Stepping into a whole new category comes with high expectations from a brand like OnePlus, a disruptor of the mid-level that sometimes gives cold sweats even to the big boys of tech. So is their first-ever proper smartwatch like an ambulance cutting through rush hour traffic? Nice try...read on.
There are only two camps to choose from when it comes to smartwatch dials and OnePlus went with the traditional roundel, although I have to admit, Samsung’s brilliant implementation of the rotating bezel has spoiled me when it comes to tactility and logic with small touchscreens. Having said that, the OnePlus Watch does have a large 46mm dial that uses four simple and effective swipe gestures to bring up notifications, settings, favourite apps and home/back screen. More importantly, the way it fits on your wrist and for all-day comfort, it even trumps the Samsung Galaxy Watch and almost edges out the mighty Apple Watch off its perch too. The mostly flat bottom, perfectly shaped lugs, and a polished steel bezel give it a look and feel very close to that of a traditional watch, and that’s probably why it doesn’t feel unnatural to wear all day. Though there’s no selection of strap materials or types, the black fluroelastomer strap that’s bundled in the box gets the job done with this classic dial. OnePlus will also sell you a Cobalt version that wears a sapphire glass and a vegan leather strap in a bid to take the fight to the Apple Watch S6 and its higher-end variants. Though there are no specifics given, I suspect the lugs are standard size so you could potentially swap it out for virtually any traditional watch strap, leather, or otherwise.
The polished stainless steel bezel holds only two buttons, which are beautifully crafted into the frame, inspiring confidence about its IP68 dust and 5ATM water resistance. One button brings up all the apps while the other function button can be customized to open the desired app with one push. Overall, it’s a clean aesthetic that is both chic and timeless, although I can’t comment on its durability or scratch resistance within a week of usage. The selection of watch faces too is diverse, but nothing that too avant-garde. Of the ten watch faces on offer, you’re bound to stick to one that you keep going to for the essential info. I chose the one which had four customizable complications in the centre of an analog dial and is called ‘Practical’ for a reason. Some are editable, some are not but the accompanying OnePlus Health app on phone handles it well, giving you real-time previews. You can of course, also add a photo from your gallery along with a day/date complication as default. Like on the OnePlus Band, there are 15 different workout routines, SpO2 monitoring, sleep tracking and heart rate monitoring but also adds a barometer and a compass for appealing to the more adventurous types. There’s no cellular connectivity onboard, but you can store some music locally (2GB) on the Watch itself and connect BT headphones directly to it so unless you can’t live without your phone for an hour a day, you will get piped music on your runs even if headphones and the Watch are all you choose to wear. There’s the loyalty bonus you can avail too, if you happen to be a OnePlus TV user, where the Watch will let you control volume and power and even switch the TV off automatically if it detects no wrist movement for 30 mins. Clever.
Some may find the dial a bit too large for their wrists and it indeed is, compounded by the fact that there is no alternate size option. Even the limited edition Cobalt version is the same size. But the upside is that the clarity of the 1.39in AMOLED display is outstanding and the touch response is good too. I do miss the ‘tap to wake’ or even the Always-On screen of more expensive watches, but most of them cost considerably more so it shouldn’t be a reason to bicker. As a happy byproduct of the always-off screen, battery life sees considerable gains and can easily last a week between charges, even after packing in an hour of workout every day. It’s simply phenomenal considering it can do so much of what the Apple or Samsung watches can do and they need to be charged every single day. It will even get from 20% to 80% in 15 minutes so you can pack in a whole Goa-trip charge even before you finish packing your backpack! But yes, it is annoying to flick your wrist at a certain angle every time you want an update on time. First world problem much.
Watch before the leap
Speed and responsiveness around the UI were as expected from OnePlus, which is to say swift and smooth. The STM32 processor never seemed to be under strain and there were no lags or stuttering while jumping the hoops through various workout routines, selecting watch faces or anything else that was required of it.
Not free of quirks, the OnePlus Watch does have some strange shortcomings. For one, it misses out on the remote camera shutter control which even the much cheaper OnePlus Band had and for someone who loves getting experimental with angles and loves photography, this will be sorely missed! Also, there’s no way to go back to the home screen in the middle of a workout! The only way to even access something as basic as the home screen is to end the workout. The only other option you get is pause, which still, doesn’t let you access the home screen but merely pauses the workout if you’re in need of a bio break. Accuracy of the sensors when compared to the Samsung and Apple watches is right up there though and cannot be faulted for monitoring real-time BPM or kCal burnt, it keeps up with the big boys beat-per-beat! Elsewhere, when it comes to non-fitness useability, while you can accept and make calls (if your phone is around) with OK-ish sound quality through the built-in mic/speaker set-up, replying to message notifications is limited to a small list of preset replies which more often than not, aren’t contextual to the conversation so it’s as good as useless until more updates arrive. A side note here is that the haptics aren’t user-controllable and you just get one buzzy sensation for all sorts of notifications, which might be understandable given its price point. But should’ve been fixed is the list of notifications that all just show the blue bell icon for a new notification, and not the app specific icon. Differentiating notifications based on their native app icons would make it easier to glance at the entire list and process the important ones from the dismissable.
The lack of downloadable apps is something that distances it from the more evolved smartwatch brands, but it does support syncing with Google Fit. Eventually, though, it’s only slightly more than a fitness tracker and much less than what a smartwatch should be doing. It struggles to make a strong case for itself besides its good looks, comfortable fit and great battery life. These could be big reasons for anyone looking for a smartwatch to stay with the times, but unless you’re into daily fitness goals, you might be left scratching your head over its usefulness.