Tech for your connected self

Wear OS v Fitbit OS: Let the smartwatch OS battle commence

We compare two alternatives to Apple Watch's watchOS

We get it. You've seen the Apple Watch and you're like, yeah, no thanks. Fair enough, maybe Apple's smartwatch and its watchOS are not for you. But you do want a smartwatch – that much is certain – and you want to know what your other options are.

Well, there are a few, and Samsung's Tizen OS-powered watches aside, the two that are emerging as the biggest Apple Watch alternatives are long-standing rival Wear OS (formerly known as Android Wear), and newcomer Fitbit with Fitbit OS.

Read this: The best Wear OS smartwatches

Google's smartwatches and operating system have been around longer than Fitbit's, but the latter is pinning a lot of hopes on its watch-friendly platform and early signs are promising.

So if you're thinking either Wear or Fitbit OS could be the one, we've weighed up the key areas that we think might help you pick the smartphone OS that best suits you. From apps to notification support, read on for our take on how Google's Wear OS compares to Fitbit OS.

Got any questions? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Wear OS v Fitbit OS: The watches

Wear OS v Fitbit OS: Smartwatch OS showdown

Before we wade through the ins and outs of the software, we have to first talk about hardware. If you're talking options, then there's only one winner here and that's Wear.

Read this: The best Wear OS smartwatches

Since the first Wear watches launched in 2014, the Wear army has grown in numbers considerably. Early on, it was all about watches from the likes of Sony, LG, Huawei and Motorola. But as some of those tech companies have decided to back away from making smartwatches, the worlds of fashion and traditional watchmakers have stepped in to offer more – and better looking – options. Fossil has led the way with sub-brands like Michael Kors, Diesel and Armani all now offering full smartwatches.

We've also seen the likes of Tag Heuer, Movado, and even Montblanc join the party. What is important to remember here though is that while there are more Wear watches out there, they don't all offer the full Wear experience. Fossil's smartwatches for instance don't offer Google Pay to make payments from the wrist, and don't go too big on serious fitness features outside of the Fossil Q Control and Misfit Vapor. So that's worth keeping in mind.

Wear OS v Fitbit OS: Smartwatch OS showdown

Fitbit on the other hand tries to keep the software experience consistent across the board for its smartwatches. There are currently three watches in the Fitbit stable: the Ionic; Ionic Adidas Edition; and the new Versa. The Ionic was Fitbit's first smartwatch and while the angular look certainly divides people, we think it's a bit of a grower. Meanwhile the Versa clearly has Pebble DNA running through its veins, and unlike the Ionic features a rectangular design with a curvier feel to it. Google's latest Wear watches are all packing more traditional round watch designs. From build and screen quality point of view, we'd like to think you are in relatively good hands with either side. Both Fitbit and Google's partners are offering solid designs with some of the best screens in the business.

If you value choice, then Google's Wear OS is the one. Fitbit's rectangular home for its OS might be a sticking point, but we think it makes a decent looking smartwatch. Especially with the introduction of the Versa.

Wear OS v Fitbit OS: Interface

Wear OS v Fitbit OS: Smartwatch OS showdown

When we talk about interface, we are talking about the part you're actually going to be spending most of your time interacting with. Or really, the place you spend minimal time interacting with, because that's the idea of a smartwatch, right? As Apple, Samsung and others have proved, designing a good UI for a smartwatch is no easy feat and there's an argument to say that all smartwatch OS platforms are still in the process of refining this. Some are just further down the line than others. If we'd had to mark what Wear and Fitbit have to offer, it's probably a 7.5 out of 10 job so far for both. So there's room for improvement.

Read this: All your Fitbit questions answered

Wear's interface has gone through multiple changes as Google tries to decide just what works best on the wrist. It had those contextual Google Now-powered Card UIs, then it ditched those, and has settled (at least for now) on an interface that features core aspects like an app drawer, notification stream, customisable watch faces and a bunch of gestures to navigate that UI. Microphone support on Wear means you can navigate the UI with your voice too. It's largely the same experience across the board on all watches, but some companies like Misfit and LG have decided to try out some new things or embrace traditional watch features to add another method of navigating the UI. It's still not as intuitive or as slick as we'd like things to be, but it feels like it's a better in place than it was maybe a year or two ago. Wear 2.0 has definitely made a difference here.

