What makes a smartwatch “smart”? Is it the ability to show you notifications from your phone? What about the ability to track your physical activity and wellness, such as step counts, workouts, and sleep? How about providing you information about your day, such as the weather and upcoming calendar events? Or perhaps it’s the inclusion of a voice assistant on your wrist that you can ask to do things without having to use your phone?
Those are the questions I’ve been asking over the past week-plus as I’ve been testing the new OnePlus Watch, a $159 smartwatch and the first wearable from the smartphone company. The OnePlus Watch has all the looks of a modern smartwatch, but as I’ve learned wearing it on my wrist day and night, it doesn’t have all the smarts.
The OnePlus Watch is not like a Wear OS smartwatch, such as those made by Fossil, Motorola, or Mobvoi. Nor is it like a Samsung Galaxy Watch or an Apple Watch. All of those have software platforms that integrate with other apps and services, so you can download apps or watchfaces to the watch itself, just like you might with a phone. That makes them very extensible and customizable — you can easily make the watch look unique and do the things you need it to.
The OnePlus Watch, on the other hand (or wrist?), runs its own proprietary software, based on a real-time operating system. This software is very quick and power efficient, but it is not extensible — there’s no app store or third-party watchfaces to download on the OnePlus Watch. It’s similar to the software on the budget smartwatches you can get on Amazon; if you’ve ever used an Amazfit, Umidigi, or Wyze watch, you’ve used a real-time operating system. The OnePlus Watch is not very different from those in this respect.
This choice of platform affords the OnePlus Watch its greatest strength, long battery life, and also its greatest weakness: it just doesn’t do all that much compared to other smartwatches you can buy.
OnePlus Watch software
The OnePlus Watch pairs with and is controlled by the OnePlus Health app for Android — there’s no iPhone compatibility at all. But you don’t need to own a OnePlus phone, it works with basically any modern Android device. I tested it on both OnePlus and Samsung smartphones and the experience was the same.
The app is where you can see what health and fitness metrics the watch has recorded, adjust which apps send notifications on your wrist, and view the available watchfaces. OnePlus has about 50 watchfaces so far, with some offering limited customizability in the form of selectable shortcuts or widgets, such as a weather widget, date, or shortcut to a built-in app like the timer. You can choose up to 14 faces to store on the watch and switch between them without using your phone. The company says it plans on adding more in the future, but as I mentioned earlier, there are no options for third-party watchfaces or third-party app widgets like you get with Samsung, Wear OS, or Apple smartwatches.
The watchfaces themselves are what you’d expect: there is the assortment of analog and digital styles to choose from, with some showing more information about your activity than others. I’m not a big fan of the analog options, so I settled on a digital face. Unfortunately, there’s a bug where digital watchfaces on the OnePlus Watch are stuck in 24-hour time and can’t show 12-hour time. The company tells me it is aware of this bug, and it is slated to be fixed “this month.”
The watch interface has a familiar layout: swipe down for settings, swipe up to see notifications, press the side button to see your apps. You can swipe right from the watchface to access basic widgets for music control, weather, and activity tracking, similar to Wear OS or a Samsung watch. The design of the interface all looks mostly fine, and there thankfully aren’t any stutters or lags when navigating it.
I do have a few gripes with how notifications are handled. You can’t clear notifications by just swiping them away, like you can with every other smartwatch. Instead, you have to tap into each one and then press clear or scroll to the bottom to clear them all. It’s a clumsy and fiddly process. The OnePlus Watch doesn’t always sync with the notifications I’ve cleared on my phone, either, and occasionally notifications for the same messages would get duplicated, forcing me to see the same alerts more than once.
You can’t do much with those notifications, either. There are no actions you can take other than clearing them from your wrist. OnePlus supports canned message replies in just five apps: WhatsApp, Telegram, Line, Discord, and Facebook Messenger. Notably and frustratingly, that list doesn’t include standard SMS messages. On top of that, there are only four basic replies to choose from: “OK”; “Be right there!”; “In a meeting, contact you later”; and “I’m driving, contact you later.” I frequently use a smartwatch to triage notifications, delete incoming emails, or reply to messages when I’m away from my desk, but I can’t do most of those things with the OnePlus Watch.
The OnePlus Watch comes with a basic set of apps: weather, timer, stopwatch, alarm, workout, sleep tracking, etc. Oddly, it doesn’t have a calculator or a calendar app, so I can’t easily see my next meeting or appointment, something I do a lot with other smartwatches. There’s no way to get your next appointment on your watchface, either. And since there isn’t an app store, I can’t add any apps to that list.
You can forget about streaming music from Spotify or playing podcasts through your favorite app — the only thing you can do with the OnePlus Watch is control what’s playing on your phone or transfer MP3 files from your phone to the watch’s 4GB of storage. Want to track your runs with Strava or MapMyFitness instead of OnePlus’ app? Sorry, no dice. If you want to control smart home devices from your wrist, the OnePlus Watch is entirely useless unless you have a OnePlus TV, where you can use it as a remote. The OnePlus TV is only available in India.
The OnePlus Watch also lacks a voice assistant. I can’t ask it to start a timer when I’m in the kitchen and my hands are dirty, I can’t ask it to turn the lights off or open my garage door, and I can’t dictate a reply to an incoming message. How well voice assistants work varies greatly between smartwatches (Siri on the Apple Watch, pretty good! Bixby on a Samsung watch, less so), but OnePlus isn’t even trying here and I’ve missed having one available.
