Apple Watch vs. Android Wear: Why most all smartwatches suck for small wrists

As anyone who reads iMore or my Twitter feed knows, I like my 38mm Apple Watch a lot. It fits well into my day-to-day activities, it helps keep me fit, and, oh hey — it fits my wrist.

And unfortunately, this is not something I can say for any other smartwatch out on the market today.

It's been more than three years since Apple announced the 38mm Apple Watch, and the device has been shipping for more than two. So what gives? Why aren't the engineers behind Android Wear — which arguably has a lot going for it on its software side — building smaller watches?

To this, I say: Manufacturers still have a lot to learn about the smartwatch market.

You're wearing it wrong

If wearable technology is the next big thing for our tech-connected society, why is Apple the only company paying attention to the smaller-wristed set? Lady or dude, there are quite a few people on this earth whose arms don't resemble the trunk of a Sequoia tree — many of whom would be excited to use a smartwatch.

And for that reason, I love that Apple supports multiple sizes for the Apple Watch. Smartwatches are one of the more personal technology purchases available out there today, and the company is committed to making them accessible to people young, old, large, or small. Engineering LTE inside a 38mm Series 3 was no small feat; Apple could have limited it to the 42mm set, but it chose to attack the problem and make it accessible to all.

I can't say the same for the rest of the smartwatch market. I've been looking avidly across the Android Wear (and Android Wear-adjacent, like Fitbit) lines since 2015 for alternative smartwatch options, but have struck out every time.

It's not that I dislike my Apple Watch — it'd probably be my favorite smartwatch even if I were limited to a 42mm size. But I want to like Android Wear. Competition is good, and Android Wear does some smart things with notifications that I'd love to see over on the Apple side. Its hardware (mostly) isn't terribly-designed, either: On the contrary, for those with applicably-sized wrists, the watches look quite natural.

Today, however, I can't even consider or recommend an Android Wear watch — because I have yet to find one that fits on my wrist without making it look like the technology equivalent of an iron shackle.

Don't look now, but a Gear S3 is trying to eat my wrist.

On my wrists, I find Android Wear watches too large for comfort, let alone style. My wrists are small, but they're not waiflike — I have about a 57mm height in which to wear a watch. But everything aside from the 38mm Apple Watch feels more like a pair of handcuffs than a comfortable timepiece.

Even the 42mm Apple Watch feels too large on my wrist. I could wear it, but as I said in my initial thoughts on Watch sizing back in 2015, it's the difference between wearing something comfortable and wearing something simply to have access to technology. I've carried a variety of bulky tech devices over my years in this field, but having something on your arm is different: It's personal, and if it doesn't blend into your daily activities, you're going to notice it constantly.

And to those who might argue about how big "boyfriend" watches are in fashion, here's the thing: To wear a watch this way, you need to have it loose around your wrist like a bangle; you can't do this with smartwatches unless you're willing to ditch reliable health tracking (most of the reason I wear a watch in the first place).

After chatting with my pals at Android Central, I made a list off the top 15 smartwatches out on the market right now, and compared their respective casing sizes and weights. There are many more Android Wear options and along with other watch manufacturers beyond this list, which I've looked at as well, but these are the ones from major manufacturers that are still being sold (RIP, Pebble) or have notable size differences. (Fossil and other watchmakers are starting to do some interesting things with Android Wear watches, but their smartwatch lines remain as large or larger than major manufacturers, so they didn't make the cut.)

The results are as unsurprising as they are depressing:

Swipe to scroll horizontally
CategoryStyleHeight (Length)WidthDepthWeight
Apple Watch Series 1 (38mm)Rect38.6mm33.3mm10.5mm25g
Apple Watch Series 3 (38mm)Rect38.6mm33.3mm11.4mm26.7g (28.7g w/LTE)
Apple Watch Series 1 (42mm)Rect42.5mm36.4mm10.5mm30g
Apple Watch Series 3 (42mm)Rect42.5mm36.4mm11.4mm32.3g (34.9g w/LTE)
Fitbit IonicRect44.45mm38.1mm12.2 mm30g
Gear S2Round39.9mm43.6mm11.4mm30g
LG Watch StyleRound42.3mm45.7mm10.8mm46g
Gear S2 ClassicRound42.3mm49.8mm11.4mm30g
Gear SportRound42.9mm44.6mm11.6mm50g
Asus ZenWatch 3Round45mm45mm10.8mm48g
LG Watch SportRound45.4mm51.2mm14.2mm89.3g
Gear S3 ClassicRound46mm49mm12.9mm59g
Gear S3 FrontierRound46mm49mm12.9mm63g
Huawei Watch 2Round48.9mm45mm12.6mm40g
Huawei Watch 2 ClassicRound48.9mm45mm12.6mm47g

Lightest/smallest in bold, heaviest/largest in italics.

