Xiaomi’s new Watch S1 wants to meet Wear OS head-on

Xiaomi’s new Watch S1 wants to meet Wear OS head-on

Xiaomi yesterday announced its new smartwatches — the Watch S1 and Watch S1 Active — alongside a pair of premium earbuds and the international Xiaomi 12 lineup. And a quick look at either one tells you that these are the company’s most stylish watches yet, the perfect companions for the premium Xiaomi 12 Pro.

Externally, both devices are pretty different. The regular S1 sports a more premium stainless steel body with sapphire over its 1.43-inch AMOLED display, but the Active — as the name says — is the sportier model, with a metal frame and glass cover. The straps also vary, with the regular S1 coming in leather and a stain-resistant fluorocarbon rubber, while the Active makes do with silicon/TPU. Perhaps what makes Xiaomi’s newest smartwatches exciting is the software (a custom solution) and how it comes together with the hardware, giving Wear OS a run for its money in more ways than one.

If there’s one thing that bothers many potential smartwatch users, it’s battery life — and Xiaomi’s taking this to another level. While previous devices launched under its brand like the Redmi Watches and the Mi Fit Bands are already impressive in this regard, those were all entry-level devices that never featured hardware that could quite run down a battery like a Snapdragon Wear processor.

The Watch S1 is powered by a 470mAh cell compared to the Samsung Galaxy Watch4’s 361mAh, but the difference in usage times should feel like a lot more than a 100mAh. Xiaomi is touting up to 12-day battery life on typical usage, which can only be described as insane, especially for a sleek-looking smartwatch like the S1 that is right up there with the best-looking Wear OS alternatives.

There’s hardly any reason to doubt the number since the Xiaomi Redmi Watch 2 Lite managed to last us about 10 days under typical use and with almost half the battery size of the new S1.

Like the aforementioned Redmi Watch, Xiaomi’s new smartwatch also takes a similar navigation style to Wear OS to ease the transition for those making the switch, and it has all the smarts most people expect in an intelligent watch. It will buzz your wrist for notifications, it’s useful for fitness tracking, it comes with support for NFC payments, and it has a vast variety of watchfaces to choose from.

And unlike Google’s watch operating system, it’s really snappy — scrolling and swiping through menus is as smooth as it gets. True, the interface could use a few more animations, especially when you use the back gesture or when you hit the side buttons to call up some menus, but generally, we came away impressed with the smoothness and responsiveness.

Xiaomi’s decision to go with its custom OS comes with some caveats, too, with the Watch S1 still being a fitness tracker for the most part. You won’t be able to install your favorite apps — only the pre-installed ones will be available for use. You also won’t get that tight integration with Android like Wear OS offers.

But if you can look past these shortcomings, the Xiaomi Watch S1 offers many positives. You get high-quality build materials paired with a fast processor and long-lasting battery life alongside all the other good stuff like NFC payment capabilities in some regions (via a custom MasterCard cooperation, not Google Pay), GPS fitness tracking, notification sync, and Bluetooth calling.

Stay tuned for our full review, but color us impressed for now.

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