Wear OS v Fitbit OS: Smartwatch OS showdown

Fitbit's OS is not even a year old and its attempt to combine a smartphone-esque UI with aspects of its companion smartphone app works well – but again, we imagine it will be refined and tweaked over the coming months and years. There's similar gesture support on board here. letting you swipe down for your daily fitness tracking data fix on the Today Dashboard, and a more smartphone-like layout for apps.

With an emphasis on swiftly pushing you through into fitness and sports tracking modes, Fitbit has added a bunch of shortcut options for the physical buttons on its watches, to assign a number of different features to. Fitbit is also ensuring that any changes made to the OS and its interface are reflected on all of its smartwatches. At least, that's that case right now. We should say that Fitbit lacks the same microphone support you get on Wear, which means that additional option to navigate hands-free isn't yet possible.

Wear OS v Fitbit OS: Smartwatch features

Wear OS v Fitbit OS: Smartwatch OS showdown

This for many will be the most important section to talk about. What kind of connected smarts are being served up? The good news is that you are well served by both operating systems, but they do offer slightly different experiences for some of these features.

Take notifications. It's an aspect that has always seemed a little flaky on Wear watches, but things have got noticeably better regarding how they are displayed and how you can respond to them. With Fitbit it feels like one of the weaker elements of the OS, and there's also the issue that notification support currently varies depending on what smartphone you have paired to your smartwatch. It's a bit of a similar story with Wear, but along with the whole rebranding, Google has sought to make the smartwatch experience for iPhone users and Android phone users more equal.

Both offer music player support with the ability to control music playing from your phone or to store music onto your watch, pair Bluetooth headphones and leave the phone behind. There's also offline streaming support for music streaming services. Fitbit's support is restricted to Deezer and Pandora while Wear plays nice with Google's Play Music platform. We'd be inclined to say that in this department, they are pretty even.

Wear OS v Fitbit OS: Smartwatch OS showdown

If you care about smart assistants, then it's Wear you want. Fitbit simply doesn't have a Google Assistant, Siri or Alexa rival. Maybe it will one day, but until mic support turns up, it's not happening. That being said, our experiences of Google Assistant from the wrist has varied in terms of usefulness.

Essential reading: Best Fitbit Versa watch faces to download

Both offer mobile payments although not on all smartwatches. As we've already mentioned, a lot of the fashion and designer Wear smartwatches have neglected to include the NFC tech needed to unlock Google Pay support. Fitbit Pay works on both Ionics and the Versa, although only certain models in the US offer the support. It's also worth being mindful that the number of banks supported is slow going, particularly on Fitbit. So definitely check whether your bank or card is supported if this is a feature that matters to you.

Something we often overlook in this comparison pieces are the watch faces. While traditional watches have been all about personalising through watch bands, smartwatches have added a new dimension to customising and personalising the element that tells the time too. With the arrival of Wear 2.0, that has got a lot easier on Google-powered smartwatches, with the likes of apps like Facer offering a big collection of watches too.

With the acquisition of Pebble, we fully expected Fitbit to embrace what made the big crowdfunding earner so popular, part of which was down to its community of developers and the eagerness to make watch faces. With the arrival of the Versa and the support that Fitbit has put behind its developer platform, it feels like we are starting to see those really creative faces.

If we had to go out on a limb, we'd say Fitbit is doing a more impressive job on this front, but you are definitely not getting shortchanged with Wear. Especially if you want to tinker with faces straight from the watch.

Wear OS vs Fitbit OS: Apps

Wear OS v Fitbit OS: Smartwatch OS showdown

Both of these platforms offer the ability to download apps and have their respective stores to do that. But they are quite far apart in terms of what you're getting on the app front.

Read this: The best Android Wear apps

Again, Fitbit's Gallery app store only launched in autumn 2017, and while it's starting to pick up some high profile third party apps to complement its own native apps, it's some way short of what Google's Play Store currently offers. In fact, there are more watch faces than there are apps available through Fitbit's app store. You also can't download apps directly from the watch as you can on all Wear 2.0-running smartwatches.