Lastly, even though the OnePlus Watch has an NFC radio, it does not support mobile payments. You can’t tap your wrist to pay for something like you can with an Apple Watch, Samsung watch, or Wear OS smartwatch.
OnePlus Watch fitness tracking
The fitness tracking features are quite basic. It will track your steps throughout the day; the watch will nudge you to get up and move when you’ve been sitting for too long; you can choose between 14 different workouts for the watch to track; and if you wear the OnePlus Watch to bed, it will make an attempt to track your sleep.
I’m not a gym rat, but I did wear the OnePlus Watch on my left wrist with a Fitbit Inspire HR on my right wrist throughout this review and the OnePlus counted thousands fewer steps than the Fitbit every day. None of these devices are perfect with their step tracking, but that kind of discrepancy is going to make tracking a longer-distance run or other intense workout inaccurate or just plain hard to do. I asked a few other reviewers I know who are also testing the OnePlus Watch and each one has had the same issues with inaccurate step counting. OnePlus says a bug fix for GPS optimization and to add more workout modes will be available sometime in mid-April.
Sleep tracking, oddly enough, has the opposite problem. The OnePlus Watch consistently overestimates how long I slept each night compared to the Fitbit and Google’s Nest Hub. A bug has also prevented the Watch from syncing its sleep data with the OnePlus Health app, even though other activity synced over fine. The company says this bug should also be fixed sometime this month.
As mentioned earlier, you can’t use other fitness apps on the OnePlus Watch. The OnePlus Health app provides syncing with the Google Fit platform, so it’s possible you could cobble together a syncing solution between other apps using Fit as glue, but I did not test this. In general, the OnePlus Watch’s fitness tracking is fine for basic activity trends, but any fitness enthusiasts will want something more capable and reliable.
OnePlus Watch hardware and design
In terms of design, the OnePlus Watch is generic-looking — it reminds me a lot of Samsung’s Galaxy Watch Active line. It’s got a round face, there are two buttons on the side, and the body is made of polished stainless steel, which is nice to see at this price point. It comes in silver, black, or a gold-colored special edition — I’ve got the black model and it’s a little boring to look at. Either way, the hardware is solid and put together well — it’s not creaky or plasticky, and there are no rough edges to worry about.
OnePlus is only offering the watch in one size, 46mm, and frankly, it’s big. It’s bigger than I like watches to be on my wrist, and if you have smaller wrists than me you’re not going to have a fun time with this. On the plus side, it’s not the thickest smartwatch I’ve ever worn. Just one size band comes in the box — OnePlus says that customers who need a shorter band will be able to get one by contacting customer service.
The touchscreen is a 1.39-inch 454 x 454 OLED that’s easy to see both indoors and out. It’s colorful, like you’d expect an OLED to be, but there’s no always-on display option, which nearly every other smartwatch has now. That makes it that much more annoying to check the time, though the wrist turn gesture does work well to wake it up.
On the underside are the sensors for heart rate and blood oxygen. As usual, you should not use these sensors for medical purposes — and blood oxygen monitors on even the best smartwatches notoriously struggle with giving accurate readings. Inside the watch are the accelerometers and gyroscopes necessary to track your activity and workouts, plus GPS and Bluetooth radios. There’s no Wi-Fi or LTE here — if you leave your phone behind, you’re going to miss notifications and alerts until the watch is back in Bluetooth range of your phone.
Also missing from the OnePlus Watch are any rotating bezels or crowns — the only way to interact with it is to tap and swipe on the screen itself or push the buttons on the side.
Even though it doesn’t have a voice assistant, the OnePlus Watch does have a microphone and speaker, so you can answer calls from your wrist via Bluetooth. It worked fine in my tests; callers said I sounded clear to them, but the speaker on the watch is a bit crackly at full volume. It works in a pinch.
The best thing about the OnePlus Watch is its battery life. OnePlus claims up to 14 days of usage between charges — it lasted about 10 days for me, wearing it day and night. Charging the watch is also quick and easy: just 20 minutes on the charger adds half a charge, which translates to literal days of usage. No Apple, Samsung, or Wear OS watch can last this long or charge this quickly.
But at the same time, the OnePlus Watch has such great battery life because, frankly, it just does less than those other smartwatches. The best comparison I can make is that the OnePlus Watch is a fitness tracker in a smartwatch body, which would be an acceptable premise if it were a better fitness tracker.
The OnePlus Watch may look like a lot of other smartwatches, but I can’t say it compares well to them. It’s limited in features, only comes in one size, and as I’ve gone over, there are several bugs with it that make it feel like an unfinished product. Aside from its long battery life, the OnePlus Watch’s bestselling point is its low price, which is half that of a Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 and over $100 less than the comparably sized Galaxy Watch Active 2. But if you’re looking for a smartwatch for your Android phone, it’s not that hard to find Wear OS models on sale, often for less than the cost of the OnePlus Watch.
For me, a good smartwatch is a lot like a personal assistant on my wrist. It tells me the time, when my next calendar appointment is, what the weather is like, and how active I’ve been throughout the day. I can quickly ask it to set a timer when I’m making a cup of tea or use it to reply to a message from my spouse when I’m running an errand. It also lets me customize its appearance and capabilities through third-party apps, watchfaces, or both. For others, it’s a way to track workouts and keep on top of their personal health.
In that framing, the OnePlus Watch isn’t really a smartwatch and based on my experience, it isn’t a great fitness tracker either. Instead, it’s just a clever watch, and it can be useful if your expectations of it are low. But if a smartwatch is going to take up real estate on my wrist, it has to be more useful than the OnePlus Watch.
Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge
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