Android Wear 2.0: everything you need to know

The Android-flavored rival to Apple Watch

Google has launched Android Wear 2.0 and it comes with more than a few notable updates. Alongside the overhaul, Google and LG have released two watches to properly show off what it can do, the LG Watch Sport and LG Watch Style

Additionally, after a brief delay caused by a bug, the new software has finally made its way to many Android Wear 2.0-compatible smartwatches.

Android Wear 2.0 is the biggest update to come to Google's smartwatch operating system yet and it gives its main competitor, the watchOS-running Apple Watch, a real run for its money.

The biggest improvement it has over version 1.5 is the ability to run native apps without the need for a smartphone nearby. Several other features come in a close second, like the customizable watch face complications, embedded Play Store and the welcome update to Google Fit. 

Below you'll find information on how it works, all the current features, the key apps and lastly, all about the Android Wear watches of the past, present and future.

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? Google's wearable platform
  • When is it out? Update is rolling out to watches now
  • What will it cost? Absolutely nothing, as long as you have a compatible watch

Android Wear 2.0 release date

Android Wear 2.0 has now launched, and will be landing on compatible legacy watches in the coming weeks. It won't cost you anything, but not all Android Wear watches will be getting the update. 

Here's the full list of those confirmed to be getting it.

The list is extensive, so there's a good chance your watch will be on it, and that's good news, as Android Wear 2.0 is a major update, as we'll explain below.

Android Wear interface and features

Android Wear might share a name with standard Android but the layout of the interface is quite different, as it's built for much smaller devices and designed with hands-free use in mind.

Android Wear makes accessing some of your phone's handiest features as simple as looking down at your wrist. It primarily acts as a companion to amplify your phone's notifications so that you don't need to dig around in your pocket just to see that someone liked one of your tweets.

Android Wear

With the update to Android Wear 2.0 it's now better than ever at this, as the interface, while still very familiar to anyone who's tried out the first generation of Android Wear, has been refined.

It's based on the latest version of Material Design, leading to flatter icons and darker themes, and making for a far more readable interface - which is great, as no-one wants to be staring at their wrist for minutes on end.

Notifications also look better than they did before, appearing as a small icon that you can tap to expand, rather than instantly filling the whole screen.

Android Wear

It's easy to navigate too. Swiping left or right from your watch face will let you change it, while swiping up will display your notifications, swiping down will show the settings screen, and pressing the main button will display your apps list.

Much of what Android Wear pushes to view is just a copy of the notifications you're used to seeing on your phone. But it also delivers some thoughtful, personalized notifications. Traveling to a new city? It will automatically set you up with the weather there, as well as back home.

Android Wear

Just as slick, Android Wear figures out which sports team you like based on your Google searches and provides real-time sports scores.

It does the same for directions to addresses you've recently looked up or appointments in your calendar. "It's 34 minutes to work with light traffic on the US 101-S."

These just-for-you cards are one of the high points of Android Wear. It makes it feel like it's more than just a simple supplement to your phone.

You can also send messages and type out notes from your wrist, using either app and context-specific "Smart Replies", a keyboard that you swipe across to type, handwriting, or dictating with your voice.

And, if you have a watch with NFC built-in, you'll also be able to make use of Android Pay direct from your wrist.

Android Wear customization and complications

We mentioned above that you can change your watch face with a swipe, and with around 250 available right now and third parties able to create more there are plenty to choose from. For inspiration, check out our list of the best Android Wear watch faces.

But that's not where the customization stops, as with Android Wear 2.0 there are also 'complications'.

These are essentially tiny widgets, which could add your battery life, activity goals, calendar events or any number of other things to your watch face, so you can always see them at a glance, without having to swipe around on the watch - or worse - take out your phone.

Android Wear

Android Wear voice recognition

While swipes and other gestures are arguably the main way you'll interact with Android Wear, you can also use voice commands.

All Android Wear smartwatches respond to the simple voice command "Okay, Google", or you can get to the same place by holding down the power button. And with Android Wear 2.0, it'll be Google Assistant that responds.

