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    The OnePlus Watch 2 is what redemption looks like

    At the end of February, a large package arrived on my doorstep. Inside were 11 boxes containing the same version of the $299.99 OnePlus Watch 2. My eyes watered and I whispered, “Not again.”

    This was a shipping accident. My box had 10 more watches than I needed for a review. It happens and normally doesn’t hold any larger meaning. But I was nervous because the original OnePlus Watch was by far the worst smartwatch I’ve ever had the misfortune of reviewing. Everything that could go wrong did. The fitness and health tracking deserved the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Troubleshooting the buggy software was a nightmare. That whole abysmal experience was seared into my memory. So when OnePlus reached out to say it was making a second watch — and that this one was markedly better — I was hopeful. And then a box of 11 smartwatches arrived on my doorstep.

    Still, it wouldn’t be fair to let past mistakes color my opinions of a new watch. I took my time to get to know the OnePlus Watch 2 on its own merits. So when I say this watch is not only competent but is also pretty good, I really mean it. 

    It works!

    The bar for the OnePlus Watch 2 was low. All it had to do was be better than its craptacular predecessor. It’s been a while, so I reread my original review to refresh my memory. To beat the original watch, this one only had to:

    • Record reasonably accurate activity and health data. Last time, it recorded 15,314 extra steps compared to a control smartwatch. 
    • Accurately sync data between the phone and watch. If I took a mile-long walk, it needed to log one mile on my watch and phone. The data for steps, heart rate, distance, etc., had to also match. The last OnePlus Watch continuously gaslit me by showing radically different metrics on the phone versus the wrist.
    • View historical sleep data in the app and not just on the wrist. The last one couldn’t do this.
    • Deliver push notifications in a timely manner. Not 40 notifications four hours later, all at once.

    The OnePlus Watch 2 has a novel dual chip and dual OS structure.

    I’m genuinely chuffed to say wearing the watch these past few weeks was a healing experience. OnePlus did all of that and then some. Whereas the original watch was basically a fitness tracker, this is a genuine smartwatch with a dual-processor architecture, including the latest Wear OS chip and a novel dual OS to prolong battery life.

    By upgrading from a proprietary OS to Wear OS 4, the watch delivers a much richer overall experience. I can now access third-party apps from the Play Store. There are multiple music apps to choose from, including Spotify and YouTube Music! There’s contactless payments! I can turn off my smart lights with Google Assistant. That’s huge considering almost no third-party Android smartwatches have launched with Google Assistant since the switch to Wear OS 3. This is the stuff you’d expect from a proper flagship.

    Build quality is also better. The original watch was a pretty screen with chintzy, plasticky materials. This has stainless steel and sapphire crystal. The silicone strap is much thicker. The 1.43-inch OLED display is pleasing to look at. Scrolling through screens is smooth, and colors are crisp. I wish screen brightness went above 600 nits — it can look washed out in direct sunlight — but that’s a quibble.

    I don’t have any complaints with health, activity, and sleep tracking, either. I wore the OnePlus Watch 2 alongside the Oura Ring, the Garmin Forerunner 165 Music, the Apple Watch Ultra 2, and a few other smart rings. I saw some normal minor discrepancies but nothing to write home about. The OnePlus Watch 2 also adds dual-frequency GPS. It’s a common addition to more premium or rugged smartwatches these days but mostly translates to slightly more accurate GPS data in challenging environments. My results in testing were quite similar to the Ultra 2 and my phone, which both have dual-frequency GPS. Good stuff if you’re the outdoorsy type. 

    There’s a new shortcut button that launches workouts, along with a digital crown.

    But while these are massive improvements, it’s not perfect. While I liked the addition of a new shortcut button, I wish it were customizable; as it stands, it’s limited to just launching a quick menu to your workouts. The watch, like many newer Wear OS watches, supports Android only. There’s no cellular capability, either, which stinks if you want to leave your phone at home for a run. Likewise, the OnePlus Watch 2 doesn’t have fall detection, EKGs, native period tracking (you could download a third-party app), or body temperature tracking. Most of these omissions aren’t the end of the world if all you want is basic activity tracking. It just means this isn’t a watch where you can comfortably leave your phone at home. 

    Multiday battery life

    The OnePlus Watch 2 has some fancy stuff going on under the hood that translates to excellent battery life. The gist is you’ve got two processors — the Qualcomm Snapdragon W5 and the BES2700 MCU. The W5 handles the power-guzzling tasks and runs Wear OS 4. The BES2700 runs background tasks using a proprietary OS. Stuff gets handed off between the two, and the result is long battery life. It helps that there’s a 500mAh battery, too.

    I wasn’t able to view historical sleep data in the app with the original OnePlus Watch. Not a problem here.

    I was so pleased to see that my data actually synced properly. The bar was low.

    How long depends on your usage. If you turn the always-on display off, keep notifications to a minimum, and exercise about 30 minutes with GPS on, you can get several days. The most I got was about four days before a power saving mode kicked on and then about one more day after that mode kicked in. That’s very good and it’s longer than what you’ll get on an Apple, Samsung, or Google smartwatch. With the always-on display turned on, I got closer to 1.5 to two days. That’s standard, though not too shabby. 

    In power saving mode, the watch loses Wear OS, but you still can receive notifications and track health / activities. OnePlus says you can get around 12 days. I never used the watch in power saving mode only. That sort of defeats the purpose of having a flagship smartwatch, but it’s nice to have if you forget your charger at home.

    To get excellent battery life, OnePlus made one big design tradeoff. This watch only comes in a single 47mm size.

    The 47mm watch does look quite beefy on my wrist.

    That 47mm watch case is why you can stuff in a 500mAh battery. But it bumps the weight to 80g with the strap. I’ve got petite wrists. I felt gravity’s pull on the watch whenever I ran. I really felt it when I wore my leather jacket. The watch was so chunky, I almost didn’t have enough space to pull my wrist through the cuff. 

    If you’ve got bigger wrists, this won’t be an issue. But there’s no other option for everyone else. That’s a bummer. Most flagship smartwatch makers offer at least a small and big size. They’re making the same tradeoffs — the smaller ones are usually more comfortable, but the bigger ones have better battery life. Consumers understand that, and most are happy to choose the tradeoff that best suits them. Here, that choice has been made for you.

    Filling a void

    OnePlus has a real opportunity here to take over as the “default alternative.” It’s the first Wear OS 4 watch that isn’t made by Samsung or Google, and it trounces them both in battery life. Unlike its predecessor, it nails the basics. At $300, it’s competitively priced. While there’s room for improvement, it’s well suited for folks who want something stylish without too many bells and whistles. 

    I actually held onto the 10 extra OnePlus Watch 2 smartwatches during testing. Part of me was afraid that the one I opened would be riddled with bugs. This way, I wouldn’t have to request alternate units. I’d be able to definitively tell if one unit was flawed — or if the watch was yet another unmitigated disaster. But I never needed to open a second watch. Now that my review is done, I can see how silly I was being. This watch is the exact opposite of its predecessor. For once, that’s a good thing.  

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