Our continuously updated list of the best Android Wear watch you can wear
It's been a number of months since we last updated our list of the best Android Wear smartwatches. And in that time the number of watches available has double from three to six.
The early choice was pretty clear, as the Moto 360 dominated in terms of design. But we knew other contenders were waiting in the wings — namely the LG G Watch R and the ASUS ZenWatch. And now that we've gotten to spend a fair amount of time with the newcomers, we're ready to make a decision. But we will do so with a caveat, and a reminder:
First, our top four smartwatch pics are all really good. It's not unusual for us to switch between them on a fairly regular basis, depending on our mood.
And second is that watches remain a very personal decision. And given that the functionality of Android Wear is mostly consistent across devices — save for the occasional hardware-based feature — you don't necessarily lose any core experience from one watch to the next. If one simply tickles you in that sweet spot, chances are you'll be happier with it in the long run.
But our job is to choose. And choose we have. Following is our list of the best Android Wear smartwatches, updated in late December 2014.
1. The Best: The ASUS ZenWatch
More: Read our complete ASUS ZenWatch review
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new king of the hill, and it's one of the newcomers. The ASUS ZenWatch is our new favorite Android smartwatch. Like its competitors, it's an imperfect device, but one whose few shortcomings are overshadowed by the overall experience.
A beautiful body, stylish band and easy customization make the ZenWatch the best you can buy today.
The ZenWatch technically belongs to the square side of the Android Wear family, but the body belies that with curves that help you forget about the square face. It's a stainless steel number that's thinner than our previous favorite smartwatch, letting it lie flatter on your wrist. The rose-gold edging is a nice touch as well. You don't get the same edge-to-edge experience you get on round watches, and more's the pity. ASUS has moved the heart-rate monitor to the front of the watch — you place two fingers on the front of the watch. While it's a feature worth mentioning, it's not one we tend to use often.
The ZenWatch scores some serious points for customizability. It comes with a stylish leather band that we have no problem wearing with a suit. But if you want to swap it out for something else, you can do so easily. It's a standard 22mm setup, and the lugs extend far enough from the watch so that you shouldn't have any issues with a replacement strap or metal bracelet. (The same can't be said about all Android Wear watches.)
Charging is easy — the watch fits snugly in a dock that's slim enough to keep in your pocket should you need to juice up in the afternoon. (These watches all still have small-capacity batteries.)
Our only real complaint about the ZenWatch comes from some of its custom software. The Jawbone Up app is preloaded on the watch and is a bit spammy — definitely not something we want to see on a watch. Similarly, the ZenWatch Manager companion app — which provides additional features and lets you customize the ASUS watch faces — pushes additional ASUS applications too heavily. Those are relatively minor complaints, though ones we'd like to see addressed. On the plus side: If you're using a phone that doesn't have trusted Bluetooth devices built into the OS, the ZenWatch Manager app can add that functionality.
All in all, however, the ASUS ZenWatch is the best all-around choice if you're in the market for an Android Wear device.
2. The LG G Watch R
More: Read our complete LG G Watch R review
Up next is another newcomer. And we can easily say that the LG G Watch R has the best display you can currently get on an Android Wear watch, thanks to the P-OLED — that's plastic OLED — panel. (In fact, for what it's worth, it's the same flexible panel that's used on the LG G Flex.) And the quality of the display plays a big part in the G Watch R vaulting to the No. 2 spot on our list.
The G Watch R is less boardroom-ready, and it's the most expensive of the bunch. But it also has the best display we've used in a watch.
The G Watch R also brings an interesting design to the table. It's a round watch, but it's plastic and has a stationary faux bezel around the face that gives it a somewhat sporty — but still classic — look. It's less futuristic and more traditional, but also not quite as professional as the ZenWatch or Moto 360. The bezel lets LG do a "full circle" display — an obvious but also completely true dig at the Moto 360. But then there's the bezel again. Like the "flat tire" on the Moto 360, either it bothers you or it doesn't. (Neither the bezel on the G Watch R nor the sliver on the Moto 360 keeps us up at night, for what it's worth.)
Charging is simple enough — you put the watch on the circular dock, which is powered by microUSB. (Like the ZenWatch, however, you still can't yet purchase a spare charger.)
