Google has given Wear OS a significant facelift over the last couple of years, meaning the smartwatch software is now finally ready to compete with its contemporaries.
Though the platform stagnated for a long period, it's evolved rapidly since Google united with Samsung in 2021 and helped deliver Wear OS 3.
Third-party apps and services have been given a new lease of life, and improved hardware - including a debut watch from Google itself, the Pixel Watch - is really driving the experience forward.
But there's plenty to know and understand about the recent Wear OS developments - including whether your existing watch is in line for the Wear OS 3 update. That's what we'll be detailing in this complete guide
If you're more interested in our recommendations, however, you'll want to head to our roundup of the best smartwatches with Wear OS.
Get the latest news: Wear OS 4 complete guide
What is Wear OS?
For every smartwatch, there's a software platform running on-screen. With the Apple Watch, it's watchOS. For Fitbit, it's Fitbit OS. You get the idea.
Wear OS is Google's equivalent, and, as we see with Android, the company partners with vendors such as Samsung, Fossi, Mobvoi, Tag Heuer and Montblanc to provide the platform across a range of different devices.
There are slight differences to Wear OS on certain platforms - Samsung's One UI Watch skin, for example, will see tracking performed by Samsung Health as default - but, generally speaking, you get the same experience across the board.
Wear OS 3 in brief
- Wear OS 3.0 is the biggest-ever update to Google's smartwatch platform
- The latest software brings improved apps and new integrations
- There are now 11 smartwatches that can run Wear OS 3
- More existing watches will be receiving the update before the end of 2022
- Some Wear OS 2-compatible devices won't be able to update
Which Wear OS smartwatches run Wear OS 3?
Though the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 lineup was given the first edition of Wear OS 3 back in 2021, the full rollout has been relatively protracted.
And though there are still users left in the dark regarding when their existing watch will receive the update, things have now progressed.
The new operating system will only be available for a select number of existing devices, which we've listed below. For models stuck with Wear OS 2, Google has previously confirmed that it will provide two years of security updates will be provided - but that's it, really.
Which smartwatches run Wear OS 3?
Below is a full list of the smartwatches confirmed to run Wear OS 3. All the existing Fossil watches and Tag Heuer Calibre E4, which were announced to run the new OS, have now been updated. In addition, there's now a growing list of devices that launched with Wear OS 3.
The only outstanding names are the Mobvoi trio of TicWatches.
But customer services representative has revealed that Mobvoi TicWatch devices are expected to be upgraded in Q3 2023.
- Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 & Watch 5 Pro
- Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 & Watch 4 Classic
- Google Pixel Watch
- Montblanc Summit 3
- Fossil Gen 6 (update out now)
- Skagen Falster Gen 6 (update out now)
- Michael Kors Access 6 (update out now
- Diesel Griffed Gen 6
- Citizen CZ Smart Gen 2
- Razer x Fossil Gen 6 (update out now)
- TicWatch Pro 3 (upgrade expected Q3 2023)
- TicWatch Pro 3 Ultra GPS (upgrade expected Q3 2023)
- TicWatch E3 (upgrade expected Q3 2023)
- Tag Heuer Connected Calibre E4 (Update out 27 March)
What can a Wear OS smartwatch do?
Wear OS watches are much more than just second screens for your smartphone. Here's a list of a few features, but keep in mind that not all the features below are available on every model.
- Track daily activity and workouts
- Monitor heart rate and deliver health insights
- Provide support for offline music playback
- Let you talk to Google Assistant
- Help you pay and store tickets with Google Wallet
- Track your location with GPS
- Sync with your Google Calendar
- Use Google Maps to navigate
- Pull in smartphone notifications and calls
- Act as an alarm clock and stopwatch
What's new with Wear OS 3?
Way back when it was first announced, Google indicated that Wear OS 3 represented a 30% increase in performance, which includes slicker animations and UI and a boost in the loading times of apps.
After using the software over the last year or so, we can certainly vouch for this - it's a much speedier, bug-free experience compared to older versions of the software.
Google also claimed that battery life would be extended, too, but this isn't something we feel has really progressed in Wear OS 3. You'll still get 1-2 days with most of the available watches, which is neither great nor terrible.
New features of Wear also mentioned include quick app switching, with a double tap of one of the physical watch buttons letting you switch between apps.
The apps not in use can continuously work in the background, as well, letting you go back and forth between them. You'll also be able to see the most recent apps you've at the top of the new app launcher.
Changes to Google Wallet
There has been a host of improvements to Google Wallet, which now lets you store the likes of match tickets, boarding passes, vaccine details, and, of course, payment cards, all from the wrist.
Improved Google Assistant
Google Assistant enhancements now mean you can configure the Assistant to work without the 'Hey, Google' wake word and have it listen for common commands instead.
Examples could be “turn downstairs lights on” or playing your favorite music – things you’d never just blurt out mid-conversation.
More third-party Tiles
One of our favorite improvements made through Wear OS 3 is the addition of more Tiles. Google has opened up the API for these swipeable widgets to more third-party developers, which means there are now tons to pick between.
As shown in the image above, the new list includes the likes of Calm and Adidas Running, but existing ones, like Strava and Spotify, are available, too.
Fitbit's role in activity and health tracking
James Park, CEO of Fitbit, which is now part of Google, has been on the record noting that Fitbit would be power the fitness tracking experience on the Wear OS 3.
So far, the only Fitbit integration we've seen with Wear has been on the Pixel Watch. Interestingly, Fossil VP Brook Eaton recently told Wareable that the company has held talks regarding Fitbit support coming to third-party devices, but nothing appears close on this front.
A new feature heading to Wear OS is an SOS feature that can quickly dial a contact in the event of an accident or emergency.
What apps are available on Wear OS?
We've seen a bunch of rebuilt apps land since Wear OS 3 rolled out, with the likes of Strava, Adidas Running, Spotify, MyFitnessPal and Facer all getting on board.
Read our full guide to the best Wear 3.0 apps.
Top apps for Wear OS
- Adidas Running
- YouTube Music
- Google Maps
- Sleep Cycle
Google has also improved how its core services, such as Google Assistant, Google Maps and Google Calendar, work on smartwatches running the latest software.
It's not just the app themselves that are improving, either, with Google also adding the ability to download and install apps directly from the Play Store. It's now also much easier to find apps, thanks to the dedicated Watch app available for Android.
How we test