OnePlus Watch full review
It’s been many years in the making but the OnePlus Watch is finally here. So why is it such an oddball? We explain in our full review.
If you haven’t seen the coverage in the media already, the OnePlus smartwatch has been dubbed as things as strongly worded as ‘the worst smartwatch ever’ while simultaneously being called ‘a a stylish alternative to the Apple Watch’.
Our review comes a little later as it was clear this gadget needed a good amount of time to test (my sample only got to me a day before the embargo lifted). In the time, between, some things have gotten better but there’s still a lot to discuss in order to decide whether it’s worth your money.
The design, hardware and price are all attractive and this thing has incredible battery life. However, it’s missing quite a lot of features that you might otherwise consider standard in the smartwatch space, and not everything it does have works that well either.
Design & Build
Things certainly start on a high, as the OnePlus Watch looks and feels the part – and I should hope so, considering those initial sketches were shared by the firm so many years ago.
Although this final product looks quite different to those drawings shared by former OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei from 2015, it offers a premium fit and finish that you’d normally expect from a smartwatch a lot more expensive.
I’ve tested the ‘Classic’ Midnight Black model, which is made from 316L stainless steel, as is the Moonlight Silver colour. However, there’s a third Cobalt Limited Edition that upgrades you to a cobalt alloy in the middle frame which the firm says is twice as hard as stainless steel and an ‘industry-first'.
As well as the gold finish, you’ll also upgrade from an unspecified scratch-resistant glass cover to sapphire glass. All models are both 5ATM and IP68 rated, meaning the Watch is fully dust and waterproof.
The design is slick and minimalist, so while it has style, it might not be for everyone. It’s kind of surprising that the only OnePlus logo on the whole thing is almost unreadably squeezed onto the top button.
Still, there’s no ‘flat tyre’ interrupting the circular screen, the bezels are small and the polished finish of the frame looks nice – even if it does attract fingerprints a little more than usual. Catch the light in the right way and you’ll see some concentric circles set into the bezel too.
There’s no digital crown or rotating bezel here so you’ll mostly interact with the interface via touch and the two physical buttons on the right side of the casing. I quite like rotating crown/bezel interaction where smartwatches are concerned, so if you’re like me you may well be disappointed by the lack of something similar here.
Another thing to mention is the size of the OnePlus Watch: it’s a 46mm case that’s 10.9mm thick and 45g for either edition, not including the strap. Although I’ve found it to be fine, it’ll likely be too big for many wrists out there and there’s no smaller option.
It’s mainly that 46mm figure that’s the issue here, as many people will need a smaller chassis closer to 40mm in order to find it comfortable.
OnePlus includes what it calls a ‘fluoroelastomer’ strap, which basically means it’s flexible silicone. In general, I’ve found it comfortable, although the way the strap tucks inside makes it prone to pinching.
The Cobalt option also comes with a leather strap, but you needn’t overthink things as the lugs of either variant support quick-release pins, so you can swap the included straps out for any 22mm band of your choosing, giving you almost endless options in terms of replacements.
Apart from being a bit big for some, the Watch, so far, has stood up to scrutiny well and that doesn't change when you look at the hardware on offer here too; perhaps better than you’d expect for the asking price.
You get a 1.39in AMOLED display with a 326ppi pixel density. It’s colourful, bright and generally what you want from a premium smartwatch.
Inside is a ‘three-chip combination solution’ consisting of an STM32, Apollo 3 and Cypress. These handle the main workload, sensors and Bluetooth, respectively. OnePlus doesn’t provide details like clock speed, so I can’t compare with a popular chip like Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 4100 but overall, I’ve had no qualms with performance.
This is likely helped by the above-average 4GB of RAM inside and there’s the same amount for storage, with OnePlus saying around 2GB is free for music storage (up to roughly 500 songs).
As well as the obvious - like Bluetooth (version 5.0 here) - the OnePlus Watch has a bunch of other sensors and the like, with a microphone, speaker, optical heart rate sensor and blood oxygen sensor. GPS also comes built-in.
It’s all very impressive for under £150/US$160, so what’s the problem? Well, there is a long list of things the OnePlus Watch can’t do, so I figure it’s actually easiest to list them:
- Third-party watch faces
- 12-hour clock
- Always-on display
- Tap to wake
- Digital assistant
- NFC payments
- Third-party apps
You’ll notice this is all software related and that’s where the OnePlus Watch falls down, and not just a little trip, like full-on breaking bones down a flight of stairs fall.
