Android Wear – One Week Impressions

A week with a smartwatch

I remember the first time that I heard “Smartwatch” associated with the word “Google”, it caused me to go completely crazy and excited. I recall thinking “Uau, this will be my next piece of tech for sure”. The year was 2013, when the word “wearable” started to emerge with the (flop) Google Glass. Of course, this was not the start of the smartwatches per se as back in 1984 the first watch to interface with a computer was unveiled to the world and at the start of this millennium, IBM built a wristwatch running Linux. Back then they were just proves of concept and there was no feasibility for what they costed (if you could even buy one).

For me, the first manufacturer that started the game of today’s smartwatches and nailed what they should be was Pebble with its Kickstarter campaign. Yes, it looked way too geeky but it was perfect in what a smartwatch should be: notification center and quick actions. Even after the Pebble, Samsung and Sony dove into the game but mainly Samsung went “swimming” around looking for the perfect feature to make the smartwatch appealing to the buyer. They tried devices that could even replace the smartphone but, as expected, didn’t make too much sense and were a flop.

Google with the “Android Wear” took tips by Pebble and even with lots of bugs on the first OS iterations, I loved their vision for the smartwatch: an extension and notification center for your phone. When the first devices were announced I thought “take away my money now!” but the first ones were disappointing to me. The Samsung Gear Live and the LG G Watch were too “squared geekiness” and they were like “hey, look at me! I have a smartwatch that kind of looks like a watch”. What I wanted was a smartwatch that looked like a watch that could do way more things, retaining eye catching ability.

Motorola came to the rescue releasing the beautiful Moto 360 and when I first saw the watch it left me in awe. It was just the thing I wanted but then I saw the price tag and no way I would £300 on a smartwatch. Yes, it looks spectacular, a piece of expensive jewellery but it didn’t cut for me. For that price I could buy a Oneplus One and tape it to my wrist! I know it doesn’t make any sense but it still puts things in perspective.

But a week ago I had decided to pull the trigger as I’d waited too much to test out an Android Wear smartwatch. Right now, you can get very cheap Android Wear devices but, for me, there was only one option and it was the Moto 360. The LG G Watch R is good looking but you won’t take it to a fancy dinner and the LG Watch Urbane is way too big and way to expensive. Moreover, with the 2nd gen Moto 360 coming, I could actually get some nifty deals with the 1st Moto 360. I spent hours on eBay and Amazon looking for that sweet deal but my luck came from an unexpected place: a colleague who bought a manufacturer refurbished Moto 360 with 12 months Motorola warranty for £150. He ended up not using it that much and sold it to me for £100 with 10 month warranty still remaining. That was a hell of a deal and you might think that I just go lucky but you can still get some very good deals on eBay or Amazon.


I got you baby! My first week!

Two days after, I got the box at my door, picked it up and went running inside to unbox it (ask my girlfriend, I looked like a kid waiting for the mini fire truck when I saw the package). Started to unbox it, got to the actual Moto 360 box and right there I needed to stop for second: the box was so damaged and in poor condition that I thought I got robbed! I manned up and opened the box to find a super mint condition Moto 360, there was no scratches and even the leather band seemed almost new. It looked like a completely new device but then again it was manufacturer refurbished and not a job of a nut schmuck with a pair of rusty tools (no offense to schmucks). Besides, the previous owner didn’t use it that much so I was expecting a Moto 360 in super condition and that’s what I got.

Setting it up was quite easy and it only took me more time than usual because it came out of the box with Lollipop 5.0.2. Basically, you just turn the Moto on, install android wear in your device, open the app and the pairing process starts. It makes all the work for you and after that you get a small tutorial on  Android Wear basics. Everything setted up, let the notifications fly in!

The first day you use a smartwatch (hell, the first days) you are constantly checking what time is it. All of a sudden, you feel the urge to know the time all the time! You even ask people if they want to know what time is it (ok, maybe this was just me). I ended up spending a lot of time searching for that perfect watchface and the first day I spent with the one below: it was quite handy giving me information about battery level on both my watch and smartphone as well as weather information.

Although it is useful having the watchface displaying that important information, I ended up switching to a more traditional one because, well, I want it to look like a regular mechanical watch. You have a lot to choose directly from the Play Store but if you really want to take it one step further you need to install an app like “Watchmaker” and either make your own or go to a place like “FaceRepo”, download one (I downloaded more than one, I mean, way more than one) and push it to the watch using the app of your choice. On FaceRepo there is so much to choose from futuristic ones to watch makers brands (though this is kind of illegal).

