Smartwatches have been described as the best addition to our gadget arsenal since smartphones. Is this true? How useful is a smartwatch? Well, in this Android Wear usage review I answer those questions and more.
Android Wear usage review (let's be honest - should you bother?)
I remember being among the first handful of people who discovered modern smartwatches. I saw the Pebble Kickstarter a couple of hours after it was posted and remember feeling like a kid ogling Batman action figures before Christmas. I jumped on board and as the only pioneer in my group of friends who actually had a smartwatch.
For a couple of months I had to answer around a billion questions about what the weird watch on my wrist was and why it was useful. I could only come up with half answers because I didn’t grasp the full potential of my shiny new toy.
When Android Wear came along, my excitement about these watches had only gone up. Back in April of 2015 I couldn’t wait any longer and got a Moto 360, one of the original ones. It’s now close to a year of me using it, and I feel like I finally have a well-rounded answer for the question “Is a smartwatch useful?”
I won’t go near the specs - I don’t remember how much RAM the watch has, I only know it has more storage space than I need and I don’t even care about its' CPU. I finally know how to use a smartwatch on the daily, at least for my personal use, and that's all that matters to me.
And I mean daily use literally. My Moto 360 doesn’t have the best battery, and this is one of my biggest problems with most smartwatches: it’s another gadget you charge at night. But once you get used to that, it’s easier to get along with the watch.
5 ways you'll actually use the watch in real life
There are a handful of uses for my watch, some actually useful, some more gimmicky. If you’re looking to grab one of these for yourself but can’t find a reason, the list below should be of help.
As for which watch to choose, well, that’s a story for another day, and that has a ton more technical lingo. For now, here’s a real life Android Wear usage review, with tasks in order of importance and frequency of use:
1. Tell the time
Duh. If this wasn’t one of Android Wear’s strong points, the whole thing would be as helpful as a bucket of sand in the desert.
My Moto 360 doesn’t have the best battery life, as I said, but it can handle being used on Ambient Mode for a whole day, even if it struggles to live past 10 PM.
If you don’t know what Ambient Mode is, here’s a quick breakdown: unlike the Pebble, which has a display similar to e-Ink (meaning it’s always on), the whole range of Android Wear watches have the same type of display you find on your phone, meaning that keeping it on, and lit, for the whole day will quickly drain away the last drops of energy.
Ambient Mode, however, is an attempt to keep the display always on with just a simple watch face, and without the background light and battery-sucking animations. Once you tap on the screen or tilt your hand, the watch will light up and the watch face will be displayed.
Here’s how Ambient Mode looks (on the left) compared to my standard watch face (on the right):
So throughout the day the watch works as great as a… watch. After a long time experimenting with a ton of watch faces I have a simple, digital one that just tells the time. No weather, no sports results, no Star Wars quotes, just the time.
2. Get notifications
In time, I stopped using my watch as a standalone gadget and started thinking of it as an extension of my phone. Notifications work great for that.
The way notifications are handled with Android Wear is they mirror everything that shows up on your phone, and dismissing one on your watch also discards it from your phone.
This helped me out a lot, since I was always the one with my head buried in my phone. I’m sure many of you know this thought process: Oh, a notification! I wonder what’s on Facebook… Ha, what a cool post, reminds me of that app I used, I wonder if it’s still been upgraded. Speaking of an upgrade, how about a round of this game? Aaaand 45 minutes have gone by.
Now, I get notifications on my wrist and I can decide if it’s important enough for me to pick up my phone. This has reduced procrastination and distractions to a minimum!
It’s also very convenient when you can’t use your phone - I rely on these notifications while driving, it’s safe to flick your wrist while waiting for the light to go green, not so much checking your phone.
3. Control music or podcasts
This one task has been useful since I picked up my first smartwatch all those years ago. I don’t know about you, but when I’m on the subway or on the bus I’m one of those people who's always connected to his headphones like a lifeline, and I like to lose myself in my favorite music or podcasts.
And my watch is a very comfortable way to play, pause, rewind or forward the audio piece I’m listening to. Most times, it’s easier to tap my wrist once than to take out the phone, untangle the headphones and fiddle through widgets.
Here’s how I typically control the podcasts on my phone while I’m in the car:
Handy (ha! Get it?) way to fiddle with the play/pause controls, the volume, and rewinding or fast-forwarding.
This is by far the simplest-but-most-useful feature on my watch. And it’s awesome because you tap the screen instead of speaking into the microphone, which would be too awkward. Speaking of which...
