As you might not have noticed if you don’t already own an Android Wear smartwatch, Google has pushed out Android Wear 2.0 in the last few weeks, bringing with it a host of improvements and changes. New devices have arrived ready to show off the software too.
With sales still firmly in the less-than-spectacular bracket though, is a fancy new OS update going to be enough to convince users to pay for an Android Wear device? We took the Huawei Watch 2 out for some testing to see what Android Wear 2.0 has to offer.
What’s new in Android Wear 2.0?
The biggest change ushered in with Android Wear 2.0 is that watches are much more independent – you install apps right from your wrist, for example, rather than relying on extensions built into the apps on your phone.
So having Google Maps on your mobile isn’t enough to have Google Maps on your smartwatch – with Android Wear 2.0 you need to install Google Maps separately on your wearable too.
It’s the same story with syncing tracks from Google Play Music to your wrist: this needs to be done from the watch itself now, not through the phone app.
These tweaks make it much easier to get everything done from your smartwatch, but the new approach can take some getting used to for Android Wear 1.x veterans.
Other major upgrades include better text entry options, with support for smart replies, handwriting input and a tiny keyboard, and a cleaner user interface.
Watch faces are also new and improved in Android Wear 2.0, with support for complications – tiny widgets that display shortcuts to apps of your choice, or perhaps data pulled from your calendar or Google Fit.
Speaking of Google Fit, the watch experience is now much more comprehensive – with guided tutorials, for example – but the same updates have been pushed out to Android Wear 1.x too, so this isn’t an update that’s exclusive to the new software.
Every Android Wear watch launched this year is going to come with version 2.0 of the software on board, and it’s slowing rolling out to plenty of older watches too.
Testing Android Wear 2.0: what we liked
There’s no doubt the whole Android Wear experience is more polished with the 2.0 update, and we like a lot of what Google’s done here. The interface is smarter and cleaner overall, and you’re going to be checking your phone a lot less.
Much of that is to do with the way apps now live independently on the watch. Getting directions or reading emails is a breeze, though beyond Google’s own apps, not many developers have yet pushed out a full Android Wear 2.0 experience.
In other words, for a lot of third-party apps, you’re still going to have to fish out your phone once you’ve seen you’ve got an alert.
Another new feature we haven’t mentioned yet is Google Assistant – and though it’s still got plenty of room for improvement, it’s already one of the best features of Android Wear 2.0.
Much of what you can do with Google Assistant you could do with the old voice search and command interface, but the Assistant is smarter and more natural to work with. Voice recognition is very good too, so you don’t need to shout at your wrist.
Not everyone is going to make use of Google Assistant, but those that do will love the way it’s baked into Android Wear 2.0. It’s not perfect yet but there’s a lot of potential here, as Google is now putting it into pretty much every product it makes.
We really liked the complications as well, letting you see appointments and steps and lots of other data without even touching your watch.
Based on the time we’ve spent with our Android Wear 2.0 watch, it’s a big step forward – notifications are smarter, you’re going to be spending less time digging out your phone, and it’s focused on the simple stuff smartwatches do well.
Testing Android Wear 2.0: what needs work
As we alluded to above, getting started with Android Wear 2.0 isn’t all that easy if you’re well used to the way Android Wear 1.x works.
To begin with we were expecting apps (like Google Maps and Android Messenger) to just show up, but you actually need to install them on your wrist now.
The new notification system is a bit hit and miss too: it’s designed to be less intrusive, but depending on the watch face it can be difficult to tell if you’ve got any alerts at all.
Watch faces in general seem to be a bit of a mess too – Android Wear 1.x faces won’t automatically work on Android Wear 2.0 without a developer patch, and designs that have been updated don’t necessarily work on all 2.0-compatible watches.
Meanwhile we’re glad to see handwriting and keyboard support added – but they’re pretty useless. That’s not necessarily Google’s fault, it’s just the limitations of a very small screen.
We spent many a frustrating minute trying to tap out replies to messages on our watch, and the “smart” replies weren’t particularly helpful either (though handy in a pinch).
Overall, Android Wear 2.0 ends up very much in credit, and a lot of the frustrations of Android Wear (like overbearing notifications) have been removed.
The next steps are more advanced apps, more features for Google Assistant, and a stronger selection of watch faces (that work across any model) so users can really make Android Wear their own.