Wear OS by Google tips, tricks and guides: a must read for any user

We explain what it is, which watches use it and much more
Ultimate guide to Wear OS features
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The Wear OS by Google platform has welcomed significant changes in recent years, not least the rebrand away from Android Wear.

However, the crux of the smartwatch operating system is still the same as it was when it launched back in 2014, and, despite its flaws, it's one of the best options for those with an Android phone.

In fact, Wear OS is very much a viable option for those with an iPhone, too.

Before you get lost in the wonderful world of Wear OS, though, there's plenty to understand. And, in this guide, we'll be detailing what exactly it is, how it works, the best smartwatches that work with Wear OS and much more.

What is Wear OS by Google?

For every smartwatch, there's a software platform running on-screen. With the Apple Watch, it's watchOS. For Samsung, it's Tizen. For Fitbit, it's FitbitOS. You get the idea.

Wear OS works slightly differently, however, as Google partners with third-party smartwatch makers. So, instead of a Google-branded smartwatch, you'll instead see watches such as the Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle, Fossil Sport, TicWatch or Skagen Falster 3.

This means there's a much greater variety of designs in the Wear OS catalog. Like the Android smartphone platform, however, the software is essentially the same from device to device.

What can a Wear OS smartwatch do?

what can a wear OS smartwatch do

So, that's what Wear OS is, but you also need to know what the platform actually allows for, too. Particularly if you're looking to buy a smartwatch for the first time, it's easy to wonder what exactly it can do.

Wear OS watches, like most, are much more than just second screens for your smartphone. Here's a list of a few abilities, but keep in mind that not all the features below are available on every model.

- Daily activity and workout tracking

- Heart rate data

- Google Assistant

- Google Pay

- GPS location tracking

- Google Calendars syncing

- Google Maps navigation

- Smartphone notifications and calls

- Alarm clock and stopwatch

Which Wear OS smartwatch is best?

which Wear OS smartwatch is best

Below, we've summarised five of the top smartwatches running Wear OS you can buy in 2020, but head over to our complete Wear OS smartwatch buying guide for the full list.

Best Wear OS watch for men: Fossil Carlyle HR

Buy now: Amazon | $295
Launched in 2019, Fossil's Gen 5 smartwatch brings all the same bells and whistles from the Gen 4 models, adds a speaker and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 3100 chipset.
For the mid-tier price and a simple, classic smartwatch design, this is an ideal pick for men in need of a Wear OS watch.

Best Wear OS watch for women: Michael Kors Access Sofie HR

Buy now: Best Buy | $325
A follow-up to the popular original, the Access Sofie HR brings a much-needed heart rate monitor, GPS and support for Google Pay.
This is still a smartwatch with design as its core focus, but you now have the option to use it as a fully-fledged exercise companion.

Best Wear OS watch for exercise: Fossil Sport

Buy now: Amazon | $99
One of the first Wear OS smartwatches to house the Snapdragon 3100 chipset is also the best example of how the platform can be used primarily for sport and exercise.
It comes with a choice of two sizes, several different colors and the lightweight body and strap make it ideal for swimmers, runners and more.

Best unisex Wear OS watch: Skagen Falster 3

Buy now: Amazon | $295
Arguably the sleekest set of smartwatches to run Wear OS is the Skagen Falster series, which received another upgrade at the start of 2020.
It adds the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip to existing features such as GPS, NFC, heart rate and waterproofing support the first iteration lacked, and it's a versatile option for both men and women.

Best budget Wear OS watch: TicWatch E2

Buy now: Amazon | $159

The best example of a truly budget watch in the Wear OS collection, the TicWatch E2 is feature-packed, offers a great screen, and is ideal for more sporty users.
The design isn't as svelte or easy on the eye as more expensive watches running the software, but you won't find a better overall package for this low a price tag.

Wear OS tips and tricks

wear os tips

Change watch face

Like the Apple Watch, Wear OS lets you set up a bunch of customised faces and then switch between them. Maybe you like a sporty face that shows your stats, but a more classic look for going out.