Software & Features
Considering how long we’ve been waiting for this device, and how good OnePlus usually is with software (we’ve loved Oxygen OS since the early days) it’s just bizarre for the experience on the Watch to feel so very unfinished. At least half of that list above is comprised of features you’d expect any smartwatch to do from the off.
You may look more kindly on the situation than I, happy for software updates to fix things and add features, but I'd argue that if a device isn’t ready to be reviewed, it’s not ready to be released.
For some of my testing time, I’ve been using the B.40 update that OnePlus promised, which improves things like raise-to-wake, along with various improvements to things like GPS performance, notification syncing, activity tracking accuracy, notification app icons, improved heart rate monitoring and more.
That list tells you a lot about how broken the experience is right now and there’s a similarly long list of things coming in future updates. When that arrives – and OnePlus hasn’t said 'when' is – you'll finally get always-on display functionality, a 12-hour time format (!), AI watch faces (whatever that means), all 110+ workout modes, improved sleep tracking and more.
If you haven’t worked it out already, OnePlus doesn’t run Google’s Wear OS but a custom user interface instead - RTOS. Largely, it’s a Wear OS clone and is intuitive to use - swipe down for quick settings, swipe up for notifications, swipe left for info like music playback and heart rate.
The top button is multi-function, so loads the app menu and goes back, for example, while the other is a function button, so can be set to various shortcuts, such as blood oxygen measurement or weather.
While CEO Pete Lau said the decision to go with its own software was to deliver a “smooth and reliable experience while offering great battery life”, only one of those two intentions has currently been realised.
The interface might be easy enough to use, in terms of navigation, but the list of cons should be enough to make anyone think twice.
Not being able to tap-to-wake is frustrating - especially when the maximum screen-on time you can set is only eight seconds. A limited number of watch faces - with very few offering complications - also just seems underdeveloped and basic, not to mention the lack of any 12-hour clock functionality; which is a big deal, especially for users in markets like the US.
The tracking is often unreliable too and I’ve not even had it as bad as some reviewers. I’ve found sleep tracking to be fine (if you don’t mind wearing a watch in bed) and this synchronises with the OnePlus Health app without issue. However, some days my step count has been way off and the Watch struggles to find a GPS signal.
There are 19 apps pre-installed, with that number including various basic things like a flashlight, guided breathing, alarm clock, timer and barometer. One simply tells you whether you’re stressed and TV Connect is useless in markets like the UK, where the OnePlus TV is unavailable.
You can forget about installing apps like Spotify, Strava or otherwise. The OnePlus Watch keeps things in-house and even then doesn’t do simple things very well a lot of the time.
Since the B.40 update, many notifications now have the appropriate icon (rather than just a generic bell symbol) but it’s still a rudimentary experience, with erratic ability to swipe them away and only a set of simple replies for certain apps. They also don’t sync very well with the phone, with many suddenly coming through a long time after I’ve seen them elsewhere.
Move over to the OnePlus Health app (not available on iPhone) and it’s a similar setup to Google Fit, giving you an overview of the data collected by the Watch. It looks nice, but switch to the ‘Fitness’ panel and there are more signs of work to be done.
It shows a dot on a map (showing ‘Google’ in the corner) but no map data (roads, place names, green spaces) ever loads. The walk I went on displays the distance but not where I went and kept pausing the workout countless times while I was out, to boot.
A final note on software is that despite going for a custom OS, OnePlus doesn’t offer its smartphone users any exclusive functionality or similar. I was advised to test the Watch with a OnePlus 9 (images show our photographer's older model) but the experience doesn't appear to offer any discernable exclusive functionality when paired with the company's phones - something that would have served as a nice bonus for the most loyal of the brand's fans.
It wouldn't have been a stretch to assume that battery life would serve as the final nail in the coffin with here but the OnePlus Watch defied expectation in this regards; the battery life is epic!
With so many smartwatches only lasting a few days at best, the Watch feels like a step back in time to when you simply didn’t need to worry about charging much at all.
It’s got a 402mAh battery and based on Lau's statement from earlier, the custom OS along with the trio of chips makes for an efficient partnership.
