For the last couple of years, the best Android smartwatches actually haven't run Android, they've run Samsung's Tizen. This means that Android watch-buyers had to choose between getting great hardware or getting access to the apps and services they actually want to use like Google Assistant and Google Pay.
But if reports from leaker extraordinaire Ice universe are to be believed — and they usually are — you may be able to get the best of all worlds in Samsung's next watch. Presumably the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 3 — since the Galaxy Watch 3 is only six months old — would be Samsung's first Android watch since the Samsung Gear Live in 2014, back when Wear OS was still called Android Wear.
While this change might seem like a downgrade to some, I think Wear OS could make the Galaxy Watch Active the best women's watch ever.
As I said before, Samsung has absolutely nailed the hardware on the Galaxy Watch Active series. It's the best small smartwatch I've ever worn while still packing almost two-day battery life, NFC tap-to-pay, and a great-looking little screen. While there are some great Wear OS watches, none of the truly good ones are small; they're all big, beefy watches like the TicWatch Pro 3.
For those with larger hands and thicker wrists, these watches are perfectly fine, but as a 5'2 woman, it makes me look like I'm wearing the Omnitrix. Sure, I could settle for a fitness tracker instead that sacrifices functionality for ultra-compact sizes, but fitness is a secondary function of my watch. Small Wear OS watches so far have either suffered for performance, battery, or both, while the Watch Active has been almost perfectly sized for smaller wrists. Samsung would be filling a noticeable gap in the Wear OS market — while also doubling the apps and services available to the watch's users.
Tizen's software is perfectly okay, but the app selection on the Galaxy Watch and Watch Active series has sucked compared to Wear OS. There are fewer apps in every category and there are almost no apps from big-name companies except for Spotify and Tidal. You also have to deal with Samsung Health instead of Google Fit — and admittedly, Samsung Health isn't worse than Google Fit, it just interfaces with fewer things — but the real insult to injury is that you're stuck with Bixby instead of Google Assistant.
If you actually use an AI assistant, chances are you only use one — they take time to train and get everything connected to them — and between Google Assistant and Bixby, Assistant is the hands-down winner. Even on Samsung phones, a vast majority of users completely disable Bixby to use Google Assistant for its wider platform compatibility, more comprehensive service integration, and more consistent performance. While it's not hard to pull out your phone and use Assistant there, being able to fire off a quick "what's the weather like?" or "did the Magic win last night so I can get cheap pizza?" on your wrist while walking around is a luxury your $200 watch should have.
The app and service selection is only part of the incentive to switch, honestly. Wear OS actually does notifications better than Tizen and Fitbit combined. Rather than every single notification needing its own page to the left of the watch face, Wear OS puts them all in a compact, collapsible list, making it easy to scan through multiple notifications and swipe ones away without looking like you're using Tindr on your wrist.
Wear OS could use a little extra polish, but if Samsung knows how to gussy up Android and give it a consistent and consistently good look on Galaxy phones and the Galaxy Tab series of tablets. If Samsung gives Wear OS the One UI treatment — the same way Oppo did a Color OS flair to the Oppo Watch — that could make the Galaxy Watch Active 3 the best of all possible worlds:
- A well-designed, compact watch with a bright screen
- Wear OS app selection with Samsung polish
- Google Assistant on a watch that's actually fast
Making this jump with the more affordable Watch Active line also makes sense for testing the waters. The Galaxy Watch Active 2 is still a great device over a year later, and the best Samsung smartwatch the Galaxy Watch 3 likely won't see a sequel until 2022. That's plenty of time to see whether or not a Wear OS-powered Galaxy Watch Active 3 runs the table.
Of course, this may very well be wishful thinking. I am nothing if not a hopeless dreamer. If this is real, though, if Samsung and Google come together to make this tiny bundle of joy while that Google/Fitbit watch is still in regulatory limbo, it will be an insta-buy for me with my own money. Give it Google Pay, adaptive brightness, and my Google Keep shopping list on my wrist while I'm weaving through Target, and I will give you $250 for it, easy.
Please. Give me hope for a perfect small smartwatch.