Wear OS 4: New features, One UI 5 Watch, and more

Downloading an update on the Pixel Watch
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 arrives on August 11 as the first watch to run One UI 5 Watch based on Wear OS 4. While other Android watches will remain stuck on Wear OS 3 for some time, Samsung is bringing next-gen features to its Galaxy Watches. 

But what exactly does Wear OS 4 bring to the table, and how does One UI 5 Watch differ from whatever stock Wear OS will come to the Pixel Watch 2? We'll break down everything that Google and Samsung have revealed thus far. 

At Google I/O, the company outlined a few features to expect, starting with customizable watch faces, new Google apps like Gmail and Calendar, enhanced text-to-speech, and easier backups to your phone. 

Similarly, Samsung's One UI 5 Watch spin-off is adding new features like SOS and fall detection, personalized heart rate zones, and improved sleep tracking — building off of the Wear OS 4 framework. Aside from the Galaxy Watch 6, older Galaxy Watches will receive these features too; as of early August, Samsung is on the fourth One UI 5 Watch beta, very close to stable.

Below, we'll discuss what we know about Wear OS 4 and how it will improve upon the best Android smartwatches on the market. We'll also focus on rumored or leaked updates, as well as our Wear OS 4 wishlist of features that need improving.

Wear OS 4 release date

So far, Google has only confirmed that Wear OS 4 will launch "later this year." Wear OS 3 came out in August 2021, while Wear OS 3.5 rolled out alongside the Pixel Watch in October 2022. 

Given that leaks suggest Google will release the Pixel Watch 2 alongside the Pixel 8 this October, we're fairly certain Google will reserve its full Wear OS 4 update for late fall, as it did last year. 

As for Samsung's take on Wear OS 4, we expect it'll roll out on August 11 alongside the Galaxy Watch 6 and 6 Classic, but the company hasn't confirmed this. According to SamMobile, beta testers have already received the stable build, but non-beta testers can't access it yet.

Wear OS 4: Confirmed new features

Wear OS logo on a Fossil Gen 6 watch

(Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

As announced at Google I/O 2023, Wear OS 4 will add apps for Gmail and Google Calendar for the first time. You'll be able to "quickly respond to emails...check your schedule, view and RSVP to events, and update task statuses" on your wrist. 

While there is a QWERTY keyboard on Wear OS, we wonder if the wrist-based Wear OS will rely more on Google's generative AI focus to ensure you're not slowly typing out an email on a tiny screen for minutes at a time. We do know Wear OS 4 will offer a "faster and more reliable text-to-speech experience" to improve accessibility features, according to Google.

(Image credit: Google)

In addition, WhatsApp will launch its first Wear OS app, while Spotify receives new Tiles focused on podcasts, most-played songs, and the in-app DJ. Google Home will add new controls like the ability to unlock your smart lock or check your Nest Doorbell feed on your wrist. And no doubt other apps will get a refresh as well. 

One of the bigger changes is the new Wear OS Watch Face Format co-created by Google and Samsung. Unlike the old Jetpack watch faces that had to be constantly optimized for better battery life and performance, new watch faces use "a declarative XML format" instead of actual code. Wear OS itself renders the watch face, so developers "no longer have to worry about code optimizations or battery performance."

On the consumer side, we'll have to wait and see what this means for 3rd-party watch faces — if they'll be more creative and dynamic thanks to this optimization, or more restricted in what they can do in the name of efficiency. But users will have access to the same editor UI, meaning they'll be able to customize and add complications to third-party watch faces. 

Photos watch face on Pixel Watch

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Last and certainly not least, Google has promised to bring backup and restore to Wear OS 4. You can back up Galaxy Watches, but owners of stock Wear OS watches have been requesting the feature for years. 

Plus, during the set-up process for any Wear OS watch, your app permissions "will automatically carry over" from your Android phone, Google says.

As for other Wear OS 4 updates, the developer preview explains a few new changes like "power optimizations" to make apps run more efficiently than in Wear OS 3, as well as new data types in Health Services. Essentially, third-party apps will be able to access more of your health-sensor data, so long as you enable permissions for them to do so first. 

Interestingly, Wear OS 4 could prove a popular update for golfers. Apparently, certain Wear OS watches will be able to detect the length and number of golf swings you take

One UI 5 Watch

One UI 5 Watch personalized heart rate zones

(Image credit: Samsung)

One UI 5 Watch technically isn't associated with Google's version of Wear OS 4, as Samsung's version will precede it by a few months. But One UI 5.5 Watch will be based on the final Wear OS 4, so the new features arriving now could be a precursor of what's to come, for both Samsung and Wear OS 4.

First, One UI 5 Watch will add irregular heart rate notifications based on your heart rate monitor. Approved by the FDA, Samsung's AFib detection will direct you to take an ECG on your Galaxy Watch 5 (or other models) for a more direct reading. 

