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Android Wear deep-dive review: A smart start to smartwatch software

JR Raphael | July 10, 2014
Google's Android Wear platform is an impressive first step toward making smartwatches people will actually want to buy. Here's an in-depth look at where the software shines -- and where it falls short.

Voice control

When it comes to issuing commands and inputting text, Android Wear relies almost exclusively on your voice — no microscopic on-screen keyboards or other such silliness. And by and large, Wear's voice input system works surprisingly well.

You can wake a Wear watch and start giving it commands by activating the screen and then either tapping the display or simply saying "Okay, Google." From there, you can speak a variety of commands for tasks like taking a note, setting a reminder, checking your agenda or sending a text or email (which you would then dictate by voice).

Again, that's all stuff you could do on an Android phone as well. But when you're walking around or in a moving vehicle, being able to quickly send a text or set a reminder by raising your arm and saying a few words into your wrist is insanely useful. I've gotten spoiled by telling my watch to remind me of things when I get home (yes, Wear can do that) or by sending quick texts by speaking into my wrist on the fly. There's no fumbling through your pockets or fussing with your lock screen; the process just feels natural and intuitive.

Basic commands aside, you can ask Wear for all sorts of information and the system will provide the answers on your watch's screen. You can ask about sports scores, calculations and conversions, or even general facts — who's the mayor of a certain city, how many calories are in a particular food, how old is a certain celebrity and so forth. If Google has the data in its ever-expanding Knowledge Graph, it'll present it to you in a clean and concise card; if not, it'll give you the top few Web results with the option to read more via your phone.

Good as it's become, of course, Google's voice-to-text technology still isn't flawless — so you do have to accept the fact that your Wear-based dictation will have the occasional misinterpreted word. I've also had some scattered instances where the system has returned an odd "Disconnected" error after I've attempted to set a reminder or send a message, but that seems to be more of an occasional glitch than any sort of regular occurrence.

Android Wear and apps

The core operating system and Google services may be the real stars of Android Wear, but apps play a critical supporting role on the platform. Like Wear itself, apps are generally designed to work as extensions of their smartphone counterparts, making it easier for you to accomplish certain tasks that make sense on the wrist.

Notably, Google isn't going to create a standalone store of apps for Wear devices; in fact, you'll never install an app directly to a Wear watch. Instead, certain Android apps offer watch-specific components — and when you install any of those apps onto your phone, the watch elements automatically appear on your Wear device.

 

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