Surprise OnePlus Watch Could Disrupt Apple, Samsung

    My Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is a seriously accomplished wearable, you’d expect it to be for $399. Samsung justifies that prices tag with a roll-call of features that take about as long to read out as the watch’s battery lasts. 

    That list includes blood oxygen monitoring, running gait measurement, granular heart rate measurements and ECG. It records a very wide range of calisthenics exercises alongside other add-ons like PowerPoint control. It’s all a bit overwhelming, it’s all a bit Samsung. 

    I have my questions about the accuracy of blood oxygen readouts on Samsung’s device and how accurate the calisthenics measurements are, read about that here. Where it does work,  it works well. The automatic exercise detection is excellent, in particular the running coach that improves your form to stave off injuries. The battery life is also decent and the in-depth sleep data is useful for someone like myself who struggles to get a good bit of kip. 

    This is the core functionality that OnePlus’s new watch appears to be focussing on, according to new leaks. Tipster Ishan Agarwal claims the new 46mm watch will record “sleep, stress, blood saturation [and] heart rate monitoring”, alongside auto workout detection and it will feature OnePlus’ warp charge technology, giving the wearable a week of power in 20 minutes. 

    I’m sure there are some caveats to that charging claim, but it’s very promising for a new entrant that ostensibly is as feature-rich as Samsung’s device but with double the battery life. Accuracy will ultimately judge how useful those health monitoring features are, but the list is exciting. Not least because OnePlus’ wearables have, to date, been very affordable. The OnePlus Buds debuted at $80 with hyper-specific features like a low latency mode for gaming and a 30 hour battery. The Chinese company then released another, even cheaper, pair of headphones a couple of months later called the OnePlus Buds Z.

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    Both had some significant drawbacks in sound quality and comfort, but excelled in the areas the Chinese company had clearly focussed its efforts: battery life, specific features and price. I suspect the new watch will get the same treatment. If the device also looks the part, and an early teaser from OnePlus’ Pete Lau suggests it will, then a large part of the work is already done. 

    Automation will be key, too. What – and how many – exercises are automatically recorded? Is sleep properly measured (there’s a huge difference between my Fitbit and Galaxy Watch 3)? Unlike its more expensive competitors that promise a lot, can OnePlus keep it simple and offer the benefits of health monitoring, navigation and other core functionality, without making users fiddle though tens of unused features across several menus on a tiny screen?

    The OnePlus Buds compromised on noise cancellation and comfort, two fairly important features for earbuds, even at a lower price point. I hope the Chinese company can strike a better balance this time around. I’m happy to lose features like measuring arm curls, which hasn’t been accurate in my experience with Samsung’s watch, or PowerPoint control, if it means the timepiece costs a third of the price and nails other features.

    Smartwatches are more complex than headphones and there’s more scope for things to go wrong, but scrapping the pointless stuff that sounds good on a spec sheet but never gets used in real life, whilst dramatically slashing the price in the process, could be the perfect antidote to Samsung and Apple’s hyper-expensive, hyper functional wearables.

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