Android Wear: The essential guide

Of course you know exactly what
Android Wear is. You’re a regular reader of Wareable – the web’s ultimate authority on wearable devices.

But do you really know everything about Google’s
smartwatch OS? Do you know exactly what Android Wear does and how it works, and what the best Android Wear smartwatches are? And do you know the must-have Android Wear
and all of the platform’s hidden secrets?

Do you know that
Android Wear 2.0 has just landed?

Do you balls. But don’t worry, we’ve got your back, so read
on and get up to speed.

So what is Android

Announced at its I/O conference back in March 2014, Android Wear
is Google’s first dedicated smartwatch OS, based, of course, on the hugely
successful Android smartphone platform.

If you want to get techy, Android Wear is
based on the same Linux kernel as its smartphone brethren and developers will
need the latest version of Android Studio and the SDKs in order to cook up new apps,
or amend their current ones for Wear compatibility.

Android Wear: The essential guide

Unless you’re developing apps, all you really need
to know is that it’s a version of Android designed for the smaller screen of a
smartwatch and that you will need to be rocking an Android smartphone to make the most of it.
You’ll also need a phone with Bluetooth connectivity on board but nowadays we’d
say that’s a given.

The big news is that iPhone users now get to play too, even more so thanks to Wear 2.0. Read our
guide to using Android Wear with iOS for more details.

Windows Phone users – sorry, there’s no room for
you at the Android Wear party. But you didn’t really expect to get in, did you?
Even with your new brogues on. Not a chance.

Looks aren’t skin

Android Wear is as pure as the driven snow. There are no
skinned user interfaces here and not a manufacturer tweak in sight. For
vanilla-OS enthusiasts this is, of course, welcome news and we’re sure
developers will be delighted too.

It also should have meant that updates were rolled
out for all manufacturers at the same time but we’ve already seen that this isn’t quite the case.

The ability to connect to Wi-Fi networks when you’re out and about only extends to smartwatches with the right hardware – more on this later. And not every
Android Wear watch got the 2.0 update.

It also means that your Android Wear experience will be more or less the
same no matter what smartwatch you decide to slap on your wrist and, great
news, it means your chosen tech-timepiece will work with any Android handset.

Android Wear: The essential guide

So the
LG Watch Sport plays just as nicely with the Sony Xperia Z5 as it does
with the LG G5. ‘Manufacturer agnostic’ would be the technical way of
putting it – ‘a welcome relief’ is how we’d describe it.

Actually, we did tell a slight lie. Your Android Wear
experience may not be quite the same across all devices. And that’s because
it’s an OS designed to work on both rectangular and circular displays – but
we’ll deal with that later.

How does Android Wear work?

Android Wear, being a smartwatch OS, is understandably
focused on a couple of key areas – the first being time-telling and the second
being notifications.

You might scoff at a time-telling feature but it’s probably
the thing that you’ll use the most. You’ll have a number of pre-selected watch
faces to choose from – some swanky, some not so swanky (Tag has the swankiest) – and it’s as easy as
pressing and holding the display to scroll through them.

If you can’t find one you like then
take a look on Google Play and you’ll find hundreds, if not thousands, to choose from.

existing Android Wear devices are catered for, with round and square designs, and while the initial range back in 2014 was a little limited, Wear 2.0 has really upped the watch face game.

In Wear 2.0, you’re able to view data from different third-party apps on the watch face, just like complications on the Apple Watch.

Android Wear: The essential guide

As with the propriety platforms we’ve seen so far, notifications play a big part of the
Android Wear experience. You’ll get
notified about incoming texts, WhatsApp messages, tweets you’re mentioned in,
Facebook updates, emails and more. The whole shebang.

Worried that thiswill all get a bit annoying? Worry not – you
can manage the notifications on your smartphone’s companion app and you can
even blacklist app notifications on your smartwatch itself.

