Android Wear 2.0 is here, as long as you're prepared to put up with a few bugs and rough edges and install the developer version. If that doesn't sound like you, don't panic — we've installed the early beta code on our Android Wear smartwatch so you don't have to.
The developer previews currently work with two Wear watches: Huawei Watch and the LG Urbane Watch 2 LTE. While updates to messaging, standalone apps, fitness and the user interface don't sound like much, it's a clear difference to the older version.
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We've already listed out everything about Android Wear 2.0, so here's a summary of our experience using the update, arriving fully in the autumn. Spoiler alert: it's actually pretty good.
The good - Design and alerts
After two weeks of intense use, Android Wear 2.0 feels like a more intuitive and robust wrist OS: it makes your smartwatch more like a standalone, mini-computer of its own and less of a second screen for your mobile phone.
The apps list (button push), Google Now (long button push) and watch options (swipe down) are all easier to access, and the new lick of paint looks well-designed and intelligently laid out.
There's now a much more Material Design-esque feel to Android Wear: notifications and menus are big and bold and colourful. You'll notice it most on the Google apps (like Hangouts) at first but other apps will soon catch up.
There are a few new gestures to get used to, so after upgrading we spent a few days dismissing alerts we didn't mean to and launching menus inadvertently, but get past that point and its plain sailing. We found ourselves shooting around the new menus and options very quickly after that.
We also noticed we spent less time checking our phone was in range: Wear 2.0 apps can run independently and access the web on their own, so you can fire off messages and check the weather with no handset required.
The newly simplified way of displaying notifications works very well and saves the watch face from getting obscured. It's something that we think a lot of Wear users will approve of.
Watch face complications (essentially widgets and shortcuts) are now supported too. We found adding new complications was fast and fun and really adds to the depth of what a watch face can offer: a lot of the third-party APIs aren't ready yet, but we tried adding a Google Fit step counter to the watch face, and it's great to have the option of packing more data on the screen.
The good: Messaging and fitness
One of the biggest updates arriving with Android Wear 2.0 is the new set of messaging options: smart replies, handwriting support, and keyboard input for typing on your watch.
The new additions meant we were much less likely to pull our phone out to send a message: the titchy keyboard is more accurate than you might think (autocorrect helps) and handwriting works well as a second option. Smart replies were a bit hit and miss but they should get better as you keep on using your device.
We're regularly on Hangouts and being able to quickly fire off a reply from the watch is really useful when your phone isn't around or easily accessible. For longer messages you're still going to revert to your mobile but the keyboard, handwriting and smart replies (and voice option) make it less necessary than ever.
Right now switching to handwriting is a real faff (you need to go in and out of the Settings app) so this could use some work.
Fitness has been given a much-needed revamp too — the new Google Fit apps that come with Android Wear 2.0 turn your smartwatch into a genuinely powerful fitness tracker.
The basics are the same but there's now far more information included in the watch face displays for Google Fit, which we love, and launching dedicated apps for specific activities is now possible (though we couldn't get that to work in our developer version). When the finished code arrives, these apps should launch automatically.
The improvements were enough to make us ditch our Fitbit Alta for much of the time. It's only really those 5-a-side football games where wearing a thin wristband is easier than a fully fledged smartwatch.
While Wear 2.0 didn't affect our daily routine much, it did increase the times we checked it during the day to catch up on steps, distance, calories and so on — the fitness aspects feel like more than an afterthought for the first time. Like much of Wear 2.0, it reduces your dependence on the full mobile apps.
The bad and the ugly
The good news is there's not much bad news — this is a genuinely promising update for Android Wear and one that Google seems to have put a lot of thought into.
Besides the usual bugs you would expect from developer code, there wasn't much that annoyed us about the Android Wear 2.0 experience. Watch face swapping and configuring didn't work properly, for instance, but you would expect Google to iron out these problems before the official launch. Likewise with certain apps crashing unexpectedly.
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The Settings app and other apps don't follow the same curved carousel format as the main apps list, which is a little jarring, and we'd like to see this fixed in future updates.
Battery life seemed to take a hit too, with our Huawei Watch barely making it to the end of each day, but again this is to be expected with early beta code. Let's hope we see some serious optimisations here, as it's a particular pain point for smartwatch users.
Almost all the negative experiences we had with Wear 2.0 should be fixed by the time it rolls out to everyone (with a compatible smartwatch) later this year. Our early verdict is a big thumbs up: it might even get you wearing your wearable again.
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