Apple Watch v Android Wear: The battle for smartwatch supremacy

Apple Watch v Android Wear: The battle for smartwatch supremacy

It's make or break time for smartwatches - will Apple or Google end up on top?
 Apple Watch v Android Wear

With the Apple Watch going head-to-head with a fresh Android Wear army of smartwatches, Apple and Google are doing battle once again.

Like the smartphone war before it, the differences go beyond just price and looks – it's ideological. Apple's singular experience versus the choice and variety offered by Android Wear; Apple's huge fanbase and army of devoted developers and accessory makers against Google's mighty partners and powerful platform.

Read this: Apple Watch review

As with smartphones, Google provides its software to a whole host of hardware partners, whereas Apple takes care of the hardware design as well as the on-board OS. That means comparing Apple Watch with Android Wear involves grouping together a whole host of devices on the Google side.

Then there's compatibility. The Apple Watch only works with the iPhone whereas Android Wear now pairs with both Android and iPhone (albeit with limited functionality on the latter).

This versus feature is based on multiple reviews of Android Wear watches and our long term test of the Apple Watch.

Apple Watch v Android Wear: Design

Apple Watch is certainly aiming for the luxury end of the smartwatch market with its smartwatch, though with a choice of three models across two sizes and with dozens of straps, quite how high-end you want to go depends on your budget.

There's the aluminium Watch Sport, the stainless steel Watch, and the 18k carat gold Watch Edition, though the basic design is the same in each case — Apple's design team has spent a lot of time crafting every individual component to perfection (as the detailed promo videos prove).

Read this: Every Apple Watch design in one place

The choice of straps lets you tailor the look of your watch even further. Classic link bracelet, rubber sport band, leather loop, classic buckle, modern buckle, Milanese loop – the decision is yours. Third-party strap makers including designer names such as Hermès are adding their own designs to the mix too.

Whichever configuration you go for, this isn't a watch you'll be embarrassed to show off. The digital crown on the side of the device is a nice touch too, allowing you to scroll and zoom without having to obscure the screen.

As we've said, there are several different devices to consider on the Android Wear side. While the first Android Wear watches were rather chunky and appealing, whereas newer arrivals like the Huawei Watch and the Moto 360 (2015) suggest manufacturers are now taking more care over the design process.

The Tag Heuer Connected, an Android Wear contender, is by far the most stylish and well-built smartwatch so far.


There's also the decision about whether you want a rectangular or a circular face, a choice you don't get with the Apple Watch. The Moto 360 2 and many other Android Wear-powered timepieces such as the Watch Urbane have opted for a circular display, and Google's software can run perfectly well on both screen shapes, give or take a tiny bit of cut off text.

Configuration options vary depending on the Android Wear watch you've gone for – Motorola has a number of official options for the Moto 360, for example, which now includes a smaller size display and lugs plus lots of customisation of details via Moto Maker – but these devices typically offer more support for replacement straps than the Apple Watch does.

Both the Apple Watch and Android Wear devices give you the option to pick a wearable design that works for you, but it's the Google-powered watches that offer most in the way of customisation and overall appearance options. Now, with the ZenWatch 2, Huawei Watch and Moto 360 2 and 360 Sport, there really is an Android Wear watch for everyone. With the Apple Watch, the look and feel can depend quite a lot on the style you go for but with that comes extra costs.

Apple Watch v Android Wear: Screen and battery life

Huawei Watch release date

There are two Apple Watch screen sizes to pick from to match the size of your wrist: a 38 mm tall, 1.5-inch screen and a 42 mm tall, 1.65-inch screen. The dimensions of 272 x 340 pixels (38 mm model) and 312 by 390 pixels (42 mm model) are enough to earn the 'Retina' badge Apple applies to some of the other products in its line-up.

Must have extras: Best Apple Watch accessories

The Apple Watch screen is absolutely as impressive as you would expect from a company that makes the iPhone, with sharp and bright colours and a special force touch interaction to bring up context-sensitive menus.

Battery is the Watch's Achilles heel, though. The 42mm Watch lasts just shy of two days, and the 38mm finishes a long day on the go with about 20% to spare. This is a smartwatch you will have to charge nightly so it's worth looking into a nice bedside dock.


Android Wear screens come in various shapes and sizes even inside the same company. We've seen a bit of a step up in resolution in the late 2015 batch of Android Wear smartwatches. For instance, the Huawei Watch's round 1.4-inch display has a 400 x 400 resolution, that's an impressive 286 ppi. The second-gen Moto 360 has two screen sizes, also round - 1.37-inch and 1.56-inch at 233 ppi and 263 ppi respectively.

