As a very rough rule of thumb, when buying a wearable, prioritize serious fitness tracking (think Garmin, Coros, Fitbit, etc.) or smartwatch features (Samsung, Google, Mobvoi, etc.). Yes, there is some overlap between the best smartwatches and the best running watches, but running watches lack smartwatches and looks, while smartwatches generally lack the accuracy and/or detail to appeal to serious runners.
Polar, a serious player in the running watch world, may be looking to bridge this gap with a future Wear OS wearable. In an interview with KeepPolar CEO Sander Werring told the site that the company was open to giving Google’s smartwatch operating system a shot.
“Yes, it’s a possibility,” Werring said when asked about the possibility. “This is really a matter of state of technology. And we’re seeing this technology emerge now.
“The direction for this type of technology comes largely from the chipset manufacturers. There’s new technology around that allows CPUs to have an additional chipset hub and to help you incorporate algorithms that are proprietary to make them work for a portable device.”
Polar is unusual among sports wearable makers in that it has tried Google’s smartwatch OS before — back in 2016, when it was still called Android Wear. It appeared on a device called Polar M600which we concluded was good as a smartwatch but “doesn’t live up to expectations once you start running.”
How could it be different now? “We had to do too much heavy lifting in those days because there was no reference whatsoever for this type of technology on Wear OS,” Werring continued. “That’s why we didn’t see it through – and sometimes that’s the case with innovations; sometimes you’re too early.”
A battery life dilemma
Recently, another major running watch brand has tried Wear OS and has been equally put off. We didn’t review 2020’s Suunto 7, but our sister site TechRadarand found the compromises to battery life (around 1.5 days) a bit hard to swallow in a premium running watch.
In fact, battery life on Wear OS seems to be an Achilles’ heel in general. Google’s own reference Wear OS device — the Pixel Watch — are built with daily charging in mind, and Samsung’s Galaxy Watches show less endurance since the switch from Tizen to Wear OS. On the latter, Galaxy Watches used to last up to four days — something that has decreased little by little since the switch to the former. Self Galaxy Watch 5 Prowith its massive 590mAh cell, lasted only about three days in our real-world testing.
These battery deficiencies can be a deal breaker for athletes. Marathon runners in particular need to be confident that their GPS-powered watch is going to go the distance with them without giving up halfway through.
But hardware efficiency can make a big difference. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon W5+ platform reportedly uses 50% less power, which could be crucial, and Werring seems aware of this. “It’s an exciting development from a power management perspective, and also the dedication to, say, wrist-worn devices or smaller portable devices,” he told Wareable.
A serious running watch powered by Wear OS really promises the best of all worlds – and would give Android users their own competitor to the absolute best Apple Watch 8 and Apple Watch Ultra. If Polar chooses this route and the execution is right, then we could well see a new addition to our list best smartwatches.