We pit the Apple Watch and the latest Android Wear devices against one another in our four-way smartwatch comparison.
If the arrival of a second generation of Android Wear devices, not to mention the launch of the Apple Watch is anything to go by, it seems as though smartwatches are finally starting to grow up. For those unmoved by the promise of wearable technology last year, we’re going to decipher whether the experience has truly matured or if it’s only just hitting that awkward teenage phase.
At a glance
|Apple Watch||LG Watch Urbane||Moto 360 Gold||Sony SmartWatch 3 Steel|
|Screen size||1.7-inch (42mm)||1.3-inch (circular)||1.56-inch (circular)||1.6-inch|
|Screen resolution||312×390 (42mm)||320×320||320×290||320×320|
|OS||WatchOS 1||Android 5.1.1||Android 5.0.2||Android 5.0.2|
|Battery life||2 days||2 days||1.5 days||2 days|
|Dust/water resistance||IPX7 certified||IP67 certified||IP67 certified||IP68 certified|
Design: Testing their metal
If it’s aesthetics you’re after, the first question you’ll likely ask yourself is square or circular? Naturally as is often the case, Android users have a far larger range of wearables to choose from, including the LG Watch Urbane and the new gold Moto 360 featured in this comparison.
Both pack beautiful circular screens and bodies to match. The Moto 360 is the heavier of the two, partly down to its matching metal strap. Provided you’re into gold, the finely milled frame is also tastefully treated with a brushed finish. The Urbane meanwhile can be had in silver or gold, but the highly polished look feels a little less premium and despite the smaller display it packs a large, bulkier body overall.
Apple certainly wrote some new design rules when creating its first wearable, but overall you can see the company’s DNA throughout the hardware. We tested the larger 42mm body, but despite this, the Apple Watch feels comparatively small and unless you’re forking out thousands for an Apple Watch Edition, it’s one of the more subtle wearables out there. The bodywork feels nice under-finger; from the physical controls to the curved glass and the proprietary, interchangeable straps leave you plenty of room for personalisation.
Sony’s SmartWatch 3 is the closest offering visually if you’re on the Android side of the fence but after an Apple Watch-like aesthetic; with the steel strap giving off a more premium feel than the standard rubber options. It’s the largest smartwatch in our lineup and as such one of the easier ones to interact with. Despite packing an in-built microUSB port however, it’s also one of the most awkward to charge.
Screen: Circles and squares
LG and Apple take the lead in this field, with wonderfully vivid, crisp, bright screens. LG’s display feels decidedly futuristic and one-ups the Moto 360 thanks to a fully circular display (they were able to hide the display drivers in the admittedly thick bezel). It also packed the sharpest screen in the lineup.
The Apple Watch meanwhile has an impressively clear, colourful screen with fantastic viewing angles and thanks to the curved glass frontage; the black-heavy interface hides where the edges of the display panel and the bezel meet, giving it a near seamless look.
Sony’s long-standing presence in the smartwatch space brings some unusual technology to the world of Android Wear – the Transflective LCD we previously met on the SmartWatch 2.
Whilst the quality of the backlit screen isn’t fantastic and it has the weakest contrast ratio and colour reproduction of the bunch, it has a trick up its sleeve. It has the best viewing experience in direct sunlight, forgoing the need for a backlight and in fact becomes more legible outdoors.
Last but not least is the Moto 360’s screen, which whilst not technically forming a full circle, offers the thinnest bezel alongside a precision cut surface glass that makes for a near seamless viewing experience.
OS: Different strokes for different folks
In the broader sense, Apple and Google have approached their smartwatch experiences from opposite ends of the spectrum. Apple’s WatchOS 1 places apps at the forefront of the Apple Watch’s experience. It pushes you to spend more time interacting with it beyond fleeting instances to say, check a notification or respond to a message with voice, although you can of course do those things too.
Interestingly enough, notifications, especially those from third party apps aren’t readily actionable, beyond perhaps responding to a Facebook Messenger notification with a ‘like’ emoji or an iMessage with a brief voice recording. There are already a wealth of applications that extend to the Apple Watch and it’s extremely feature-rich, but it almost tries to do too much and interacting with such a small display can become tedious and awkward after extended periods.
Android Wear places notifications first and foremost, with the ability to respond to them or open up the relevant event on your phone at the push of a button, a feature that feels sorely missing from the Apple Watch. The app experience, whilst present is far less polished, but the Android 5.1.1 update, enjoyed solely by the LG Watch Urbane, boasts a cleaner, clearer UI and more accessible features and menus (the Moto 360 and SmartWatch 3 are still on Android Wear 5.0.2 for the time being).
Both platforms offer a lot, from fitness tracking to social interaction. They both get some things right, but for the most part neither seems to solve a problem that anyone asked, at least not yet.
Performance: Subtle differences
A glance at the table at the top and you’ll notice that battery life is fairly even across all four of the wearables in our lineup. Smartwatch usage, like smartphone usage can vary wildly based on the apps that you’ve downloaded, whether you use them for activity tracking, whether your screen is set to ‘always on’ and more.
There are fewer options governing power management for the Apple Watch, which is a good thing, there’s less chance of user error resulting in battery life dropping like a stone. We consistently managed two days of usage comfortably, switching it off at night.
We blame the less efficient TI OMAP processor inside the Moto 360 for its shorter lifespan, but contrary to reports after the device’s initial launch, firmware updates have worked wonders to extending its longevity overall. An older processor also means sluggish performance, most noticeable with Moto 360, but not exclusive to it.
The Apple Watch endures a different ailment, with app usage requiring the watch to poll the phone for information, resulting in long loading times on a regular basis. Something that’ll hopefully become less of an issue with the native app support promised in the forthcoming WatchOS 2 update.
Interestingly the LG Watch Urbane, which sports the same processor as the majority of the Android Wear crowd out there feels tighter and slicker, potentially as a result of its newer, more efficient operating system.
Verdict: Is the time right?
Just as with the smartphone market, the landscape of wearables right now is diverse and fast moving. Aside from the Pebble, those interested in a smartwatch on Apple’s side of the fence only have one option right now and it’s rather expensive, even if you opt for the more affordable Sport model.
Android users have a multitude of variables to consider, most notably the shape of screen they’re after. In truth the speed at which the category is moving renders the newcomers (the LG Watch Urbane and Apple Watch) as the strongest all-rounders. The Moto 360 still features some of the best industrial design in the space and the Sony SmartWatch 3 has unique strengths of its own, but LG and Apple win if you’re in the market for a wearable right now. If you’re still undecided about the concept as a whole however, there’s nothing out there that’s likely to convince you otherwise.