The affordable Galaxy Watch FE might be what Wear OS really needs

The Samsung Galaxy Watch FE.
(Image credit: Samsung)

Samsung recently launched the new Galaxy Watch FE this week, which is really just a 2024 "refresh" of the Galaxy Watch 4. The smartwatch features more or less the same specs, chipset, and design as the 2021 model, with the exception of a new sapphire glass over the display for better scratch protection. However, while a Galaxy Watch 4 reboot may seem like a strange move for Samsung, I think it's kind of genius. In fact, it's exactly what Wear OS needs: more affordable smartwatches.

I've been reviewing Wear OS smartwatches for several years, and I've often winced at the prices some of these companies charge for these devices. Fossil, which pulled an LG and left the smartwatch business earlier this year, used to charge $299 for the Fossil Gen 6, which didn't even run Wear OS 3 at launch and had very questionable performance. Samsung's Galaxy Watches now cost more than ever, with the Watch 5 Pro model priced in the same ballpark as a cheap Android phone and even the price of the Pixel Watch 2 giving me pause (don't even get me started on the Montblanc Summit 3).

The Google Pixel Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro side-by-side

The only exception I've seen is the TicWatch E3, which launched a few years back. That watch featured a relatively cheap build and skipped out on the best features found on more expensive TicWatch models, like the dual-display tech, but the price kind of made it worth it. At $199, you got a smartwatch that was much cheaper than the competition and performed surprisingly well with the Snapdragon Wear 4100, despite Wear OS 3 coming much later.

In fact, I'm a little bummed we haven't gotten a TicWatch E4 or some equivalent, especially now that Wear OS 4 is here and Wear OS 5 is on the way, both of which likely require newer chips like the Snapdragon W5 Plus Gen 1. But seeing Samsung launch the Galaxy Watch FE gives me some hope that cheaper Wear OS watches could be a thing again if companies play their cards right.

TicWatch E3

(Image credit: Chris Wedel / Android Central)

Anshel Sag, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, agrees, saying that launching the cheaper smartwatch was a smart move on Samsung's part. "I think the Galaxy Watch FE allows Samsung and its partners to offer a cheaper option that can be easily discounted or given away for free as a bundle item and broadens the price range of products it's offering for wearables."

I'm not saying every cheap Wear OS smartwatch has to be a rebranded version of an older model, but I do think companies should have affordability in mind when developing upcoming models. At $349.99, the Pixel Watch 2 is asking for a lot, and that's not even with LTE. If I didn't already have one, I would have a hard time justifying spending that money on it, and honestly, I'm still trying to figure out if it's worth it (don't get me wrong, it's a really great smartwatch). But I would love to see a future Pixel Watch 3a that features a toned-down Snapdragon chip and some other compromises, especially if it means spending only $199 to be part of the Pixel ecosystem.

Keep in mind that Google just launched the Fitbit Ace LTE for $229, and Qualcomm already gives smartphone OEMs cheaper alternatives of its chips, like the Snapdragon 8s Gen 3, so both companies could very well make it happen. Apple already sells the more affordable Apple Watch SE, which was apparently good enough to warrant an upgraded model two years later, so I would love to see more Android OEMs follow suit. Sag notes the importance of launching cheaper models, as it allows people to make decisions based on price "and doesn't price certain people out of the market because their appetite for spending on a smartwatch is less than $299." 

The Galaxy Watch FE is a blueprint for how other companies can approach making cheaper Wear OS watches.

This is why the lack of cheaper Wear OS watches is a glaring omission for me, especially as companies stuff more features in their devices to drive the price up. Wear OS doesn't have the same reputation as WatchOS, and while that's starting to change, I'm not convinced too many people are clamoring to shell out Garmin or Apple Watch amounts of money for a Wear OS smartwatch. It's good that we have premium smartwatches that perform well, but Wear OS also needs to be more financially accessible.

This also goes for companies such as OnePlus, which is rumored to have a potentially budget-friendly OnePlus Watch 2 variant launching soon. Then there's Motorola, which has stayed away from Wear OS on its budget-friendly smartwatches. However, a new Wear OS model from the company would be perfect, as it already makes some of the best affordable phones on the market.

That said, Sag warns that while there should be more affordable Wear OS models, there should also be a happy medium and that companies need to be careful. "I do think it’s a problem, but I also believe that if you go too cheap, the experience gets really bad and not worth making. Kind of like most really cheap smartphones."

The Galaxy Watch 4

(Image credit: Chris Wedel / Android Central)

One of the reasons Android is so great is because it caters to everyone, from those willing to spend an arm and a leg on a new phone to those who just want something with the basics that doesn’t break the bank. Now that Wear OS is finally coming into its own with big players like Samsung and Google at the helm, the same philosophy should be applied to the wearable platform to help it reach more people.

Derrek Lee
Managing Editor

Derrek is the managing editor of Android Central, helping to guide the site's editorial content and direction to reach and resonate with readers, old and new, who are just as passionate about tech as we are. He's been obsessed with mobile technology since he was 12, when he discovered the Nokia N90, and his love of flip phones and new form factors continues to this day. As a fitness enthusiast, he has always been curious about the intersection of tech and fitness. When he's not working, he's probably working out.

  • me just saying
    what it really needs is a series without any of the health features. I just want one for notifications, time, and mobile payments.