Wear watches also offer a greater number of standalone watches that can tap into those wearables that offer LTE-support, something that Fitbit's watches lack. If you asked us if either of these platforms offer any really standout apps, then our response would probably be no. So it's over to developers to make more of the tools that Fitbit and Google is offering to give us those apps that really blow us away.

Bottom line, if you want more apps, it's Wear all the way.

Wear OS v Fitbit OS: Fitness features

Wear OS v Fitbit OS: Smartwatch OS showdown

Now, we know not everyone cares about their smartwatches keeping them in shape, but as pretty much every smartwatch out there proves, a lot of people want some way of tracking their health and fitness from the wrist. Whether that's simply steps, sleep or runs around the park.

Read this: The best fitness trackers to buy

Fitbit's entire ecosystem is built around fitness – that is what it's famous for – so it's no surprise that it does a better job on this front. Across all Fitbit smartwatches you'll get all of those core fitness tracker features, including, in our opinion, the best sleep tracking on a wrist wearable right now. You'll get a host of dedicated sports tracking modes, insightful heart rate tracking and SmartTrack support so your watch can automatically recognise what activity you're doing. All Fitbit OS smartwatches are waterproof and offer great swim tracking support too. The Ionic comes with built-in GPS but you won't get it on the Vera. As for Wear OS, only a few watches include this feature.

Then we get into the health tracking, which Fitbit has high hopes for in the future and already offers elements like guided breathing features for those more stressful moments in the day, as well as the newly introduced female health tracking features, which work across all of its smartwatches.

So what about Wear? Well, your health and fitness tracking varies depending on what watch you go for. Some have built-in GPS and heart rate, other watches totally ignore those features. Google Fit comes as standard on all Wear watches, where you can sample what Google has come up with on the tracking front. It's not fantastic right now and not well integrated into Wear either in our opinion, but you do have the cushion of third party apps, like Strava, to rely on. For all your health and fitness tracking needs, Fitbit OS is the clear winner here.

Wear OS v Fitbit OS: Battery life and price

Wear OS v Fitbit OS: Smartwatch OS showdown

These two factors could be huge in deciding on which smartwatch OS you side with. Particularly battery life, where there's a clear winner in Fitbit. As with its fitness trackers, Fitbit wanted to try to deliver week long battery life and despite the potentially power-sapping screens on its smartwatches, it manages to deliver that. Meanwhile, most Wear watches will muster up a day, possibly two at the very most. But that's being very strict with the features you're using. With Fitbit's watches, you have to think about that usage a lot less.

In terms of price, we bemoaned the pricing of Fitbit's first smartwatch when it came in at $299.95, but with the Versa launching at $199.95, it feels like Fitbit has got the price about right for its latest smartwatch. It's a bit more difficult to compare with Wear OS watches, as prices range depending on how luxury or feature-packed you want to go.

At one end of the scale you've got the budget (but good) TicWatch E, which comes in at $159.99. When you start veering into the fashion realms, something like Michael Kors Sofie can cost upwards of $350, while Tag's smartwatches reach the heady heights of $1300.

Wear OS v Fitbit OS: Verdict

So it's time to pick. Which OS we'd side with if we have to choose one. We are going to pull out the tried and trusted statement that it really depends on what you want and value from your smartwatch OS. If you're all about the core features like notifications and app support, Wear is likely a better fit for you right now because those aspects work better than they do on Fitbit OS. For fitness tracking and just an altogether more streamlined and intuitive experience, Fitbit's OS is, in our eyes, the one.

Wear should be well ahead of Fitbit simply because it has been around longer, but in a short space of time, Fitbit's OS is making big strides. It still needs to improve that balance between staple smartwatch features and its sports and fitness tracking credentials, to ensure that it's a consistent experience whatever smartphone you own. Google is further down the line as far as building a true smartwatch operating system is concerned, but we've seen enough from Fitbit to suggest it's on the right tracks and not to be written off.




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