Android Wear 2.0

A worthy upgrade

PHOTO: GOOGLE
New ways to use apps Better workouts Faster, easier messaging
Faster, easier messaging
New ways to use apps Better workouts Faster, easier messaging
Better workouts
New ways to use apps Better workouts Faster, easier messaging
New ways to use apps

Android Wear 2.0 is the latest Google smartwatch operating system (OS). It was announced in May last year but it started to slowly roll out only last month. So what's new in Android Wear 2.0? Trevor Tan highlights the main new features.

INTERFACE

The first thing you will notice about the Android Wear 2.0 smartwatch operating system is the new interface. In the past, you swiped from right to left on the screen to find your apps. Now, the home button (sometimes called the side or power button) is the app launcher.

Push the home button and the apps are displayed in an arc to fit the circular watch face. You can now hold and drag your favourite app to the top.

In past iterations, notifications would usually get obscured on circular screens, as parts of the content were blocked by the curvature of the screen. Now, an incoming notification will appear as a small icon at the bottom of the screen. Swipe up the icon, and the message will take up the entire display without any obstruction.

Furthermore, the notifications cards are redesigned with light text on a dark background, instead of the other way around in previous versions. It is easier to read and saves battery life as well.

WATCH FACES

  • COMPATIBLES

    Android Wear 2.0 might be finally here. However, there are very few new Android Wear 2.0 smartwatches in the market currently. But there are some old Android Wear smartwatches that support 2.0. Here are some that might be of interest.

    Local availability of new Android Wear 2.0-compatible smartwatches (as at April 14)

    • Casio ProTrek WSD-F20: Available on April 21

    • Fossil Q Venture/Explorist: Available Q3 2017

    • LG Watch Style/Watch Sport: Available Q3 2017

    • Montblanc Summit: Available next month

    • Tag Heuer Connect Modular 45: Available now

    Availability of Android Wear 2.0 update in older Android Wear smartwatches (as at April 14)

    • Casio Smart Outdoor Watch WSD-F10: Update available

    • Fossil Q: Update available

    • Michael Kors Access: Update available

    • New Balance RunIQ: Update available

    • Polar M600: Update available

    • Tag Heuer Connected: Update available

Android Wear has always had more third-party watch faces than Apple Watch. However, changing watch faces with the former on smartwatches' screens can be tricky.

While you needed to tap, hold and swipe to change watch faces in the past, now you just need to swipe sideways on the screen to do so in Android Wear 2.0. This is similar to Apple's watchOS 3.

In addition, there is a new application programming interface or API that allows third-party developers to stream data from other apps to display on the watch faces.

STANDALONE APPS

Like Apple's watchOS 3, Android Wear 2.0 will see more standalone or native apps. This helps to improve performance and is also a boon to iPhone users who use Android Wear smartwatches.

Previously, iPhone users were pretty much stuck with the preloaded apps on their Android Wear smartwatches, as there is no Google Play Store on iOS. But in Android Wear 2.0, you can now use the Google Play Store native app to download watch faces and other apps straight into your smartwatch. Apple Watch, beware.

MESSAGING

Android Wear 2.0 sees the addition of a swipe-style keyboard (like Swype). Given the limited real estate of the watch face, having a swipe-style keyboard is great for typing out replies or composing e-mails. This is something you can't find on watchOS 3.

In addition, there are smart suggestions when you are composing replies, so you can just tap on those suggestions to quickly type out your messages. You can use this keyboard in Telegram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger as well for certain smartwatches.

GOOGLE ASSISTANT

With Android Wear 2.0, you now have Google Assistant on your smartwatch. It is a voice assistant like Apple's Siri or Amazon's Alexa. You press and hold the home button, or simply say "OK Google".

In my tests with the Casio ProTrek WSD-F20 and Tag Heuer Connected, it works pretty well in picking up my Singaporean-accented English voice commands. I can ask about today's weather or what's my step count today, or set reminders to go out and get groceries.

OVERALL EXPERIENCE

After using Android Wear 2.0 for around two weeks, I have to say it is a much improved experience compared with the 1.5 OS. The interface looks neater, it is easier to read and feels faster even on older Android Wear smartwatches.

Another great improvement is stability. I used to get frequent disconnections with Android Wear smartwatches, even when paired to an Android smartphone. But I have none to report with 2.0. Even when you exit the Android Wear app, the smartwatch is quick to reconnect when the app is up and running.

So, if your current Android Wear smartwatch supports 2.0, you should definitely upgrade.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2017, with the headline 'A worthy upgrade'. Print Edition | Subscribe