4. Set reminders
For the past few years I’ve been searching for a task and time management app that would turn my phone and watch into a personal assistant. The answer, however, was in front of me the whole time: Google’s app suite does that with reminders serving as tasks being synced across Inbox, Calendar and Google Now.
The watch comes in handy when I’m in a rush and want to save something right then, before I forget about it forever. Oh, it also comes in handy when I’m all alone - I still avoid talking to my wrist in public. That’s one of the downsides of having to talk to your devices, you still get strange looks from people.
Setting reminders is simple, just flick your wrist, say “Ok Google” or open up the menu, and say what you need: “Remind me to buy cat food in 6 hours,” or “Remind me to buy some flowers when I get home.” Then get notified of the reminder across your devices.
With the recent upgrade to Android M on Android Wear, voice recognition has improved tenfold. Until now, the reminders above would have been saved as “buy cart dude” and “by powers.” Since the update, I’ve yet to have a problem with them.
5. Search instantly
This is the useful option I use the least, but still on a regular basis. Searching for basic information is easy on Android Wear: “What’s the capital of Kazakhstan?” or “What’s the official currency in South Africa?” all return neat results that can be viewed in a flash.
This feature also got revamped in the latest Android Wear software update and it now works 100% of the time. Before that, it worked 100% of the time about 50% of the time.
Also, if you’re feeling extra lazy you can ask your watch to do some math for you. “Okay Google, what’s 1900 times 2916?” And teachers said I wouldn’t always have my calculator with me, how about that!
4 impressive-yet-ultimately-forgettable watch features (or, what I don’t actually use on Android Wear)
There are tons of other things that the watch is capable of, and with each passing month more watches are announced and launched that can do even more nifty stuff.
But I don’t see myself using them on a regular basis. Don’t get me wrong, I love trying out new stuff, but most of these watches don’t stick; they’re mostly just gimmicks that you show off to your friends, who aren't even that impressed, anyway. Showing off the latest smartwatch to your friends is sort of like juggling a single ball. So I want to make this Android Wear usage review balanced and present the other side of things.
Here’s what I was very excited about, but ended up not using:
1. Heart rate sensor
Oh man, was I ever excited about this one! When I first got the watch, I’d check my pulse every couple of hours and stare at the watch while it would pulse its' light on my arm.
Then, I got an app that would measure my pulse throughout the day, and save it all in a neat graph that I would check every now and then. That was even better.
And that also killed my battery at 6 o’clock in the afternoon.
So now I rarely do it. Pretty anti-climactic, huh?
2. Apps, apps, apps!
The Apple Watch’s biggest selling point is Apps, and they encourage you to use your watch much like you would your phone, and install all sorts of nifty things on it.
I personally don’t see Android Wear watches being used like that. Some of the apps I have on my phone have corresponding Wear apps that go hand in hand, but I rarely see myself using them.
For instance, Google Keep has a tiny note reader on your watch. I tried to use it, I wanted to like it, but after a short while I found that it’s a lot easier to just do it with the phone app instead. Other apps also seem more gimmicky than useful, so I rarely - if ever - open them.
This is actually a really cool feature, and on the Pebble smartwatch it used to be my most used one. As I painfully pointed out before, battery is about as strong as a featherweight sumo wrestler on the Moto 360, so I can’t rely on it waking me up in the morning.
In fact, when I’m at home the watch only ever lives in its dock, securely nested and feeding off of my outlet like an electric vampire.
So yeah, in theory this features is great, but in practice it doesn’t see a lot of use.
4. Watch faces
I spent a lot of time on Android Wear forums and I’ve seen my Android Wear usage pattern in other users: when you first get your phone you want to try out as many watch faces as possible, then after a couple of weeks you settle for one and use it forever and ever.
I went through every major watch face out on the Play Store, and I spent more money on paid faces than I’m willing to admit, and for the past 8 months I’ve used… one (yes, one) of the stock faces.
And that’s because after a while you get tired of fancy faces and just want one that tells the time and in a way that's as simple and elegant as possible. For me, this was a stock one, but you might settle on a third party one just as well.
That’s not a bad thing, either! Sometimes you just have to explore before finding the perfect fit for you.
So what have we learned from this Android Wear usage review?
Do you have an Android Wear watch? How do you use it in day-to-day life?
photo credit: DigitalTrends.com
- You should probably get one - Android Wear is a great fit for the current gadget ecosystem and there’s quite a bit of smart you use in a smartwatch on a daily basis.
- You'll use it daily - Even though the novelty wears off after a while, you’re left using a core set of features that feel like an improvement from a standard watch.
- The battery drains fast, but you won't mind - Even though battery life means you can’t just snap the thing on your wrist and forget about it, you can make the most of what you have.