Shortly before Apple began its “Spring Forward” Apple Watch event, Google released an ad that highlights a feature of smartwatches that run on its Android Wear platform, one the Apple Watch arguably doesn’t offer: choice. The hotly anticipated wearable from Apple looks basically the same whether you choose the entry-level Sport, midrange Apple Watch, or high-end Edition. But with Android Wear, you can choose among watches by Samsung, LG, Motorola, and others, taking your pick of a variety of looks and features.
If you’re in the market for a smartwatch, the video’s spotlight on the advantage of choice likely appeals to you. So let’s start with a basic question: Should you choose an Apple Watch or Android Wear? Exploring how Android Wear measures up against the Apple Watch, Cult of Android’s Killian Bell notes that there are many similarities, but also some key differences, in the smartwatches that Apple and Google are trying to sell you. We have 10 questions to help you decide between Apple Watch and Android Wear, but to a large extent they all hinge on one primary question:
1. Do you use an iPhone or an Android phone?
If you’re like many smartphone users, this is the only question you need to ask yourself right now.
While neither company’s smartwatch works with the other’s smartphones — Android users can’t use the Apple Watch and iPhone owners can’t use an Android Wear watch — Apple and Google will likely avoid omitting any important features that the other introduces in order to prevent users from wanting to switch platforms to use a different smartwatch. While there are rumors of Android Wear supporting iOS in the future, it works only for Android for now. So if you want to stick with your iPhone, Android Wear isn’t an option. Likewise, if you want to stick with your Android smartphone, you can rule out the Apple Watch.
But if you’re ready to trade in your smartphone for something different in order to get the smartwatch that’s best suited for you, read on. We’ll walk you through the basic differences between Apple Watch and Android Wear to help you decide which is better for you. And though current Android Wear devices can’t match Apple on a few key points (such as Force Touch and Apple Pay) there are other points of comparison that can help you decide which platform is right for you.
2. How robust does the fitness functionality need to be?
Both Apple Watch and Android Wear devices track your fitness activities and then sync the gathered data with Health, Google Fit, or a third-party app. But when it comes to fitness tracking, the Apple Watch goes farther than its competitors. It sets goals for movement, exercise, and standing, and reminds you to get up if you’ve been sitting for too long. Whether you’re in the gym or working out outdoors, you can tell the Apple Watch what form of exercise you’re doing, and it can take detailed measurements. It offers you a summary of your progress every Monday and sets a new “daily move goal” to encourage you to do more than you did the previous week. Apple also unveiled its new ResearchKit platform, which will enable you to submit data to contribute to health research.
Another important question for the fitness-focused user is whether your smartwatch needs to be certified water-resistant. While the Apple Watch can withstand light rain or perspiration, it isn’t certified as water-resistant. But every Android Wear watch is certified as water-resistant, and the devices can be worn while washing your hands, taking a shower, or even swimming.
3. Is embedded GPS important to you?
The Apple Watch lacks a built-in GPS, so fitness-tracking features such as recording your route are available on the Apple Watch only if you have an iPhone in your pocket, as well. Conversely, an assortment of Android Wear watches, such as the Sony SmartWatch 3, feature embedded GPS, so that if you leave your phone at home while working out, your watch will still be able to tell where you are — and direct you on how to get back home.
4. How big of a part will music play in your usage?
9to5Mac recently reported that the Apple Watch includes 8GB of storage but allocates just 2GB of that for music (and 75MB for photos). The locally stored music can be played independently of an iPhone, so that when you go for a run, for example, you can leave your iPhone at home and listen to up to 2GB of music, which equates to approximately 200 decent-quality tracks. (When paired with an iPhone, the Apple Watch will enable you to listen to anything in your music library via Bluetooth.) Which songs are synced and the process of syncing them will depend on the companion app.
Android Wear added the ability to sync music for offline playing in October, according to TechCrunch. The feature integrates with Android Wear’s support for Bluetooth accessory connections to enable you to use your wireless headphones to listen to your music, all while leaving your phone behind. While many reported that the syncing process didn’t work as smoothly as had been hoped — and said that constantly playing music from your smartwatch quickly drains the battery — playback works well.
5. Do you need to take calls from your wrist?
Apple Watch enables you to take calls from your wrist, something that Android Wear can’t yet do, and interact with your friends with Digital Touch. However, it’s worth noting that taking calls will drain the Apple Watch’s battery extremely quickly, so taking calls from the watch is not yet a viable alternative for users who are on and off the phone all day.