As for battery life, there's little to shout about. The Sony Smartwatch 3 is good for two days' of normal use but devices such as the Watch Urbane will last a day and a half. The new Motos have bigger batteries - 300mAh and 400mAh - but that simply mean they now match rivals, not trail blaze multi-day use.

Some Android Wear devices struggle to last a day while others can carry on into two, so on average it's about even across the board when measured up against the Apple Watch. That said, if a day isn't acceptable - it's Android Wear for you unless you want to charge your Watch up at your desk.

Apple Watch v Android Wear: Interface

If you've used both iOS and Android on smartphones and tablets then you already have a pretty good idea of how the Apple Watch and Android Wear interfaces stack up.

The Apple Watch takes a very clean, uncluttered approach, with a familiar apps grid to pick from and a lot of the same design cues as you find in iOS. The two physical buttons certainly help when it comes to navigation — tapping on the digital crown, for example, takes you home.

There are plenty of watch faces to choose from and plenty of ways to customise them too via Complications info displayed around the time. Designers are also taking the opportunity to design custom watch faces.

Watch faces for Android Wear are a mixed bag – some are not very informative and poor quality, others can transform a round Android Wear watch so that it is disguised as an analogue wristwatch. There's much more choice now than there was at launch in 2014, though it's worth noting that you'll have to pay for some of the quality designs.

Apps and contacts list are available in Android Wear, but the focus is on Google Now-style info cards that pop up when you need them, as well as notifications from your phone. Swipes and taps are the order of the day and Android Wear doesn't feel quite as intuitive as the Watch OS Apple has managed to put together. That said, the recent updates are a big improvement on general navigation around the OS.

Android Wear does feel more suited to a watch and a tiny screen, with Google Now maturing into a very useful app that really does know what you want to know (e.g. the time of your next meeting) before you do.

Both platforms make extensive use of voice control in lieu of a touchscreen keyboard, providing a convenient if not 100% accurate – way of responding to notifications and performing actions on the wearables. In our experience, Google's voice software has the edge over Siri on accuracy of voice recognition and also integration with useful services e.g. Google Maps over Apple Maps.

Apple Watch v Android Wear: Tracking

new Moto 360 2

Apple has been eager to underline the health and fitness capabilities of its smartwatch at every available opportunity. As well as the on-board sensors, measuring steps, sleep, heart rate and more, it ties in with the Health app on an attached iPhone.

As features such as Medical ID and ResearchKit show, Apple is serious about health tracking. The Apple Watch warns you if you've been sitting for too long, track your exercise at the gym, and even send your heartbeat to a friend.

What it can't do is log GPS coordinates without an iPhone connected. If you want to track a jog or a bicycle ride using the Apple Watch then you're going to have to take your phone along.

Over on the Android Wear side of the fence, most smartwatches give you step, sleep and heart rate tracking, though it varies between makes and models. Google Fit comes as standard, enabling you to record these metrics and set goals for your exercise.

Read this: Google Fit compatible apps and devices

Android Wear supports on-board GPS so you can leave your phone at home and still track your position, but the only devices to make use of it so far are the Sony Smartwatch 3 and the new Moto 360 Sport.

One of the recent spate of Android Wear updates also adds Wi-Fi support, so you don't need to rely on Bluetooth to connect your phone to your watch. It also means if your watch is connected to Wi-Fi and you don't have your phone, it will pick up your notifications.

It's pretty much level pegging at the moment in the way Apple Watch and Android Wear can track your life, though it's going to be interesting to see how this plays out in the future — third-party app support for Apple HealthKit and Google Fit could be crucial and so far Apple is still winning.

Apple Watch v Android Wear: Apps

And that brings us neatly on to apps. Apple pioneered the mobile app store concept with the iPhone and of course there are a huge number of companies and developers clamouring to get their goods on the face of the Apple Watch.

Thanks to the prestige that Apple brings with it, big-name firms like BMW, Starwood Hotels and American Airlines have been busy building Watch apps to unlock your car, get into your hotel room and find your flight. With more than 10,000 apps for Apple Watch available, you will find a mixture of well-know brands and some interesting indie projects too.

The definitive round up: The best Apple Watch apps

Apple's platform gives developers the ability to create both 'Glances' (quick information pop-ups) and 'Notifications' (longer alerts with the option to respond) – that means plenty of flexibility for those who are coding the software. With the second generation of software, devs can also build standalone apps which run when you don't have your iPhone on your person.

One of the clever features of Android Wear is the way it supports notifications from any app right out of the box, even if the app in question hasn't been updated for five years. Developers can choose to build on top of this basic functionality to provide more interactive elements or even an app that runs solely on the smartwatch itself.

