Lower your expectations for the OnePlus Watch or you’re going to be greatly disappointed.
That’s how you should approach OnePlus’ first smartwatch. It neither deals massive damage to the Apple Watch (there’s no iPhone support) or the shortlist of Wear OS-powered smartwatches that have been on life support since Google quietly left it to wither over the years. The OnePlus Watch also is not as full-featured as Samsung’s Galaxy Watches that run on Tizen OS.
A cursory glance at the OnePlus Watch’s relatively low $159 price should give you a hint that it doesn’t compare to the Apple Watch (which starts at $399), Galaxy Watch 3 (which starts at $399), or Wear OS watches (which typically start at $249 or $299 MSRP).
But then you remember that this is OnePlus. The company is known for delivering products that punch above their weight class with competitive features at lower prices. In the new era of OnePlus that’s moved beyond its “Never Settle” and “flagship killer” modus operandi with budget and mid-range devices, the OnePlus Watch delivers exactly what you pay for: just enough features for the price.
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The OnePlus Watch is a simple pitch: More than a basic fitness tracker and less than an Apple Watch, Samsung, or Wear OS smartwatch. That may not be satisfying to hear that the OnePlus Watch fits on neither ends of the wearable spectrum, but rather it lands in the middle, but it is what it is. The middle ground is now The Battleground for value innovation. I’m dubbing these mid-ranged wearables “semi-smartwatches.”
I’ve already talked about the OnePlus Watch’s design and comfort at length so I’ll quickly summarize: The 46mm case may be large if you have small wrists; it’s comfortable even wearing it to sleep for weeks; and the hand-polished stainless steel design is minimalist just the way I like my gadgets. In my hands-on, I noted how the silicone band length might be too long; a OnePlus spokesperson told me “users may contact customer service should they require a shorter alternative than the 22mm standard strap provided.” Yes!
The 1.39-inch display round AMOLED display is sharp and visibility is great outdoors. OnePlus has an obsession with prioritizing the displays on its phones and I’m glad it has carried this over to the OnePlus Watch. Most people wouldn’t even realize how much work the company put into optimizing the display for fluidity. Just read this excerpt shared by OnePlus product manager Raymond Z. on the company’s forums:
“We worked on optimizing the bottom layer of the display architecture, improving the fluency of more than 50 scenes, and changing the display frame rate from the industry’s usual 30 fps to more than 50 fps. In fact, the frame rate of some scenes even doubled. It is no exaggeration to say that this is probably one of the smoothest smartwatches with long battery life available in the market today.”
I can confirm the display on the OnePlus Watch is ultra-smooth. So smooth that there are virtually no animations when navigating between apps and functions. Press either of the two buttons on the watch and the content just instantly switches.
Like most smartwatches, the OnePlus Watch is fundamentally an accessory for your phone. It’s got built-in GPS and Wi-Fi, but it’s most useful when it’s connected to your phone via Bluetooth. That’s fine for most people, but personally limiting for me since I’ve gotten used to having cellular data on my Apple Watch, which is really useful for running.
Now, for the part that you’ve been waiting for: the software. When I spoke to OnePlus CEO Pete Lau last year, he teased the possibility of the smartwatch running Wear OS. The OnePlus Watch is launching tomorrow on April 14 and it doesn’t run on Google’s smartwatch OS. Instead, it’s using a version of an RTOS (real-time operating system) — a barebones piece of software that can perform certain tasks and functions but lacks the expandability of a platform like Wear OS, watchOS, or Tizen.
The OnePlus Watch only syncs notifications via Bluetooth despite having Wi-Fi.
RTOS is both a smart and poor decision for certain reasons. Let’s start with the good. The software is lightweight, simple, and easy to navigate. There are two buttons on the OnePlus Watch: the top button with “OnePlus” printed on it (brings up the included apps and settings) and the bottom button is programmable to launch an app of your choice. It’s set to the blood oxygen monitoring app by default.
Pairing with an Android phone is done via the OnePlus Health app. It keeps track of all your health data and is used to add music. The health data can also sync with the Google Fit app.
OnePlus has included all of the basic fitness and smartwatch features you’d expect: a dozen workout modes with auto-tracking (the full 110+ modes are coming in an update in mid-May), music (it stores 2GB, or ~500 songs), heart rate monitoring, blood oxygen detection, sleep tracking, stress detection, breathing, weather, clock (alarms, time, stopwatch), flashlight, compass, barometer, a TV remote for controlling a OnePlus TV, and a feature to find your OnePlus phone. At launch, there are 50 watch faces (some of them customizable). And, of course, the OnePlus Watch is IP68 water and dust-resistant and certified for 5ATM.
This is a solid list of smartwatch features, but it’s the features that the OnePlus Watch doesn’t have and the questionable polish that are constant reminders that this is a watered-down smartwatch. For starters, the OnePlus Watch only syncs notifications via Bluetooth despite having Wi-Fi. That means it must be connected to a phone and within range of it. Away from your phone? In another room? You’re not going to get notifications over Wi-Fi, which means you’re going to miss a lot of stuff if you depend on them. Compare this to the Apple Watch or Wear OS watches that sync notifications over Wi-Fi and you can see how the OnePlus Watch shoots itself in the foot.