Customise a few to your liking, then just switch between them by holding down on the watch face, then swiping left and right across the screen. Super easy. You can also add and switch between watch faces through the Wear OS app.

Pin your fav apps

If you've got a lot of apps on your watch, it can be a pain scrolling through the list to find them all. But if you have a few go-tos, go to the app drawer and pin them to the top of the menu by simply holding a finger down on the icon for a second. It will then move to the top of the list and get a small star icon to indicate it's 'favorited'.

Share one number

Several Wear OS watches now offer a cellular connection, meaning you can make and take calls from your wrist. Ideally, you don't want to get a second phone number, but some networks including AT&T let you share the same number on your phone. If you do get a watch with LTE, it's worth checking if number sharing is an option.

Get on the Wi-Fi

Wear OS gives your smartwatch a lot more standalone functionality, but to make the most of this you'll want to give it some sort of connection. As soon as you set up your new smartwatch, make sure (assuming it supports it) you get it hooked up directly to your Wi-Fi, meaning you'll be able to browse the Play Store and use features like Google Assistant whether or not your phone is nearby and working. If you didn't do it on the phone during setup, you can connect to Wi-Fi from the watch by going to Settings > Connectivity > Wi-Fi.

Customise your buttons

Some of the more recently Wear OS smartwatches open up the ability to configure the buttons on your watch, letting you create shortcuts to your most-loved features. Head into Settings > Personalization > Customize hardware buttons to choose what you want them to do. If you plan on using Google Pay, we recommend dedicating at least one button to that for convenience, for example.

Keyboard configuration

Typing on a smartwatch screen keyboard isn't ideal, but it's actually not too bad on Wear OS. However to make life a bit easier, we recommend playing with the configurations a bit. Go into Settings > Personalization > Input methods and then tap on Google Keyboard. Here you'll have access to a selection of preferences, but it's the ones under Text Correction that you'll find most handy. You can toggle auto-correction, auto capitalisation, next-word suggestions and other options to make typing on your smartwatch a bit easier.

Use Google Assistant to control your smart home

Google's answer to Alexa and Siri can become a whole lot more useful once you've fiddled around with some of the settings inside the Wear OS app. Aside from asking about your agenda or launching apps, you can also use Assistant to take control of your smart home devices.
Head to the Wear OS app, scroll down and select Google Assistant then Settings: on the Assistant tab you can manage supported smart home devices and create rooms so you can tell your watch to turn on the lights in the bathroom or in the hallway.

Still get that Google Now fix

While Google's card-based personal assistant has essentially evolved into Assistant, it still exists in a modified form on your watch. Swipe right from the main watch face to see your feed, which will include events from your calendar, upcoming deliveries, sports scores, weather updates and more.

Quick Settings

It's now much easier to quickly adjust things should the need arise in Wear OS. All you have to do is swipe down from the top to reveal a bunch of Quick Settings – it's so easy you'll forever wonder how you lived without it. You'll get things like Airplane mode and brightness settings. Oh, and Theater Mode. Speaking of which...

Use Theater Mode

You're in a movie theater having a great time, laughing and crying and whatnot. But then you get too excited, you move your arm and your watch lights up like a Christmas tree. Shame on you – just turn on Theater Mode. To do so, swipe down to get to Quick Settings, then tap on the watch icon to deactivate your screen and keep it off. To go back to normal, press the power button on your watch.

Scribble it out

Tired of typing on a tiny watch screen? It's better to scribble things out. You'll get to use your finger to draw out letters that turn into words, and what's pretty cool is the screen will automatically scroll right to left to give you more space to scribble more letters.

In most apps, before you begin typing, you'll be presented with an input choice: do you want to use voice control or the keyboard? You can also access the handwriting option from the keyboard by tapping the globe icon.

Set up and use Google Pay

Wearable payments is one of the strongest arguments for wearable devices. It's just so much more convenient tapping your wrist to a scanner than getting out your phone or wallet. Plus, it saves the people behind you in line a lot of time.

To set up Google Pay, you'll have to download the app on your phone and set it up there first. Once you do that, head to the Google Pay app on your watch and opt to set up a new card. This'll boot you back to your phone, which will have you choose a card, agree to some terms and verify your account.

