The Complete Guide to Android Wear

Must-have apps, top devices, and simple tips

Woman checking smartwatch.
Guido Mieth / Getty Images

Wearable devices, such as smartwatches and fitness trackers are taking the consumer electronics world by storm. Whether you want to stay connected with easy to access notifications or count your steps and monitor your heart rate there's a smart watch for you, and chances are it's running Android Wear, Google's "wearable" operating system.

Apple, of course, has the Apple Watch (don't call it an iWatch), and Windows Mobile has a handful of devices, but for now at least, Android has this market cornered. (Plus, you can pair Android Wear devices with the iPhone, so there's that.) There are lots of Android Wear apps to go along with the device of your choice too. Let's explore.

Wear Interface and Apps

Android Wear enables you to use a Wi-Fi-enabled smartwatch independently of your smartphone, which is a big deal since initially, smartwatches were more of an accessory as opposed to a fully functional device. With support for built-in speakers and microphones and LTE, your watch will soon be able to do nearly as much as your smartphone can. Wear 2.0, which will eventually roll out to newer smartwatches, includes a mini keyboard and exercise recognition, so you can easily track biking, running, and walking workouts. You'll also be able to display information from third-party apps on your watch face, rather than being limited to Google's apps or those created by your manufacturer.

You can use nearly any app you have on your smartphone on your smartwatch, plus there are many developed specifically for Android Wear. These include weather, fitness, watch faces, games, messaging, news, shopping, tools, and productivity apps. Most of your apps should seamlessly work with a smartwatch, such as a calendar, calculator, and other tools, though some, like weather and finance apps, will only serve notifications.

You can use voice commands to control most apps; for example, navigating to a location in Google Maps, sending a message, and adding a task or calendar item. Alternatively, you can use your smartphone to search for a destination and then navigate on your watch. As long as your devices are connected via Bluetooth, what's happening on one will sync with the other. 

If you already track your workouts with a smartphone, you probably already have a favorite app and it's likely to be compatible with your smart watch. There are also a number of games that have been adapted for Android Wear, and one, PaperCraft, which is exclusive to the wearable operating system

Wear Devices

Android Wear requires a phone running at minimum Android 4.3 (KitKat) or iOS 8.2. You can visit on your device to confirm whether it's compatible, but this information should apply no matter who made your Android phone: Samsung, Google Huawei, Xiaomi, etc.

There are about a dozen different wearable devices running Android Wear including the Moto 360 (women, sport, men's), which I've tested. Other options are the Asus Zenwatch 2, Casio Smart Outdoor Watch, Fossil Q Founder, Huawei Watch, LG Watch Urbane (original and second edition), Sony Smartwatch 3, and the Tag Heuer Connected. All of these devices are watches first, but each has its own style and features. Here's an overview of the notable features offered by each watch:

  • The Asus Zenwatch 2 has interchangeable straps, customizable watch face, a built-in speaker and microphone, a pedometer, and Wi-Fi connectivity so you can interact with it without having your phone nearby.
  • The Casio Smart Outdoor Watch is water resistant and rugged and offers specialized features for hiking, cycling, and fishing, including a compass and an altitude and atmospheric monitor. You can get alerts about sunrise and sunset times, reminders to eat and hydrate, and at-a-glance information about your hiking or biking progress. The watch even offers fishing tips based on your location.
  • The Fossil Q Founder watch has 4GB of storage for music and apps, and built-in Wi-Fi. That's ideal for when you're working out and don't want to carry anything extra. It also has an accelerometer and gyroscope for tracking steps and distance.
  • The Huawei Watch has a scratch-resistant face, Wi-Fi, a heart rate monitor, and exercise pattern recognition.
  • The LG Watch Urbane is water and dust resistant and has a Polymer-OLED display. Its successor, the Urbane 2, shares those features and adds on LTE from Verizon so that you can use the device to make phone calls (like Dick Tracy!) and don't have to depend on Wi-Fi or Bluetooth in order to access other functions, like messaging.
  • The Moto 360 is fully customizable at purchase; you can choose the colors and materials of the watch band and bezel. The band is removable so you can replace it when it gets worn out or change it around to suit your style.
  • The Sony Smartwatch 3 has a built-in compass, as well as an accelerometer to detect whether you're running or walking. It has built-in Wi-Fi so you can reply to messages and other notifications right from the watch, even if you've left your phone behind.
  • The Tag Heuer Connected has Google Fit built in and can monitor wind direction and weather. It's also splash-proof and has a coating on its bezel that is supposed to prevent fingerprints. It's worth warning you that this smart watch is considerably more expensive than the rest of the bunch--it costs $1500. 

Once you choose an Android smart watch, be sure to add it as a trusted device using Google Smart Lock; that way your smartphone won't unlock as long as the two devices are paired.