What is Android Wear?
Update January 2014: If you thought BlackBerry was obsolete, apparently Google disagrees because it looks like Android Wear is getting a dose of BBM. It’s not been confirmed exactly when BBM for Android Wear will be arriving, but in an official blog post BlackBerry claims it’s coming soon.
In the meantime, check out our take on the best new Android Wear watch faces. More details can be found below.
The update is focusing on watch faces which you can download from the Google Play store. Designs are centered around PAC-MAN, Despicable Me, Plants vs Zombies, Porsche and much, much more thanks to a new Watch Face API now available to developers.
With the update, users can add and swap out Android Wear watch faces using the companion phone app.
The Android Wear app has also been updated to make browsing, downloading and switching watch faces simpler – plus you can now view your apps’ battery usage and storage.
You can also quickly bring a card back if you’ve accidentally dismissed it, quickly access various settings by swiping down from the top of the screen, easily block notifications from any app directly from your watch and recently used actions now appear at the top of the list when you tap the watch face.
New modes include Theater Mode which lets you keep the screen off and mute vibrations when you’re in a dark room, and Sunlight Mode which temporarily boosts the screen to maximum brightness.
We’ll be sure to give you more details about the new software goodies in action once our own Android Wear smartwatches update.
Original article below …
We put the first three Google-powered smartwatches on our wrists in TechRadar’s Android Wear review, but concluded that the software is still best worn by early adopters.
The watches are shaping up as fashionable as they are functional and run the same uniform smartwatch platform we already like. It basically extends the leading smartphone software to the body and gives Google its best shot at taking on Apple Watch.
Android Wear supports both round and square watch faces, and the lineup won’t stop there. Additional manufacturers are committed Google smartwatches. For example, an HTC watch is planned for 2015.
As Android head Sundar Pichai penned in the announcement, these app-driven time pieces understand the context of the world around you and deliver messages and reminders beamed directly to your wrist.
Convenient Google Now notifications are literally on hand thanks to Android Wear, and the ability to seek out information with voice controls outfits everyone with the all-encompassing power of the search engine.
What Android Wear does
Android Wear is intended to provide "information that moves with you" and so far it lives up to that promise. It puts the entire world inches from your suddenly-free fingertips.
It doesn’t just tell the time. The wearable operating system makes suggestions based on time and it factors location into its context-sensitive data.
- This is merely the explainer. Read the Android Wear review
The best everyday habit example involves riding on a bus and seeing a Google Maps-powered notification countdown to an unfamiliar destination. "4 stops to: Jackson St." intelligently reads the watch. The scary guessing game is taken out of a public transit commute.
The new technology also tips off wearers to dangers that lurk, as demonstrated in Google’s first Android Wear video. A "Jellyfish warning" prompt can be seen with a surfer’s flick of the wrist.
A relevant list of nearby beaches saves the video’s early adopters who can surf without worrying about the sting of the boneless, brainless ocean creature. Yes, it could save your life, or at least save lots of pain.
The first day we tested the Moto 360 at the Chicago Cubs baseball stadium, this was perfectly illustrated. A severe thunderstorm warning flashed on our watch and we knew about the rain before everyone else.
All of a sudden, digging that rectangular smartphone or, worse, phablet out of your pocket and pulling up a much more involved directions or notification app seems so pedestrian.
Making time for families
Google seeds the idea that Android Wear can alleviate our addiction to smartphones in an effort to make more time and eye-contact with our families.
This concept is more practical than the similar idea the company has been floated when delivering the Google Glass Explorer Edition to beta testers. Smartwatches feel natural and unobtrusive.
A parent is able to attend breakfast with his family while keeping a close eye on the estimated commute time to work thanks to an on-wrist Google Now notification.
"No surprises" is the unofficial goal of Android Wear. Leaving too early and breezing through traffic would have filled this parent with breakfast-skipping regret. Leaving too late would’ve started his day with traffic-influenced anxiety.
‘Okay Google’ on the wrist
Even more touching is the dad who receives a Google Hangouts message right on his Android Wear smartwatch while bathing his son. "Dude, this game is insane!" writes the token friend who doesn’t have such responsibilities.
The dad doesn’t run to a TV or have to awkwardly palm his smartphone with soapy hands for an update. "Okay Google, what’s the Syracuse score?" he asks his watch without pressing a button.
