Samsung Galaxy watches v Wear OS: Tizen or Android Wear

Apps, fitness features and experience compared
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Choosing between Wear OS and Samsung smartwatches is a tough call - and both offer some excellent hardware, which some drawbacks in terms of the platform they use.

If you're choosing the best smartwatch for Android, choosing between a Samsung Galaxy wearable and a Google Wear OS device (from Fossil, Michael Kors, Ticwatch and others) will be a key decision.

Early Samsung smartwatches used Android Wear (now Wear OS) but then switched to Tizen, the company's own operating system.

That seemed puzzling at the time, but Google's OS has stagnated, and while the app selection is certainly weaker on Samsung devices, things like fitness and wellness tracking are much better.

Tizen v Wear OS: Smartwatches

Samsung Galaxy watches v Wear OS: Tizen or Android Wear

Features and apps might sway your ultimate decision but your gut feeling on which smartwatch platform to choose will probably be based on the hardware itself.

And it feels a bit odd to describe these smartwatches as hardware these days, as on both sides tech companies are doing a much better job of disguising the tech as truly wearable accessories.

Essential reading: Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review

On the Tizen side, you have Samsung's current flagship wearables, the Samsung Galaxy Watch and the smaller Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2. The OS is running on a whole host of other Galaxy wearables too, stretching right back to the Samsung Gear S from 2014.

This is a smartwatch operating system that's been around for a while now, and the same can be said about Wear OS, which started life as Android Wear in 2014.

The Fossil Gen 5 watches are among the most stylish on the market at the moment, including the brilliant new Skagen Falster 3. Elsewhere, Michael Kors have some excellent and stylish smartwatches, running the latest hardware.

There's a common theme – great hardware, but not very sport focused. While Samsung's devices are much more ready for an active lifestyle. Away from the Fossil Group, the Ticwatch E2 is a feature-rich smartwatches at low prices, although they're no way as stylish.

Winner: Draw. If you're looking for choice, Wear OS is available on a wider range of smartwatches. Tizen may run on just two smartwatches, but these two are widely considered two of the best on the market.

Wear OS v Tizen: Compatible phones

Samsung Galaxy watches v Wear OS: Tizen or Android Wear

It's about honours even here – both Wear OS and Tizen work well with any Android phone of recent years, and also work with iPhones, at a push (you won't get such deep hooks into the phone, because Apple of course favours the Apple Watch).

You can get notifications from your iPhone on Tizen and Wear OS, but not for apps like Apple Messages, which doesn't grant access. You can't sync anything to Apple Health, and Google Fit isn't available on iOS (though Samsung Health is).

Essential reading: Wear OS on iPhone guide

As long as you stick to the basics in terms of notifications, and steer clear of Apple's apps, the experience of both Tizen and Wear OS when paired with an iPhone is now a decent one.

However, you're going to get a much more comprehensive link between phone and watch if you pair a Samsung phone with Tizen and an Android phone with Wear OS.

Remember too that Apple isn't necessarily going to be too concerned with maintaining support for Wear OS or Tizen in the future either – it might well break functionality with non-Apple Watch smartwatches with future software updates, though Google and Samsung will work hard to stop that from happening.

Winner: Draw

Tizen v Wear OS: Interface and features

Samsung Galaxy watches v Wear OS: Tizen or Android Wear

Both Tizen and Wear OS have gone through a series of significant updates in recent years, and the interface and ease-of-use of these two platforms is much better than it was. Out of the box, you can do all the basics, like tracking activity and viewing phone notifications.

Tizen watches make use of two buttons, a touchscreen, and a touch-sensitive bezel (for scrolling through menus and so on). On Wear OS smartwatches, the touchscreen is usually accompanied by two or three physical buttons, one of which may have a digital crown for scrolling (this being Wear OS, there's more variety in the hardware).

You can add small complications on watch faces on Tizen and on Wear OS, showing little bits of data like your current daily step count, or the time the sun sets, or the current watch battery level. Both platforms offer a variety of watch faces to choose from, though Wear OS has the edge in terms of sheer numbers.

Samsung Galaxy watches v Wear OS: Tizen or Android Wear

One area where Wear OS is definitely ahead is in the on-board digital assistant: Wear OS has Google Assistant, which you can control with your voice and which can do everything from sending messages to checking the weather. Tizen, meanwhile, has Bixby, which is currently a way behind in terms of functions and integrations.