I wasn’t aware of its skills in this area before testing, so was genuinely shocked when it still had plenty of juice left after a few days' wear. I can easily get over a week of battery life from the OnePlus Watch and I bet some will manage close to two.
Even for more demanding users, the Watch is rated for 25 hours of GPS use, so you'd be hard-pressed to kill it in a single day, even if you tried to.
It charges quickly as well, via a small magnetic charger with two small metal pins. In a 30-minute test starting at 1%, it charged to an impressive 57%.
Price & Availability
Coming in at £149/$159, the OnePlus Watch is perhaps cheaper than you might expect, especially if you just picked it up and didn’t know about some of the hidden downsides. You can buy it from OnePlus or Amazon UK - albeit at a less attractive £175.
As yet, we don’t know any release details or pricing for the Cobalt Limited Edition but we'll update this section once that information becomes available.
The OnePlus Watch sort of sits in something of a no man's land within the wearable market, with either cheaper fitness bands doing a similar job or more expensive smartwatches offering a more comprehensive experience.
Those cheaper fitness tracker bands - including the Xiaomi Mi Band 6 and Oppo Band - offer heart rate tracking and SpO2 tracking for just £39.99. At a similar price you could opt for something like the Fitbit Charge 4.
It certainly undercuts rivals like the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, Huawei GT 2 Pro and Moto 360 (2019 edition), which start at £349, £299 and £299 respectively, although now they're a little older can all be found for less.
A closer match to the OnePlus Watch is the Amazfit GTR 2e, which is a little cheaper at £119.
Comparing OnePlus' timepiece to an Apple Watch is a little bit irrelevant but for additional context, the Apple Watch SE is £269/US$279.
You can check out all the best smartwatches we've tested in our full chart.
The OnePlus Watch really is a game of two halves.
In classic OnePlus fashion, the firm has done a great job with the design and build here, rivalling far more expensive smartwatches. Some users would prefer a smaller size option, I’m sure.
The hardware is also top-notch. Again, with perhaps more than you would expect for the asking price, thanks to an excellent screen, smooth performance, SpO2 tracking and more.
Battery life is also very impressive and will comfortably see most users through a week or more, before needing a top-up.
OnePlus seems to have achieved some of this by using its own custom software and while it’s easy enough to use, there’s a lot left to be desired, and that’s putting it lightly.
The design and hardware make it seem like a high-end smartwatch but it can’t do many of the things you would expect. Installing third-party apps, using a digital assistant or making NFC payments are all on the list, along with surprisingly basic things like tap-to-wake, a 12-hour format and an always-on display option.
Even with the software I received mid-testing - that brings some fixes and improvements - there’s still a lot left for OnePlus to sort out, with much of the experience either flakey or plain broken. It’s quite a bizarre situation, especially considering the firm’s ‘Never Settle’ motto.
Forgetting the software issues for a second, the OnePlus Watch sits in a middle-ground between basic fitness band trackers and high-end smartwatches. It has the design of the latter but the features and thus versatility of the former.
If the software worked, then this would make for a nice option for those looking for something that combines the two at a reasonable price, but the software experience right now makes it very difficult to recommend.
You’ll have to be very trusting and patient with OnePlus to put your cash down on something that’s this unfinished.
OnePlus Watch: Specs
- OnePlus Watch OS
- 1.39in circular AMOLED (454x454) display w/ 326ppi
- ST32, Apollo 3 and Cypress 'three chip solution'
- 4GB RAM
- 4GB ROM (about 2GB user-accessible)
- Supports Android 6.0 and above, not iOS
- Integrated speaker and microphone
- Bluetooth 5.0
- Optical heart rate monitor
- SpO2 monitor
- Other sensors: Acceleration, Gyroscope, Geomagnetic, Ambient light, Air pressure
- 402mAh battery
- 2 pogo pin charger
- 5ATM water resistance
- IP68 certified
- 316L stainless steel casing (Classic), cobalt alloy casing (Cobalt limited edition)
- Fluoroelastomer strap (Classic), additional leather strap with butterfly buckle (Cobalt limited edition)
- 45g w/o strap, 76g w/ strap) - Classic
- 45g w/o strap, 67g w/ strap) - Cobalt limited edition
- 46.4mm x 46.4mm x 10.9mm
- Colours: Midnight Black, Moonlight Silver, Cobalt limited edition (gold)
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