This is one of the great things of having so many watchfaces to choose from, you are not restricted to one and depending on your mood or where you going (casual or classy dinner for example) you have so many options. This was another reason why I went with the Moto 360 (besides the great deal), this watch adapts to its surroundings, either if you are spending time with your friends on the park or on an important board meeting where using a suit is mandatory.

You can even look at it as a piece of jewellery (I don’t care that much) because when someone spends a good amount in it they are not buying it just for themselves, they want other people to look at it as well. Even after 11 months of the Moto 360 was released, after the Apple Watch and other several examples, the Moto 360 still has that eye catching feature. On my commutes I still see people taking quick glances at my wrist. If you are into that and want a smartwatch, the Moto 360 is still a very good option for you!


Life changing?

Quick answer is no. It is not a game changer as I don’t even see that possibility. As a fellow AndroidScout described it, it is simply convenient as the vast majority of tech products are just convenient: it’s convenient to access the internet with your smartphone; it is convenient to have a flat screen TV that doesn’t take too much space; it is convenient having wireless products so you won’t have any cables on your way; and the list can go on forever. Of course, I am being too extreme as some tech products are game changers but in the end and if you really think about it they are just there to make your life easier so, in a sense, they are just convenient (I will stop with this word now).

OEM’s try to pitch that smartwatches are there to make your life easier, having the important information presented to you on your wrist at the right time so you don’t get distracted that often during your personal life. Now, many people saw this as just a way of pouring marketing to you that you need a smartwatch and, in a way, they are right, especially if you see the way Apple is marketing their watch. But that’s the thing that Android Wear and Pebble OS nailed the usefulness of the smartwatch, providing you quick glances of information that matters so you don’t need to check your phone that often. It is rumoured that the next Apple Watch will have the capabilities of replacing your smartphone (even the LG Watch Urbane LTE and Samsung products can already do that) but I think that it is going the wrong direction: first of all even with a watch with those capabilities I can’t see people leaving their smartphone behind all the time and secondly you will end up ignoring even more people because you will use the watch as it was your smartphone (ignoring people in style) scrolling through social media, browsing the web, etc. Yes, it is useful to go for a run and still being able to receive phone calls or text messages but when I go exercising I don’t want to receive any of it, I want to be focused on the exercise itself. A smartwatch should be just an extension for notifications and quick actions for your phone and if you need to do more complex things (sending an important email or web browsing) you will use the bigger screen of the smartphone. Basically, the smartwatch (this is my opinion) should give you three options when you receive a notification or any other information:

  1. It is not important and you dismissed right away
  2. It is kind of important, needing a quick action that I can do from the wrist like responding to a message with just “ok” or “call you right back”. Or even see if a phone call is worth of responding or not (I am sorry people that I ignore)
  3. It is very important but I need to deal with it on my smartphone

 

This, for me, is hitting the perfect spot for a smartwatch and that’s why I love the smartwatch iterations (software wise) by Android Wear and Pebble OS. I see many tech websites criticizing the Android Wear limitations and I agree with certain points but those people were the ones criticizing Android for wanting to do so many things at the same time but not being excellent at any. They praise Apple and the iPhone for being simpler but excellent in what it does. Now they praise the Apple Watch for doing so many things but not being great on any of those and criticize Android Wear for doing little despite doing it way more efficiently than the Apple counterpart. Odd at the very least.

I am so glad to say that it really lived up to my expectations on my first week. Of course, I need way more time with it to see if it really does what it promises but judging by these first days I can say that it looks promising.

It is so handy to receive e-mail/text message and deal with it directly from the wrist either by dismissing it with just a wrist gesture of deal with it with a quick action by marking it as “done” or responding with simple text. Having it to remind you that you need to leave the house to arrive on time at work is nifty and yes, you can get them on your phone but having them presenting itself to you on your wrist while doing other things is very useful. Moreover, I can’t tell you how many calls and texts I missed because I didn’t hear my phone ringing or vibrating. I am so glad to say that since using the smartwatch I didn’t miss any of them, now I have the option to actually choose to miss them (sorry again people that I ignore).

I know that not everybody will be the same as me but you can ask my girlfriend and friends how little time I spend on my phone now and that time was not replaced by looking at my watch. Get an e-mail, doesn’t matter, away it goes and I continue to enjoy my lovely pint while talking to my friends.


