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Picking a smartwatch to pair with your Android smartphone is at once both relatively simple—there just aren't many choices—and maddening: no platform offers a truly great wearable experience with Google's mobile OS. The two biggest platforms are, of course, watches powered by Google's own Wear OS, and Samsung's Tizen-based Galaxy Watches. Both platforms have their benefits and (ample) drawbacks, but choosing the right one will probably depend both on your desired physical aesthetic and a few specific software features.
In this guide, we'll go over the key differences between both platforms, so you can make an informed smartwatch purchase.
The first key difference between Wear OS and Tizen is the watch selection. Several manufacturers produce watches with Wear OS, including Motorola, Fossil Group, Mobvoi, and others. By comparison, Samsung is the only one creating watches with Tizen. While Samsung does produce a few different watch styles, it can't match the variety you get with Wear OS.
From left to right: Skagen Falster 3, Fossil Gen 5 Garret, Fossil Gen 5 Julianna, Fossil Sport
Most Wear OS watches on the market right now come from Fossil Group and its various sub-brands, including Skagen, Diesel, Misfit, and others. Taking into account the handful of watches produced under the entirety of Fossil Group, and all the different styles available for each model, you get dozens of possible designs. That's not including the new Moto360, the TicWatch lineup, and other models created outside of Fossil.
Samsung currently produces just two smartwatch models: the Galaxy Watch and Galaxy Watch Active2. The former is a larger watch, with a spinning bezel used for navigating through menus. The latter model is a slimmer sports watch with no spinning bezel, available in two sizes.
Left: Watch Active2, Right: Galaxy Watch
While Wear OS does offer more aesthetic options, Samsung's watches are generally regarded as being well-designed. Looks are entirely subjective, so this is one comparison that you'll have to make for yourself.
After the last major Wear OS update, which added full-screen tiles to the platform, it and Tizen OS are more similar than ever from a design perspective.
Let's start with Wear OS. The watch face acts as the 'home screen' of sorts, and you can scroll through your notifications by swiping up on the watch face. Swiping down opens the quick settings, and pressing the center side button displays your list of apps. 'Tiles,' full-screen widgets that display information from installed apps, are accessible by swiping to the side of the watch face. Pretty simple.
Wear OS on the Fossil Gen 5
Tizen operates in a similar manner, but with some of the gestures switched around. Notifications are organized to the left of the watch face, with tiles to the right. Just like on Wear OS, pressing the side button will show a list of apps, and swiping down from the top will bring up quick settings. If you already use Samsung phones, you might appreciate that Tizen has the same One UI interface design as Samsung's recent Galaxy devices.
Tizen OS on the Watch Active2
One of the greatest advantages of Tizen is its performance. Swiping between tasks and opening apps is noticeably faster and smoother on Samsung's watches than on any Wear OS wearable. The performance difference is less noticeable on Wear OS watches with 1GB of RAM, like the Fossil Gen 5 and Skagen Falster 3, but it's still there.
Wear OS and Tizen both have a fairly limited selection of applications, especially third-party ones. There are a few big names on both platforms, like Spotify, Strava, and Uber, but the vast amount of apps come from smaller third-party developers or the OS vendor (Samsung/Google).
As you might expect, most of the must-have apps on Wear OS come from Google. You can check notes on your wrist with Google Keep, scroll through texts with Messages (as long as the Messages SMS app is on your phone), review fitness data with Google Fit, and so on. If you're deeply entrenched in the Google ecosystem, with no desire to switch to other services, Wear OS might be a better option.
Uber on the Galaxy Watch
Tizen is in a similar situation, with most of the headlining apps coming from Samsung itself. You have Samsung Fit, Samsung Internet, SmartThings (for smart home device management), and a few others. Again, there are only a few apps from big-name developers.
Google Assistant is arguably the best virtual assistant on any platform, so its presence on Wear OS is a major selling point. While Assistant on Wear OS can't do everything that the Android equivalent can, like reading news summaries, the core functionality is still available: sending texts, talking to third-party services, retrieving the weather, opening apps, and so on. If your watch has a speaker (or if you have Bluetooth headphones paired), Assistant replies are spoken aloud.
Google Assistant on Wear OS
The major catch is that Assistant is still a somewhat-buggy experience on Wear OS. Whether due to Bluetooth sync issues, or some other factor, Assistant telling you "Sorry, something went wrong" is a common occurrence on even the best Wear OS watches.
Bixby on the Galaxy Watch Active
Galaxy watches have the ever-useful Bixby assistant, the same found on most recent Samsung phones. While Bixby doesn't have as much functionality as Assistant, it does do just about everything you would want from a watch. It can start timers, tell you the weather, send texts, and other tasks. In my experience, Bixby doesn't fail nearly as often as Assistant on Wear OS, so Bixby has that going for it.
Most people buy smartwatches with the primary intention of using to track physical activity, and if you're in that camp, a Galaxy Watch is probably a better choice than any Wear OS device. While Google Fit is serviceable, it has had plenty of issues in the past, and some planned features never saw the light of day.
Samsung Health generally goes slightly beyond Google Fit. The Galaxy Watch and Watch Active periodically remind you to stretch if you haven't moved in a while, and some watches can measure stress levels. The Galaxy Watch Active and Active2 can also measure blood pressure with an app, but the feature isn't quite as tested as the Apple Watch's pressure monitor.
Hopefully, you now have a better picture of which watch is better for you. We have some of the best Wear OS and Samsung wearable linked below, in case you'd like specific recommendations.