A scorecard of 28-27, naturally in favor of his college basketball team, pops up. He cheesily shouts "Yay" while raising his hands. His young, halfway washed son does the same without us knowing if he really knows why. He could easily be cheering for having more time with his dad.
The increasingly familiar "Okay Google" voice prompt opens up a world of possibilities beyond sports score updates. Android Wear smartwatches can handle questions like, "How many calories are in an avocado?" to more personal queries like, "What time does my flight leave?"
"Okay Google" can also accomplish tasks outsourced from a smartphone. Calling a taxi, making restaurant reservations, setting alarms and sending – not just receiving – texts is all possible to do hands-free with the Android Wear operating system.
Fitness and third-party apps
Google Wear fitness apps
Google’s Android Wear smartwatches can solve everyone’s pesky pedometer gripes, whether it’s always losing the easy-to-misplace device or not having it with you at all times.
Latching a wearable to our wrist can count every step and chart whether or not we’re meeting our exercise goals. Fitbit Force, Nike FuelBand SE, Jawbone Up24 and Samsung Gear Fit have all proven this.
Google Fit promises to aggregate data like heart rate, steps taken and blood glucose, and to connect with our favorite fitness apps for real-time speed, distance and time data while walking, running and cycling.
So far, Google’s app underwhelmingly tracks steps, in the case of Samsung Gear Live and Moto 360, a semi-accurate heart rate. Motorola’s Heart Rate Activity app just adds a extra motivational interface.
The app needs more metrics and really needs the graphs that break free of the watch interface. Why isn’t this data on an Android or computer yet? Maybe we’ll that launch with Android L.
The wait may be worth it. Fitbit Force and FuelBand lack smartwatch capabilities and, as stylish as the Gear Fit may be, it’s only accessible by Samsung smartphones, not all Android devices.
That leaves the door wide open for Google among Android owners.
QR codes, music and Chromecast
Google’s Android Wear multitasks you run for an already-boarding flight. You can keep count of calories burned while flashing a QR code in front of the airline employee in order to board the flight.
Music doesn’t come directly from any current Android Wear smartwatch, though the Sony Smartwatch 3 is kick off housing songs on the wristwatch. All watches can still activate song playing via voice commands.
Google calls this a "key to a multiscreen world." Further out, it promises to cast movies to a TV, presumably with its inexpensive Chromecast streaming device, open garage doors with smart home connectivity.
"There’s a lot of possibilities here so we’re eager to see what developers build," wrote Pichai toward the end of his announcement post.
Third-party apps on Google Play
Android Wear is made even more convincing as a smartwatch because developers will be able to easily translate their apps from Google’s mobile ecosystem.
There are now more than 44 featured Android Wear apps in the official subsection on the Google Play Store with the best coming directly from Google.
Maps makes it convenient to pull up walking directions or, if you’re in the car, voice activate navigation to your dash-mounted smartphone without awkwardly leaning over into the steering wheel.
Hangouts beams text and instant messages to the wrist. It’s one of the best features, as you can quickly dismiss trivial correspondents while getting a head start on the important ones.
Though we’re waiting for an Uber app, Lyft can call cars with a simple voice phrase, Evernote can help you jot down thoughts, Hue Control can turn your lights on and off and Glympse can beam your location to friends.
Outside of the official apps, all notifications that appear in your smartphone’s notification tray make their way to the smartwatch.
There are also apps and watch faces that don’t appear in the Android Wear subsection, but work with the watches nonetheless. We particularly like the unofficial GoldenEye 007 watch face.
Ware Aware is also a developer-made top pick for us because it vibrates every time we accidentally walk away from our phone. It doesn’t appear in Google’s special subsection and it’s clear third-party devs are moving quickly.
It shouldn’t take long for your favorite apps to appear on the Moto 360, Samsung Gear Live or LG G Watch, whereas developers may struggle to navigate Samsung’s Tizen platform that’s limited to its Galaxy devices.
Android Wear watches
Android Wear smartwatches so far
The Android Wear smartwatch selection is expanding, but you can only buy the LG, Samsung and Motorola models right now. Sony and Asus watches are coming soon, and LG has another up its sleeve.
This beautiful watch face has a 1.56-inch LCD display that boasts a 320 x 290 resolution and 205 pixels per inch. It’s protected by Gorilla Glass 3 and costs $250 (£200, likely AU$275)
Sticking with that authentic watch styling, there are no charging contacts or USB ports. Motorola went with an inductive wireless charger, giving us a wire-free reason to own that Qi-compatible Nexus charger sold in the Google Play Store.
