This article contains everything you need to know about Google’s Wear OS smartwatch operating system. We walk you through various Wear OS features and buying guidelines, as well as round up the best Wear OS smartwatches you can find. Strap in, because there is a lot to talk about when it comes to Wear OS.
What is Wear OS?
Wear OS is a smartwatch operating system created and maintained by Google. It was announced on March 18, 2014, as Android Wear, only to be rebranded as Wear OS on March 15, 2018. Wear OS is an Android-based operating system that receives semi-regular feature and security updates, just like the version of Android that powers billions of smartphones around the world.
Google doesn’t actually make any Wear OS hardware, so a Google Pixel Watch does not exist (even though there have been plenty of rumors claiming otherwise). Instead, Google allows hardware partners to create their own smartwatches running the Wear OS operating system. A number of smartphone OEMs — including Samsung, LG, Motorola, Asus, Sony, and Huawei — were the first companies to create Wear OS watches. Now, most watches are made by fashion brands and various watchmakers, such as Fossil Group, Mobvoi, Tag Heuer, Montblanc, Casio, and others. However, Samsung is the only company to have access to the most recent version of Wear OS — version 3 — on its latest smartwatch, the Galaxy Watch 4 (more on this later).
Why buy a Wear OS smartwatch?
We’re pretty tough on Wear OS at Android Authority, but there are some good reasons to buy a Wear OS-powered smartwatch.
First and foremost, just like Android itself, Wear OS provides choice. You get a similar software experience on any device you buy, but the hardware can vary drastically. That’s because Google’s hardware partners consist of tech companies, traditional watchmakers, fashion brands, fitness companies, and more. This is in stark contrast to Wear OS’ biggest competitor — the Apple Watch — which has nearly the same hardware no matter which generation you buy.
Wear OS’ biggest strength is choice.
Wear OS watches come in all different shapes and sizes. You can buy a cheap plastic Wear OS watch if you’re on a budget, a nice stylish Wear OS watch from a fashion company if you want to wear your watch at the office, or even a top-tier luxury Wear OS watch if money is of no concern to you. No, buying a Wear OS watch for thousands of dollars isn’t recommended, but it represents the idea that the platform is all about choice.
The simple fact that Google makes both Android and Wear OS is also a selling point. If you use Android, Wear OS is the obvious smartwatch platform to try out. All of your notifications, (most of) your apps, and your data will all be tightly integrated into Wear OS, as your phone and your watch run on the same underlying Android platform.
What’s the deal with Wear OS 3?
Wear OS has gone through many iterations in its lifetime, and the biggest change came this year. Google and Samsung announced Wear OS 3, a co-developed operating system that first appeared on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 and Galaxy Watch 4 Classic.
Samsung has exclusive rights to the operating system until mid-2022 when Wear OS 3 will become available for other smartwatch makers. While that means Galaxy Watch 4 owners can feel good about the benefits of exclusive software, that also means all new Wear OS smartwatches launched between now and then will have to run the old, outdated software, Wear OS 2.23. The TicWatch Pro 3 Ultra, TicWatch E3, and Fossil Gen 6 all run Wear OS 2.23 out of the box, with the promise of a Wear OS 3 upgrade whenever it becomes available. Hit the link below for the full list of legacy smartwatches that are slated to get the Wear OS 3 update.