The Android Wear platform has been stagnant lately ─ there’s no doubt about that. Mostly due to the limitations of the software, and a little due to the hardware. While the Apple Watch and Tizen watches from Samsung have come along with more features. Android Wear has lagged behind. The latest Android Wear 2.0 update brings lots of changes though. Some are welcomed and others are more questionable, so let’s take a look.
Let’s start with one of the biggest improvements: the watch faces. Watch faces now contain complications. Which, is a complicated way of saying that they allow you to add more information to your watch face. These include the typical step count, battery level, date, calendar events, and more. They can also display some new ones such as favorite contacts or app shortcuts.
There are also widget-like complications to show notification count or icons to show which apps you have notifications from. This all adds up to a more informative screen with better access to things you care about.
Swiping down now also reveals a much more informative screen with airplane mode, sound, sunlight/theater mode, DND, and a settings icon. Plus, there’s a network indicator, month, day, and battery level — all of which were previously available from the same place. However, it did take several inefficient swipes to access it. The do not disturb quick toggle is also independent of your phone’s status now. When you enable it on the watch it will only silence the watch.
Notifications have also gotten a makeover. They are now darker and more pleasant to look at. The way you interact with them has also changed. In Android Wear 1, you used to swipe to the left for more options. This is now gone; when you want to view the full text or email you now just tap it. From there, you can choose more options such as delete or reply for emails, or replying to a text.
There is no longer an option to open a notification on phone, block notifications, or bring back accidentally dismissed notifications — something you’ll find out the first few times you swipe away a notification. It’s also worth noting that there is helpful clear all button at the bottom of the notification section.
The crown still functions to turn the display on and return you to the watch face home screen. It has, however, lost most of its other functions — such as turning off the display, putting the watch into theater mode, and enabling sunlight max brightness mode. It’s now more of a dedicated app drawer button.
The app drawer has also been upgraded. The icons now go around the rim of the screen and you can see much more of them at once. There is also an option to long press and pin your favorite apps to the top.
Speaking of apps, when you install apps you now do it all through the Play Store on the watch. Watch companion apps no longer sync up from your phone automatically when installed. Instead, you must manually search and install your apps or choose the companion app at the bottom of the Play Store home screen to load on the watch.
Assistant is now on your wrist, thanks to Android Wear 2.0. This will soon be coming to more hardware, as long as it runs Android 6.0 or above. That makes it a little bit less exciting, but it’s still convenient to have right on your wrist. With Assistant you can do much of what you could already do with Google Now, except now you also can control your smart home devices.
Buttons, buttons, and more buttons. If you happen to have a watch with multiple buttons, Android Wear 2.0 now allows you to customize what apps those buttons will open. Adding new functions once inside of an app is possible, as well. For instance, inside of Google Play Music, the buttons above and below the crown on the LG Watch Sport control the volume. They also control the volume when in a call. The rotating crown on the LG Watch Sport isn’t left out either. Once inside of Google Maps it can be used to zoom in and out.
In the future, other hardware OEMs could implement this same rotating power button, or adopt another variation such as a rotating bezel, as support for similar hardware is now built into Android Wear 2.0.
Android Pay support has also been added, but it will require one of the newer watches with NFC. Paying has never been more convenient now that you can do it without reaching for your phone. To help be more secure, it also requires you to setup a lock screen for your watch. Unfortunately, it only works with NFC, unlike the Gear S3 which also works with MST payments.
All in all Android Wear 2.0 is a substantial upgrade. It brings many new features, new designs, and changes how you interact with your smartwatch. If you’re like me, then it’ll take you at least a week to break all the habits you’ve learned from previous versions — as well as feel the frustration of swiping away yet another notification you meant to open.
After getting accustomed to the new gestures I’ve begun to really enjoy the upgrade. However, there are still times I miss features from Android Wear 1. Some of these are the crown shortcuts for theater or sunlight mode, bringing back accidentally dismissed notifications, controlling DND on my phone, and the option to open an app on the phone.