This is the new and improved version of Google's voice-controlled AI, and in many ways it's stronger than Siri (which the Apple Watch relies on). A key advantage of Assistant is that it understands context, allowing you to ask follow-up questions.

So, for example, you could follow up "how old is Barack Obama?", with "show me a picture of him" and Assistant will understand who you mean by "him", allowing for more natural communication.

Android Wear

Waking an Android Wear watch from its dimly lit always-on state requires either flicking your wrist up, tapping on the touchscreen, or in some cases pressing in the power button.

All options considered, "Okay, Google" is the easiest way to ask the watch to search the web, pull up a song, display your daily steps, take your heart rate, make a new reminder, navigate to a place or set a timer or alarm. It even generally does a good job of sending texts and emails.

Android Wear apps, compatibility and phone-free use

If apps are what you're after, Android Wear has plenty to choose from – and that list is constantly growing.

They're typically stripped back versions of their smartphone counterparts, giving you easy access to core features and removing anything that wouldn't work well on your wrist.

For example, the Spotify app lets you skip and pause tracks that are playing on another device, Google Maps brings turn by turn navigation to your wrist and Tinder offers all the same swipey fun as the smartphone version.

But while Android Wear version 1 required you to download the apps from your phone, with Android Wear 2.0 you can access a version of the Google Play Store directly from your watch.

This makes adding apps easier and means you can have apps on your watch that aren't on your phone (and aren't forced to carry around Android Wear versions of all the apps that are on your phone).

These standalone apps are also faster than the phone apps of old, and if you're using an iPhone you'll now be able to download apps to your Android Wear watch.

New faces can be downloaded directly to your wrist too, which goes a long way to taking the phone out of the equation, and making the platform viable for iPhone users, though some features, such as Android Pay, still require an Android handset.

Android Wear is compatible with phones running Android 4.3 or above and for iOS 9 or above.

How much you can get done while leaving your phone at home really depends on which Android Wear watch you have though. Grab one with LTE and GPS and leaving your phone at home becomes a realistic scenario.

Android Wear fitness

One of the key app categories on Android Wear is fitness, and like so many other things this has been improved for Android Wear 2.0.

That's largely thanks to Google Fit, which has been updated too, and now offers a wider range of workouts with which you can punish yourself. The selection ranges from basics like walking and running to the likes of treadmill running, aerobics, and stair climbing machine.

Beyond the list of activities, you can also drill down into the things you want to focus on, be it time, pace or calorie burn for example.

Google Fit also supports a number of 'complications', so you can add widgets to your watch face for step counts or other metrics, as well as shortcuts to favorite workouts.

LG G Watch

And even if you're not a workout fiend and just want a basic fitness tracker, Google Fit and Android Wear 2.0 have you covered.

You can pick from a set of three goals, namely taking 10,000 steps each day, being active for 30 minutes, or running three times a week, and if none of them are a good fit you can customize your own.

Of course, you're not limited to just Google Fit, you'll also find the likes of Endomondo, Strava and Runtastic Pro available for your Android Wear smartwatch. These don't offer the full range of features afforded by their smartphone counterparts, but they track your activities and in some cases can do so without even being connected to your phone.

Exactly what you can track will largely depend on which watch you own though, as while some, like the LG Watch Sport, include a heart rate monitor, barometer and GPS, others don't.

Android Wear watches

While Android Wear software is uniform across devices, the hardware can vary quite a lot. Screens can be square or circular and smartwatch designs range from fitness-focused to smart and classy.

You can check out the latest and greatest devices in our list of the best Android Wear smartwatches, but highlights include the LG Watch Sport, which is packed full of features including GPS, a heart rate monitor and even mobile connectivity, the LG Watch Style, which pares back the features for a sumptuous finish, and the Asus ZenWatch 2, bringing you Android Wear on a budget.

Stay tuned for even more watches to release in 2017. Huawei recently pulled the veil from its Huawei Watch 2 and there are many more coming down the line, including options from boutique fashion brands Guess, Movado and more.