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Teardown: OnePlus Watch

Image credit: OnePlus

Building your own wearables OS ain’t easy.

OnePlus has built a reputation by matching good smartphone performance with sleek industrial design at an affordable price. But its most recent launch, the OnePlus Watch, has received mixed and even dismissive reviews since its launch.

By mid-August, OnePlus itself was no longer hosting press releases or photography on its website and the wearable was described as ‘coming soon’. However, that last message may refer to a cobalt-case premium version set to launch alongside the standard stainless-steel model. Orders for the standard model are being taken by the company and vendors on Amazon’s UK site.

It is all a little confusing, particularly given that marketing has historically been one of OnePlus’s strengths. So, is this a cautionary tale or have we all just got our wires crossed?

Certainly, OnePlus has taken on a big challenge with its Watch. It is seeking to bring its own first-generation product to market with a range of functions close to, though still a little behind, those found in products that cost at least £100 and often a great deal more than the £149 UK price point it has chosen.

To that end, it has succeeded on industrial design. The watch looks good and has a clear 454x454 OLED display. Standard spring bar mounts allow owners to use the company’s fluoroelastomer wristbands or attach one of their own.

Functionality is broad, with more than 110 different exercise modes supported, sensors that include blood oxygen saturation, full Bluetooth 5.0 for standalone music playback from 4GB of on-board storage, and a water resistance rating of 5atm/IP68.

And OnePlus makes some sizeable claims for battery life. The OnePlus Watch has a 1.59Wh cell, higher than either the Samsung Galaxy Watch3 (1.3Wh) or Apple Watch 6 (1.17Wh), offering about a week of typical ‘active’ use and 14 days of ‘standard’ use. It can fully recharge in, by varying accounts, between 20 and 40 minutes.

However, it is on this last count that the project also seems to have hit teething problems. OnePlus has opted to develop a proprietary operating system. Given that the Google Wear OS has been blamed for more rapid drain and ‘bloat’ in rival Android-based products, OnePlus does appear to have leveraged its own efforts to develop a more energy-efficient watch.

Another factor here may be that, as a Chinese company, OnePlus wanted to explore OS independence to mitigate any risk that the US could widen restrictions on access to Google technology. The company is part of the BBK Electronics group, with brands that also include Vivo and Oppo.

On a basic level, this means that it is hard, if not impossible, to add third-party apps through the larger app stores. But, more importantly, OS development is and always has been hard. As the saying goes, no plan survives first contact with the enemy.
As of today, OnePlus has made in-the-field upgrades to Watch, particularly following criticism over the accuracy and latency of the product’s positional tracking. Most reactions might best be summed up as: “Better but not there yet.”

It is worth remembering here that just about every other first-generation watch from every other player received its own share of brickbats. The good news for OnePlus is that, in line with its consumer-friendly image, it is seeking to respond quickly; the bad news, of course, is that those rivals have already been able to take their offerings through multiple generations of revision and innovation. The OnePlus Watch has also had something of an on-again, off-again history, with some earlier reports suggesting the project had been shelved.

A teardown of the watch by iFixit suggests that OnePlus has learned a few things. For example, the watch scores five-out-of-10 for repairability, mid-range for this type of product.

“The opening procedure is straightforward and glueless. Only two common screw types are used throughout the watch,” notes iFixit, though it also found some trickier challenges. “Some finicky metal brackets and a few overlapping cables complicate repairs. The battery itself is easily accessible, but connects to the motherboard via the sensor flex assembly.”

As is often the case, the display requires special care and special tools to remove. Overall, it feels like the kind of design that can evolve in the right direction. You cannot fault the company’s ambition in the sense that this is an attempt to push the market forward – matching a bill of materials and substantial software development to that £149 price tag suggests there is plenty of disruption left in the smartwatch space.

OnePlus has thus got itself into the smartwatch business with a design that is perhaps best seen as more serviceable than, as was the case with its smartphones, striking. It’s a start, but there’s obviously still some catching-up to do.

OnePlus Watch key components

Exploded view

1. Speaker

2. Motherboard

3. Bezel

4. Battery

5. Rear and sensor array

6. Display

OnePlus Watch teardown 2 - inline

Image credit: iFixit


7. Bluetooth SoC, Cypress Semiconductor

8. Sensor front-end (likely), Unknown

9. Battery charger SoC, Texas Instruments

10. Accelerometer/gyroscope, STMicroelectronics

11. Audio codec, Cirrus Logic

12. Audio amplifier, Awinic

13. Memory (flash), Kingston Technology

14. Microcontroller, STMicroelectronics

15. Microcontroller, Ambiq Micro

16. Location processor, Airoha

OnePlus Watch teardown 2 - inline

Image credit: iFixit

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