March 23, 2016

9 Android Wear Watches to Take on Apple Watch

CasioThe Apple Watch drew the media’s attention this week with the announcement of a $50 price drop. Collectively, however, there has been more recent news about Google’s Android Wear. A more autonomous Android Wear 1.4 stack based on Android 6.0 has rolled out to most watches, and several new models broke cover, leading up to last week’s Baselworld show in Switzerland.

Two of these -- Casio’s WSD-F10 and LG Watch Urbane LTE, 2nd Edition -- are now available for order, with shipments beginning Mar. 25 and April 1, respectively. We’ve included them in here in our second annual slide show of Android Wear watches (click on Gallery link below). Our list has grown by three since last year’s six entries, even as we have excluded non-Android Wear devices and replaced some older watches with follow-on models.

Instead of announcing the rumored Apple Watch 2, Apple merely unveiled some new watch band options and a modest WatchOS 2.2 update. Yet, there was also a $50 price cut on the entry-level model to $299, bringing the Apple Watch closer to Android Wear pricing.

A year after the Apple Watch debut, Android Wear still faces an uphill battle. In December, IDG estimated that the lightweight Android platform represented just 15.2 percent of the global smartwatch market, in second place behind Apple Watch at 61.3 percent. Yet, IDC projects that the Apple Watch will drop to 51.1 percent share by 2019 while Android Wear more than doubles to 38.8 percent.

If history repeats itself along the lines of the iPhone and iPad market share declines in the face of multi-fanged Android competition, a shift in momentum seems likely. As more Android Wear vendors and models pile on, more underserved niches and markets will be met, and there will be a greater chance for smash hits.

The two entries arriving this week each stand out from the crowd enough to give them a chance at success if not stardom. As the world’s first cellular-enabled Android Wear watch, the LG Watch Urbane LTE 2nd Edition would have been more exciting if we hadn’t already seen it teased a year ago with a Linux-based WebOS stack. The round-faced watch -- are there any other these days? -- was delayed until the fall when it arrived instead with Android Wear. Plagued by glitches, it was quickly removed from market.

The bugs have presumably been stomped, as the Urbane LTE 2nd Edition went on pre-sale for an April 1 launch with AT&T. The watch, which features a high-res display and LTE telephony and data, sells for $360 plus $10 per month for 4G. AT&T is offering a discount when you buy it with the new LG G5 phone.

The Casio Smart Outdoor Watch WSD-F10 is the first fully ruggedized Android Wear device. Going beyond the IP67 water resistance of the Urbane LTE and most other competitors, the WSD-F10 is claimed to be water-resistant at up to 50 meters and offer MIL-STD-801G protection. The $500 watch is loaded with functions and apps dedicated to outdoors sports and adventure.

Going head-to-head with Casio in the outdoors adventure category is Nixon’s recently announced The Mission, which claims to double underwater resistance to 100 meters compared to the WSD-F10. Due this fall, The Mission adds a GPS, which is missing from the Casio. The Mission is also one of the first watches to use Qualcomm’s faster, more power-efficient Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor (see farther below).

Meanwhile, Fossil Group just announced two follow-ups to its well-received Fossil Q Founder. There’s a stylish Q Wander and a semi-rugged Q Marshal, both due later in the year. Like the Q Founder, the new Fossil Q watches start at $275, and let you take phone calls and respond to messages without reaching for your phone. Like the most expensive model in our slide show -- the $1,500 and up Tag Heuer Connected -- the Fossil Q watches run Android Wear on an Intel Atom instead of the usual ARM-based Snapdragons.

Finally, watch designer Michael Kors announced an Android Wear based Access watch at Baselworld. The Access will start at $395 when it ships in the fall. Luxury models will also be available.

Android Wear 1.4

Over the last year, Android Wear has received a number of updates, adding more autonomous features, interface overhauls, and most importantly, tethering support for iOS devices.

In recent weeks a new Android Wear 1.4 release has become available on most watches, based on Android 6.0 “Marshmallow.” Android Wear 1.4 builds on earlier gesture controls like flipping between notifications to add new gestures such as selecting functions and moving left or right across the interface. Android 1.4 also adds native support for Android Wear watches with mics and speakers and/or watches with built-in cellular voice, which currently means only the LG Watch Urbane LTE.

