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OnePlus Watch 2 review: Second time’s the charm?

The OnePlus Watch 2 outperforms its rivals in terms of battery life and durability but the fitness tracking is still a bit hit-and-miss

The OnePlus Watch 2 come with 5ATM water resistance, IP68 dust/water protection, sapphire crystal protection for the display, and it even satisfies MIL-STD-810H standards (neither the Samsung nor the Apple Watch Ultra do).
The OnePlus Watch 2 come with 5ATM water resistance, IP68 dust/water protection, sapphire crystal protection for the display, and it even satisfies MIL-STD-810H standards (neither the Samsung nor the Apple Watch Ultra do). (OnePlus)

Dwight Schrute got one. As did Jaime Lannister and Boromir. So why should tech brands be left behind when it comes to a redemption arc? Samsung had theirs after the Galaxy Note 7 and more recently, OnePlus has had a solid year after the debacle of the OnePlus 10/10T, rolling out hit after hit with the OnePlus 11, OnePlus Open and the OnePlus 12.

Only its wearables remained, and with the brand shying away from smartwatches after its disastrous outing with the first-generation OnePlus Watch, the OnePlus Watch 2 ( 24,999) has a lot to prove if it is to ride happily into the sunset perched on your wrist.

It looks like second time’s the charm, with the OnePlus Watch 2 adding in the third-party app support (via Wear OS 4) and a new dual-chipset, dual-operating system approach, which addresses battery life issues that plague most smartwatches. Will this be the breakthrough watch that will force a relook at the Wear OS segment? OnePlus Watch 2 – yay or nay? Let’s find out.

Design and build quality

By any measure, the OnePlus Watch 2 is a big watch, with the 47mm case rivaling Samsung’s 47mm Galaxy Watch 6 Classic. Unlike Samsung though, there’s no second, smaller variant, which can rule the Watch 2 out for those with smaller wrists. The glossy stainless-steel chassis on the Radiant Steel unit I reviewed draws some inspiration from the OnePlus 12 camera island in the way the Watch 2 curves the right edge and feels every bit as premium as a 25000-rupee smartwatch should.

The right edge also has two buttons – a rotating crown at the top and an action button, and both can be customized to starting workout modes or a bunch of other actions. It’s a pity though that the crown rotates but serves no actual function in navigating the watch interface, such as scrolling through lists, apps or messages. This seems odd, given that it does actually rotate.

The green fluororubber band pairs nicely with an Emerald OnePlus 12 (should you have one), but you could swap out the band for any regular 22mm band. For a sleeker look, there’s a matte black steel case option with a black band as well. And even though the watch is large and has a good heft to it, the band and the 80g weight ensured that it was comfortable enough to wear all day (and night, for sleep tracking) for the entire duration of its unusually long battery life.

It checks off the durability boxes as well - 5ATM water resistance, IP68 dust/water protection, sapphire crystal protection for the display, and it even satisfies MIL-STD-810H standards (neither the Samsung nor the Apple Watch Ultra do).

Display

In that durable casing sits a 1.43-inch AMOLED panel with a 466x466-pixel resolution and adequate brightness levels for use outdoors in the unusually hot Bengaluru pre-summer…although the bezels are sizable.

There are a variety of watch faces available out of the box, and while they’re reasonably good looking and functional, they’re not super exciting or inspired - but you can always get more from the Play Store or via the Facer app. Fair warning: many third-party watch faces run afoul of battery optimizations, so you’re going to have to contend with some additional battery drain on these watch faces, particularly if you have the always-on display enabled.

Processor

Now, while it’s smart enough for the office and an evening party alike, it’s what’s inside that sets the OnePlus Watch 2 apart. Unlike most wearables with one all-or-nothing chip inside, the Watch 2 uses a dual-chip design, with the Qualcomm Snapdragon W5 chip handling heavier Wear OS duties and the BES2700 chip running a Real-Time Operating System (RTOS) for low-power everyday tasks, and the system intelligently switches between the two (in Smart mode) to maximize battery life.