Once that's all taken care of, you can usually set up one of the side buttons on your smartwatch to be an Android Pay button (under Personalization > Customize hardware buttons in Settings). Then it's all easy peasy: tap that button, and then tap your wrist to pay.

Downloading apps to Wear OS

As is now the growing custom with smartwatches, users can download apps directly from the wrist.

That means you can browse the Google Play Store from your Wear smartwatch and begin enjoying them instantly. Of course, if you prefer, you can still download through a phone over Bluetooth, as well.

Don't forget, many apps, like Spotify and Cardiogram, are pre-installed onto most Wear watches, too. You can tackle our guide on how to download apps to Wear OS, but here's five app suggestions for you to get started with.

Don't forget, many apps, like Spotify and Cardiogram, are pre-installed onto most Wear watches, too. You can tackle our guide on how to download apps to Wear OS, but here's five app suggestions for you to get started with.

1. UV Index Now

2. Strava

3. FourSquare

4. Google Keep

5. Facer Watch Faces

Check out the rest in our complete list of the best Wear OS apps.

Changing watch faces on Wear OS

Once you've skipped through the tutorial, downloaded a couple of apps and got to grips with the basics of Wear OS, you'll want to customize the thing you'll be looking at most - the watch face.

Whether your preference is digital or analogue, or you want to just change up the widgets the face you've picked, doing so is simple from the watch itself.

1. On your watch, wake the screen.

2. On the home screen, touch and hold the screen for two seconds.

3. View the watch faces available on the watch by swiping from left to right.

4. Tap on the option you want as your new watch face.

Watch faces can be managed through the Wear OS app on your phone as well – tap on one of the watch faces on the front screen, or tap More to see a wider selection.

Check out our favorite Wear OS watch faces in the complete roundup.

Wear OS for iPhone

wear OS on iOS

It's one of the most common questions we get asked: "Can Wear OS watches work with an iPhone?"

The answer is yes. While Apple doesn't let those with an Android smartphone pair with an Apple Watch, iPhone users are able to use Wear OS smartwatches.

And, for a long time, the Wear OS app for iPhone was an extremely shallow experience. However, recent improvements now mean that users can now access information tiles, notification settings, calendar syncing, Google Assistant, Google Fit and add more watch faces.

It's far from the perfect companion app, but it's certainly enough to get by.

In our complete guide to using Wear OS on iPhone, we detail how to set up and more.

Tracking activity on Wear OS

Wear OS is slowly becoming a better place for those who like tracking activity, especially since fourth-gen devices began packing GPS and heart rate monitors.

However, having sensors present is only half the job, with every second of logged activity only as useful as the portal used to store it in. In the case of Wear OS, that's the Google Fit app.

Available on both your phone and the smartwatch, Google Fit splits your daily activity into two key components: Move Minutes and Heart Points.

However, it's also the place that stores logged exercises, step counting history, sleep data and weight information, through a tab called the Journal.

Open up the apps list on your wrist and you'll see entries for Fit (your main dashboard), Fit Breathe (a set of breathing exercises), and Fit Workout (for tracking a specific type of activity). The basics, like step counting, are taken care of automatically.

Open up the Fit app to see your stats for today and for recent days. You'll also be able to see your current heart rate, if you're using a watch that supports the feature.

Scroll further down inside the Fit app and choose Settings to customize how the app works: You can set which activities are tracked for example, and which sensors the Google Fit app has access to.

For the most comprehensive Google Fit experience, make sure you've got the Google Fit app for Android installed as well, which is able to sync readings from your wrist.

Sleep tracking on Wear OS

wear os sleep tracking

Unfortunately, sleep tracking isn't something that Google Fit supports natively – at least not yet. There have been rumors that Google will introduce it eventually, but as it stands you can't track sleep with a Wear OS watch out of the box.

What you can do is enlist the help of a third-party app. Sleep as Android is one of the best around, offering full support for Google Fit integration and for tracking sleep through Wear OS devices or your phone – though you do need to pay a one-off fee of $9.99 to unlock the sleep tracking features.