Next, we know a new Sleep Insights UI will give you a redesigned sleep score and Enhanced Sleep Coaching, and that the watch will no longer flash the green LEDs when it detects possible sleep — a frequent complaint from users. Plus, it'll now offer menstrual cycle tracking using the skin temperature sensor.

On the fitness side, Samsung will incorporate personalized workout intensity levels and heart rate zones. It'll also implement fall detection and better SOS functionality. And for Galaxy Watch 5 Pro users, they'll be able to directly access a GPX map database to install running and hiking maps for their workouts.

Even though Samsung is running behind Apple on fitness, these features are certainly a welcome sign that it's taking fitness software more seriously.

You also receive three key new Wear OS apps on the Galaxy Watch series: a revamped Samsung Wallet app, WhatsApp, and ThermoCheck. 

Wear OS 4 rumors

The most intriguing feature found in the Wear OS 4 preview is that the new OS could add Material You dynamic theming that adjusts the UI to match your watch face colors, instead of limiting users to predetermined UI colors.

Otherwise, the One UI 5 Watch beta shows the option to transfer your watch to a new phone without a factory reset. While this could be a Galaxy Watch exclusive, we're hopeful that this same feature will come to Wear OS watches too, since Google is putting emphasis on backups and carried-over permissions with Wear OS 4. 

Everything else we want from Wear OS 4

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 quick settings and battery percentage

(Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Customizable quick settings

Ideally, Android smartwatches are a seamless extension of your smartphone, giving you quick and easy access to things without needing to reach for your phone. That's where the Quick Settings panel comes into play, but for one reason or another, Wear OS 3 does not (natively) allow you to rearrange the different tiles.

In some cases, such as Samsung's One UI Watch, you have the ability to customize the different toggles that are available. But the same can't be said for Google's own Pixel Watch, which gives you a bunch of Quick Settings buttons, without letting you decide what's shown. This feels like an oversight, and the release of Wear OS 4 would be the perfect time to add this functionality.

Fitbit integration for everyone

Even before the Pixel Watch was officially announced, the presumption was that Google would leverage its acquisition of Fitbit back in 2019. This came to fruition following the release of the Pixel Watch, as all of your health and fitness data is handled and stored by the Fitbit app on your phone.

However, with Wear OS 3, Google has put much of the onus on the different smartwatch makers when it comes to your health and fitness data. For example, the Galaxy Watch 4 and 5 rely on Samsung Health, while the Fossil Gen 6 Wellness Edition uses Fossil's own Wellness app. That's not to say that either Samsung Health or the Fossil Wellness app isn't capable, but we're big fans of uniformity.

So it would be nice to have Wear OS 4 smartwatches enjoy the same experience, regardless of what wearable you are using. Accessing and customizing your Wear OS 3 smartwatch is now handled by multiple apps, with one being designed for customizing the device, and the other for health. At the very least, it would be nice to have all of the health data synced with a single app, especially if you decide to go switch from the Galaxy Watch to the Pixel Watch or a Fossil wearable.

Support for built-in biometrics

It appears as though Google is gearing up to revamp its Smart Lock functionality across Android, ChromeOS, and Wear OS. Extend Unlock is Google's planned revamp of Smart Lock allowing you to keep your phone unlocked as long as it is connected to your smartwatch. 

This is great for your smartphone, but what if the Pixel Watch 2 included an embedded fingerprint scanner on the side?

This isn't a new idea by any means, as the functionality was shown off all the way back in 2016. But that example was clearly a prototype and never made it to the masses. Embedding a fingerprint scanner would be quite useful for things such as using Google Wallet or Samsung Pay to make mobile payments. It could even offer another way to interact with the Wear OS interface without actually touching the screen.

Improved Google Assistant... with Bard integration?

With Wear OS 3, Google struggled to get its new version of Google Assistant working on Wear OS watches that use Qualcomm hardware instead of Exynos. That means the Fossil Gen 6 only just got Assistant in late June, months after its switch to the new OS — and other newer Wear OS 3 watches like Mobvoi Ticwatch Pro 5 still don't have it. 

With rumors flying that Google will ditch Exynos for Snapdragon with the Pixel Watch 2, we have to assume that it will fully address these issues by the time Wear OS 4 arrives, for its own sake. So we'd hope any Wear OS 4-capable watch should have Google Assistant out of the box. 

Meanwhile, Google's generative AI rival, ChatGPT, is widely available on most Wear OS watches. If Google wants to stay relevant as the leading source of information for users, it may decide to incorporate Google Bard into Wear OS as well, so you get more complete answers to your questions. 

Michael L Hicks
Senior Editor, VR/AR and fitness

Michael spent years freelancing on every tech topic under the sun before settling down on the real exciting stuff: virtual reality, fitness wearables, gaming, and how tech intersects with our world. He's a semi-reformed Apple-to-Android user who loves running, D&D, and Star Wars. Find him on Twitter at @Michael_L_Hicks.

With contributions from
  • fuzzylumpkin
    I use a Galaxy watch, so I hadn't realised just how second rate the experience on a pixel watch was. No backup and restore? Really?