2021 in wearables: Biggest launches of the year revisited

These were the biggest new smartwatches and fitness trackers that landed in 2021
2021 in wearable tech
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It's almost time to wave goodbye to 2021. A year that in the world of wearables brought us unlikely allegiances, upgrade uncertainty and long overdue devices and software features.

Throughout the past twelve months, we've had plenty to write about and test too, but what were the standout launches from another big year for wearables?

We've taken a trip back to the start of January 2021, to tell you the story of wearables with the big launches that marked each month and another very busy year for Team Wareable.

January: Skagen joins Fossil's hybrid smartwatch party

2021 in wearables: The biggest launches and headline-grabbers of the year

There were arguably bigger launches to look forward later in the year, but handful of smartwatch makers decided to kick things off in January. The Amazfit GTS 2e and GTR 2e launched globally, Fossil added LTE to its Gen 5 smartwatch and it also gave us a new hybrid smartwatch with the unveiling of the Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR.

Following in the footsteps of its Fossil Hybrid HR and Hybrid HR Monroe, the Jorn also came packing an E-ink display baked into a traditional watch face, letting you view notifications, track workouts using connected GPS and view daily step counts and real-time heart rate.

Skagen's previous hybrid offerings have been some of the most attractive we've had to test and that certainly didn't change with the Jorn Hybrid HR. Its approach to adding in those smarts in a more discreet manner didn't entirely win us over in our Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR review, but it's clear that while 2021 was dominated by the full fat kind of smartwatches, there's still room for hybrids to exist too.

February: Garmin Enduro breaks new battery ground for sports watches

2021 in wearables: The biggest launches and headline-grabbers of the year

In February, we had news of new connected running shoes from Under Armour, another luxury smartwatch with the Hublot Big Bang e Premier League and speculation Facebook was working on a smartwatch.

It was Garmin though that produced the most eye-catching announcement with the launch of the Garmin Enduro. The entirely new line that seemed to sit somewhere between its top-end Forerunner and Fenix watches, was a watch built for endurance athletes offering features on par with Garmin's Fenix 6X series watch.

New features included a ultrarunning tracking mode with support to track stops at aid stations as rests. The Enduro also included VO2 Max scores based on trail running time, improved tracking for MTB trails and an advanced version of Garmin's ClimbPro mode.

The big news though was the promised battery life. Garmin said the Enduro could offer up to 65 days (in power saving modes) and 70 hours of GPS tracking ‚Äď rising to 80 hours if you take advantage of the solar power support on board.

It was that battery life that really impressed us in our Garmin Enduro review and it was big reason why it was announced as Sports Watch of the Year at the 2021 Wareable Tech Awards.

March: OnePlus Watch gets official after years of rumors

2021 in wearables: The biggest launches and headline-grabbers of the year

Moving onto March and we saw announcements earlier in the month from Fitbit with the Fitbit Ace 3 unveiled as its latest generation kids fitness tracker, Movbvoi launched its affordable TicWatch Pro S, while Garmin launched a trio of new gold wearables. This month though was all about a smartwatch it feels like we've been talking about for a long time.

The OnePlus Watch was finally announced as the smartphone brand finally dipped its toes into the world of smartwatches and it decided to go it alone on the software front despite rumors it would look to Google's Wear OS to run the software show.

Along with a proprietary OS, the $159/£149 smartwatch wrapped features like a crisp AMOLED display, GPS, blood oxygen monitoring, a 4GB music player and the promise of two weeks battery life inside of a stainless steel case.

Unfortunately, when it was time to for OnePlus Watch review, its debut watch badly missed the mark for us and it was shame it wasn't quite up to scratch after waiting so long to finally see it.

April: Fitbit Luxe delivers a Fitbit feature we've craved for so long

2021 in wearables: The biggest launches and headline-grabbers of the year

Launches in April were dominated by affordable wearables with the Huawei Band 6, TicWatch GTH and Realme Watch 2 arriving on the scene. Plus, we finally got global pricing details for the Xiaomi Mi Band 6.

It was over to Fitbit to give us our biggest launch of the month with the surprise arrival of the Fitbit Luxe. The slim, stylish fitness tracker was a new member of the Fitbit family though was clearly a bit of a throwback to its Alta trackers it seemed to leave behind in favour of its Inspire and Charge trackers.

