This story was originally published and last updated .
These days, there are two primary options for Android-compatible smartwatches. You can use a watch powered by Google's own Wear OS software, or pick up a Galaxy Watch from Samsung. Both platforms get most of the basics right, but depending on which features you care about the most, one might be better than the other for you.
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 Fossil Group, Mobvoi, and others. By comparison, Samsung is the only one creating watches with the Tizen operating system. While Samsung does produce a few different watch styles, it can't match the variety you get with Wear OS.
The Fossil Gen 5, Skagen Falster 3, and new Moto 360
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 models sold by other companies, like the new Moto 360, Oppo Watch, and TicWatch C2+.
Samsung currently produces just two smartwatch models: the Galaxy Watch3 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. Both watches are available in multiple sizes and finishes, and you can slightly customize the appearance by picking a third-party strap.
Left: Watch Active2, Right: Galaxy Watch3
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's more similar to Tizen than ever from a design perspective. 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 difference is less noticeable with Wear OS watches that have at least 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.
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 newest Galaxy Watch3 has some health features that aren't present on any Wear OS watches, but there are catches. As of when this section was last updated (September 6th, 2020), the Watch3's ECG and blood pressure monitors haven't been enabled for use in the United States. See our review of the Galaxy Watch3 for more details.
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.