Apple has just released its new wearable which incrementally improves on their prior version. But despite all the new bells-and-whistles, Apple Watch series 6 still misses out in one very major area: Android support. Keep in mind that Android-powered phones still outnumber iOS powered phones. So, what are the majority of us mobile phone users to do? The de facto answer, of course, is Wear OS.
I’ve been an Android Wear, Google Watch, Wear OS guy since the early days. I’ve owned the LG G Watch, the original Moto 360, a couple of Mobvoi Watches, and a Fossil to round things out. I even owned a KickStarter Edition Pebble. Other than the Pebble and the LG G Watch, all have been round – because watches should be round, right? That’s when OPPO approached me about reviewing the new OPPO Watch – which looks disturbingly similar to the wearables offered by Apple.
Let’s start off with the elephant in the room: Wear OS
Google’s wearable OS is really good at being a watch with reliable notifications from your phone (iOS or Android). It’s got customizable watch faces, and along the way got Google Pay support – so long as your watch had NFC in it.
What Wear OS has never been good at is battery life, Google Assistant, responsiveness, and “Native App” support. Improvements in each of these shortcomings have been attempted over the years, but Wear OS still has a long way to go. Many companies who offer devices running Wear OS also offer devices running some other OS, usually of their own creation – Google should take note of this.
The OPPO Watch runs Wear OS, so it inherits these shortcomings – but OPPO has done a remarkably good job at mitigating at least a few of the stock Wear OS concerns, namely battery life and responsiveness.
Taking OPPO Watch for a spin
By now you’ve probably seen quite a few reviews of the OPPO Watch and are wondering what more this review might offer. My take has been an “extended” review, where I replaced my current Wear OS watch with the OPPO Watch – for over a month. Aside from showers, home improvement projects, and times when I’m asleep, this wearable has been on my wrist. It even went on vacation to Yellowstone National Park, four-wheeling, and to the top of more than one mountain. I didn’t baby it. I put it through its paces. More on that when we talk about the display a little later on.
The OPPO Watch comes in three varieties. I took the 46mm WiFi variant for a spin.
Pre-Production software woes
First and foremost, the majority of the reviews which you’ve already seen were of the OPPO Watch running “pre-production” software. On the surface, that’s not terribly unusual – as reviewers, we see that all the time. What it means, however, is that our experiences may not reflect your experiences. While that’s unfortunate, most of the time it can’t be avoided. I’ve gotten a couple updates both to the device and to the Wear OS app since undertaking my extended review.
Sometimes, things don’t work right with pre-production software. In this case, Google Pay didn’t work because the software wasn’t properly signed. Again, not a problem, and that’s not uncommon for pre-production software, but it meant that the other reviewers were likely unable to test and report on this. I had the same issue, but it was later resolved, and I can report that Google Pay works just as you’d expect on the OPPO Watch. Actually, it’s a little faster than you’d expect – more on that later when we talk about the processor and RAM.
Manufacturers have been taking advantages of a few settings to help eek more life out of their batteries: gestures, Always on screen, and “Ok Google” detection.
“Ok Google” detection is an easy thing to turn off to help get more battery life. Most of the time you’re going to have quick-access to your phone, or it will be within earshot. Even after turning on the feature, I wasn’t able to reliably invoke the Google Assistant on the OPPO Watch using just the hot-word. Most of the time, my phone would hear the hot-word and pick up the action – the watch wouldn’t care. I could still use Google Assistant on the watch, but only by waking the screen, swiping to the Google Assistant tile, and tapping the microphone icon to ask it to start listening.
Gestures come in three varieties in Wear OS: Tilt-to-wake, touch-to-wake, and Wrist gestures. Wrist gestures, not-so-subtle movements to navigate through screens and notifications by tilting your wrist, have never been all that accurate for me on any device. Most manufactures, OPPO included, opt to keep these disabled by default, but if you want to use them, head into the settings and toggle them on.
I must be an outlier, but tilting my wrist to check my watch is not some grandiose gesture, it’s a subtle tip of the wrist toward my face. My motion rarely every lights up my Wear OS watch. The OPPO Watch is noticeably better at detecting my tilt-to-wake gesture, and significantly faster at populating the screen than any other Wear OS watch I’ve used to-date. However, due to no fault of it’s own, sometimes my subtle wrist-tip just isn’t enough to trigger the tilt-to-wake gesture. Thankfully, Wear OS has the option of an Always-on screen, and has had since the very beginning – except when it doesn’t.
