Android Wear review

Google's smartwatch software needs to be wound up

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Our Verdict

Google's intelligent smartwatch software uses its comprehensive knowledge graph, but that all-powerful search functionality also eats up battery life. It's for early adopters now with the promise of being the right fit for everyone eventually.

For

  • Google Now on your wrist
  • Glanceable notifications
  • Accurate voice search

Against

  • Few watch models
  • Needs more apps
  • Eats battery life
Ratings in depth

Android Wear review

Android Wear review

Android Wear review

Android Wear review

Android Wear review

Update March 2015: Looks like Android Wear is getting fancy.

Similar to the Apple Watch catering to those with fatter wallets, Google announced a partnership with Intel and Swiss watch company Tag Heuer to make an Android Wear smartwatch.

The watch will probably be in a case that echoes the classic Tag Heuer Monaco "square but not quite" shape pictured here, but we can't say for sure as there were no details of shape, price, features or differentiators of any kind, and the launch date is "By the end of the year."

Original review below ...

Google's Android Wear software wants to relocate smartphone notifications to your wrist by accessorizing your arm with one of its new smartwatches.

So far, the Samsung Gear Live and the LG G Watch have ushered in the wearable platform, with Motorola's stylish Moto 360 watch following closely behind.

Both available smartwatches receive messages, turn-by-turn directions and various app alerts in a "glanceable" Google Now-style interface.

This makes the search engine giant's all-encompassing knowledge graph operating system an instant rival to the Pebble and the Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo.

That's not enough. Google's smartly designed smartwatch ecosystem can't survive without competent hardware and apps. Without them, it's only interesting to early adopters right now.

Luckily there have been various updates with the biggest being Android 5.0 Lollipop making its way onto the various smartwatches.

The new operating system still might not be enough for the likes of the newer LG Watch Urbane or Asus ZenWatch to compete with the iOS of the Apple Watch.

Installation

Downloading the Android Wear app to your smartphone is the equivalent of winding up your watch for the first time.

This app bridges the data from your phone to your new smartwatch via Bluetooth 4.0 and, of course, begins downloading an inescapable firmware update. Your watch enjoyment is already five minutes late.

Android Wear review
Of course, as you as you connect, it needs a firmware update

But without this low-energy connection, the smartwatch doesn't work properly. It won't even be able to tell the correct time if it's turned off and back on again. In that case, you'd be ten minutes late.

It's surprising to find out how many people expect smartwatches to act as a standalone device that can replace their phone entirely, but such technology just isn't in the SIM cards yet.

Android Wear's phone dependency is not necessarily a bad thing. You won't have a separate carrier bill and the phone acts as a Android Wear app repository whenever new apps launch.

It's much easier to install new apps using a phone than it would be to configure them on a tiny smartwatch. Once the Android Wear setup is successful there are 40 apps to choose from.

Interface

Moving through the Android Wear interface on a smartwatch isn't all that different than doing the same thing on a Google Now-equipped smartphone. The touchscreen is just smaller.

Swiping up and down through the card-based menu system reveals the time, weather, calendar and other pertinent app notifications ported over to the watch.

Android Wear review
Sliding through the interface is fairly easy

Sliding your finger to the left digs deeper into the miniaturized apps with five day forecasts, the ability to reply to a text with your voice and the overused "open on your phone" option.

Flicking the menu to the right hides the information card – the opposite motion you perform when you get a bad Tinder match. It'll appear again when it's relevant.

What's different about Google's approach is why notifications pop up. Traveling to a new city will automatically set you up with the weather there as well as back home.

Android Wear review
Time and weather on the wrist whenever you need it

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."

Now you know you'll have to leave in 10 minutes to get there on time. It works really well, as long as you don't mind Google knowing this information too.