I have been on the smartwatch bandwagon since the first Pebble arrived from Kickstarter in what seems like an eon ago and definitely find myself at a loss without one on my wrist. Fast forward through a couple of Pebble iterations, an Apple Watch (1st Gen), a couple of Microsoft Band’s (yes I bought both of them) an Android Wear or two and now a Samsung Gear S3 Classic I think we need to step back and work out if the OS that runs on your smartwatch actually matters?
Recently I was supplied with the full stack of Samsung Gear comprising of an S8+, DeX and Gear S3 Classic to take for an extended test drive thanks to Samsung Australia. Bias being what it is I was mainly focused on the phone and the new DeX dock and not really expecting much from the watch. Running Tizen, a mobile OS orphan IMO, I had heard nothing but mediocre reports about it despite having never used it. How wrong could that bias be… From the hardware to the software stack it has been a standout pleasure to use and the real sleeper product of the trio. The user experience is just bang on. Utilising a silky smooth bezel to select the app then standard gestures or hardware buttons, it just seems to work. From small niceties such as being able to always show the screen (and still get a full day of battery) to the rather excellent dock (take note Huawei and Apple your ‘supplied’ docs are a joke).
On the software side the OS got out of the way and simply did its thing without crashing, freezing or slowing down. Samsung Health was also a nice surprise with great daily prompts a clean user interface and some interesting gamification built in including some fun prompts from the assistant while out running telling me to go a little faster, you can smile at the end.
At this stage I would still put Samsung Health second to the the Microsoft Health software from my time with the Microsoft Band but given that went the way of the Palm Pilot I cant see myself going back to that (even through it runs on Android and iOS). Google Health is not quite there just yet and Apple Health was OK but nothing really standout or amazing.
- Always on screen. Something that is a must for me from my time with Pebble and from watching people having to raise their wrist several times to get the watch to actually display the time (the core function of a ‘watch’ that last time I checked).
- A dock that works. This is something you will use every day and it needs to be excellent, the S3 dock is exactly that. When the manual it says ‘if it does not charge just wiggle the connection plate a little’you know the product is actually defective out of the box. Yes I am talking about you Huawei. Or if you provide what looks like a $2 afterthought that you cant work out which way up is as the standard charger for a $500 product… yes I am talking about you Apple.
- Excellent User Experience – Design with the hardware and software to work together and using the rotating bezel and buttons is a stroke of brilliance. Smartwatch screens are simply too small to cover with your finger.
- Style – Each to their own, but a round watch is classic and Samsung seem to have nailed the style aspect of this watch. The number of times people have said to me ‘I would not have known that was a smartwatch until you did that’ is really quite amazing. A true blend of the old with the new.
- Limited app choices. Not that I am a big consumer of apps on a smartwatch outside of a few watchfaces and core fitness apps the lack of support for 3rd party apps is one of the downsides of the Tizen OS experience. Strava was a big miss for me. 🙁
- Volume – Phone calls seem OK but audio notifications when out running are not loud enough IMO.
Summing up. As our requirements (real requirements that is) mature in this new category does the OS on the device actually matter? I don’t seem to care what OS my Garmin Edge 520 runs as long as it does what it is designed to do, so should I care about my wearable? I think I am a 4 OS guy in 2017. Windows 10 Lenovo Laptop, Apple iPad Pro, Android Phone and Tizen Watch. What OS stack do you use?
Interested to hear your smartwatch experience in the comments below.
Up next some thoughts on the Samsung S8+ and the DeX dock.
Finally… if anyone has worked out how to listen to podcasts from a smartwatch to bluetooth headphones please comment below. I have so far failed to achieve this on every smartwatch to date.