It was a long time coming but the OnePlus Watch is finally with us. Rumored in 2015 (and cancelled soon after), OnePlus got us excited with the prospect of its long-awaited smartwatch launch in April 2021.
But the reception couldn’t have been worse. Early reviews of the OnePlus Watch were poor, with complaints of an experience riddled with bugs. Given our sample was a little delayed, we prioritized reviews such as the Garmin Venu 2 and Polar Ignite 2, to give OnePlus the chance to fix things up.
But even amidst a flurry of over-the-air updates, the OnePlus Watch is still a messy experience with a few serious flaws. Here’s our experience.
Design and price
OnePlus Watch and sharp screen
When news of the OnePlus Watch landed, the mix of design and price seemed pretty good.
There’s no denying it’s a decent quality piece of kit. It’s a round-faced 46mm case with a stainless steel bezel and snazzy textured silicone strap. It’s got a reassuring weight and feel, and it’s perfectly comfortable to wear, at least on a male wrist. Smaller wrists could struggle with a 46mm case, and it’s not something we at Wareable consider unisex, although everyone has different preferences.
OnePlus Activity app
The screen is a 1.39-inch AMOLED screen with a 454 x 454 resolution. It’s a good quality display, albeit not as punchy as the 1000 nit Huawei Watch 3.
There are two buttons on the bezel, although most of the control is done via a touchscreen, which is fast, accurate and responsive. The buttons and general on-screen control are the first clue that the OnePlus experience is not excellent. The top button shows the main menu (which is fine) but the bottom button takes a spot SpO2 measurement. You can easily map this to pretty much any feature, although it was our instinct to have this as a back button.
There’s a small collection of watch faces, and there are some nice-looking options. The screen has an always on option if you want it, which dims to a low power watch face when not in use. That will hurt battery life, so if you want to have the screen dim, you’ll find the wrist raise to be pretty sharp, and certainly as good as something like the Apple Watch SE.
The low power screen when in always on mode
All-in-all quite a good start for the OnePlus Watch. It looks and feels good for the $159 price tag. Yes, there are cheaper watches out there that do the same, but probably not with the same materials and case.
Natural competitors are the Amazfit GTR 2e, Huawei Watch GT 2 (or GT 2 e) and Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 – all of which arrive at roughly the same price and offer most of the same (if not more) features.
Features and usability
So what does the OnePlus Watch do – and how does it do it?
First there’s basic smartwatch stuff, and it’s important to note here that the OnePlus Watch is Android only. If you’re an iPhone user you need to go and read our Apple Watch alternatives piece.
The OnePlus Watch does all the usual smartwatch stuff – notifications and calls will be sent over from your Android phone, and you can answer from the wrist should you want. Notifications are generally handled well and look good on the screen.
Bizarre UX example
Then there’s fitness tracking. It’s a pretty standard affair with steps, calories, active minutes and workout time all logged. Most of the watch faces will display goal progress or you can head into the Activity menu. The interface looks cool, with 4 segments that fill up as you meet your goal. They are steps, workout minutes, energy used (calories) and Activity…which we’re still baffled about what that is actually tracking.
An example above shows we have 3 “Activity” points, on a day where we took the watch for a 30 minute run. Totally baffling. This just underpins how half baked the OS and UX is.
The OnePlus Watch will keep tabs on health metrics – with blood oxygen, stress, sleep and heart rate all tracked.
The Watch also has a bunch of basic apps on board for stopwatch, timers, flashlight, barometer, compass and a music player that enables you to listen to MP3s you sync to the watch.
There are no payments, LTE versions or music streaming services on board, nor is there an app store to add any extra features. That’s kind of par for the course when it comes to budget smartwatches, and you’ll need to be looking at Apple or Samsung devices for this kind of functionality.
“Pls connect the watch to your phone to update ephemeris info”
However, while many bugs have been fixed up as of June 2021, there are still many oddities remaining. On-screen messages often don’t make sense, installing an update changed the language to (possibly) Urdu, and some aspects of the UX are poorly labelled to the point we don’t know what they mean (see above).
