Android Wear 2.0, the biggest update for Google's smartwatch OS in its 3-year history, is now with us. The updated smartwatch OS originally launched on two brand new Android watches and it has also been arriving on existing Wear watches in the past few weeks.
The update adds a whole host of new features, has an emphasis on custom watch faces, fitness and standalone apps. iPhone users are also in line for a much better iOS/Android Wear experience.
Essential reading: When will Android Wear 2.0 come to my device?
Read on to get up to speed with everything you need to know about Android Wear 2.0…
Android Wear 2.0: Standalone apps
Standalone apps are the biggest change for the Wear ecosystem to date. In 2.0 you don't need your phone nearby to use apps on your Android Wear device. Using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or cellular instead of depending on a tethered phone or cloud syncing, your smartwatch now remains much more functional away from your phone.
Most Wi-Fi enabled smartwatches can already connect up to Wi-Fi but this is a huge deal for Android Wear watch owners who also happen to have iPhones. It means you can now download apps straight to the watch, making up for the previous lack of app support available when paired with Apple's smartphone.
Worried about security with apps running wild on your wrist? While smartphone-paired watches use secure transfer authentication data via the Wearable Data Layer API, apps will make use of AW2.0's new input methods – more on those in a bit – for username and password entry.
Which leads us to…
Android Wear 2.0: Play Store
As part of the grand untethering of phone and watch, Android Wear 2.0 now includes a standalone Play Store, meaning you're able to browse and download Wear apps right to your smartwatch.
This also means you don't need to install the apps on your phone – just the watch itself – as 2.0 doesn't require the two to be paired.
Android Wear 2.0: Material design
The most recent Android makeover has now made its way onto Android Wear smartwatches. But it's not a simple cut and paste job.
The design has been specifically optimised for Wear watches, redesigning the app launcher and creating something that's more accommodating for round screens. The way you interact with Wear has also been changed to fit in with the app launcher. Instead of the usual left and right swipe to find your apps, pushing the side button will display them in a slight arc. You can even put your favourite apps up the top by holding and dragging them.
There is also a new action drawer at the bottom of the display, providing context-specific actions similar to what you'd get on a smartphone.
These new menus and the like are also much easier to control thanks to Wear 2.0 supporting a rotational input. On the new LG duo a moveable watch dial allows you to move up and down menus, zoom in and out and so on, but the new hardware control option doesn't have to be a side scroller; the platform supports any rotational input. Samsung-style rotating bezel anyone?
Android Wear 2.0: Watch faces
Android Wear has been playing catch-up with Apple's watchOS in making its watch faces more useful. In Wear 2.0, you are able to view multiple data from different third-party apps on the watch face. Think complications on Apple Watch. In fact, that's exactly what Google is calling the new watch face widgets – complications.
Now users will be able to have data from Spotify and Google Fit, for example, displayed on a single watch face and can also interact with them – devs can supply data to any watch face using the API.
The way you can pick and change watch faces is also much better now. You can simply line up your favourite faces and swipe from the existing watch face to access them. For example, you could have three different faces lined-up, complete with relevant complications, for work, running and home-time and access them with easy swiping.
Android Wear 2.0: Android Pay
Android Pay is on board Wear 2.0, bringing contactless payments to smartwatches that pack NFC.
Like its Apple and Samsung rivals, you simply load up your bank card to the device and tap away to buy that coffee or pretzel (other items are available).
Android Wear 2.0: Messaging
Sending messages is limiting on the wrist since the screens are so small, but that should hopefully be alleviated a bit with 2.0's new input methods. A small keyboard can be swiped to let you type out messages, and handwriting recognition will let you draw single letters or join words to send messages.
Google is offering its own native keyboard but is also opening the door for third-party keyboard apps to offer alternatives.
And that's not all. Google is bringing over the smart replies that Gmail users will be familiar with, giving you the option of three possible responses to quickly reply to a contact. These smart replies are generated on the watches themselves, meaning no personal info is shared with Google's servers.
