Google is finally catching up to Apple and Garmin on fitness-tracking data

a photo of the Apple Watch 9 and Google Pixel Watch 2
(Image credit: Future)

We just got our first look at some of the new standout features coming in Google's next-gen smartwatch operating system, Wear OS 5. In addition to major advancements in the power consumption arena, fitness tracking —  particularly for runners — will see some small but noteworthy improvements. 

Announced at Google I/O 2024, Wear OS 5 will debut additional exercise data, including metrics on ground contact time, stride length, vertical oscillation and vertical ratio. 

While the first two are pretty self-explanatory, vertical oscillation refers to your "bounce" while running or how far you lift off the ground. Vertical ratio is how much your body moves up and down compared to your stride length. 

It's worth calling out that Google is a bit late to the party with these metrics, but we're glad to see them added nonetheless. Still, other popular fitness-tracking devices have long shared this sort of info, including the Garmin Forerunner 265, the best fitness tracker for runners, and any Apple Watches running WatchOS 9 or later. 

Wear OS 5 also promises more intelligent health-related alerts, particularly for those pertaining to workout goals. Put another way, the operating system should make false positives for reaching fitness goals and reducant alerts a thing of the past. 

For example, let's say you want to be informed when your heart rate enters Zone 5 while exercising. With prior Wear OS versions, you might receive a flurry of alerts if you're straddling the line between Zone 4 and 5. With Wear OS 5, you'll be alerted the first time you cross the threshold into Zone 5 and only again after a configurable amount of time has passed.

Combined, these new running metrics and fine-tuned fitness alerts are welcomed tweaks to Google's smartwatch operating system. And while they aren't necessarily ground-breaking, they do bring things more in line with the competition. 

The question is, will Google allow Wear OS partners not named Samsung to access these new features any time soon? Seeing as the new TicWatch Pro 5 Enduro is still stuck on Wear OS 3, my guess is no. 

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Dan Bracaglia
Senior Writer, Fitness & Wearables

Dan Bracaglia covers fitness and consumer technology with an emphasis on wearables for Tom's Guide. Based in the US Pacific Northwest, Dan is an avid outdoor adventurer who dabbles in everything from kayaking to snowboarding, but he most enjoys exploring the cities and mountains with his small pup, Belvedere. Dan is currently training to climb some of Washington State's tallest peaks. He's also a big photography nerd. 

  • LDN_Tri
    This sounds promising, for those of us who gambled on the Pixel Watch/Fitbit setup and have been left wanting more professional tools without having a second sports watch. Three things I'd like to see them fix though...
    1. When I record a pool swim the summary calls it an outdoor swim. Small, but annoying.
    2. The 'auto detect' for activities is fine, but if you say yes to recording it only starts at that very moment, and not back at the start of your walk/run etc - even though it knows when that was in order to give you the prompt.
    3. Better activity sharing with Strava - weights, elliptical and no doubt many others don't auto calibrate and need a third-party solution to share with Strava