Other than that, some watchmakers (including Huawei and Asus) make their own proprietary sleep tracking apps that use the sensors in your wearable to work out how well you're sleeping. As yet though, they don't integrate with Google Fit.

Wear OS and Google Assistant

Wear OS and google assistant

Google has always shown more commitment to its Home platform than it has done to Wear, so it makes sense, therefore, why it sees the Google Assistant as an important addition to smartwatch experience.

With the addition of a built-in speaker in fifth-gen Wear OS devices, the Assistant has an even more integral role to play, too.

In terms of the experience from the watch, Google Assistant is both more consistent and more refined than Alexa (which features on just the Fitbit Versa 2), offering detailed read-outs and a strong integration with apps.

To access Google Assistant on your wrist, swipe right from the main watch face and tap on the microphone icon, or press and hold the power button to bring up Assistant. You can then ask a question or say whatever is on your mind.

A voice command like "turn off the study lights" would then work straight from your wrist (assuming you have some smart lights installed in a room labeled "study").

You can tell your watch to "play music" or "track my run" for example, or ask it questions to find out the time in another city or what the weather is likely to do tomorrow.

If you have Google Messages installed on your watch, you can use the Assistant to send messages (like "call Beth" or "send a text to Chris"). If Google Maps is available, you can ask for directions to a place or ask if there is traffic on your way to work.

Try experimenting with Google Assistant to see what's possible – remember that it's plugged into many other Google services and apps (including Google Calendar, so you can bring up your upcoming schedule).

For ideas on how to use Google Assistant on Wear OS, scan our guide.

Google Pay on Wear OS

google pay on wear OS

Though it was a little late to the contactless payments parade, Google Pay is supported by pretty much every Wear OS smartwatch from 2018 and later.

As you might imagine, this works similarly to Google Pay on smartphones – or, well, any other payment platform.
We've detailed everything Google Pay on Wear OS in our big guide, but, if you already know your watch supports the feature, follow these step-by-step instructions to add a card to your wrist and use it to pay.

Add a payment card to your smartwatch

1. On your watch, open the Google Pay app.

2. Tap the 'Get Started' prompt.

3. Set up screen lock, if you haven't already.

4. On your phone, follow the instructions to add a credit or debit card. This will only add them to your watch, not your phone as well.

5. Your card will then show up on your watch.

How to make a smartwatch payment using Google Pay

1. On your watch, open the Google Pay app and select a card.

2. If asked, choose Credit, regardless of your type of card.

3. For debit card transactions, you may have to enter a PIN.

4. Hold your watch over the contactless payment terminal until you hear a sound or feel vibration from your watch.

Wear OS – how does it compare

wear os v samsung

There's no doubt that watchOS and the Apple Watch have the edge over Wear OS at the moment – Apple's wearables support a broader range of apps, and offer more stylish and more seamless integration with the iPhone.

That said, Wear OS offers more choice: more choice in watch designs and manufacturers, more choice in watch faces (only Apple-made watch faces are available on the Apple Watch), and more customization options.

If you've got an iPhone, the Apple Watch is an obvious choice for the associated wearable; if you prefer Android smartphones, however, then Wear OS is probably the option to go for (the Apple Watch doesn't really work with Android to any proper extent). Wear OS offers excellent integration with Android and services like Google Fit and the Google Assistant, even if third-party support isn't as good as it could be.

Android users might also think about proprietary watch OSes from the likes of Samsung and Huawei: these are fine at covering the basics, but third-party app support is even worse than it is on Wear OS.

You could argue Samsung's Tizen OS is better than Wear OS overall, as long as you're sticking to Samsung apps. It does have built-in sleep tracking for example, which is something currently lacking in Wear OS.

It's difficult weighing up Wear OS against other smartwatch operating systems – a lot depends on which smartphone you're using, and the features you need.

Wear OS guides for beginners

Getting started with Wear OS can be tricky, and understanding the basics outlined above is essential to your experience with the smartwatch. That's why we've pulled together a collection of quick and easy how-to guides for Wear OS users.