Tuesday, April 13, 2021

OnePlus Watch review

Two-minute review

The long-rumored OnePlus Watch is finally a reality – and it’s a polished wearable that can hold its own against the current best smartwatches when it comes to looks, battery life and basic features.

Note the 'basic' there, though – the OnePlus Watch’s bespoke operating system (OnePlus Watch OS) means no third-party apps at launch, leaving users with only the preinstalled first-party apps.

OnePlus doesn’t currently intend to add an app store or portal, and while it’s possible that customer feedback could change the company’s mind it's likely that the OnePlus Watch likely won’t ever get more functionality than it has at launch, which is admittedly limited compared to a Wear OS-running smartwatch or Apple Watch.

What it does have, though, will serve anyone who's looking for basic fitness features and notifications. 

The OnePlus Watch looks similar to other top-end smartwatches like the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, with a circular design and two function buttons on the right side. The stainless steel metal body has a glossy finish, which is actually a nice change from the matte finishes and/or colored aluminum of most of today’s watches. 

It’s also a pretty hefty smartwatch, with a 46mm width and heft that will likely make it too large for those with slimmer wrists or who prefer smaller watch faces. On the other hand it will suit those who like their watches chunky, with a design and material finish that feels more polished than your average wearable.

It also has some of the best battery life we've seen in a smartwatch, lasting around a week with regular use and recharging from 0 to 100% in just under half an hour.

In summary, the watch looks higher-quality than other smartwatches at its price, which is easily half that of comparable Apple Watches and Samsung Galaxy Watches. It may have less expansive capabilities than pricier rivals, and launch with only Android compatibility for its companion smartphone app (iOS coming soon), and be unable to load more apps, but it’s a good smartwatch for the value.

OnePlus Watch price and release date

OnePlus Watch

(Image credit: Future)

The OnePlus Watch comes in one size and configuration at launch: 46mm watch face with 1GB RAM and 4GB storage, and a single color: Midnight Black. 

In the US and UK, it will go on sale on the OnePlus website on April 14 for $159 / £149 (around AU$210) and you'll then get the watch on April 30. There's no sign of OnePlus bringing this smartwatch to those in Australia.

There's also a Cobalt Limited Edition in the works, which swaps out the stainless steel case for a cobalt alloy that’s “twice as hard and more corrosion-resistant” than steel, per a OnePlus press release

The usual watch face has been swapped for specially-treated sapphire glass with “a Mohs rating of 9,” suggesting better scratch-resistance and brightness than the glass on the standard model. OnePlus hasn’t announced a price or release date for this version.

Design and display

OnePlus Watch

(Image credit: Future)

The OnePlus Watch is an attractive smartwatch with a polished sheen and streamlined design that make it look pricier than it is. As mentioned, it comes in one size, which will be a bit too large for those who prefer a smaller wearable, but it has the polish to appeal beyond the tech-chic crowd.

The 46mm watch face is larger than even the larger 45mm version of the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, making it the new king of Big Smartwatches. While it lacks the rotating bezel of the latter, the OnePlus Watch has the same 1.4-inch display size as Samsung’s flagship watch, though you would guess it was larger, thanks to a dark bezel under the flat glass. 

OnePlus Watch

(Image credit: Future)

The display is sharp and bright, taking advantage of the AMOLED tech to show rich darks – though given the minimalist interface and limited number of apps, there isn’t much here that can take advantage of the screen, aside from some stylish watch faces (swappable in the OnePlus Health phone app). 

The display responds to touch controls, though getting around the apps and interface requires using the two buttons on the right side of the smartwatch: the top, etched with ‘OnePlus’ in small print (the texture is helpful in differentiating the buttons), brings you to the app menu. The bottom button is a customizable shortcut for any of the smartwatch’s apps (to swap, head to settings > function key). 

The rubber-like (fluoroelastomer) watch band is wide and thick, but at least it isn’t flimsy, and it feels secure enough on the wrist to counter the watch’s hefty weight. The rivulets running down the side of the band are a nice touch compared to the flat wristbands on other smartphones, though its thickness can mean some skin pinching when tucking the band back under itself until you’ve worn it in. 

Fitness

OnePlus Watch

(Image credit: Future)

The OnePlus Watch has decent if basic fitness and health tracking capability, which is enough for its price, though it may underwhelm those looking for more intensive workout-assisting solutions.

OnePlus claims the watch offers over 110 workout types, and you’ll find 14 basic options when tapping into the Workout app, from running and swimming to mountaineering, badminton, cricket, and several others.

The watch automatically detects workouts when running, with 5ATM pressure resistance and IP68 water and dust resistance. It tracks heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, and stress levels, which you can manually track via dedicated apps, as well as distance via GPS, calories, and swimming speed.

The watch also tracks activity progress via four metrics – steps, workout, energy used (in kcals), and activity duration – which are visualized in the Activity app and on many of the watch faces. More advanced health info can be viewed through a new OnePlus Health smartphone app, which is on Android at launch (free on the Google Play Store) and coming soon to iOS.

OnePlus Watch

(Image credit: Future)

You’ll need the OnePlus Health app to get much use out of the OnePlus Watch – it’s how you pair the smartwatch with your smartphone and alter the former’s more advanced settings (tip for fellow Americans: head to Manage > settings cog in top right > Unit to change from metric to Imperial). 

