After I recently wrote about Oppo’s “oddly familiar” new smartwatch, Oppo got in touch with me to ask whether I’d be interested in checking it out for myself, even though it’ll only be available in China until later this year. The company representative suggested that I might find it less familiar in person, so I was interested to try it.
How did that work out? Well, it’s true that the Oppo Watch looks a little less derivative on my wrist than in press shots. But come on, there is no universe in which this product looks like this without the Apple Watch coming before it. From the strap design to the shape of the screen to the visual style of the OS, this is plainly a product that’s been made in Apple’s shadow.
That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad watch, though, and given the sorry state of the Android smartwatch market, it’s worth looking into — particularly given that Oppo is now a very good smartphone maker. I’ve only been able to use the Chinese version of the watch, as I mentioned, so this isn’t a full review. All of the onboard services are geared toward the Chinese market. But I can tell you about the hardware and what Oppo is trying to do with the software.
First up, yep, this looks like an Apple Watch. The OLED screen, though, is an improvement. It’s larger than the 44mm Apple Watch at 1.91 inches across, but the watch keeps a 46mm size; Oppo has shrunken the bezels and curved the edges of the screen itself along with the cover glass. I can’t tell whether it uses a Pentile subpixel layout or not — the Apple Watch is notable for using an RGB stripe — but if I can’t tell, it doesn’t really matter. The pixel density is the same as the Apple Watch at 326ppi. The colors are super vibrant, and it’s easy to see outside.
The chassis of the watch takes design cues from Oppo’s smartphones, with the screen curving into the thin edges in a similar way. There’s no crown-style control here, just two physical buttons on the right edge; everything else is handled by the touchscreen. Oppo’s watch straps are detachable in a similar way to the Apple Watch, with simple buttons for the release mechanism on the watch’s rear, but the straps pop directly in and out rather than sliding from the side.
While the Oppo Watch I’m using is made of aluminum, it’s polished to a glossy blue-black finish to the point where it looks more like a steel Apple Watch at first glance. There is a steel variant of the Oppo Watch, too, but it only comes in “bright silver.” The included watch strap is black rubber and feels comfortable, if nothing special.
Overall I think this watch looks fine in a vacuum, but there’s no getting around it: people are either going to think you’re wearing an Apple Watch or realize you’re wearing something that just looks like an Apple Watch. It’s up to you whether that’s what you want out of your wristwear.
The Oppo Watch runs a customized version of Android 8.1 called ColorOS Watch. Like Samsung, Oppo has figured out that Apple was onto something in designing a predominantly white-on-black OS for small OLED screens; it saves power and is a lot more discreet. No prizes for originality — this software definitely looks more like watchOS than it needs to — but it’s the right direction.
Unlike Tizen and watchOS, though, ColorOS Watch is extremely simple. The top button brings up a scrolling app drawer or takes you back to the watch face, and the bottom button gets you to the settings menu. You can swipe left and right to change faces, there’s a quick settings screen accessible with a swipe down, and a swipe up takes you to the notifications shade. Everything is smooth and responsive. Notifications can display a lot of content, like full Facebook Messenger messages, though you can’t interact with them.
The most interesting thing about the Oppo Watch software is its selection of built-in apps, which are accessible through a scrolling grid that’s halfway between the Apple Watch’s weird honeycomb and list views. There are the usual apps for phone calls, fitness tracking, timers, and weather, as well as an on-watch app store and China-specific services like Alipay. It’s a pretty robust feature set, including things like sleep tracking that haven’t come to the Apple Watch yet. I particularly like the five-minute full-body workout app that includes video demonstrations and yells at you through the watch’s tiny speaker to help get you sweating, though it’s not always easy to actually see the watch mid-exercise.
The Oppo Watch’s battery life has not been great for me, even though the screen isn’t always on. This is a watch you will want to charge each and every night, and several times it’s died on me in the evening. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of it draining power by searching for compatible cell networks, since this is an LTE watch and I’m using it outside the market it was designed for sale in, but I’m not getting close to Oppo’s stated 40 hours of regular use.
The watch does fill up pretty quickly on its unusual magnetic charger, however — about 75 minutes for a full charge and 15 minutes to get to 50 percent — and its power-saving mode is much more functional than the Apple Watch’s. You can’t use apps, but it still tracks steps, delivers notifications, and turns the screen on when you raise your wrist.
Overall, using the Oppo Watch hasn’t exactly changed my mind that it’s familiar, but that might be what some people are after. Starting at around $215 in China, it could be an option worth considering if the battery life works better in practice. We’ll take a closer look once it comes to other markets, which is currently set to happen in the second half of 2020.
Photography by Sam Byford / The Verge