Android Wear 2.0 is due to start hitting smartwatches in the coming weeks and, let's face it, it can't arrive soon enough. Sure, Google's smartwatch OS has received some nifty nip and tucks over the last few update cycles but the platform is pretty dated now (even more so since watchOS 3 came to town).
The good/bad thing about Android Wear is that it's still very much a vanilla experience, with the same menus, displays, features and apps available across the entire range β with the odd exception due to hardware limitations.
It's good because it keeps things in check and doesn't allow for the bloated and ugly UIs that we've seen on Android smartphones.
It's bad because it doesn't allow for too much innovation from smartwatch manufacturers. Or, more specifically, smartwatch brands.
With the likes of Fossil, Nixon, Tag Heuer Michael Kors and Polar arriving at the Android Wear party, it's not just traditional tech companies manufacturing miniaturised wrist computers any longer. Watches are very personal items and it's the brands that have been making watches for years that recognise this.
While Android Wear is still very limited in terms of altering the system as a whole β it is now much more open for developers to customise the experience before users even take them out of the box. Watch makers are able to add their own watch faces, complete with widgets (more to come with Wear 2.0), to devices β and there is also the opportunity for them to develop unique apps that can be pre-installed too.
Some brands have been better at this than others thoughβ¦
WEAR β Polar M600
That's not just because it has the familiar Polar watch faces already loaded (complete with nice animations against daily activity goals) but because it strong-arms you into getting Polar Flow up and running on your smartphone almost instantly.
There's a physical button that's dedicated to Polar Flow. Your first ever push of it will fire up the app on your phone (or chuck you into the Google Play page if you've not got it yet) and, from thereon in, it's your speedy gateway to tracking your runs and workouts.
It's only when you swipe from the homescreen and see that familiar Android Wear menu screen that you remember you're wearing a smartwatch from the Google stable.
NEARLY THERE β Tag Heuer Connected
Tag's custom watch faces are by far the best we've seen on Android Wear. There's an immense attention to detail that Tag fans will love. Shadows under the hands, smooth skimming second hands, a wealth of dials: all present and correct with more than a nod or two to existing popular Tag mechanical models.
The Swiss watchmaker clearly wanted its first digital dive to respect its traditional timepiece roots.
The live notification count, a small number that appears on the face when there's an update for you to read, is unobtrusive and helps to keep Android Wear in the background. Your smartwatch notifications are there if you want them but they won't jump in and ruin the traditional watch ambience.
All that is missing is the 300m water resistance of the Aquaracer range.
SQUARE β Fossil Q
Fossil's Q companion app packs the super bizarre Curiosity feature - Fossil's attempt to help you get in touch with your surroundings. Each day you'll be given a challenge to do such as stopping to smell the roses, or taking a picture for the world to see. Exactly.
The app is also where you'll find a handful of Fossil's own watch faces. There's some nice additions but most are ruined by that horrible black bar at the bottom of the display.