“Mehhhhh” battery life

We all know what the battery life performance is on most smartwatches, the Moto 360 being even below average. Still, it will get you through the day on moderate usage (15 to 18 hours) but you will have to charge it every day. And if you use the Ambient display option on and use Google Maps a lot you will need to charge it midday. You guessed that I don’t use the ambient display neither navigation on my watch, besides, the wrist gesture to check the watch works pretty well so I don’t mind the display being turned off when not in use.

If you want better battery life combined with Android Wear you will need to look to other options like the LG G Watch R or even the Urbane with their OLED display and bigger battery that will get you between day and half and two days (moderate use).

Regarding battery life, there is no contest when it comes to Pebble with the always on e-ink display that gives you seven days of battery life. But Pebble has that geeky looks that I can see people liking but it won’t cut it for me, even the steel variant still looks geeky.

This is the department where smartwatches based on Android Wear should really improve as one day cycle is not acceptable. Yes, Moto 360 has wireless charging so before going to bed you just take off the watch and put it on the cradle to charge it through the night but this is still unacceptable.


Android Wear rough edges

I can’t talk too much about this since it was only a week with the smartwatch but judging from what I read from previous Android Wear versions, the system is way more refined now. I didn’t see any of the crashes that some people complained about but then again I am with the watch only for a week so it gives me little time to experience the rough edges that Android Wear still possesses.

As of now, what Android Wear is capable of doing, it does it very efficiently. The problem is really the Lollipop buggy system that you can see on phones and tablets and is passed on to Android Wear. We just hope that Android M brings the stability Lollipop so desperately needs.


Will the upcoming weeks keep the “hype wheel” spinning?

After a week using the smartwatch I am as happy as I was when I first unboxed it. The watch is simply beautiful (this is very subjective) and being able to do so many more things than a mechanical watch can do is so enjoyable. It can do so many more things that it even needs to be charged every day, something a traditional watch doesn’t need (very high level of sarcasm).

If you never tried Android Wear now is the time to do it. My advice is that you don’t spend that much money on a high end smartwatch as it may or may not suit you. Besides, like most tech, it has a very short life span so spending £300 on a smartwatch that will become obsolete in less than a year makes no sense to me (I am looking at you Apple Watch buyers!). That’s why I waited so long to get this kind of deals. If you don’t care that much about how it looks, you can go with an older LG G Watch (you can get them for around £65/$80) or the Asus Zenwatch (~£100/125$) if you want Android Wear or if it is not a requirement you can go with the Pebble Steel (or even its first gen).

Another valid point is to wait for the next generation of Android Wear smartwatches. Samsung is about to announce their round smartwatch based on Tizen operating system. Motorola is holding a press conference next Monday (July 27) in which they might announce the 2nd generation Moto 360, hopefully with OLED screen and better battery life. Just around the corner we also have the Huawei Watch that looks simply gorgeous but rumours said that it will be expensive as it is going to target another audience. Not sure if someone with a lot of money will want to buy a Huawei piece of jewellery but you never know!

If you are interested to see another overview after a month on Android Wear make sure to use the comment section below. If you have specific questions about it you can also use the same section to do so.

Written by Tiago Marques

 

3 Comments

  1. theshinybeast theshinybeast

    Nice one Tiago.I for one would like to hear what you think of it after a month or so because I´m very curious to know if it really does become a useful extension,stress on useful,of a smartphone.
    I totally agree with you that it should be primarily a watch but with “extensions for notifications and quick actions for your phone” I honestly can´t see myself making calls from a watch nor will I be typing emails on it either.By the way, the Moto360 is a beautiful looking watch.

     
    Reply
    1. Tiago Tiago

      Hello there, our most loyal follower

      Android Wear, like Pebble, aims to be an extension for simple tasks and notifications handling. That’s what a smartwatch for me should be, I don’t want to make calls on a watch, I have a phone for that. The same applies to responding to e-mails or searching the web, for those I have the smartphone.

      Besides, having these kind of features will just consume even more battery. It is technically very difficult to put a big battery on a watch and not making it stupidly big. Having more and more features will just make the battery performance worse.

      It is even rumoured that the 2nd gen Apple Watch will have Facetime, why just why? It’s gimmick and it doesn’t make any sense, besides it is so uncomfortable to use the watch after a while that you end up pulling out the smartphone. And that defeats the purpose of the watch as a stand alone device.

      But this is my opinion on the smartwatch game. On the tech community there are a lot of people praising the call ability on the Apple Watch so they find it useful. And they want the next Android Wear devices to have it and I am quite sure they will.

      Thank you for your feedback

      Cheers

       
      Reply

  2. A really good and assorted impressions article! The photos were so perfect and beautiful! Enjoyed reading it! Keep it up!

     
    Reply

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