The Series 1 38mm Apple Watch is currently the smallest, lightest, and thinnest smartwatch on the market. The only watch that comes close to beating those numbers? Its slightly heavier and thicker Series 3 sibling.

Theoretically, the next smallest watch out there is the Fitbit Ionic — but I say theoretically because the Ionic's measurements are obscured and confusing. They're not available on the main Ionic page at all (opens in new tab), and the one place you can find them (the Ionic's purchase page) has incredibly misleading metrics.

Most smartwatches list the screen size of their case, along with its height, width, depth, and weight without a band attached. The Ionic avoids mentioning its weight, height, or depth — instead, it lists a questionable width (contradicted by a Fitbit moderator on the company's forums), along with… the height of the display only. It also lists a secondary width of the screen as being 35.99mm diagonal, but that's literally the glass front, not the display — the display is only 29.2mm-by-21mm.

If you're confused, well… so was I. Fitbit has no reason to obfuscate its watch measurements and weights — until you take into consideration that, based on those measurements alone, Fitbit's watch appears to be smaller than the 38mm Apple Watch. (It is not: A head-to-head at Wearable clearly shows the differences in casing sizes — and that's when compared to a 42mm Apple Watch, not a 38mm.)

I also took to Twitter to ask about the Ionic's size, where ZDNet's Matthew Miller was kind enough to supply me with ruler-based measurements.

iMore editor Daniel Bader, who also has an Ionic, used a curved tape measurer to properly grab the measurements of the convex screen and came away with measurements of 44.45mm height, 38.1mm width — similar in size to the 42mm Apple Watch.

After the Ionic, the aging Gear S2 is the next-smallest option — but as a result of its round face, the Gear S2 is a full 10mm wider on the wrist than the 38mm Apple Watch; wearing it feels more like trying to style a black hockey puck than a smartwatch.

Marketing and technical challenges

When I first ran into this back in 2015, I figured the problem to be more of a marketing challenge than a technical one: Targeting the consumers most likely to buy early-adoption gadgets (men with larger-than-average-sized wrists) over the general consumer market.

But as the years progressed, Apple found massive success attracting women to its watches, while other watchmakers… released similar sizes in rose gold. The 2017 LG Watch Style was arguably designed to appeal directly to women, but even then, LG couldn't get the case smaller than 42mm-by-45.7mm — a massive difference from the Apple Watch's 38mm-by-33.3mm. And it apparently didn't work: The $250 smartwatch has seen massive discounts since its launch (including a crazy drop to $108 in August of 2017, just six months after its release).

Part of that struggle is in the round face design (and it's why I suspect Apple has yet to publicly offer that option). Round faces, by their nature, will be slightly wider than a rectangular casing. But many analog circular watches for women are closer to the size of a fitness tracker than a smartwatch — in order to make a display that was easily tappable and readable, manufacturers had to supersize the watch body into something that fit the software design.

There are "connected" Android watches that manage to be reasonably-sized and round: Fossil's Q Neely and Q Jacqueline come in at just 36mm in diameter, smaller than all the smartwatches I listed above. But they come with a major caveat: They're not true smartwatches. They're analog watches that have a few smarts built in — step counting, sleep tracking, notification haptics, and some button triggers to work with your phone — and that might be enough for some Android users. Without heart tracking, a screen, and apps, however, I can't in good conscience call them smartwatches.

There's also hardware internals to consider: Apple's technology is impressive, and what they've crammed into a 38mm device is nothing short of a feat. It's the advantage they get from designing the whole widget. Heart rate sensors, 18 hour battery life, the taptic engine, LTE, GPS, the S3 chip — there's a lot going on under that hood.

That said, some of the consistent critiques against Apple's smartwatches are a lack of always-on display and multi-day battery life — features that the company can't add right now if it wants to keep the case size compact.

