When the software experience is nearly identical from one smartwatch to the next — such is the case with Android Wear — we turn to more subjective features in deciding which stands out above the rest. And has been the case for some time, you really can't go wrong with any of the Android Wear offerings from any of the manufacturers. They all basically do the same thing, and they all basically do those things equally well.
But all things must be ranked. They must be weighed, measured and presented for your approval.
And here, now, are our picks for the best Android Wear smartwatches.
Update June 2016: It's been a couple months since we last updated this post — and not much has changed since then. A major update to the Android Wear platform is coming later this year, (we've already taken a look at it), and things are kind of in a standstill until then.
1. The best: Huawei Watch
Huawei's first try at Android Wear did a lot of things right. First, off, it's round, which at this point is a near necessity for a watch to land at the top of our list. And the Huawei Watch (as the company is quick to remind you) is all-the-way-round, with no "flat tire" to break the perfect circle. The bezel is nicely sculpted, make it look a little thinner than it actually is. And while the lugs are still a little on the large side and the body perhaps just a tad thicker than we'd like in a traditional watch, it remains nicely designed. The 2-o'clock crown position is a nice touch as well.
And don't look past Huawei's leather. We've used many Android Wear watches with any number of types of leather bands, and Huawei's is the first that hasn't disappointed us. It looks as good as it feels, with proper stitching down both sides. And if you don't like the leather, Huawei has a number of first-party bracelet options as well. And both the watch and body are available in a number of colors, styles — and price points, ranging from $349 to $799 for gold on gold.
Add all that up, and the Huawei Watch is an easy choice as our top pick. If we had to single out one gripe, it would be that you have to be careful when placing this thing on the charger. It doesn't always sit properly, and you may come back to a dead watch in the morning.
2. Moto 360 second-gen
The original Moto 360 was one of the first two Android Wear watches announced in 2014. The Moto 360 2015 was a welcome sight, trading a tired processor for the same Snapdragon as most of the other watches — and thus gaining improved performance.
And while much of the 360 received a redesign — watch bands now fit into traditional lugs instead of in the body itself, allowing for more options — the "flat tire" black bar at the bottom of the face remains. That leaves room for the ambient light sensor, and it's a must-have feature for many. But for others, it's a deal-breaker.
Motorola also is offering up three sizes of this year's 360 — 42mm and 46mm for men, and a 42mm women's version. Motorola also has more color and band options this year as well. Pricing starts at $299.
3. Fossil Q Founder
The first entry from Fossil — an actual watchmaker! — is the Q Founder, available either in leather or with an excellent steel bracelet for $20 more. It's a round watch (obviously), though one with the "flat tire" design that makes way for an ambient light sensor in the lower section. And it's not a bad watch at all, with more attention to detail than the similar LG Watch Urbane. It's also one of the first to use an Intel Atom processor, though there's little visible user benefit from that.
The thorn in the Q Founder's side is its huge charging pillow, which means you're going to have to think twice (or rig up some other Qi charging option) if you're going to be traveling with the Q Founder.
4. LG Watch Urbane
The LG Watch Urbane spent a good little while atop this list. It still has a stylish design, with a decent leather band. And it really was the first Android Wear smartwatch we've worn that was able to nearly pass as a traditional mechanical watch.
But like we said in our review, it's almost as if someone said "Make this watch nice, but not too nice." And so it was pretty easily overshadowed by the Huawei Watch and Moto 360, among others.
But the Watch Urbane remains a pretty solid buy considering that it retails for $349 but can be found for about $200. (Start with anywhere other than the Google Store, really.)
5. ASUS ZenWatch 2
The ZenWatch 2 is our top budget pick for Android Wear. It's not the best watch, though it does have a fun rounded-square design and excellent build quality. But the lower resolution of the display means you'll be seeing individual pixels quite a bit — and the square face and large bezels do nothing to impress us.
But there's the price. At $149 the ZenWatch 2 is the least expensive of the current generation of Android Wear smartwatches.
It's gained a crown this time around but lost the pulse monitor in the process — a fair trade for most of us here. There are two sizes available as well.
6. Casio WSD-F10
Casio's first entry into Android Wear is the rugged (and awkwardly named) WSD-F10. It's meant for the type of watch-wearer who's going to be spending a lot of time outdoors, hiking or rafting or whatnot. That's not necessarily the best time to be wearing a smartwatch, perhaps, but this one is definitely built for it. It's got a MIL-STD-810G rating. It's big. It's rated up to 50 meters of water. It's also expensive, retailing for $500.
We've yet to review this watch but will update if and when we do.
7. Luxury: TAG Heuer Connected
Few would argue that a watch from TAG Heuer shouldn't be on a list of best watches. But let's face facts: If you're in the market for an Android Wear smartwatch, you're probably not in the market for a $1,500 Android Wear smartwatch. That's not really a "high-end" price — but it's absolutely on the high end for Android Wear.
The good news is that this watch is an investment. If and when the Connected hits end-of-life, you can pony up another $1,500 upgrade to a mechanical Carrera. That's an intriguing proposition — and one that certainly moves the Connected into a different class than the other Android Wear watches.
8. Legacy watches
There are two watches that basically have been dropped — they may not even be sold sold directly anymore, and in any case we'd be hard-pressed to actually recommend them at this point. If you're dying to try out Android Wear and can get one for less than $100, then maybe it's worth it. But the experience isn't going to be great.
The legacy Android Wear watches are:
- Sony Smartwatch 3: An older, and therefore more affordable, "sport" watch option.
- LG G Watch R: Still not a bad watch at all. Just getting up there in age and was replaced by the Urbane.
- LG G Watch: On of the original square models. Don't pay more than $50 for it at this point.
- Moto 360 1st gen: Always a fan favorite, but so slow nowadays it's tough to use.
- ASUS ZenWatch: Not bad, but no reason to buy with the cheap sequel available.
- Samsung Gear Live: You can forget about this one. Samsung did.