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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.

And remember: Any Android app will already work with Wear natively via its regular notifications. What we're talking about here are apps that offer more complex functions designed to run on the watch itself.

For instance, Google Maps lets you initiate navigation and view turn-by-turn directions from your Android Wear watch. Lyft lets you request rides and monitor your driver's status. Runtastic and RunKeeper help you track runs with detailed info on duration, distance and calories. And an app called Allthecooks lets you view step-by-step directions for preparing recipes on your wrist; all you do is swipe on the watch's screen to move from one step to the next.

Beyond that, both Google Keep and Evernote give you the ability to browse existing notes and leave yourself new notes by speaking into your watch; a delivery service called Eat24 allows you to place food orders by voice via a Wear device; and both Delta and American Airlines offer apps that'll put boarding passes and easy-to-view travel info on your Wear device's display.

More Wear-ready apps are showing up every day, some of which work with special hardware to create cool possibilities. You can control appliances in your home with the combination of a Belkin WeMo Switch and the IFTTT Android app, for example, or control Philips Hue light bulbs from your watch with an app called Hue Control.

A sampling of cards you'd swipe through horizontally while cooking with the Allthecooks app. Tapping on the blue-highlighted numbers in the last card causes the watch to launch timers for those values.

Wear comes preloaded with a couple of standalone applications as well, including a compass and an app called Fit that tracks your footsteps and heart rate (provided that your watch has a heart rate monitor). Manufacturers can also preload their own standalone apps onto devices.

The line between useful and annoying

The million-dollar question with a device like a Wear watch: Is having instant wrist-based access to information and notifications actually useful — or is it a new type of annoyance we're signing ourselves up to receive?

The answer ultimately depends on you. But after two weeks living with Android Wear, I can tell you this: For anyone who likes to stay connected, the platform offers a practical and convenient new way to communicate and keep up to date.

When I was flying cross-country after Google I/O, for instance, I found myself hustling through the Denver airport on a tight connection. While I briskly walked from one end of the airport to the other, I was able to quickly read and respond to texts from my wife on my wrist and get vibrating notifications when my connecting flight had its gate changed and then was delayed. All of that happened while I was walking with my hands full and my eyes barely off the path in front of me.

 

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