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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.

I've been aware of Wear's influence on my habits during more mundane activities, too — like when I'm out to lunch and can quickly scan and dismiss incoming emails in a split second on my wrist instead of having to whip out my phone and futz around with it 20 times an hour.

As for the annoyance potential, Wear has some tools built in to help you manage how much your watch alerts you. First of all, cards and notifications only buzz and light up your watch if they would also make a sound on your phone. That means most Google Now cards appear and are available on the watch, but don't overtly alert you to their presence. The same goes for any type of alert that you have set to be silent on your phone — so if you want new emails to be available on your watch but don't want to be alerted every time a message comes in, all you have to do is set the Gmail notification on your phone to be silent.

The Android Wear phone app also offers an option to blacklist specific apps from ever sending notifications to your watch. And if you don't want anything to interrupt you for a while, you can always swipe down from the top of your watch to activate a "mute" mode in which no notifications will arrive and the watch won't illuminate.

The Android Wear phone app allows you to mute specific apps and prevent them from sending any notifications to your watch.

All of that being said, there's certainly room for improvement. Right now, Wear includes a lot of all-or-nothing functionality. Since most Google Now cards never sound an alert on your watch, for instance, you sometimes don't notice important ones — like those informing you of flight delays — right away. (I use a third-party service called TripIt that manages my travel itineraries and provides its own push alerts, which is why my watch buzzed when my flight was being changed.)

It'd also be nice for Wear to offer a more nuanced way to manage things like email notifications so you could receive alerts for important messages but not for every email that hits your inbox. A custom Gmail alert trick I shared earlier this year will actually let you accomplish that, but it's a fairly involved workaround and not the kind of thing a typical consumer is going to know how to do.

Bottom line

With Android Wear, Google has created a foundation for smartwatches that actually makes sense. It isn't about complex commands or cramming every feature imaginable into your wrist; rather, it's about supplementing your phone in ways that make your life easier in small but meaningful measures.

 

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