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OnePlus Watch review: Low price and long battery life can't overcome its many shortcomings

  • Editors' rating
    5.7 OK

Pros

  • Very long battery life
  • Stainless steel case
  • Brilliant AMOLED display
  • Comfortable silicone strap

Cons

  • Terrible GPS performance
  • Very limited Android app
  • No voice assistant
  • No third party apps
  • No mobile payments
  • No iOS support

OnePlus is known for its elegant smartphone designs and the OnePlus Watch delivers in this area with a stainless steel body, brilliant AMOLED display, comfortable durable watch band, and very long battery life. However, it fails in too many other keys areas with much better RTOS (real-time operating system) options available if you don't want to buy a Samsung Galaxy Watch or Apple Watch.

The OnePlus Watch is available now for just $159 in one large size. Today's smartwatches are heavily focused on providing advanced health and fitness data, but unfortunately, this is one area where the watch fails miserably. Software updates may improve over time, but after a couple of months of availability, it is unlikely to get much better than it is today.

Also: Best smartwatch 2021: Apple Watch and more top picks

Apple and Samsung provide the ultimate smartwatch experiences for iPhone and Android users, but these watches also cost twice as much as the OnePlus Watch. There are several options from Amazfit that are priced about the same, but have much better performance and even support features like Amazon Alexa voice assistant. Garmin, Fitbit, Mobvoi, Fossil, and others also offer better alternatives, but with prices $100 more than the OnePlus Watch.

If you have a budget of less than $200, then look for an Amazfit option instead. The only reason to consider a OnePlus Watch is if you are a major OnePlus fan and need to have its branded watch in your collection. I bought one because I thought it would be a nice addition to my vast watch collection, but even though it was only $159 I am returning it because of the terrible fitness tracking experience and clunky user interface.

Specifications

  • Display: 1.39-inch 454x454 pixels resolution AMOLED touchscreen
  • Watch case: 316L stainless steel
  • Storage: 4GB
  • Water resistance: 5 ATM/IP68
  • Connectivity and sensors: Bluetooth 5.0 BLE, optical HR and blood oxygen, accelerometer, gyroscope, air pressure sensor, GPS/GLONASS/Galileo/BeiDou
  • Battery: 3402 mAh, up to 14 days in typical usage, 25 hours with GPS tracking enabled
  • Band size: 22mm standard with quick-release pins
  • Dimensions: 46.4 x 46.4 x 10.9mm and 76 grams

The OnePlus Watch has a speaker and a microphone so it supports phone calls from the wrist when the watch is connected via Bluetooth to an Android smartphone.

Hardware

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The OnePlus Watch is available in one size and one color, but as a person with large wrists it fits me perfectly and has acceptable thickness and lovely curves so it is also very comfortable. The included silicone strap is similar to the material Apple uses with very soft, thick, and durable material. I was impressed by the fit, finish, and elegance of the OnePlus Watch, especially given it is priced at just $159.

The watch case itself is stainless steel, which typically comes with a premium charge from other smartwatch manufacturers who use aluminum by default. The AMOLED touchscreen has high pixel resolution and looks fantastic with dark blacks and brilliant colors. The display fills the front of the watch with a couple millimeter wide bezel around the viewable touchscreen.

There are two physical buttons on the right side of the watch case with the top one containing the OnePlus name. The top button is the navigation key that takes you to the app launcher or back to the home watch face. The bottom button is the function key that serves as the power button, but can also be setup to launch one app with a single press. The rest of the navigation takes place via the touchscreen interface.

On the bottom of the watch case is a hole for the barometric sensor. The microphone is found on the back in the top left with the speaker over in the center right side. The heart rate and blood oxygen sensor are on the back of the watch in the center with the two charging pins below this sensor. The back material is a matte finish dense plastic and again is a great design feature.

Walking around the hardware and design of the watch, $159 seems to be a steal for a watch with such good fit and finish. However, a successful watch is far more than just the hardware, as we discovered after using the watch for the past couple of weeks.

Also: Amazfit GTR 2 and GTS 2 hands-on review: Affordable, fashionable, and comprehensive health watches

Watch software

Raise your wrist or press one of the buttons to turn on the display and show your selected watch face. There are 50 watch faces available for you to select from in the OnePlus Health smartphone app. Some are classic faces while others are heavy on the presentation of the health data collected by the watch. You can even take a photo of your current attire and have a watch face created to match your current style. Tap and hold on the watch face to switch between the ones you have installed on the watch, up to 14 of them, and customize a few aspects of the watch face. This watch face control is unique, but the extra data shown on a watch face is not a link to the data and just an output field.