Responding to messages no longer requires swiping to another screen either, as you are able to tap on the message and view more data before deciding on your next course of action.
Android Wear 2.0: Fitness
Slowly but surely, Android Wear is becoming a better place for fitness lovers. Especially with the arrival of the likes of the Moto 360 Sport, Polar M600, Nixon's The Mission and the New Balance RunIQ. And the new LG Watch Sport too, of course.
In the latest Wear update Google has made big improvements with Google Fit integration, including the addition of individual activity counting within Fit – think press-up reps and the like.
If you love working out with music, then it's much easier to launch your workout playlist, whether that's from Spotify or another music service, straight from the Wear homescreen. And your phone doesn't even need to be turned on for that, which is definitely very cool.
Talking of music, streaming tunes is now an option. The updated Google Play Music app allows you to stream music not stored on your watch using Wi-Fi or LTE connectivity.
Also, when you work out with a cellular-connected Android Wear device, you can still use the calling and messaging functionality.
Android Wear 2.0: Notifications
Anyone that has used an Android Wear watch will know how those Google notification cards had a habit of obscuring the watch faces and making the place a feel a little cluttered. Now things work a little bit differently.
When you get the cards, the watch face will display smaller icons instead of huge messages that take up space. They are also be more manageable with a progress bar on the bottom display showing you how many cards are left in the stack.
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When you raise your watch to activate it, it pulls up the card notification before it hides away again. You are still able to swipe up from the bottom to go through your notifications as normal, but it gives Android Wear a much cleaner look and feel.
The notification cards themselves have been redesigned as well, to show primarily light text on a black background instead of dark text on a white background. According to Google, this should help save battery life and lessen the intrusion of bright notifications.
Android Wear 2.0: Google Assistant
Android Wear 2.0 also adds Google Assistant to your smartwatch, helping you to find answers using your voice. It's like Alexa but less good.
You can ask Google Assistant about the weather, get it to set timers or remind you to buy a coffee or a pretzel (other items are available) – you just hold down the standby button on your watch or say "Ok Google."
Android Wear 2.0: It's not for everyone
Wear 2.0 isn't available for every Wear smartwatch. Older devices such as the original Moto 360 and the LG G Watch miss out. That's not entirely surprising, given that both watches were announced more than two years ago. Google usually stops updating its Nexus phones and tablets after a similar time period – and both have been succeeded by multiple sequels.
Sony has confirmed the SmartWatch 3 won't be getting Wear 2.0 either but an unofficial Wear 2.0 update for the SmartWatch 3 is in the works.
It's the first notable deviation away from the philosophy of a controlled smartwatch experience for all.
This is the official list of existing devices, most of which should now be running the new software: Asus ZenWatch 2 & 3; Casio Smart Outdoor Watch; Fossil Q Founder; Fossil Q Marshal; Fossil Q Wander; Huawei Watch; LG Watch R; LG Watch Urbane and 2nd Edition LTE; Michael Kors Access; Moto 360 2nd-gen; Moto 360 Sport; New Balance RunIQ; Nixon's The Mission; Polar M600; and the Tag Heuer Connected.
Android Wear 2.0: New smartwatches
Already on sale and rocking Wear 2.0 are the LG Watch Sport and Watch Style, the Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45, the Huawei Watch 2 (and Huawei Watch 2 Classic), the Casio WSD-F20, the ZTE Quartz and the Montblanc Summit.
Verizon's Wear24 will launch in May and will be followed by a plethora of launches later in 2017. Here's the full list...
Movado Connect, Misfit Vapor, Hugo Boss Touch, Tommy Hilfiger T24/7, Diesel On, Guess Connect, Gc Connect, Fossil Q Venture and Q Explorist, Emporio Armani Connected, Michael Kors Access Bradshaw and Access Sofie.
Busy times indeed.
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