The Useful Stuff
There are three things Android Wear definitely gets right: navigation, notes, and reminders.
Navigation works in conjunction with a smartphone, which does all the actual navigating. Android Wear simply displays the next direction along with a general overview of the route and time left on the trip. Android Wear can also launch navigation and set the destination and transportation means with a voice command. For example, the command “navigate to home by bike” will do just that. Providing the simplified directions at a glance also proves beneficial for biking and navigating by foot, in what is perhaps the best example of Android Wear’s promise of pertinent information made available at a glance.
The command “take a note” also does just that. The sticky note crowd will love this because it’s simple, and by the very nature of a smartwatch, always available for note jotting. By default, the notes are stored in Google Keep, but as of this writing, users can set the excellent project management app Trello as the default note depository, or Evernote Wear, an Android Wear version of the popular notes app. Hopefully, OneNote isn’t far behind.
Android Wear sets reminders by time and location. For example, command Android Wear to “set a reminder, go to the store for paper towels,” and it will ask “when?” Users can set a time or location like “home” or “noon.” Once the user arrives home or the clock strikes 12, Android Wear will display the paper-towel reminder. Once again, it’s simple and effective, and works near flawlessly.
The Other Stuff
Google made a big deal about personal Google Now alerts appearing on Android Wear, but they really don’t add much. Sure, last night’s Red Sox score will pop up randomly, but the alerts don’t offer anything beyond the trivial.
Asking Android Wear questions for answers powered by Google Now proves a bit more worthwhile, particularly for quick calculations (what’s 15% of $56.75?) and definitions. See something on a menu and you’re not sure what it is? Google Now likely has an answer, like it always has.
Step tracking is popular now thanks to wearables like the Fitbit, and Android Wear can do much the same. By default, it will track steps and store a few days’ worth of data. There are dedicated fitness bands and trackers that do a better job than Android Wear, but it’s welcome here as a secondary feature.
Android Wear can also display meeting and agenda information powered by Google Calendar, though there are no interactive elements for snoozing or alerting. Again, this saves users the step of whipping out a smartphone to glance the same info.
Users can also save time spent hunting for an app, as Android Wear can open any app installed on the smartphone to which Wear is connected with a voice command. Android Wear will also alert users when a call comes in with the caller’s info. A swipe to the left or right will trigger the smartphone to answer the call or dismiss it.
Finally, since Android Wear powers smartwatches, there are naturally a few different digital watch faces available by default. They are rather ugly and plain as of this writing, but some expect third-party designers to step up with better options.
Swipe, Tap, Talk
Android Wear navigation is all based on swipes, taps, and talking. Cycle through alerts and notifications with a swipe up or down. Alert options, if any, are accessed with a swipe to the left. This is how one would respond to a text, for example. A swipe to right dismisses the alert. “OK Google,” or a tap brings up the equivalent of the Android Wear start screen, where one can then dictate an action (“Text Mom,”), or scroll up and down for a list of available options. Buried at the bottom of the list is a “Start” menu where the third-party apps reside, along with a settings menu.
- Adjust brightness
- Always-on screen (off/on)
- Airplane mode (off/on)
- Power off
- Change watch face (also accessible via a long press on the actual watch face)
- About (where users can also check for Android Wear updates)
A palm press to the watch face will turn off or dim the display.
Navigation is simple and easy enough to figure out. In early builds on the Samsung Gear Live smartwatch, it’s not very fluid and often gets hung up during transitions. Swipes are also sometimes dropped, though that could be a hardware issue.
If there’s a complaint, it’s that the settings and third party apps menu are buried. The Gear Live has a button that can be long-pressed to access the settings, but some Android Wear devices are buttonless.