Swipe down from the top to view the control center that shows quick controls such as display brightness, find your phone, set an alarm, flashlight, and button to access the watch settings. Slide up from the bottom to view notifications. The information shown from notifications is very limited and not actionable so you can only reply to notifications with just a few default responses. These responses cannot be edited and it is an extremely basic notification experience.

Swipe from right to left to move between the various widget display, including heart rate, sleep, activity status, music, workout, quick apps, stress, and weather. The data presented is very basic and tapping on this widget does not bring up more details, weekly reports, or anything more useful as we see in other smartwatches. Functions like this lead one to believe someone is still actively working to develop this area of the watch. The weather view simply shows some kind of forecast with current temperature, condition, high and low temperature so it's pretty useless for anything other than what you see out the window. Tap and hold on the display to choose which cards you can view.

Pressing the top, OnePlus button, takes you to the app launcher. Apps that are installed on the watch include activities, workout, workout record, heart rate, blood oxygen, sleep, stress, breathing, phone, music, weather, alarm clock, stopwatch, timer, flashlight, barometer, compass, TV connect, camera, settings, and find phone. There is no tap and hold or smartphone sync option to customize the order of these apps. It would be nice to have the most used apps near the top of the list or at least have them organized alphabetically. The app launcher flows along the curve of the watch, similar to a Samsung Galaxy Watch, while the settings screen flows vertically. This is another indication the OnePlus Watch is a work in progress.

Smartphone software

In order to connect your Android phone and the OnePlus Watch you must install the OnePlus Health app. There are three main displays in the app; Health, Fitness, and Settings. The Health page shows you all of the health and wellness data captured by the watch. This includes steps, workout time, calories burned, activity, heart rate, sleep, blood oxygen, stress, and workout records. There is no way to customize the order, arrangement, or presence of the data shown.

Tapping on any of these data fields opens up other screens that lets you view the data on a calendar, by day, by week, by month, and by year. There is much more detailed data presented on these displays too. For example, intricate details of your sleep stage or distribution of your stress levels are shown. The Health data appears to be a useful part of the app.

The Fitness tab shows you your most recent workout and then also lets you initiate a workout from the smartphone app. Tapping on your recent workouts then opens up a display that shows your workout history for that activity. You can tap further to view even more details of this data. One major limitation for my usage is that this data all lives within the OnePlus Health app and cannot be synced to any other service such as Google Fit, Strava, Runkeeper, etc. Deep in the settings you can find a page that makes you believe that Google Fit is an option, but tapping it just pops up a warning that the app is blocked by Google or the link option times out. Again, another indication of an unfinished product.

The Settings screen is where you see the OnePlus Watch connection and battery status, along with the watch face store front, phone notification sync options, get up reminder toggle, tips, and device settings. There is a gear icon in the top right corner that lets you manage your account settings and then down at the bottom you can tap device settings. Device settings is where you manage music, contacts, weather, goals, health settings, and update the watch. Music can be stored on the internal storage of the watch, but is MP3 music you own that is synced to the watch via the OnePlus Health app. No subscription services are supported.

Also: OnePlus 9 Pro review: No ads, no bloat, and new tech makes it the best Android

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

The OnePlus Watch at first seems to be a compelling option with a low $159 price and very nice hardware. It's even been nice to take phone calls directly on the wrist with the mic and speaker, although the volume and quality were not as good as a Bluetooth headset.

The inconsistent and limited software is frustrating and the inability to customize the watch experience kills the excitement just a bit. The real killer for me was the terrible accuracy of the GPS outdoor exercise tracking experience. I tried a few walks and runs and regularly saw results that were simply atrocious. One run showed a difference from my Garmin of more than 1.5 miles. About a half a mile of that difference was because the GPS took forever to initially connect, but there is no excuse for the difference after that. Two short walks showed differences of 0.2 miles on a 1 mile walk and 0.3 miles on a 1.5 mile walk. These were walks under open sky on sidewalks and were not obscured by any trees or anything. Heart rate readings also varied by as much as 30 bpm and did not even match the high and low trends recorded by other watches.

Given the terrible fitness tracking results I wouldn't want to sync the data with any other service, but the restriction of having all of this data limited to the OnePlus Health app is also a major factor in my decision to return the watch. All other smartwatches I have tested provide the ability for someone to at least manually export the data captured by the watch with most others syncing to the popular services like Strava, MapMyRun, Runkeeper, and others. Locking the data into a single app with an uncertain wearable future is not desirable.

I'm actually a big fan of the RTOS strategy for watches since it usually means very long battery life and that is the case here where the OnePlus Watch went for more than a week without charging. However, RTOS watches from Amazfit actually provide very accurate health and wellness data with excellent support for syncing that data to popular services. If you want to spend less than $200 on a smartwatch then I highly recommend you check out something like the Amazfit GTR2 or GTS2.

OnePlus Watch review: You get what you pay for