I used to sigh when reviewing Android smartwatches.
I desperately wanted Android users to have a smartwatch that could go toe-to-toe with the Apple Watch, but it wasn’t happening. There was always something. Dismal battery life, a laggy OS, outdated or inaccurate health features, and more tumbleweeds than third-party apps — sometimes all of the above. You never want to be an overly cynical reviewer, but I was losing hope.
However, that wasn’t the case in 2022. Unlike every other year, Wear OS watches were the reviews I looked forward to most.
There were a ton of reasons to be excited. After years of speculation, the Pixel Watch is no longer a mythical gadget whispered about in rumor blogs. It’s a real smartwatch that you can currently buy. Strapping on the Pixel Watch for the first time, I wasn’t actually expecting much. All it had to do was not suck. But I was surprised by how hopeful I felt writing the review, especially since I gave it a 6 (which, by our rating scale, means good, with some issues and some redeeming qualities). The smartwatch had typical first-gen kinks to smooth out, but the hardware was good, and the design was more impressive than leaks had led me to believe. It had potential, and more importantly, it was viable. I had not one but two full-featured smartwatches to recommend to Android users. And for once, they weren’t both from Samsung.
I don’t want to sound like a wearable Pollyanna. To be clear, Wear OS 3 watches still have a ways to go. But this year’s successes mean something to me after years of disappointment.
This year’s Android watches surprised me in other ways. On paper, I thought the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro would be a stinker. I ended up preferring it to the regular Galaxy Watch 5 — and I almost never pick big watches over smaller ones. I missed the physical rotating bezel in the Watch 5, but Samsung’s approach with the Pro’s raised lip and a capacitive bezel was clever. It was neat to see a flagship Android smartwatch add turn-by-turn navigation and the ability to import routes. That, along with body composition analysis, is something that no Apple Watch can natively do yet. It used to be that the Apple Watch beat out every other smartwatch in every single way. That’s less true nowadays.
Even watches that underwhelmed me, like the aforementioned Samsung Galaxy Watch 5, had their merits. As a reviewer, sometimes iterative yearly updates may not feel progressive, even if they are. For example, the Galaxy Watch 4 and 5 offer Android users more choices than their Tizen predecessors ever did. You no longer have to tolerate Bixby if you prefer Google Assistant or Samsung Pay if you’d rather use Google Wallet. Samsung watches will always work best with Samsung phones, but the experience for all Android users is much better than it used to be.
The Montblanc Summit 3 wasn’t my cup of tea, but it was interesting. It ran a barebones version of Wear OS 3, many features felt unfinished, and the $1,290 price tag was ridiculous. But it was also the first Wear OS 3 watch to work with iOS, and it offered a glimpse into what the next gen of non-Samsung or Google smartwatches might be like. The contradiction of all its parts was fun to ponder, even if the watch itself wasn’t great. I might not have loved it, but it was far from boring.
My last Android smartwatch was the Fossil Gen 6 Wellness Edition. I’ll cop that in the past, I’ve been occasionally overwhelmed by the sheer number of Fossil watches that differed only in design. But as soon as this review unit arrived, I practically ripped the package open to get a peek. How will Wear OS 3 work on this watch versus the Summit 3? What about all the new health features Fossil watches never had before? While the Fossil Gen 6 ended up being a bit better than the Summit 3, the wellness features didn’t quite live up to expectations. It wasn’t the Fossil watch I’d hoped for, but it wasn’t boring. There were some clear signs of progress nestled among the bits that didn’t work.
It’s been forever since Android smartwatches had any kind of momentum. Granted, some of the updates aren’t what you’d consider flashy or exciting — but I’ll take all these smaller, incremental updates as a sign that the tide’s shifting. For once, I’m genuinely hopeful.