The OnePlus Health app is surprisingly fully-featured, with breakdowns on tracked metrics (heart rate, sleep, blood oxygen level, stress, etc) that visualize data on graphs with day, week, month, and year tabs. While our workout examinations often showed inaccurate GPS location tracking, they break down into robust reports that are informative and easy to understand for different categories like heart rate, pace per mile, cadence, and so on. 

Lastly, we'd note that while the OnePlus Watch is large, it wasn’t annoying to exercise with. You won’t forget it’s there, but it doesn’t weigh down your wrist or offset your balance; the wide base spreads the watch’s weight out, and the wide band keeps it snug. 

Performance and software

The OnePlus Watch packs an undisclosed OnePlus-built chipset – we asked, and the company hasn’t gotten back to us about the parameters of the silicon in the watch – and 4GB of onboard storage, of which 2GB is available for media. It also, presumably, has an unspecified amount of RAM.

That’s all a bit unnecessarily clandestine, but suffice it to say the watch ran smoothly and didn’t hiccup or slow down when put through tasks – though given the limited amount of preinstalled apps, there’s not many ways to push the watch to its limits. 

The OnePlus Watch doesn’t run Google’s WearOS, opting instead for a bespoke operating system (called OnePlus Watch OS). There’s pros and cons to this choice: we don’t see WearOS watches coming anywhere near the OnePlus Watch’s battery efficiency, which we chalk up to OnePlus owning both the software and hardware of the wearable.

On the other hand, that means the OnePlus Watch is stuck with its suite of preinstalled apps. They cover all the bases you’d need – workouts, heart rate, blood oxygen sensor, clock functions, and so on – with very readable design. While there are far fewer smartwatch apps (and fewer still worth downloading) than smartphone apps, veteran wearable fans likely have a WearOS or watchOS app they particularly like, and it might be a blow not to be able to access them.

That said, the OnePlus Watch is priced lower than more customizable smartwatches – if you want more apps on a watch of comparable polish, you’d have to pay nearly double the cost for a Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, for example. 

The bespoke interface is simple and efficient, mimicking some of WearOS’ cardinal-direction-swipe navigation (swipe down for control panel, up for notifications, right for quick music access, etc). Press the top-right physical button and you’ll pop open the app menu, listed vertically. Simple.

OnePlus Watch

(Image credit: Future)

So how is the OnePlus Watch like to use? Easy, intuitive – and a little rough in terms of occasional software hiccups. The daily fitness progress, seen in a quartet of colored bars on the default watch face, kept resetting after workouts (which is why the activity bars aren’t filled in the watch face of this review’s photos). The compass app kept needing to be recalibrated (it asks you to rotate your wrist in an ‘infinity’ pattern). Some text overlapped.

In other words, the OnePlus Watch feels like a first-generation device in terms of software (though not hardware or design), with a lot of promise if it can iron out these quirks – which don’t limit the smartwatch’s usability, but it is a little unpolished and annoying.

The OnePlus Watch is compatible with most Bluetooth earbuds, and can supposedly connect to the OnePlus TV to act as a smart remote and can even turn the television off when it detects the wearer has fallen asleep (we didn’t have a device around to connect).

Battery life

OnePlus Watch

(Image credit: Future)

One of the OnePlus Watch’s best advantages over the competition is its battery. Not only does it live up to the company’s claims of around a week of battery life with regular use, but it recharges very swiftly, too.

The watch has a 402mAh battery, which sits between the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3’s 340mAh battery (for two to three days of battery life) and the original Samsung Galaxy Watch’s 472mAh battery (for up to five days of battery life). 

OnePlus claims this capacity gives up to two weeks of sustained use or, for more active users, a one-week battery life. We found the latter to be more in line with our experience, topping out at five or six days before needing to be recharged – which is still far beyond what most other smartwatches offer. Other fitness-oriented wearables that match such a longevity aren’t powering as big a display as that on the OnePlus Watch.

Better still, the included charger recharges 50% battery in 15 minutes and the full capacity of the watch in under half an hour. Smartwatch batteries aren’t huge and most take less than an hour to juice back up to full, but given how long the OnePlus Watch lasts, it’s pretty amazing to get a full week’s operation in the time it takes to watch a sitcom TV episode. 

Should you buy the OnePlus Watch?

OnePlus Watch

(Image credit: Future)

Buy it if…

You want a smartwatch that’ll last a week
The OnePlus Watch lives up to claims that it can last up to a week (though we wouldn’t expect more than that), and even at 5-6 days of heavy use, you’ll have to charge it far less often than other smartwatches.

You want a more affordable smartwatch
The OnePlus Watch isn’t cheap, but it’s certainly a lot less expensive than the big smartwatches on the market, like the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 or the leading Apple Watch 6. If you want a modicum of features for a good price, the OnePlus Watch is a good option.

You want a classy smartwatch
The OnePlus Watch’s looks are one of its best features, with a smooth design and classy polish on its metal case. It’s big, but sleek.

Don’t buy it if…

You need apps on your smartwatch
One of the biggest shortcomings of the OnePlus Watch: it can’t install any existing WearOS, watchOS, or apps from any other operating system. If you want anything other than what comes preinstalled, pick a different watch.

You like more interconnectivity with devices
The OnePlus Watch connects to a smartphone and to bluetooth headphones, and even a OnePlus TV, but if you want something that links up to an ecosystem, go for an Apple Watch.

You want a small watch
The OnePlus Watch is big, there’s no getting around it: with a 46mm-wide case, it’s one of the widest watches around. If you want a smaller device with a similar look, try the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2.

First reviewed: April 2021

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