Then, there’s the fact that the OnePlus Watch doesn’t have an always-on display (AOD) for showing the time. This was a compromise years ago, but not including it on a new smartwatch is very weird now that most smartwatches support an AOD.
Raymond Z. addressed the lack of an AOD in the same forum post. The main reason being an AOD would cripple battery life by as much as 50 percent.
“We’ve heard many users request the always-on display. We are currently looking at things like how it impacts power consumption and are evaluating the possibility to bring this feature in a future OTA. I’m also interested to know your thoughts about how important AOD is to you, considering that it could increase power consumption by almost 50%. Let us know in the thread below.”
OnePlus has always prided itself on giving users choice over how their OnePlus phones are set up. Why not make the AOD a setting you can turn on or off? Let individual users decide how long or short they need their smartwatch to last from a single charge. A OnePlus spokesperson told me, “We are planning to have always-on display on the Watch, but it is still being developed and will come in a future update.”
The OnePlus Watch also doesn’t have a voice assistant (no Google Assistant since it’s not running Wear OS); there’s no mobile payment support despite having an NFC chip; and I’ve experienced a number of small bugs that, while not deal-breakers, were annoying. I didn’t realize how much I used voice assistants on my smartwatches until I had none on the OnePlus Watch. Whether it’s for calling my mom when I’m cooking, setting a timer, or sending a message, I got so used to just saying “Hey Siri” or “Hey Google.” With no voice assistant on the OnePlus Watch, I couldn’t really multitask, especially in the kitchen (where I spend basically all of my free time now). As for the omission of mobile payments… OnePlus told me: “Mobile payments via OnePlus Watch will not be available as of now in North America and will only be available in China.”
A few times I woke up to check the time and the clock was completely out of sync — it’d be 10:30 a.m. and the watch would show the time as 3-something a.m. Pressing on either button sometimes resynced the time, but sometimes I had to restart. Another bug I noticed: the temperature didn’t change when I switched the unit from °C to °F in the OnePlus Health app; on the “Practical” watch face, which has a weather complication, it’d convert 15°C to 15°F when it should have been 59°F. Little bugs like this occasionally popped up while I was testing the OnePlus Watch.
Other things like the weak haptics (no smartwatch’s haptics comes close to the Taptic Engine on the Apple Watch), lack of proper text input (there are preset messages for texting), and slow-to-activate auto activity tracking further highlighted the OnePlus Watch’s shortcomings. Even abbreviations like “Pls” instead of “Please” felt really out of place for a final shipping product.
The most surprising feature of the OnePlus Watch is sleep tracking. It’s well done for such a basic smartwatch and automatically detects when you’ve fallen asleep and when you wake up, unlike the Apple Watch’s sleep tracking, which is just a schedule, to be honest. I’ve been comparing my sleeping data with the Soli-based radar sleep tracking in Google’s Nest Hub 2 and the tracked sleeping data is almost identical. The Nest Hub 2 detects more than just the duration and quality of your sleep — it listens for snoring, coughs, a detects ambient light — but the sleep tracking on the OnePlus Watch is just enough (awake, light, and deep sleep). This is how sleep tracking should work on every smartwatch: it starts tracking when you fall asleep and stops when you wake up. Looking at the data and using it to improve my sleep is mostly on me. But the tracking should be this easy.
This is how sleep tracking should work on every smartwatch.
One feature I wasn’t able to test: controlling a OnePlus TV. OnePlus says you can use the OnePlus Watch as a remote to turn its TVs on and off, adjust the volume, and there’s also a clever feature that turns the TV off when it’s detected you’ve fallen asleep for thirty minutes. But I wasn’t able to try this because OnePlus TVs are only sold in India. I asked OnePlus if this was a hint that the OnePlus TV would be sold outside of India. The company told me the TV “will remain exclusive to India and as of now there are no plans for the OnePlus TV to be sold in other countries.”
Strong battery life
The one spec that stands out on the OnePlus Watch is battery life. OnePlus generously advertises its smartwatch with battery life that can last about 1 week for “most active users” and two weeks with “sustainable use.” This is a bit of a stretch.
While it is true that the OnePlus Watch can last up between 5-7 days on a single charge (I went my first five days without charging), I found that’s only true when it’s not connected to a phone via Bluetooth all day. The distance from my bedroom to my living room is about 20 feet. Oftentimes, I’ll be on my sofa working or watching TV or in my kitchen devising the next Michelin-worthy dish. At this range, the OnePlus Watch is not syncing and buzzing my wrist with notifications. And since there’s no cellular model, you also won’t get notifications if you go outside without a paired phone.