The OnePlus Watch inexplicably changed its language during a routine update
Outdoor running modes
So far the OnePlus has covered all the bases quite well, but workout modes were the first place things really fell down.
The OnePlus Watch has GPS built in, but using it for an outdoor run was almost impossible. Firstly, the GPS needs constant updating, which is communicated by an insane and garbled message (likely translated from Chinese). Even when it was updated it was almost impossible to lock on, no matter how long we stood waiting. And when we did get a lock, 5km runs would regularly come up over 1km short.
Running distance problems
Over a month of testing and six outdoor runs, not one was close to being accurately tracked. Thus, all workout data, pace and VO2 Max were complete nonsense.
We’re not even going to waste time by going through the graphs for VO2 Max as the data is complete garbage.
OnePlus also promised 100+ tracked sports, and they have landed via a June OTA update.
There’s a lot here for sure – though so much is almost comically repetitive. Dog walking makes up the 100 – different to normal walking, we assume. There are modes for each type of gym workout – legs, arms, upper body, lower body, as if you’re going to stop and start workout modes as you move around the gym.
We started a HIIT class and were surprised to find no specific HIIT mode among the 100, so had to just drop into “freestyle training.”
The OnePlus Watch has several health focused apps – none of which are particularly smartly implemented.
The Heart Rate app takes a spot measurement of your bpm, which we found to be a pretty random and had little to do with our actual heart rate. It doesn’t display resting heart rate over time, or high and lows of the day on the watch itself. But if you swipe down, you will get a breakdown of time spent in key HR zones for the last 24 hours.
If you go into the OnePlus app you will find resting HR data, which was slightly above what we’d expect, but in the right ballpark. It’s a surprising result, as every time we spot checked our heart rate it was wildly high.
During workouts, we found the heart rate monitor to perform pretty well. Over our 5K run ending in sprint intervals the average HR for the session matched our Garmin HRM-Pro chest strap.
At sudden high intensity the sensor couldn’t keep up with the chest strap, but hit a max of 184bpm vs 191bpm – so not a bad showing at all. If the workout experience was anywhere near where it should be, the heart rate sensor would be a decent partner.
Decent heart rate tracking performance
The SpO2 app will track your blood oxygen measurements. There didn’t seem to be too much awry here – but unless you’re sick with a respiratory illness or at altitude, there’s little need to do spot SpO2 checks.
We found the sleep tracking a little basic but generally quite accurate. You will get breakdowns of deep and light sleep. The data isn’t that detailed, but fine to keep a quick eye on how much rest you’re getting. If sleep tracking is important to you, Fitbit and Garmin do it way better.
The time asleep usually synced up with time spent in bed, with accurate sleep and rise times. We’ve found the best sleep trackers report a tad lower sleep than the time you were lying in bed, accounting for wakeups and restlessness.
Against a Fitbit (which we class as the best wrist tracking of sleep) it was a mixed bag. Some nights were in line, but if sleep was especially restless (because of a newborn baby, alcohol consumption or both) then the OnePlus tended to show over an hour more sleep in comparison. Overall, however, we have no complaints as a general guide to sleep duration.
Stress is another spot check app, which will give you a little rating on stress levels. It will show stress scores over time if you swipe down, which is a nice touch. Is it accurate? That’s hard to quantify, but it’s an interesting data point.
OnePlus Watch reverse side
For all its faults, OnePlus has smashed it with battery life. It promise of 14 days is probably a little high with what we’d consider normal use, but 10 days is certainly possible.
Going for a 5K run knocked about 2% off the battery, so there’s plenty to like here.
And the rapid charging that offers a week of use for just 20 minutes charging is excellent, and battery overall is something that the OnePlus does excel at.
A disappointing showing with a software experience that lets down a nice design, quality materials and a competitive price. Modest improvements to the device in the month since launch haven’t been enough to earn it a 3 star review – the whole experience feels half finished. It’s a nice looking and well-built device for the money, but it’s not something we can recommend in good faith. As a fitness device it’s poor, and it has a feature set weaker than many budget smartwatches. Avoid.
- Excellent case materials
- Nice screen
- Great battery life
- Poor workout partner
- Terrible GPS accuracy
- OS feels unfinished