes it worth it.
As the user of the Apple Watch, you can definitely feel it’s premium quality when it comes to texting and email messages.
Apple Watch OS input methods
While the Watch OS only affords you two main ways of sending a custom message — speech-to-text or by Scribble (handwriting letters), they are both pretty good compromises for such a small watch. Of course, if you just need a one-liner reply, you could just use the pre-composed replies.
A great speech-to-text system will likely be your primary way of inputting text. I have always been satisfied with the experience and results from Apple’s speech-to-text system. Messages are generally very accurately transcribed.
Scribble is… just OK. It’s not an Apple shortcoming. All handwriting systems are tedious and slow whether it be on the more common Wear OS platform or the Watch OS platform.
The only time I thought drawing letters to form words was acceptable was during my Palm OS days, and that was done with a stylus.
Access your inbox from the Watch
Few smartwatches can access your SMS or email mailbox directly, but this is one feature that can prove useful for Apple Watch users.
I haven’t really found it to be that useful because I have always reached for my smartphone when I needed to reply to old messages.
But yes, it’s there. You can read old emails, texts and compose new ones right on the watch.
Perhaps it would be more useful if you bought the Apple Watch Series 5 LTE version. Then you could head out without your phone and still be able to have quasi-smartphone functionality.
Android users: choice galore!
With an Android phone, you have a wide range of smartwatches to choose from, some better than others for texting.
Let’s start with the most common platform for Android users: Google’s Wear OS.
The Wear OS is the best smartwatch platform if texting on the smartwatch is an important feature for you.
The Wear OS has Google’s backing and therefore it has access to some of the most reliable and accurate speech-to-text transcription.
So, when you need to send a message, you can trust on this reliable feature on the Wear OS platform.
Otherwise, the Wear OS offers a few other options which you can use to reply to your messages. One of those include using a full 26-alphabet keyboard. This is a big difference between the Wear OS and other platforms which offer a keyboard, particularly the Samsung Tizen OS smartwatches such as the Galaxy Watch or Galaxy Watch Active2. More on that later.
The 26-alphabet keyboard is quite useful and much more efficient than using the handwrite function which is also available on the Wear OS.
If you don’t have fat fingers, you will find that the keyboard is mostly accurate. You can also swipe your finger to form words. This is my preferred way of using the keyboard.
Writing the average text with the keyboard can be tedious and frustrating. Sometimes, it’s just faster to take your phone out, particularly if you have a complex message with many specific terms, addresses or names.
But at least you have this option. A full keyboard is not available on the Apple Watch Series 5 nor is it available on the Samsung Galaxy watches, nor Fitbits.
One great feature that sets Wear OS smartwatches apart is that it has an AI that can generate dynamic responses to your texts and emails. Wear OS scans the text in the messages you receive and suggest some responses based on the context it perceives.
The downside to the Wear OS system is that you can’t see your message inbox or email inbox. But as I stated above, I never really found that to be a very important feature.
Wear OS smartwatches are a bit like Windows PCs. Some are better configured than others. I have found the Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle to be the best Wear OS experience because it’s smooth and fast. It has one of the upper-tier hardware configurations among Wear OS smartwatches.]
The great thing about Wear OS smartwatches is that you can get a very similar experience, specifically in texting, with entry-level smartwatches such as the Fossil Sport Smartwatch or the Ticwatch E2/S2/C2.
I’m particularly partial to the Ticwatch E2 because of its great value and great battery life, although all the watches mentioned above are entry-level watches and show no difference in texting experience.
Should Samsung users keep it in the family?
The Wear OS is very compatible with Samsung smartphones but is there any benefit in buying a Samsung smartwatch if you are a Samsung user?
There is definitely better integration when you keep it in the family.
But Samsung’s Tizen OS also brings a major drawback that makes me hesitant to recommend it if you expect to be texting on your smartwatch often.
The benefits of buying a Samsung smartwatch when you have a Samsung phone is that you will be able to access your email and SMS logs just as though you were on your smartphone.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch and Galaxy Watch Active2 both have LTE functionality too, which makes these watches less dependent on your smartphone.
However, the biggest downside with Samsung smartwatches is that they have a poor speech-to-text function. They’re not as good as the transcribers on Fitbits, Wear OS devices and Apple Watches.
It gets really frustrating when your message keeps getting misinterpreted. I find myself reaching for my smartphone much more often when wearing a Samsung smartwatch than with a Wear OS device or Apple Watch.
Samsung also comes with a T9 number-pad-based keyboard. It’s like phones of the early 2000s. It’s a bit slower than swiping on the 26-alphabet keyboard on Wear OS devices, but it’s definitely nice to have this keyboard. But just the small increase in inconvenience when compared to the Wear OS’s full keyboard pushes me to use my smartphone instead of trying tediously to get a message out on my Samsung watches.
I’d buy a Samsung Tizen OS watch for other reasons, but texting wouldn’t be one of them.
Texting with a sports smartwatch?
The more sport-oriented a smartwatch is, the more likely you will have to forgo the ability to text.
I mean, Polar’s flagship Vantage V can’t reply to a text regardless of smartphone platform.
And the Garmin Fenix 6? Yeah, you can reply to messages when paired to an Android phone. But you can’t do much beyond the pre-composed messages such as “I can’t talk right now” or “Thank you!”.
Luckily, you can customize these to add your own personality to the messages so you can text “new fone who dis” with a few button presses, or if you are from Gen Z, you can also program in “Mood” to confuse everyone else beyond that generation. Big mood.
Fitbit’s Versa 2 is the only smartwatch among these three with some real texting capability. For one, it has a speech-to-text system that is quite accurate. If I had to rank the quality of transcriptions, Fitbit would rank third, after Apple and Google.
Otherwise, you could also send an emoji or pre-composed message. Basically, Fitbit has no good way to input very complex messages. Is this a good thing? Maybe by forgoing this benefit, Fitbit helps you avoid frustration with keyboards or handwriting systems. Instead, you will go straight to your smartphone to write the message.
Again, you can’t reply to a message if your Fitbit is paired to an iPhone. Nor would you be able to access your message or email logs even if you are on an Android.
If I could buy just one smartwatch and the ability to text were very important to me…
… and I were an Apple iPhone user, I’d get the Apple Watch Series 5.
… and if I were an Android user, I’d get a Wear OS smartwatch.
… but what if I were a Samsung smartphone user? Still, I’d get a Wear OS smartwatch.
… and if I were a fitness-oriented user? If you need texting capabilities, then a sports smartwatch really isn’t for you. They are truly terrible for texting. The Fitbit is not bad, but it’s not as good as the Apple Watch or Wear OS smartwatches.
So, I’d still get a Wear OS smartwatch if texting is important. However, if sports data analysis is more important than texting, then you are faced with the decision on how sporty a smartwatch you need. The sportier, the less texting you can do.