Work out daily or often? In my tests, this could drain the battery by one-third or one-half depending on how frequently I activated the sensors. Surprisingly, sleep tracking doesn’t impact the battery life much — it drains very little while you’re snoozing. In other words, if you’re using the OnePlus Watch daily for notifications, fitness tracking, and sleep tracking, you’re likely going to see around 3-4 days of battery life, which is still really great for a smartwatch. That extends with your specific use cases (maybe you skip a workout day or you’re not connected to your phone for many hours or you don’t get as many notifications). With a larger battery (402 mAh vs. 330 mAh in the 45mm Galaxy Watch 3 and 303 mAh in the 44mm Apple Watch), the OnePlus Watch achieves longer battery life mostly by sheer capacity size.
On the plus side, the OnePlus Watch charges up super fast. Five minutes gets you a day of battery life and 20 minutes gets you “a week” (again, I think that’s generous and you should expect multi-day wherever you see “week” for battery).
I don’t own any of the Fitbit Versa smartwatches, but I have tested them before and they’re the only smartwatches that I know of that have battery life that’s as long as the OnePlus Watch. The Pebble would count if it wasn’t dead and absorbed into Fitbit, which is being absorbed into Google. Fitbit smartwatches are known for their multi-day-to-week-long battery life. The OnePlus Watch joins the exclusive club.
No third-party apps
This is probably the OnePlus Watch’s biggest weakness. While the third-party app support on the Apple Watch, Galaxy Watch, or Wear OS smartwatches don’t resemble the breadth of their smartphone counterparts, the apps most people will want like Spotify, Strava, or Uber are there. They’re nonexistent on the OnePlus Watch.
The lack of third-party apps on the OnePlus Watch is yet another consequence of using RTOS instead of Wear OS. I don’t know what’s happening in OnePlus’ boardrooms so I’m not privy to whether or not the company even had talks with third-party apps or considered them important to the OnePlus Watch. The Apple Watch I own and wear daily is a Series 4 from 2018 — new watchOS updates and third-party apps have expanded its original functionality for years. I’m not sure I’ll be able to say the same about the OnePlus Watch — it feels more disposable to me.
When asked, OnePlus said there are “no plans” to add third-party apps or “partner with specific apps to include in the Watch.” Does this mean it’ll never happen? “We will continue to listen to our users and our community about how we can continue to improve the Watch,” a spokesperson said. I wouldn’t hold out for it. For $159, third-party apps are a concession. The core apps on the OnePlus Watch work fine, but if you’re wanting more, you should look elsewhere.
USB-A must die
I noted in my first impressions that I wasn’t happy with the included magnetic charger because the plug is USB-A and not USB-C. There’s no power adapter included in the box, so it’s only logical that if the OnePlus Watch is aimed at OnePlus phone users, then the charger plug should be USB-C to be compatible with the power adapter that comes with the phones. We know that USB-A plugs are cheaper and help keep costs low but if, like me, you’ve spent the last few years transitioning to USB-C (come on, it’s been six years since USB-C debuted!), and purging as many USB-A power adapters from your life as possible, the USB-A plug on the charger feels like a step back to the stone age.
Besides cost, I can understand why OnePlus went with a USB-A plug: 1) the charger is probably going to be connected to an outlet and sit on a desk at all times and 2) the multi-day / week battery means you won’t need to charge it as often as a phone or other smartwatches so you may not even need to bring a power adapter if you’re traveling. Both of these reasons make sense. But I still don’t like it. OnePlus’ position as an industry disrupter means it should be leading, not following. Remember when OnePlus was one of the first phone makers to embrace USB-C when everyone was reluctant to let go of micro-USB? Bring back some of that courage.
The OnePlus Watch is missing many features that put it on parity with the Apple Watch, Galaxy Watch, and Wear OS smartwatches. But it also costs $159. It feels unfair to complain about what the OnePlus Watch doesn’t have when it costs considerably less than the competition. It’s not like OnePlus is calling this smartwatch a “flagship killer” or anything because it isn’t one.
There’s a huge chunk of the world that doesn’t need bells and whistles.
The features that the OnePlus Watch comes with might be good enough for many users. It tells the time, it does basic activity and sleep tracking, it shows notifications (when connected via Bluetooth), it measures your heart rate, and if you’re in India it can control your OnePlus TV. There’s no deception by OnePlus that the OnePlus Watch is supposed to do anything more. With OnePlus, it’s almost expected that corners will be cut to push prices down.
Me? I think it’s a good enough smartwatch for the price. I’m spoiled by my Apple Watch, the Assistant in Wear OS smartwatches, and the satisfying controls on Galaxy Watches, but I know there’s a huge chunk of the world that doesn’t need all of these bells and whistles. People who maybe have a Fitbit or super cheap $30 activity tracker like the Mi Band 5 and want a tad bit more functionality, but not too much that it’d mean paying $300+ for a smartwatch.
For these users, the OnePlus Watch checks off enough of the boxes. There’s still lots of room for improvement on the OnePlus Watch 2. Just like how mid-range phones are the new battleground for value, I have a strong hunch that there’s going to be a free-for-all for these “semi-smartwatches.”
More OnePlus stories:
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- OnePlus says screw it, here's the OnePlus 9 Pro from every angle
- Everything we know about the OnePlus 9’s Hasselblad cameras so far
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- Everything we know about the OnePlus 9 Pro’s display and ‘Smart 120Hz’ refresh rate so far