Android Wear 1.4 borrows Android 6.0’s permission system, which operates from the watch rather than a paired phone to offer greater privacy and security against malicious hackers. It also features Marshmallow’s Doze power management, which is being further improved in the upcoming Android N.

Linux-based Android Wear Alternatives

There are still some mostly autonomous Android-based watches out there that eschew Android Wear, although IDC projects a cumulative decline for such watches from 2.1 to 1.2 percent. There have been some intriguing products in this category, however, such as the modular Blocks watch, which was originally unveiled as a Tizen device based on the Atom-based Intel Edison module. Instead, it will ship to Kickstarter backers in May with Android Lollipop, starting at $195.

There’s also an ambitious Neptune Suite follow-on to the Neptune Pine smartwatch which similarly runs Android. In this case, the watch acts as a hub that powers an optional “dumb” phone or tablet. The Neptune Suite, which was supposed to ship in February to Indiegogo backers starting at $599, has been delayed.

Omate, meanwhile, followed up on the Omate TrueSmart Android watch with a Omate Rise. The 1.3-inch, Indiegogo funded watch is due to ship this month running Android 5.1 and Omate’s OUI 4.0 stack on a dual-core, 1.2GHz Cortex-A7. It also features GPS, optional 3G, and a 580mAh battery.

Beyond Android, the leading Linux contender is Samsung’s Tizen-based Gear S2, a round-faced watch with an up to three-day battery and a rotating bezel. According to IDC, the Gear S2 and earlier Samsung Gear Tizen models represented a respectable 8.2 percent of the smartwatch market by year’s end, just below third-place Pebble OS at 8.6 percent. IDC projects that Tizen will drop to 2.8 percent by 2019, but it hedges its bets by stating that Tizen “stands to be the dark horse of the smartwatch market and poses a threat to Android Wear.”

IDC also includes a separate Linux category that it expects will rise from 0.9 percent to 1.2 percent in 2019. The only other Linux watch I’ve heard of is the Leikr sportswatch, which seems to have faded. Last August, however, a San Francisco startup called Olio Devices opened pre-orders on a Linux-based Olio watch ranging from $395 to $945. Shipments have been delayed, however.

No doubt, some Linux kernels are hidden away in other similarly proprietary smartwatches. Meanwhile, an open source Linux based AsteroidOS project for wearables has emerged in recent months. Built on OpenEmbedded, the early-stage stack integrates Qt, and uses the libhybris library to provide Android Wear compatibility.

Next up: Snapdragon Wear 2100

Android Wear should get another boost this fall when watches like Nixon’s The Mission will debut Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC. Announced in February, the quad-core, Cortex-A7 SoC is claimed to be 30 percent smaller and use 25 percent less power than “previous-generation wearable processors.” This presumably refers to the 1.2GHz, dual-core Snapdragon 400 found on most Android Wear watches.

Unlike the Snapdragon 400, the Wear 2100 is specifically designed for wearables, and offers optional, low-power LTE in addition to the WiFi (802.11n) and Bluetooth 4.1 BLE. Equipped with an Adreno 304 GPU supporting OpenGL 3.0, the SoC supports 640x480 @ 60fps displays, up from 320 to 400 squared pixels for most Android Wear models.

The Snapdragon Wear 2100 supports 400MHz LPDDR3, eMMC 4.5, USB 2.0, and NFC. It supports Android in addition to Android Wear, and integrates Snapdragon Voice+ and Voice Activation firmware. The SoC is further equipped with Fluence audio and a DSP that drives a low power sensor hub. Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 and IZat Gen8C location technology are also available.

By the time the Wear 2100 watches arrive, they will likely face up against an Apple Watch 2. For now, however, there are plenty of Android Wear devices you can buy that compete well with the Apple Watch. Unless otherwise noted, they use the typical Snapdragon 400. Note that some earlier Android Wear models not listed here can now be found for under $100.

Asus ZenWatch 2
Casio Smart Outdoor Watch WSD-F10
Fossil Q Founder
Huawei Watch
LG Watch Urbane
LG Watch Urbane LTE, 2nd Edition
Motorola Moto 360 2015
Sony SmartWatch 3
Tag Heuer Connected

 

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