There's not much to choose between the iOS and Android app stores as far as smartphones are concerned but with smartwatches, we'd say Apple is now ahead. It definitely has the momentum.

Android Wear can't yet boast the same number of high-profile partners as Apple Watch can so unless it catches up soon, Apple's wearable will slot more easily into most people's real day-to-day lives.

Apple Watch v Android Wear: Price

We expected Apple to target the premium end of the market, and we haven't been disappointed: the cheapest Apple Watch costs $349 (the Watch Sport with a sport band). After that you'll pay $549 and above for the standard stainless steel Apple Watch and $10,000 and up for the gold Apple Watch Edition.

Those top-end prices are eye-wateringly high for a gadget, though not so unpalatable if you're used to the luxury watch market that Apple is presumably trying to appeal to. Whichever way you want to slice it, there's no denying that these are seriously expensive timepieces that will cost you at least the price of a decent smartphone. Plus once you've made your choice of Watch, there's also the cost of the band to consider - plumping for premium designs such as the Milanese loop will increase the overall price.

Read this: With the Apple Watch, Apple is right on the money

Android Wear watches are much more appealing to the budget-conscious and while the best bargains can now be found in 2014's devices, to some extent that includes the new recruits. The ZenWatch 2, for instance, is only $149 and the Moto 360 2015 starts at $299.

At the top end, the Huawei Watch is asking €399 for the starter model, rising to €699 for its gold-plated, stainless steel Watch. The Tag is the most expensive, of course, costing $1,500.

Price is one of the areas where there is a clear distinction between the Apple Watch and Android Wear devices – it's up to you whether you think Apple's use of premium materials and luxury design aesthetic and early headstart with big name apps is worth the mark-up over most Android Wear smartwatches.

Apple Watch v Android Wear: Verdict

As we mentioned earlier, choosing your smartwatch is going to be largely influenced by what kind of smartphone you're currently rocking. Less so now that Android Wear works with iPhones but it's worth pointing out that you can't get an Apple Watch unless you use iOS.

If you want to consider the Apple Watch versus Android Wear independently, there are some interesting differences.

On Apple's side, there's the finely tuned design, the use of premium materials, the fluid software, the luxury feel – and the price tag to match. iPhones may have made their way to the mass market but even with an estimated 12 million sales so far, the Apple Watch is still confined to a relatively small number of early adopters - for an Apple product that is.

See also: Apple Watch v Pebble Time

Android Wear smartwatches are getting close to matching the look, feel and finish of the Apple Watch, with special mentions to Tag, Huawei and Motorola here. Google Now lends itself well to a small screen to an extent, the updates show that the OS is heading in the right direction and there are plenty of customisation options to play around with. Android Wear watches are now a whole lot cheaper too, depending on which you choose.

Ultimately there is no easy answer.

Want to track runs with GPS and without a phone? Get the SmartWatch 3 or a Moto 360 Sport. Want a dainty watch that shows you alerts but could pass for a wristwatch? Try the new smaller Moto 360 2015. On a budget? Think about a ZenWatch 2 or a device from last year.

Want spit and polish and better apps? Get an Apple Watch.

19 Comments

  • Robyr says:

    No offense, but the Apple watch is anything but stylish. I find the same premium materials being used in the 360, and the Watch Urbane. Apple seems to have missed the point of the first gen watches (Gear and Gear 2, Sony SM1 and 2, etc) which Motorola, and especially LG seem to have caught on to. Wearing a 360 today, I don't think there is a single watch I'd jump on other than the Urbane compared to the 360. 

    • xToddrick says:

      Apple got the point more than anyone else so far.  They understand what a smartwatch does and provided the best shape.  In the same way the did by making giving the iPad a 3:4 display.

  • Extraneus says:

    "Android Wear smartwatches can't match the look and luxury of the Apple Watch (though they're slowly getting more stylish"

    For crying out loud...!!! None of the present day smartwatches are anything to brag about, designwise, but at least some of the Android Watches are passable, unlike the horrendous stylistic blunder that is the Apple Watch!

    • xpro says:

      If its about luxury would buy ROLEX not apple!!

    • xToddrick says:

      Apple was smart enough to use a rectangular screen with rounded edges.  It's the only shape that makes sense if you want the most capable/functional smartwatch.  Go round if you don't mind it's limitations.  Also there are quite a few high end analog watches that are square/rectangular.

      • Msean.owensby says:

        How is rectangular more capable than round? A Smartwatch is meant to receive notifications and display important information to the wearer. I don't see what the shape has to do with any of that. My round Smartwatch functions just fine and is not limited in any way by it's shape.