The latter does most daily duties, like calls and notifications and activity tracking, while third party apps run on the W5 chipset. If you’re low on battery or want to go many more days without range anxiety, there’s a Power Saver mode that only runs RTOS on the BES2700 alone, but you’re limited to the OnePlus apps included into RTOS and limited interactions with incoming notifications, but there’s still all the fitness and sleep tracking you’d want. The 2GB of memory and 32GB of storage keeps the experience fluid and a great showcase for Wear OS 4 without the battery woes that have plagued the category in the past.

There are a variety of watch faces available out of the box, and while they’re reasonably good looking and functional, they’re not super exciting or inspired.
There are a variety of watch faces available out of the box, and while they’re reasonably good looking and functional, they’re not super exciting or inspired. (OnePlus)

Tracking performance

For fitness and health tracking, aside from an optical heart rate sensor and an accelerometer/gyroscope, there’s SpO2 monitoring, a barometer for elevation changes and dual-band GPS for more accurate outdoor activity tracking/Maps usage. There are plenty of workout and health settings, including monitoring and alerts for heart rate, stress, sleep and more, all set up in the Android-only OHealth app. The app is clean and intuitive, but a tad basic and could do with a lot of more detailed readouts.

As for accuracy, it’s a mixed bag. For instance, the sleep tracking is pretty accurate, matching the deep sleep/light sleep/REM sleep patterns I’m seeing on the Ultrahuman Ring and the sleep scores are largely in line with how well rested I’m feeling the next day.

Stress and activity tracking, less so – the Watch 2 differed about 10% from the Apple Watch Ultra 2 for steps counted and calories burned. Stress tracking seems to be a bit off too – at times when I was clearly stressed, the Watch 2 didn’t show me elevated stress scores of any sort. It’s what I’d describe as ‘nice-to-have’ data but I wouldn’t rely too much on its health tracking just yet. It’s also missing a few features that we’ve come to expect from premium wearables – no support for fall detection, no women’s health tracking, no ECG sensor and no skin-temperature sensor.

Battery life

In case you missed it, where it does deliver is battery life. OnePlus claims a 100-hour battery life in Smart mode, and in my experience, the Watch 2 lasted a little close to 3 full days with always-on mode enabled for nearly 12 hours each day, and everything from WhatsApp notifications to heart rate monitoring toggled on.

Stands to reason that turning the always-on display off will take you past the claimed four-day mark, and you can go a whole week on Power Saver mode, but I’d reserve that only if you’re stepping out for a multi-day work trip without a charger (or a hike) – it’s not worth the loss in ‘smart’-watch functionality. This kind of battery life is impressive by any smartwatch standard, and while it isn't still in the territory of simpler fitness trackers, this is the first fully functional smartwatch that doesn’t feel crippled on battery life.

When you run low on charge, the 500mAh battery can be charged via a small, very travel-convenient puck with a USB-C port, which means you pack just your phone cable and you’re good. It’s fast too, topping off the Watch 2 at 7.5W in just under an hour…or about 10 minutes for a day’s worth of use.

Verdict

At 24,999, the Watch 2 is priced competitively by OnePlus, particularly when compared to its closest rivals – the Google Pixel Watch 2 and the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 – and clearly outdoes them on battery life, even as the fitness tracking on both is a little more reliable. The competition is also better for smaller wrists, with smaller sizes available, not to mention the lack of an LTE-enabled cellular version on the OnePlus Watch 2.

So, is the better pricing and the outstanding battery life enough to pick the OnePlus Watch 2? Let me answer it this way – the bump up in battery life is transformative, allowing smartwatch naysayers to have a stylish ‘smart’ wearable on the wrist without having to look at a blank screen if you forget to charge every other day.

It’s a little bit like how fast charging (from OnePlus, among others) brought about a change in our charging habits, from overnight charging to quick 10-minute splash-and-dash charging for day-long use.

Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, posts @2shar.

Also read: OnePlus 12R review: The best flagship killer in years

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