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OnePlus’ first smartwatch is… bad — here’s what we think it needs to improve

The OnePlus Watch is a very confusing product — it lacks the smarts of a real smartwatch, but it’s also a terrible fitness band with botched tracking. So what is it trying to be, exactly? Frankly, I don’t have a clue, and neither does OnePlus, seemingly. In its haste to deliver some kind of smartwatch, the company came out with a half-baked wearable that falls flat in several crucial ways.

While it does still get a few things right — the hardware is well designed and battery life is impressive — they are basically meaningless when looking at the larger picture. There are many shortcomings for OnePlus to work on here, but certain areas need some extra attention if this watch is to be saved or if its successor is to succeed.

Software — everything about it

OnePlus really needs to revamp its wearable OS from the ground up — there is so much work that needs to go into it at this point. And it isn’t just that it’s a rudimentary RTOS (this actually helps the watch deliver its stellar battery life), there are several other things at play here that give us reason to believe that software was nothing but an afterthought for OnePlus.

There’s a lot of unnecessary duplication even on a basic OS like this. You can stumble upon the same feature under two different menus, and somehow, they still won’t give you the same information upon expansion. This clumsiness extends to the notifications as well, where the OnePlus Watch conveniently fails to show emoji or custom app icons even for the most popular services; all you see is a generic blue bell icon instead. And there’s no way to customize the preloaded replies either.

It doesn’t end there. Even updates as small as 50MB take a solid 40 minutes to install, during which you can’t use the watch or the Health app. Inexplicably, there are plenty of examples of broken English in the software, which shouldn’t be the case on a publicly released build. There’s also no voice assistant on board whatsoever, and no easy way to install one.

Unfinished firmware has become a running theme for OnePlus phones, as its previously decent update track record slips further away from it with each late or borked release. Its smartwatch seems to be no different, sadly, which means it hardly stands a chance of considerable improvement at this point.

Tracking capabilities, or the lack thereof

Nobody is expecting the OnePlus Watch OS to compete with Wear OS or Tizen OS, but there’s no excuse for its subpar activity monitoring. For Taylor, it added 4000 steps in a single hour — while he was asleep. Now try to beat that! At times, the watch would only begin to track his exercises several minutes into a session, entirely defeating the very purpose of automatic workout detection.

The OnePlus Band that I reviewed earlier this year won’t win any medals for its activity tracking, but it still wasn’t this bad. It seems like OnePlus has messed up big time by releasing its latest wearable prematurely and not making sure to get the basics right.

AOD and tap to wake

Even if you prefer not to use it, an always-on display feature is something a modern smartwatch simply must have. You shouldn’t need to flick your wrist just to check the time, something that even a company as stubborn as Apple finally admitted last year. Thankfully, OnePlus has confirmed that a future update will bring the AOD option to the watch.

While AOD may be on its way, it’s frustrating that the company decided to also skip the tap-to-wake option. As things stand, you have to flick your wrist or press the physical side button every time you want to turn the screen on. This may not seem like the biggest inconvenience but it quickly gets on your nerves when the flicking gesture fails or you can’t reach the button while working out. Once again, OnePlus failed to cover the basics of what a smartwatch should do.

One size doesn’t fit all

The only dial size that the OnePlus Watch is available in is 46mm, which is equivalent to the bigger of the two options offered with most other smartwatches. Even OnePlus sister brand Oppo’s Wear OS model gets a more compact size for those with narrow wrists. Not everyone is comfortable wearing an oversized lump on their wrist, and by making 46mm the only variant, OnePlus has willfully shut out a large portion of potential buyers.

Wireless charging

After seeing reverse wireless charging on the OnePlus 9 Pro, I was hopeful that I would be able to use it with OnePlus’ smartwatch — it seemed like a no-brainer. It came as a real shock that the watch instead uses a two-pin connector for its charging needs, something that is synonymous with cheap fitness trackers. And the OnePlus Watch sure doesn’t fall into that category.

Standard wireless charging would’ve not only made the watch compatible with more chargers but it could also have put the 9 Pro’s reverse power feature to some good use. Yet another perplexing decision from OnePlus.

Where is the red charging cable?

When I open a bright red OnePlus box, I expect OnePlus’ iconic red charging cable, which has also inspired the company’s subscription service — the Red Cable Club. Both the OnePlus Buds and Buds Z come with a red USB cable in the box, but not the OnePlus Watch (nor the OnePlus Band, for that matter). It will likely need another generation to align itself with the core OnePlus brand, possibly just like the company’s wireless charger. The color of the charging cable really isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it’s yet another reason the OnePlus Watch feels like a rushed product that doesn’t live up to the expectation we now have of the company.

Just as the OnePlus Band was an exact copy of the Oppo Band, the OnePlus Watch seems to be a rebadged Oppo Watch RX, which never saw the light of day in its original guise. This isn’t a huge surprise since the two companies have always been closely related and even officially admitted that they are now sharing R&D resources. The inevitable consequence is that OnePlus is losing some of its personality. This wouldn’t matter if the company was still putting out great products, but this watch is a huge failure on that front.

OnePlus could’ve still taken some time to at least make the software properly functional before going for a public release, but it instead decided to rush the watch to the market. The fact that it will only get the 12-hour clock format with a post-launch update speaks volumes about how ready this product was at launch.

The OnePlus Watch does get the battery life and design right, but that isn’t enough to compensate for everything else that it lacks or compromises on. Hopefully, OnePlus is taking notes and will avoid another haphazard product launch like this in the future. And with the right software updates, this watch could be turned into something half decent. Over to you, OnePlus.

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