  • Ohyea says:

    18 h, no GPS and twice the price.   :')

    This is not a competition it's a joke and if you can't see it you either stupid, got an iPod stuck between your legs or it's both

  • michaelbourke says:

    As both an early adopter, and smartwach geek, I am so excited about this space right now. I think pitting one against the other is pointless at this point. What we should be doing is applauding each company and their various operating systems for the ongoing investment in the space. Like any tech, whether it be phone, smartwach, fitness bands etc, not one device will satisfy the needs of everyone. Each iteration will improve incrementally, but essentially maintain the same utility. As an Android Wear and Pebble user, I am so happy that Apple have launched the Apple Watch.  All this can do is shine a light on what has deemed to be a uniquely "geek" orientated segment of the market and make the future of the  wearable more significant. What we want as consumers is for companies to maintain their competitive approach to the wearable market, as much as they have for the phone segment. This ultimately will benefit us all. I am anticipating an explosion in this space over the next year or so, and am so incredibly excited for the future of the wearable market. 

  • hondaboy2001 says:

    I think the real game changer is Tag Heuer.  The new Tag Heuer Connected watch takes smart watches out of the gadget category and makes them a desirable luxury item.  The higher end Apple Watches look exactly like the lower end Apple Watches and neither of them look like a luxury item.

    I think it will be interesting to see how Android Wear and Watch OS develop.

  • inkagneato says:

    I bought 2 apple sports watches at launch and sold them both online with a nice $425 Profit...I just didn't care for the design to buy one for myself, but knew at worst I would get my money back from Apple if I couldn't sell them online....the other thing that makes no sense to me is no stand alone GPS for the Apple Watch...but even if it had that right now, I really still dislike its looks....I really liked an android watch someone at work had....I don't even know the model, just that it was very cool (futuristic) looking....if it were fully compatible with IOS I would have definitely gotten it, but for now, I will just wait till something comes along that is both stylish and works fully with IOS

  • Msean.owensby says:

    Android Wear had a rough start, but with the update to Android Wear 1.4 and Huawei Watch leading the way, Apple Watch has alot of catching up to do. If you look at the facts, Huawei Watch is better than Apple Watch in every way but two. Apple Watch has a higher pixel density of about 20 pixels. Negligible. And more internal storage by 4 gigs. But in Huawei Watch's defense, it has a higher screen to body ratio using the same AMOLED display technology which results in a better overall viewing experience. Huawei Watch sports better build materials, better CPU, better GPU, just as much RAM, same sapphire crystal/AMOLED display, better price tag, IP67 rating compared to Apple Watch's IPX7 rating and better software. Number one reason Android Wear is better is the home screen. Android Wear home screen is a watch face. Which makes sense because it is a watch after all. Apple watch home screen is a jumbled mess of over a dozen bubbles from which you launch your apps. On a 1.6" display that is just poorly thought out. By comparison, on Android Wear all you have to do is swipe once to the left to access your apps. Which is much more simple and well thought out. Not to mention Google Now is so damn good that Apple more or less copied the concept with "Glance". That is so Apple. So yea. Apple Watch better? The Author says yes, but the facts say not by a long shot. 

    • jimjimman says:

      tl;dr

  • Msean.owensby says:

    Eat your heart out, Author, cause you just got served.

  • Msean.owensby says:

    Oh, and the design! Not only is Huawei Watch constructed out of better build materials than Apple Watch, it actually looks like a genuine timepiece. It just so happens to be a Smartwatch as well. Something that Apple has yet to accomplish. It will eventually of course, but not before Huawei and Android did it first. Honestly, if you compared a Huawei Watch to an Apple Watch, Huawei wins that competition everyday. It's just a fact. 

    • jimjimman says:

      If you love your Huawei Watch so much why don't you go marry it.

      • Msean.owensby says:

        Maybe I will. It would make a better companion than the Apple Watch.

  • Msean.owensby says:

    This article was just so disgustingly biased I had to fix it!

    • j.stables says:

      As someone who's fairly neutral to Android Wear and Apple Watch I read the article and found it balanced and packed with information from someone who's used both extensively. So, perhaps it's actually you that's a bit blinkered. 

      • Msean.owensby says:

        If you read it correctly you would see that it is obviously biased. Nowhere in the article does the author use words like premium, finely tuned fluid or luxury in regards to any Android Wear device in spite of the fact that some clearly are. His vedict points to GPS and smaller watches for women as the only reasons why you'd choose Android Wear, leaving out everything else Android Wear now has to offer. Not ti mention that the Apple Watch is a nightmare to use. With a button, a rotating crown that doubles as a button, swipe controls and force touch, there is just way too much going on. Android Wear does everything the Apple Watch does but with a swipe or two and accurate voice controls. It's simple, intuitive and easy to use compared to watchOS.

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