In contrast, most of the Android Wear options I mentioned incorporate both of these oft-requested features — but it's at the expense of their case size. Ultimately, these companies are betting that more users will prefer lengthy battery life or the option of an always-on display to a watch that fits their wrist properly.

In 2015, that was a bet these companies could make: The smartwatch industry was nascent and largely limited to the tech-obsessed. But their time is running out. Apple may not be releasing its watch sales numbers, but the company is more than happy to boast about its current spot as the top watchmaker in the world — and yes, that includes traditional watches, too.

Whether other smartwatch manufacturers want to acknowledge it or not, size matters. This is anecdotal, but most every Apple Watch I see in the wild around Boston or Montréal isn't on the wrist of a technology-savvy friend — it's on young mothers, baristas, joggers, and students. Smartwatches are moving into the mainstream.

And unless Android Wear wants to get left behind, it needs to figure out how to build smaller watches — and fast.

**Updated October 17 to highlight Fossil's connected watch line — and why they aren't real smartwatches.

Serenity Caldwell

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

  • I am in complete agreement with you and I am a guy. I tried on the larger iWatch when I was buying at the Apple Store and it was just too big, the 38mm fit has been great for the couple years that I have had it, except possibly for the smaller battery. I do not like the round watches others have come out with. Of course, the functionality and flexibility of the iWatch gives you so much more, I rarely carry my iPhone in the house, it sits on a shelf and I use my iWatch for nearly all my functions, including answering phone calls.
  • I totally agree.
    I want to like smartwatches but everything is just too big or too much for me. I also agree about the LG Watch Style too. I wanted to like that one since it looked like something I could wear but then it's too big. I don't like big watch faces, not interested in wearing one that will swallow my small wrists. The Apple Watch seems to be the only one that compliments small wrists but still look very nice.
  • I didn't fully ready after this line: "why is Apple the only company paying attention to the smaller-wristed set?" You have to do it on purpose to ignore all the fashion brands that released Android Wear watches. The Fossil group has a huge selection of smaller smartwatches for women. You are only thinking of tech companies but the market for Android wear within the fashion industry is enormous. Just for the purpose of this comment, I went to the Fossil website and there are 8 different models of smaller watches for women running Android Wear. Took me 2 seconds to find them.
  • Which Fossil smartwatches are 38mm? I looked at some of the women's smartwatches, and they're all 42mm. The other smartwatches they sell are 46mm. The 42mm ones are smaller than most, for sure, but still too big.
  • Another problem with that statement is that you're talking about women's watches no watches in general. Apple makes two sizes and yes on can say the smaller version was designed for women but since both are the same anyone can wear them regardless of gender.
  • No, I've looked at their catalog, and all of those watches are pretty big.
  • As others have pointed out below, the Fossil watches are all 42mm+. Even Fossil's style guide puts them on the largest line: It's not that the watches don't look nice. They do. But they do not fit on the wrist the way a smartwatch should.
  • "they do not fit on the wrist the way a smartwatch should." You say this is an opinion piece, yet you keep presenting your preference/opinion as some type of fact, including the article title. My wife wears the Huawei Watch, has for a year snd loves. Thinks the Apple watch looks like a large chiclet and not a watch.
  • You generally don't say "IMHO" when you write every sentence of an opinion piece — it's implied. No, in my humble opinion, they do not fit on the wrist the way a smartwatch should. If they're too large for your wrist, you're going to have heart reading issues among other problems. This may be fine for some users, but it's not ideal. Here's one fact: These watches are made for larger wrists. If manufacturers really wanted to make large watches for smaller wrists, they'd change the size and sensor placements on the rear casing so as to avoid erroneous readings.
  • I don't agree with the title entirely because some women including a few I know don't like "women's watches" because of their smaller size compared to most men's watches. So saying that all others suck is entirely a personal opinion and not a factual one.
  • Agreed! Bit surprised Serenity wrote this, but nonetheless .. After reading, "On my wrists, I find Android Wear too large for comfort, let alone style.", I took it as an opinion piece and nothing more.