6. Is it crucial for your watch to support Wi-Fi right away?
The Apple Watch’s ability to connect to the iPhone over Wi-Fi currently represents an advantage, especially to users with a tendency to leave their phone in another room and wander out of Bluetooth range. But The Verge reports that the next software release for Android Wear will turn on Wi-Fi support, meaning that features like Google Now and notifications will work when a Bluetooth connection isn’t available. Most Android Wear watches already have WiFi capability built into the hardware, so the software update should serve to activate the feature.
Along with the major update that turns on Wi-Fi capability, Google will reportedly ship at least two smaller updates. The first will deliver gesture control, which will enable users to flick their wrist to scroll through notifications or Google Now cards. Changes to the user interface will also bring easier access to apps and contacts; finding apps currently requires the user to make spoken commands or navigate through a layer of menus.
7. Do you prefer the Apple or Android approach to apps?
Android Wear is more open than the Apple Watch, and users can install and run apps on the watch itself, independent of a paired phone. Conversely, Apple Watch apps actually run on the iPhone and simply send a user interface to the watch. While Apple has said that it plans to enable developers to build independent apps, that ability isn’t yet available.
Additionally, developers so far can’t access some of the Apple Watch’s best features, and Reuters reports that many are saying it will be difficult to come up with a “killer app” for the wearable. Apple has blocked features like the gyroscope and the accelerometer on the development kit, and the watch simulator can’t test all functions. While some consider the limitations discouraging, others think that Apple is encouraging a higher level of creativity by imposing restrictions — encouraging developers to refrain from cramming what are essentially phone apps into the form of the Apple Watch. Apple listed about 40 apps available for the watch as it unveiled the smartwatch, and said that “thousands” more are in the works.
Apple has cultivated the best mobile app ecosystem in the world by exercising control over its developer environment, and it’s looking to achieve the same on smartwatches. Conversely, Android doesn’t guide developers nearly as well, resulting in an inconsistent and, in some cases, unrefined array of apps. A killer app has also yet to emerge for the Android smartwatches that have been on the market, and it may be the shift in thinking catalyzed by the Apple Watch that will push apps for both platforms forward.
8. How much customization do you need?
Android Wear users seem to have more customization options, given that Apple hasn’t yet mentioned the ability to download or purchase new watch faces, implying that users can choose from among only the pre-installed options. But with Android Wear, users can choose from among an array of third-party faces available for download on the Google Play store, or even download apps that let them design their own faces from scratch or choose others designed by the community. Android Wear also offers the option of an always-on face so that you don’t have to wait for the display to turn on when you want to check the time.
In addition to watch faces, Android Wear offers more hardware options — almost necessarily, as a result of the range of manufacturers involved. Consumers can choose among devices offered by Motorola, Samsung, LG, Asus, and others. They can choose different designs, materials, and watch face shapes. The Apple Watch, conversely, is offered in the same design across the tiers of models and materials.
9. How long does your watch’s battery need to last?
The Apple Watch’s battery is capable of up to 18 hours of use between charges — more than enough to get a user through an average day. According to Apple’s website, the typical use it tested the Apple Watch battery for included “90 time checks, 90 notifications, 45 minutes of app use, and a 30-minute workout with music playback from Apple Watch via Bluetooth, over the course of 18 hours.” In its Power Reserve mode, the Apple Watch will provide up to 72 hours of battery life, though the only function the device can complete in that mode is telling time.
While some Android Wear devices can provide up to two days of use between charges, particularly with only light use, most users find that nightly charging is necessary.
10. How much are you willing to pay?
Price is a significant differentiating factor between Android Wear and the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch starts at $349 for the entry-level aluminum Sport with a 38mm face. For the 42mm face, the price increases to $399. The midrange stainless steel Apple Watch starts at $549 for the 38mm model with a silicone strap, and $599 for the 42mm model with a silicone strap. Straps in other materials add significant costs. And the much buzzed-about 18-karat gold Apple Watch Edition starts at $10,000.
By contrast, purchasing the best of Android Wear costs much less. High-end models like the Moto360 can be purchased for as little as $229 on Amazon, while the entry-level LG G Watch costs less than $200 — a much easier price tag to stomach than the amount an Apple Watch will set you back.