Despite its slender frame, the Luxe promised a rich array of features including a heart rate monitor and SpO2 sensor, connected GPS, stress and sleep tracking and the ability to measure skin temperature and breathing rate. It also included an AMOLED color touchscreen, making it the first Fitbit fitness tracker to feature a full color screen.

The combination of that sleek look and solid overall performance meant the Luxe was a standout tracker in 2021 and was rightfully named our 2021 Fitness Tracker of the Year.

May: Google and Samsung join forces to breathe new life into Wear OS

2021 in wearables: The biggest launches and headline-grabbers of the year

Arguably the biggest wearable tech launch of 2021 wasn't actually a piece of hardware but software that paints an exciting future for Google's smartwatch ambitions.

Its Wear OS platform has really struggled to cement itself as strong alternative to Apple's watchOS, Samsung's Tizen and improving operating systems from the likes of Fitbit and Huawei.

At Google's I/O developer conference a new version of Wear was unveiled, built in collaboration with Samsung and bringing in the expertise of the now Google-owned Fitbit. Wear OS 3 aimed to combine the best of Wear with Tizen and Fitbit with Samsung also unveiling that its next Galaxy Watch smartwatches would run on new Wear.

Over the coming months, we'd also learn about what that new Wear meant for existing owners of smartwatches running on Wear OS 2.0 and whether they'd be able to be part of this exciting new future.

June: The Huawei Watch 3 introduces HarmonyOS to the world

2021 in wearables: The biggest launches and headline-grabbers of the year

June kicked off with the Garmin Forerunner 55 offering runners another affordable running watch option, which was joined by a Garmin Forerunner 945 now with added LTE powers. Meanwhile, Mobvoi confirmed its TicWatch Pro 3 would run on new Wear and added the TicWatch E3 to the ranks, which it would later confirm would join the Pro 3 in getting Wear 3.0 in 2022.

Huawei launched its first (and not last) smartwatch of 2021 with the Huawei Watch 3. Its priciest smartwatch yet clearly aimed at taking on the Apple Watch, Samsung Galaxy Watch and Wear OS smartwatches, was the first to feature its HarmonyOS platform, adding an app store and making general UI and performance improvements.

Huawei has already impressed with its GT series smartwatches and the Watch 3 continued that trend offering a feature-rich, attractive smartwatch. While its Harmony OS is lacking in apps and some other software features, it's clear that the future could be bright for Huawei's smartwatch ambitions.

July: Oppo Watch 2 lands (in China) prepped for new Wear OS

2021 in wearables: The biggest launches and headline-grabbers of the year

With just over half of 2021 in the bag, there was plenty more yet still to come. In this month, Google revealed Wear OS 3 compatible watches, while also overhauling the Wear OS app experience for existing smartwatch owners.

Before the month was out, we got an update to one of our favourite Wear OS watches as the Oppo Watch 2 was unveiled offering two size options, LTE connectivity and fast charging tech to get you a day's use from just a 10 minute charge.

It also doubled up on chipsets with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 4100 and a Apollo4s chip to make using the Watch 2 a more power efficient one.

It's launched in China first with no news on a US/UK launch or whether it will run on new Wear or Color OS, or a combination of both if it does go global. It's one we'll be keeping a look out for in 2022 that's for sure.

August: Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 debuts Wear OS 3

2021 in wearables: The biggest launches and headline-grabbers of the year

While it was always likely we'd see a follow-up to the Galaxy Watch 3 in 2021, we definitely didn't anticipate that when the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 became official, it would be running on Google's Wear OS platform and not Samsung's own Tizen.

Speculation of the change in software approaches started to bubble at the beginning of the year and after revealing it was teaming up with Google at Google's I/O developer conference earlier in the Summer, Samsung officially announced the the Galaxy Watch 4 and Galaxy Watch 4 Classic in August.

The smartwatch arrived in two looks each with two different case sizes, all running on Wear OS 3 with Samsung's One UI Watch overlaid on top. That meant access to Google features like the Play Store, YouTube Music and Google Assistant along with still having access to Samsung Pay, Bixby and Samsung Health.

In our Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 review, we felt things were still more Tizen than Wear but with Samsung now firmly part of the Wear equation again, it's likely the platform and support on the Watch will continue to evolve over the coming years.

Away from all things Samsung and Wear, the Fossil Gen 6 also landed in August, which is set to get new Wear also, but not until 2022. Google-owned Fitbit also launched the Charge 5, the latest iteration of its flagship fitness tracker, that added an ECG sensor and introduced new Daily Readiness Scores to help make sure you're ready to tackle a tough workout.