  • She's right though. If you read the article carefully, you would see why. We have to wear smart watches snugly. Wearing one of those hunking big smartwatches is difficult for small wrists when they have to be worn snugly. The watch hangs over the wrist on both sides, and is ill fitting.
  • I read it just fine. The title "Why all other smartwatches suck for women" is not only juvenile, but sexist and presumptuous as well. It sets the tone for what can't be anything else but an opinion. Making a case for small wrists is fine. Making a case for all women, who aren't built the same nor do they have the same taste in fashion, is another issue entirely. For you to say, "She's right" tells me that perhaps you are the one that should read the article again.
  • The LG Sport looks like it came straight from the Flinstone's. It's massive on any wrist unless you are 6' 4" and 250 lbs.
  • That's true but it's kind of a different thing with women who have really small wrists. I have small wrists and I don't like my wrist being swallowed by a watch face.
  • Well, this is an opinion piece, so it would make sense that I have a personal opinion in the title. :) Joking aside, it's not so much that Android Wear isn't making "women's size" watches so much as they're not making watches that can even fit on any wrists under 35mm. I really like Android Wear from a software perspective, and the hardware's quite nice — but I physically can't wear them.
  • Haha. You should see the ones they make for children. The one we got for my kid, the LG Gizmo Gadget is too big for me let alone a petite 7 year old girl! And big watches fit me fine.
    I’d get her a 38mm Apple watch but it’s not designed to stand alone or last long enough on cellular. The kid watch goes a full week but it’s not LTE. It stays off the network unless it’***** with a silent SMS trigger to check in with location or a CDMA phone call.
  • Yes. There should be smaller options for people in Android Wear watches. But let’s be clear about one thing : Apple Watch is ugly. Ugly ugly ugly. We have as a society become too blind with our admiration of Apple that when they do idiotic things or make very ugly things, they’re “beautiful”. Would I wear an Apple Watch if I used an iPhone? Yes, but not for a second would I be under the illusion that it doesn’t look like a Fisher Price kids toy.
  • Apple Watch looks as nice as it can look, which I think it looks good. It can't be any thinner because of the internals. I've used the first-gen Apple Watch since day 1, and I still love it. It looks great on my wrist, I don't know what your problem is
  • The Apple Watch is the best smartwatch available and it isn’t illogically round. It looks great with the linked bracelet.
  • +1, certainly does look great!
  • I disagree. I find that Android people universally hate the Apple Watch. I happen to think all Android Wear watches to look cheap and clumsy. The Apple Watch is the only one that doesn't look like a Fisher Price toy. The Apple Watch, as far as I know, is the only smartwatch to win several design awards. So people who know about these things don't agree with the Google crowd.
  • +1, the Apple Watch is a lovely looking watch, the hate for the rectangular screen is ridiculous because it logically makes more sense for the screen to be rectangular due to what's being displayed on it. The only reason "normal" watches are round, is because when you spin analog hands, they form a circular shape. That's literally the only reason
  • Most of the people I know who own a smart watch are women. And, yes, Apple Watch for all of them.
  • I think women should be a major target market for smart watches. Given that lots carry their phone in hand bags / purses the likelihood of not hearing your phone ring or alert is pretty big. Notifications to your wrist would be very helpful in this case, I would think?
  • That's very true, but like cuttheredwire said, they do buy them but they buy Apple Watches. Android watches are the ones that need to step up their game
  • The reason that Android Wear watches are huge is b/c of larger batteries. For an Apple Watch, the series 3's battery is an Apple watch monster at 279 mAh. If you compare this to Android wear watches with 400Mah batteries, you can immediately see where the difference lies. Even though the accouterments are stripped down, Android Wear is still using the same modified desktop kernel that Android itself uses. I like wear, but I think that Google should scrap it in its current form and start over, perhaps using the Fuchsia Micro-kernel that they are developing, to get a more resource efficient OS.
  • The reason why they're huge is because of they're being round, for one thing. Round is not an ideal form for text based devices. Secondarily, most of them have battery life that's no better than the Apple Watch. The bigger screen needs a bigger battery, and Android is less efficient. It's why Android phones with battery life no better than an iPhone, and sometimes worse, have bigger batteries.
  • Literally never have seen a woman wearing an Android watch. I’m sure they exist, just like unicorns and leprechauns. Problem is Android OEMs can’t/won’t build custom chips so they can only cobble together watches that require relatively massive batteries.