When is a watch not a watch? When it’s not displaying the time (or anything else) when you glance at it – then it’s just a dark monolith strapped to your wrist. Sure, it might be doing all kinds of other fancy things in the background, but if you can’t glance at it and see what time it is, it’s not a watch.
Another pre-production woe was that Always-on screen simply didn’t work. I’d turn the setting on, and it would turn back off again after a few seconds. OPPO replied that it was a limitation of their pre-production software, and it would be fixed before product launch. That’s great, but it also means that every single reviewer out there gave you battery life expediencies with “Always-on screen” set to “off”.
The display is arguably one of the most power-hungry components in modern wearables, so this single omission is a doozy for a product that was touted as having significantly better battery life than almost any other Wear OS-powered device available.
Thankfully, I’ve since gotten the software update which enables Always-on screen – which is the way I always wear my watches. Battery life took a pretty big impact. Instead of going to bed with sometime well over 50% battery life remaining, it dropped to the low 30%s. So, yes: huge impact on battery life. You’re not going to see 2-3 days and nights of average use with the OPPO Watch. You will, however see a full day of battery life, with enough buffer to not be worried about its battery running out before yours does. That’s another thing that the OPPO Watch has done for me that no other Wear OS watch has.
The OPPO Watch is – by far – the fastest, most responsive Wear OS watch I’ve ever used. I suspect that is due more to its RAM than its processor. One full gig of RAM sits inside the svelte package, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100 + Apollo 3 powering the innards. Apps installed fast and opened quickly. Swiping between screens had no noticeable lag – seriously, zero.
The only area where any sort of hesitation was noticed was when the screen went from dim to “awake”, or the watch went from “asleep” to awake. This is a limitation of the processor ramping up more than anything, and was barely there.
Wrist-worn wearables have two major challenges they need to accomplish with their screen (not including the aforementioned Always-on feature): readability in direct sunlight, and scratching. Back in my middle-school days, we’d always get scratches on our Swatches. The shop teacher had a buffing wheel that he’d use to buff out the screens of well-behaved students. It was a pretty cool thing for a teacher to do, and it’s stuck with me for decades.
Depending on which size of OPPO Watch you opt for, you’ll be getting either a 3D glass crystal screen by Schott on the 46mm variants, or Corning if you go for 41mm. Both have a a flexible AMOLED screen underneath. My review unit has been the 46mm variant. That “3d glass crystal” isn’t quite as hard as I’d like: I’ve got a 1/4-inch scratch diagonally across the face. Remember from the into, I didn’t baby this watch. It’s been through a lot, so scratches are pretty much expected. The good news is that you don’t see the scratch unless you’re looking for it, and you can’t feel it under your finger when using the watch. While it’s discouraging that a watch this good looking has a scratch on it, it’s not a deal-breaker.
Today’s screens are somewhat difficult to read in the sunlight, but I suppose they make up for that by doubling as a flashlight in a pinch. The OPPO Watch isn’t as readable as the Pebble, any LCD-style wristwatch, or any analog or analog/digital hybrid timepiece, but in my experience, The display on my review unit has held it’s own and still functions as a watch in even the brightest days. It’s been very sharp, and easily readable, with vibrant colors.
Okay, for the TL/dr and the question you’re asking right now: should you get the OPPO Watch?
Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve used a lot of smart watches over the years. If you are looking for a true smartwatch, not a fitness devices or a simple watch that also gets notifications, you’re down to two major categories: Apple Watch or Wear OS. If you’re in the Wear OS camp, from where I’m sitting, the OPPO Watch is best watch on the market today – no doubt or hesitation. It’s fast, it’s bright, it’s beautiful, and (most importantly) it’s a watch first.
The challengers to the OPPO Watch are all the other wearables powered by their own OSes. Samsung, Mobvoi, and even Fossil have wearables powered by operating systems of their own design. These are obviously not Wear OS devices, but almost all of them offer better responsiveness and better battery life than anything running Wear OS. That’s not the fault of the device manufactures, it’s the fault of the OS, and Google needs to keep improving before the 3rd party wearable OSes make Wear OS obsolete.
I’d like to thank OPPO for providing this demo unit for me. Releasing a major device in the middle of a global pandemic hasn’t been easy on manufacturers or reviewers. No copy-approval was given to OPPO in exchange for this review. Like everything you see me write, my experiences and opinions are my own.