Ok, I have spent some time by now with a Wear OS watch to get frustrated enough and make myself write a blog post which I really don’t like to do, but the status quo is so disappointing that I can’t keep it for myself.
My experience so far
I have a long history of using fitness trackers, starting with the very first jawbone up in 2012, then going over to Fitbit and finally Mi Band in recent years. There is a lot of bullshit around the accuracy of the data they present, most of it is useless, but there are certain things I really enjoy using:
- Vibrating alarm.
I don’t believe any of them actually got an accurate sleep phase detection so the “smart” alarm is mostly marketing to me and worse, it wakes you up earlier than you have to wake up, so it’s even harmful. The nice thing about the vibration-based alarm is that it’s not loud and hurting like any sound-based alarm clock is, even those which slowly increase the volume. I always hated all sound-based alarm clocks. At some point, they just get into your head like some really annoying chronical disease which you kinda learn to live with but actually want to get rid of. The vibration alarm is different at least to me. It is gentle but strong enough to wake up. It might be different depending on the device, my latest experience is with Mi Band. It just does the job without hurting you long term.
Another huge benefit is that you can wake up without waking up whoever else is in your bed and each person can wake up when they need it.
- Sleep stats.
I rarely use them, but sometimes I do. The reason is usually when I feel tired and want to know how much sleep I got recently, to figure out if I need more sleep or just do less work or sports. For example sleep detection on Mi Band sucks, because it resets the start time every time you wake up and I got an awful habit of waking up at midnight for a few hours and then going back to sleep, so essentially my stats were lacking a few hours every time and I stopped using them. My Mi Band started to become a bit annoying, even though it has good hardware, robust and cheap. Fitbit was better at this in my past experience, years ago.
- Call and message notifications.
I was using notifications on Mi Band, even though the reading experience on that small display is bad, at least you know who messaged or called and you get the idea based on the name and first words from the message if it’s an urgent matter.
So why did I start looking for something else?
Spoiler — it’s GOOGLE MAPS.
I am really bad at memorizing routes. I use Google Maps all the time, literally. The only place where I don’t use Google Maps is inside of my apartment and only because it doesn’t work, otherwise I probably would. I use it when I go for a walk, I use it to drive anywhere in the city, I use it to find my car, I use it on a bike or on a scooter and guess what, taking out the phone all the time isn’t the most practical experience, especially because I just need a hint once in a while and I don’t want to hold it all the time or take it out every time. On a bike or scooter, it’s completely unpractical. Mounting the phone is annoying, headphones and sound-based navigation isn’t comfortable and sometimes dangerous depending on the headphones you use, you need to still be able to listen to the environment.
I tried an app that sends directions as notifications to my Mi Band but that’s not a nice experience when you can’t see the exact turn you need to take on the map, so what I really wanted is a watch with a nice display and Google Maps on it.
There are not so many watches on the market that can give you this and they are all smartwatches, not fitness trackers or “wannabe smartwatches” like Huawei GT or Amazfit GTS and co.
My frustration with Wear OS
A week ago I bought TicWatch C2. I have been looking at many smartwatches. I spent way too much time learning about them. I looked at Tizen-based Samsung watches. I looked at Wear OS based HUAWEI Watch 2, Fossil GEN 5, Moto 360, the recently released Xiaomi Mi Watch and some others. I am not going to use Apple Watch, because I am not going to use an iPhone again any time soon, but that’s a different story. I had high hopes with Mi Watch but they are a disappointment because they decided to create their own app store with a very limited choice of apps where mostly Chinese developers will produce apps and you can already see on the reviews you will have to learn Chinese to fully use the watch. Also, you most likely won’t get Google Maps on it working ever.
I ended up with TicWatch because they look ok, don’t cost as much as other alternatives. I wish they would have updated to Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100 though, which has been released in September 2018, 1 year ago from now. I thought though performance characteristics in the 2100 version are good for a watch too, it must be good enough I thought. The overall build quality of TicWatch C2 is good enough, I replaced their leather strap from day one though, silicon straps are way softer and more hygienic.
Now the bad parts:
- Battery life sucks.
It’s not just TicWatch, all smartwatches battery sucks. It sucks much more when you want to keep your watch overnight for the sake of the features I liked about fitness trackers. Taking the watch off every day to charge is annoying as hell. And yes I tried everything I could to prolong its life. Turned the WiFi off, decreased brightness, turned off always-on display, removed all apps I can live without and yet it’s about 1 day of battery and if I am lucky I get a 30% reserve. I have to keep BT on for the sake of notifications.
- There is no sleep tracking on TicWatch C2. Imagine how surprised I was, given the fact that a 20$ device has it and my full-blown smartwatch doesn’t? I figured, later on, they are going to release it in an update and it’s already available for the pro watch, but WTF? Why does Wear OS not have it built-in?
- UI just isn’t fluent.
On a watch with multiple CPU cores, incredible performance and tons of memory, for a watch!!! It’s November 2019 and Wear OS can’t deliver fluent UI even on built-in apps. It freezes periodically, blacks out sometimes when you launch an app and feels sluggish overall.
It’s an operating system created by almighty Google on March 18, 2014, which is now about 5 years old and is based on a much older, supposedly mature Android core.
It’s 2019, we are supposed to start using self-driving cars soon and yet we don’t have a single good smartwatch. It’s a shame.