  • I own 3 iPhones & 1 iPad. Saying that I also have the Samsung Galaxy S8 along with the Samsung Gear S3 with LTE. Without a doubt the very best Smartwatch in the business. 3 day battery life, best LATE Service, does it all & the best thing it's a good size for a guy with a big wrist. Buy wristbands anywhere and not spend a fortune. The Gear IMO is far superior to the Apple Watch, no comparison. The LTE Service is terrible on Apple Watch, battery sucks and I can go on. Gear S3 is the best Smartwatch out there.
  • The Gear S3 is illogically round so it fails as a smartwatch right away.
  • +1, smartwatch screens that are round are dumb
  • I wouldn't say they're dumb, just not as useful for displaying text. However what a round screen does allow is using the bezel to interact with the screen, which is much more preferable to the fiddly dial on the Apple Watch.
  • The "fiddly dial" has caused me no issues on my Apple Watch. Plus it's not always necessary to use, often you can scroll on the screen just using your finger, if that's what you prefer
  • And if apple did a round watch I think you would be saying that it was the best thing since sliced toast.
  • I would have been, and will be, very disappointed if Apple releases a round version.
  • Why would you be disappointed since you haven't even seen it yet? Round watches look a little better to me but square watches make more sense. But that is only because of text and we are using and needing text much less thanks to Siri and general use of icons for everything. The new Apple Watch has excellent audio input and output and with the AirPods, I can easily envision a day when text will not be needed to display on the watch face for any primary I/O.
  • That won’t happen, I’d put money on it
  • Sometimes it is necessary to use and when you do it's fiddly.
  • For you, maybe, but it works great for me and many others
  • The round ring on the S3 is the most satisfying way to operate any watch. It's fast, accurate and easy to use. Rectangle watches look like a toy, or a kidss watch. U can get so much more text on the Gear S3 than the largest Apple watch. That 2-3 day battery is great. Just a much better Smart watch. I'm not a Android but, I own several iPhones & iPad. I also have the Samsung Galaxy S8, The Gear S3 with LTE was a no brainer.
  • "U can get so much more text on the Gear S3 than the largest Apple watch." I highly doubt this, I'd like to see an image or something proving that. The Apple Watch hardly looks like a toy, it's not made out of plastic. Rectangular makes much more logical sense for a smartwatch given that it displays text, pictures and general UI interfaces. If you want a smartwatch that looks like a toy, then you'd be thinking of something like the Pebble Time
  • I have to agree with this. I have both an Apple Watch 42mm Black Stainless Steel and Gear S3 Classic, and I hardly ever prefer the Apple Watch. It just does not look like a proper watch and does not style well with suits or other more formal wear. To be fair though, the size of the S3 Classic is in-itself a bit of an issue with suits because certain shirt cuffs just don't fit a watch this size underneath it, but when it is compatible, the S3 Classic looks orders of magnitude better. Functionally it is also a lot more intuitive to use and has exceptional battery life. Heck, the S3 Classic can have always on display and still squeeze out a full day without any issues.
  • I find the Gear 3 a bit big and heavy IMO so calling it the "best smartwatch out there" is WAY premature. It needs to trim mm and 10-20 grams or so to be in the running.. It had an interesting UI., but given the Apple Watch Series 2 gets me just under 2 days battery life (including occasional phone calls, 30-40 minutes running/day), and various notification responses, I don't see the need for MASSIVE batteries like the Gear. Give me less weight.
  • Two good choices for those looking for a thin and easy to wear watch would be the Huawei, Honor Band Z1, and the Ticwatch 2, neither is Android wear, both are forked version of Android, BUT they work well with both platforms, the Ticwatch 2 with MUCH more functionality (it's twice the cost of the Z1 though). Both are reasonably priced, at 79 for the Z1, and 199 for the Ticwatch 2 (often Tocwatch 2 can be found on sale)
  • Are you aware that Garmin makes smart watches, and that some of them are fairly small? I never seem to hear them mentioned on iMore even though some have very similar specs & features compared to Fitbit.
  • Exactly my feelings too. I have seen a lot of fitbit related stuff in iMore, but very few and far in between about Garmin. Maybe there is some kind of cosmic reason for this omission. By the way, there are pretty good fitness watches offered by Garmin. I have used Vivoactive HR ( my current daily driver ), Vivosmart HR and Vivosmart HR+. They are one of the best waterproof fitness watches currently available in the market. Not to mention the excellent battery life.
  • Chip engineering and fashion design. It took Apple a while too. Apple Watch 3 was the killer.