Get used to talking
to your watch

Like Google Glass, a great deal of the Android Wear
experience is driven by you saying, “Ok Google,” followed by an instruction.
“Remind me… take a note… send a text… navigate to…” that sort of thing. Especially given that Wear 2.0 added Google Assistant into the mix.

One killer feature is the ability to set preset defaults in
the companion app. So, for example, you can select to use the Lyft app when you
say, “Ok Google call a taxi,” or have Evernote record your thoughts when you
say, “Ok Google, take a note”.

Android Wear guide

Your Android Wear watch is active as soon as you lift your
arm and is ready and waiting for your “Ok Google” instructions.

If you want to dictate
messages to send, be aware that you’ll need to enable contact recognition
through your smartphone’s security settings.

More recent Wear smartwatches let you make and take calls through Bluetooth, and LTE-enabled watches let you do so without the need to be tethered to your smartwatch.

Make sure you also read our guide to
using voice commands on your Android Wear smartwatch.

Android Wear app

We’ve mentioned apps a few times now so it’s only fair we
explain just how they work on Android Wear.

On Android Wear 1.x devices, apps are installed through your phone (and the regular
Google Play store). Apps that have Wear compatibility will either link up with
your smartwatch and offer you control options (such as navigating your Spotify
tracks or getting turn-by-turn directions from Google Maps) or present to you a
mini app within the watch itself. Runkeeper was a good example of this; it
provides a nice tracking UI for when you’re out on a jog.

Android Wear: The essential guide

The apps, and default actions, are managed using the
smartphone Android Wear app and the good news is that you can have more than one
Android Wear device paired up at any time.

However, Wear 2.0 changed the game with standalone apps and a Play Store directly on the smartwatch itself. You don’t need to install Wear apps on your phone with 2.0 – just the watch itself – as the newer OS doesn’t require the two to be paired.

There are more than 5,000 Android Wear apps, with hundreds of these being of the standalone variety.

Be sure to check out our
best Android Wear apps round-up
for our pick of the ever-growing bunch and take a butcher’s at our
step-by-step guide to installing Android Wear apps.

What about the Android Wear updates?

Google's 17 new Android Wear watch faces

You may have heard about Android Wear 2.0, Android Wear 5.1 or even Android Wear Marshmallow; but none of these were official monikers… until recently, at least.

The first Android Wear update added GPS support for the platform, meaning that you could go running and track your stats without the need for smartphone tethering with a compatible app – if your watch has GPS connectivity that is.

A second update also arrived in December 2014, adding support for downloadable watch faces, making it much easier for devs to offer up designs and, more importantly, it’s now a doddle for users to grab new designs.

Another update, announced in April 2015, added the always-on app feature and the gesture controls we’ve already mentioned, along with Wi-Fi connectivity and emojis.

A tweak in August 2015 added the interactive watch faces and watch-to-watch communications using Google’s Together app.

The “most significant Android Wear update” so far – Google’s words, not ours – is Android Wear 2.0, which arrived in February 2017 and which we’ve talked about throughout this guide.

It brought with it standalone apps, improved fitness tracking, expanded watch faces, new input methods, extra functionality for iPhone users, Android Pay, Google Assistant and a whole new design. Check out the image below – pretty swanky right?

android wear guide

What Android Wear smartwatch is for you?

At the time of writing there are more than 25 different Android Wear smartwatches. And there are a few that have been announced that are yet to hit the shops.

For more details on which one suits you best check out our
Android Wear buyers’ guide.

Android Wear hidden

There’s also a plethora of hidden Android Wear secrets and hidden
features we haven’t told you about yet. From running a full web browser on your
wrist to having a mini-launcher installed on your smartwatch, hop on over to
our guide to the
best Android Wear hidden features and find out all about them.

Then, and only then, can you really be considered an
authority on Android Wear.

Shop for recommended Android Wear watches on Amazon

Sony SmartWatch 3Sony SmartWatch 3
Huawei WatchHuawei Watch
Polar M600Polar M600
Nixon The MissionNixon The Mission

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