September: Apple Watch Series 7 rings design changes

2021 in wearables: The biggest launches and headline-grabbers of the year

This is the month where we usually start to see a barrage of announcements in the lead up to Christmas. Facebook unveiled Ray-Ban Stories as its first ever pair of smartglasses, though it was more Snap Spectacles than Google Glass. Elite athlete fave Whoop announced the Whoop 4.0, dropping the strap from the name because now you could also wear its recovery and sleep tracking in garments like sports bras and boxer shorts.

September is typically dominated by the Apple Watch and we did get a new one in the shape of the Apple Watch Series 7. There was no new Series SE 2 or the rugged or flatter design that was rumored for the this year's Watch. We did though get two new case sizes, more screens and improved features for cyclists. Unlike previous years, eager owners had to wait until October to get one with reports that the new display may have been the cause for the shipping delays.

While not the most groundbreaking instalment of the Apple Watch our experiences living with the Watch Series 7 clearly showed that this is still the smartwatch to beat and maybe it will be the Apple Watch Series 8 that will ring more groundbreaking features Apple is no doubt working to bring to its smartwatch.

October: Huawei Watch GT3 gets sweet Harmony OS

2021 in wearables: The biggest launches and headline-grabbers of the year

October was another busy month for launches with the 3rd generation Oura Ring landing while Mobvoi launched the TicWatch Pro 3 Ultra, giving one of the best Wear OS smartwatches a rugged makeover while making it another of its smartwatches that seems primed for new Wear OS 3.

The standout launch of the month though went to the Huawei Watch GT 3, the Chinese tech giant's second smartwatch to feature its new Harmony OS platform, bringing over software features from the pricier Huawei Watch 3 like the new grid launcher and Huawei's AppGallery app store front.

It also inherited design characteristics from the Watch 3, like its haptic crown and offered improved screens on its predecessor the Watch GT 2.

It's a watch that clearly has runners in mind with the Dual-Band GNSS positioning brought over from the Watch 3 Pro to improve outdoor tracking accuracy and features like personal training plans, an AI coach and advanced running insights also added into the mix.

When we finally got to put the Huawei Watch GT 3 to the test, we were definitely big fans of it, offering a cheaper route to Huawei's new OS, but it also had us pining of whether there will be a Huawei Watch GT 3e following it up too.

November: Moto Watch 100 arrives with Wear OS M.I.A

2021 in wearables: The biggest launches and headline-grabbers of the year

Remember the good old days when Motorola was dishing out one of the best-looking Wear OS smartwatches you could get on your wrist? Granted, it didn't make up for Google's not so fantastic smartwatch operating system. The original Moto 360 feels a long time ago now, but CE Brands, which now has the licence for Moto 360, has recently rebooted the watch and the latest version dropped in November this year with the arrival of the Moto Watch 100.

Brandishing a sub-$100 price tag, the Watch 100 promised up to two weeks of battery life, 26 sports profiles, sensors to measure heart rate and blood oxygen, silver and black looks, but no sign of the built-in GPS the 100 was rumored to come packing. More notable though was the lack of Google's Wear OS as it runs on a custom operating system called Moto Watch OS.

It launched in the US and Canada only and served as an example that the some of the Wear OS hardware partners of old were starting to look at other ways to offer that software experience outside of Google's.

December: Huawei Watch D goes big on blood pressure

2021 in Wearables: Looking back at the biggest launches of the year

Just when you think a year of launches is done, Huawei managed to sneak one more out and it was kind of a biggie with the official unveiling of the Huawei Watch D in China.

Having already rolled out the Huawei Watch 3, GT 3, GT Runner and its hybrid fitness tracker/smartwatch Watch Fit in 2021 already, the Chinese tech giant still getting the cold shoulder from the US, reserved arguably it's most innovative wearable for the end of 2021.

While the Watch D looks like a pretty conventional rectangular smartwatch, it runs on Huawei's new HarmonyOS software, features an ECG sensor and more importantly, promises to monitor blood pressure using a smart strap that connects to offer reliable blood pressure readings. It wasn't quite the cuff-free solution that we anticipated but it was still an interesting approach to tracking the health metric from the wrist.

For now, the Watch D is launching in China where Huawei's blood pressure monitoring technology has been been given the green light, but if it can gain approval outside of China, this could be a watch with serious health monitoring implications to look out for in 2022.