Aesthetics will play a big part here, though, and if you simply don't like the look of the G Watch R, there's no reason to pony up the $299. It's an expensive watch. The most expensive of the bunch thus far. But we can't stress enough how much better that display is than any of the other watches we've used. It makes a big difference.
3. The Moto 360
More: Read our complete Moto 360 review
Let's be clear here — that the Moto 360 has fallen to the third spot on our list is not a denouncement. This is still easily one of the best Android Wear smartwatches you can get, and one we wear regularly.
The Moto 360 still gives an excellent round smartwatch experience.
It's also changed a bit since our our last update of this list, mainly in that the stainless steel bracelets are now available. That's turned out to be a mixed bag. The Horween leather that originally came with the 360 has only gotten better with age. But some of us love steel. What we got — and to be fair this is something we've known was going to happen, but it took getting it on our wrist to really feel it — is a bracelet that takes away from the overall look of the watch. The plastic spacer and the way the bracelet extends from the body, looking not nearly as natural as the leather strap, or even the Pebble Steel bracelet we'd been using. And that's a shame.
The Moto 360 does, however, still give you an excellent overall experience. The display — save for the sliver, of course — stretches from one side to the other and gives you a more immersive experience, though individual pixels are still noticeable. The 360 also doesn't do much to get in the way on the software side. Motorola's custom watch faces and the Moto Connect make personalization a breeze. It turns just as many heads as our No. 1 pick, the ASUS ZenWatch.
And the Moto 360 is the only one to sport honest-to-goodness Qi wireless charging. You can use any compatible dock, but Motorola's works best.
4. The Sony SmartWatch 3
More: Read our complete Sony SmartWatch 3 review
And first glance the Sony SmartWatch 3 looks to be a pretty vanilla square smartwatch but in fact is one of the first to bring some new functionality under the hood. And that'd be standalone GPS.
If you run or walk, you'll want the standalone GPS in the SmartWatch 3.
That means that you're able to take the SmartWatch 3 out for a jog and have it track your workout — without having to lug a phone around with you. And that's become increasingly important as phones have continued to grow bigger and bigger. And it also pairs up nicely with the ability to stream music directly from the watch to a Bluetooth headset. For those of us ridiculous enough to have more than one Android smartwatch laying around, the SmartWatch 3 has quickly become our go-to device for exercising.
The catch remains that few apps have added in this standalone GPS functionality.
The SmartWatch 3 also is interesting in that you can easily remove the body from the rubber strap — no 22mm spring bar pins to get lost here — and pop it in a new one. That is, if you can actually buy a separate strap, and if you care to do so in the first place. Still, it's different.
The SmartWatch 3 also has just about the best battery life we've seen in an Android Wear device. You're still going to want to charge it every day, but on the nights we forgot to plug it in — and you plug a microUSB cable directly into the back of the watch — we were able to make it to lunchtime the next day without worry.
Sony's watch faces aren't all that inspiring, and we really have no desire to use Sony's closed activity tracker. But if you're a runner considering a smartwatch, the SmartWatch 3 should be your first pick.
5. The LG G Watch
Read our complete review of the LG G Watch
It's plain, but it's simple. OK, it's plain and simple.
The LG G Watch is one of the original entries to Android Wear, but it remains a decent one if you're just looking to get started. It's only a tad cheaper than the Moto 360, however — all of $20 cheaper — and that extra Andrew Jackson is well worth it considering what you get in exchange.
The G Watch does make it pretty easy to swap in a custom strap or bracelet, however, and you can purchase a spare charging dock. There's just not much happening there in terms of aesthetics. It's a square watch with a rubber strap. Period.
6. The Samsung Gear Live
Read our Samsung Gear Live review
There was a bit of a "me, too!" feeling when Samsung announced the Gear Live at Google I/O last summer, and not a whole lot has changed since then. It just sort of exists.
Samsung's 'me-too' entry to Android Wear isn't a bad one.
That said, it exists as the least expensive of the six Android Wear devices available today. Not that $199 is cheap or anything — it most certainly isn't.
For a couple Benjamins you get a square form factor with rubber strap. It's a standard 22mm connection, but like the Moto 360 the design is different enough to make replacement straps and bracelets a craps shoot.
And, well, that's it. A standard Android Wear experience, with no real bells and/or whistles. If you're fine with that, we're fine with that.