There's plenty more to get to grips with, features-wise, including Google Pay (Wear OS) and Samsung Pay (Tizen) for mobile payments, and on-board GPS, which you can find on newer Galaxy smartwatches running Tizen and most Wear OS smartwatches. Heart rate monitoring is available on both platforms as well.

If you want to be able to make calls directly from your watch, both the Galaxy Watch and the Galaxy Watch Active 2 offer cellular models, as do several Wear OS models, so the option is there on both platforms if you need it.

Winner: Wear OS

Wear OS v Tizen: Apps

Samsung Galaxy watches v Wear OS: Tizen or Android Wear

We're not particularly blown away by either of the app selections for Tizen or Wear OS, though there's definitely more choice on the latter: the likes of Gmail, Google Maps and Google Calendar, that you're no doubt already familiar with, are available on Wear OS.

When it comes to Tizen, you're basically relying on Samsung's own apps and a very small number of third-party options, including an Outlook app from Microsoft, an official Spotify app, and maps from Here.

Samsung's own apps might be all you need though — and you will get notifications from every app on your Android phone, even if you can't do much in terms of interacting with them. You're covered for the basics like a calendar, an alarm clock, reminders and music, you just don't get much else (or any Google apps).

Aside from Google's own apps, the picture isn't all that better on Wear OS, though there is more out there, including Spotify, Outlook, Dark Sky, Todoist and Uber. You'll find gaps too: Google recently pulled its Nest app for Wear OS, for example.

Winner: Wear OS

Tizen v Wear OS: Health and fitness

Samsung Galaxy watches v Wear OS: Tizen or Android Wear

Almost every Wear OS smartwatch on the market does a decent job of health and fitness tracking, via Google Fit – though sleep tracking is one noticeable missing feature right now. Walking, cycling, running and a variety of specialist activities are all covered.

Google Fit has been improved in recent times, with a much better interface and easier controls for working on a smaller screen. It also integrates with a bunch of third-party apps, and everything gets synced to your phone automatically.

We also like what Tizen does in the health and fitness department too: recent Galaxy watches feature a host of sensors (including a heart rate sensor and barometer for outdoor pursuits), and automatic exercise recognition is also included.

Like Google Fit, Samsung's Health platform continues to improve with every software update. As far as replacing sports watches are concerned, both still have some way to go, but we'd be inclined to say that Samsung does a slightly better job of it.

If you care about the third-party fitness app support though, and want to use the Google Fit app on your phone, then Wear OS is the way to go. It's not really a dealbreaker, because both Wear OS and Tizen will cover all but the most advanced activity tracking for you.

Winner: Tizen

Wear OS v Tizen: Verdict

Tizen or Wear OS? It's just one consideration when you're deciding whether to buy a Samsung Galaxy or Android Wear OS watch. Design, price, customisation – everything has to be just right for you to give up your wrist space for one of these devices.

If you're plugged into Google's services or you need a specific sensor, feature or finish, it's worth diving into the specifics of what each Wear OS smartwatch offers. If you've never worn a smartwatch before, you have a compatible phone and you want a device that is easy to use from day one, try on a Galaxy watch for size.

Also, remember – there are a variety of hybrid smartwatches disguised as analogue watches from Fossil, Withings and co. You've got a wide choice when it comes to smartwatch platforms (Huawei is also doing its own thing), so make sure you're getting the features and functionality you need before parting with your cash.

At the moment we'd say Wear OS just edges it in this versus battle, for the better app support, the more mature apps, and the wider choice of devices. That's not to say Tizen won't suit some of you better though – especially if you own a Samsung phone and make extensive use of Samsung apps already.

How we test


David is a freelance tech writer who has been writing about technology, gadgets and gizmos for more than 20 years.

You can find his work on The Guardian, Wired, Gizmodo, PopSci, TechRadar, T3 and many other major publications on the web and in print.

He spends all day, (almost) every day testing out, explaining, and reviewing smartphones, laptops, smart home kit, wearables, and other essential devices.

From iOS to Wear OS, from Samsung to Sony, he's got an intimate knowledge of almost everything going on in the world of technology right now. When it comes to wearables, there aren't many smartwatches, fitness trackers and VR headsets that he hasn't tried and tested – which means he has a wealth of experience to draw on when it comes to talking about something new or the market in general.

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