It doesn’t feature a privacy-invasive camera like the Galaxy Gear and Gear 2 either. This just didn’t fit into the classic design, according to Motorola. Also, unlike Samsung’s non-Android Wear watches, it supports more phones than its own Moto X.
Moto 360 blends familiar Android menus like Google Now and Hangouts messages with a sophisticated-looking digital watchface, and Motorola touts just-as-premium strap materials that remain comfortable.
The company promises a variety of styles beyond the default leather straps, including metal bands and new leather colors. In the meantime, we’ve taken the toolkit to the watch and added our own 22mm strap.
LG G Watch R is even rounder
One-upping Motorola’s smartwatch is the LG G Watch R that’s due out this fall. It boasts what LG loves to refer to as the first full-circle watch powered by Android Wear.
It’s true. Moto 360′s display doesn’t form a complete circle. It has a blank spot at the bottom. This chin or horizon line houses its screen components instead of needing a blank circular bezel for the task.
Moto 360 isn’t ideal for analog watch faces, and LG think it has a solution. LG G Watch R uses a circular bezel on its smaller 1.3-inch Plastic OLED screen, but covers it up with second-hand tick marks.
Some people think this looks more like a real watch, while others call it a diver’s watch and don’t want to wait until it until the Autumn release date or pay its likely expensive price (so far £220 in the UK).
Sony Smartwatch 3, Asus ZenWatch coming soon
The newest smartwatches were announced at IFA 2014 care of Sony and Asus. They couldn’t be more different.
Sony said it purposely stuck with a square-shaped display on its Sony Smartwatch 3 because it’s better. It also stores music in its 4GB of internal storage and adds a GPS chip to its specs – firsts for Android Wear.
Fixing a major complain of ours regarding proprietary chargers, Sony opted to include a micro USB port for charging. Brilliant. It also promises a longer battery life, but that remains to be tested.
Asus went a different route with the Asus ZenWatch. It’s boxy, but still stylish with a stitched leather strap and 2.5D curved glass.
Even though manufacturers can’t fundamentally change Android Wear, a nifty Asus ZenUI Wellness app makes use of the watch’s nine-axis sensor and makes good on Asus’ promise to make a health gadget.
The Sony Smartwatch 3 will go on sale in October for $250 (£190, likely AU$275), while Asus ZenWatch is soon to be available for pre-order but no officially confirmed price is known.
Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch
LG G Watch is a little more awkwardly titled, as if it’s a typo with too many Gs. Just as awkward is the fact that the Moto 360 dissed square-faced smartwatches in its unveil.
That happens to be the exact design of the LG G Watch. And, curiously, it’s is opposite of the LG G3 that seems to be all about its new quick circle case.
LG doesn’t seem to be offended, though. The company thinks it’s hip to be square with a buttonless design that highlights the boxy watch face even more.
With a 1.65-inch LDC IPS display, the G Watch is bigger than the Samsung Gear Live’s 1.63-inch display, but has a tad fewer pixels with a 128 x 128 resolution instead of the 320 x 320 resolution.
Importantly, the LG G Watch lasts longer than the Gear Live thanks to a larger 400mAh battery. It lasts a day and a half whereas Samsung’s watch typically stops ticking just shy of 24 hours.
Battery life is key for a wearable device that has to be worn all day long.
Also, like the Pebble Steel, it follows the trend of supporting swappable bands for a more personalized look and feel.
The LG G Watch costs $229 in the US and £159 in the UK. It’s more expensive than the Gear Live in the US at $199, but cheaper than Samsung’s UK price at £159. It really depends on where you live.
As we predicted, there was no rumored 3G-cabale LG G Watch unveiled. Expect that to be added further down the line in smartwatches and possibly available in South Korea before anywhere else.
Where Android Wear stands
Android Wear shows more promise on day one than Google Glass has in its year and a half of availability because it’s not a stretch to imagine donning Moto 360, LG G Watch or Samsung Gear Live.
Since only three watches have released, there are still plenty of questions left to be answered about its future, especially its battery life going forward.
Then there’s the question of iOS compatibility. Would Android-powered watches ever be able to connect to an iOS 8 device? Google has made plenty of its gadgets, app and services work with Apple’s iPhone and iPad hardware. Why not?
We’re looking forward to seeing how natural the "Okay Google" voice commands progress and if Google-owned Nest creates an Android Wear project of its own.