The Cool and Not-So-Cool things about Android Wear

Being a newly converted Android user late last year (and still very happy with my Nexus 5), I was very interested in the Google I/O event that happened a few weeks ago. Of course, I wanted to see what Google has in store for Android on my phone (the latest update to the Android platform, Android L, looks promising). But one other thing caught my eye: the announcement of "smart watches" powered by Android Wear.

I’ve always been really curious about wearable technology. I was pretty close to giving in to the Google Glass beta program until the hefty price tag stopped me in my tracks. Tools like the LilyPad Arduino are a hell of a lot cheaper and more flexible, so they always had my attention. Now that a larger company like Google is making a larger push into this field, I gave in and decided to be one of the first to experiment with these watches, so I purchased the LG G Watch.

LG G Watch

Currently, there are only two Android Wear watches on the market, the other being the Samsung Gear. The only reason why I chose LG’s offering was solely because I already have a Nexus - made by LG - so I just chose that one. After having this watch on my wrist during all waking hours of a week, I thought I’d write a post on my initial thoughts about this device.

The Cool

It seems like for the initial push, Android Wear watches is mostly all about notifications. Whenever there’s a notification on your phone, you’ll get a gentle buzz on the watch, which works great if your phone is muted. As long as you have the watch synced up with your phone, the watch can notify you of everything. You can receive updates like weather updates, calendar reminders and flight statuses. One notification that I found useful is when I receive phone calls, I am alerted on my wrist, and can choose answer the call or ignore it. If you have headphones with a built-in mic, the ability to do this is really convenient.

You can also have your phone send all Android notifications to your watch, so you can see emails, text messages and anything else that appears in the notification shade. To me, these have been pretty useful. I like being able to see who’s messaging me before I take my phone out of my pocket or out of the charger. It’s not necessarily something ground-breaking, but the convenience is nice.

Besides notifications, you can sync apps from your Android device to your watch, provided that they have Android Wear support built in. Since this is shiny new technology, there’s not a whole lot in this space at the moment (more on that later). But there are a few cool apps already available for it. A lot of Google’s own apps are already useful here, like Google Maps. I tested out the navigation functionality, and it worked out better than expected - for example, whenever I was getting to a street where I had to turn left or right, the watch would vibrate to notify me beforehand.

There are a few other well-known apps who have added Android Wear support to their existing apps, like Evernote and Wunderlist. There’s also a few new companies also making Android Wear specific apps. For example, one of the more useful ones I’ve installed is Wear Aware. It alerts me when I leave my phone behind, and also lets me ping my phone from my watch in case I lose in between the couch cushions (true story).

The Not-So-Cool

Although the notifications and apps have been pretty useful for me, there are still plenty of shortcomings for Android Wear watches.

The very first thing everyone asks me about this watch is “How’s the battery life?” It’s actually not bad, but it is a device that will need be charged on a daily basis. On a typical day with not a whole lot of usage, by the end of my day the battery is down to 50% capacity. On the first few days when I was constantly playing with the watch and showing it off to people, the battery life went down to about 25% capacity. I don’t mind charging the watch overnight, but apparently this is a turn-off for some people.

As I mentioned earlier, currently there are still very few apps with Android Wear support. Considering that Android Wear has been publicly released just two weeks ago, this should be no surprise. I have noticed that a few more apps have been appearing in the Google Play store with Android Wear support, so I fully expect a lot more apps to be coming down the road, especially when more and more Android Wear devices are released.

Also, the existing apps don’t really do a whole lot right now. For example, if you do a Google search, it will come up with the top three results, but all you can do is just open the website in your phone, not read / load it on your watch. I understand why as there are a lot of resource-heavy websites that wouldn’t be able to load on the limited capacity of the watch. But it would be cool to have a mobile or text-only version available to quickly glance upon. Other apps have voice-enabled tasks which are useful, but most of the times I have no idea what voice commands are triggered. There has to be better documentation, both from the app developers as well as in the actual watch so I can know what I can actually say to trigger an app's voice command.

Speaking of voice commands, there's some weirdness with it. It constantly misspells words, something that rarely happens whenever I use voice commands on my Nexus 5 phone. For example, I can't seem to get the watch to register "Show me my steps", as it usually detects that I said "Show me my stuff". Granted, this could be nitpicking, but there are enough of them to make me think something is off.

Finally, one thing that is getting pretty annoying to me is that this watch has very poor visibility in direct sunlight. The screen is actually nice and bright (although I’ve read that Samsung’s offering has a better screen) but unless the brightness is set all the way up, you'll have to get some shade to glance at the watch. I’m not sure how future devices will be able to minimize this.

The Future

As I’ve already mentioned a few times in this post, this is brand-new technology that’s been in the hands of developers for a few weeks. Any new technology will have a ton of issues when it’s released, and Google is no exception to this rule. However, I do see a very bright future for these devices. As times goes on and more developers come on board (and I will soon as well, thanks to well-written documentation and resources), I’m sure we’ll be seeing these watches do things that no one thought of. Hell, if you’re a Tinder user, you can already look at your matches on your watch. These types of interactions, regardless of how silly some people perceive them to be, are what draws larger groups of people to these devices.

I’m also certain that these watches will also become a lot more pleasing to the eye as more watch manufacturers get their hands on them. The next Android Wear watch will be the Moto 360 from Motorola, and it actually looks like a watch, not the square, nerdy looking watch that I have on my wrist now. Google has already announced that one of my favorite watch companies, Fossil, will be making Android Wear devices as well, so in the style department, things will certainly get better.

One more thing to note - there have been rumors for quite some time that Apple will jump on the wearables bandwagon as well, and the Android Wear release might be the thing that will push Apple to actually do something in this department. Competition is always good for the consumer.

For now, Android Wear doesn’t seem to be fully prepared for prime time yet, as there are still plenty of shortcomings that are present in any new tech that comes out. But I predict that these watches will be big in a year or two. I can’t wait to see the full extent of this device’s powers.

Written by

Dennis Martinez

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