The World on My Wrist: Android Wear First Impressions

by Sep 22, 2015

About a month ago, I purchased my first SmartWatch, a Sony Smartwatch 3.  As someone that had been quoted saying “I can’t think of a reason I would EVER buy a smart watch,” this came as something of a surprise to my friends and co-workers.  A month later, Android Wear has made a convert of me.  There’s a ton of awesome features packed into a smartwatch that, while lackluster on their own, can turn your phone into an absolute information processing and collecting powerhouse.

Notifications on the wrist are the best

The entire smartphone notification process is kind of a hassle.  Your phone gets a notification from an app, then will vibrate and make a noise (which you may or may not notice), and then you can take your phone out of your pocket, input your lock combination, and then you can see what your app had to say to you.  With Android Wear, your watch and phone will both notify you, and then the notification is a half-turn of your wrist away.  The way that the watch responds to subtle motions to activate the screen is truly impressive, it is very infrequent that I actually need to wake my watch.  Even if you received a couple of notifications at once, Android Wear has built-in wrist gestures that you can use to navigate between notifications without ever touching your watch.

Okay Google, manage my smartphone.

I haven’t manually started music on my phone in two weeks.  Google Now is a first-class citizen on Android Wear, allowing you to launch apps both on your watch and smartphone.  Just like on an Android phone, you can say ‘Okay Google’ from any screen on your watch, provide a spoken command, and Google Now will attempt to fulfill your request to the best of its ability.  For instance, saying ‘Okay Google, navigate home’ will launch the navigation apps on both your phone and watch, and will automatically start giving you instructions through both your watch and phone.  This is especially useful if you’ve already bought into the idea of bluetooth-enabled cars, since your directions will be providing vibration feedback and a live map on your wrist, while your phone broadcasts voice instructions over your car’s speakers.  It comes together into a pleasantly cohesive experience: actions on the watch flow through to your phone, and your phone will pull down information and update your other bluetooth devices, with minimal input from you.

Get your phone’s fitness tracking. Leave behind your phone.

Mobile Application developer is something of a misnomer: we’re pretty much just as sedentary as the other kinds of developers. Our somewhat chair and computer bound lifestyle makes keeping track of personal fitness all the more important. Unfortunately, smartphones are somewhat bulky and it can be cumbersome to carry one around while running or playing a sport, and it’s a truly terrifying experience to take a not-so-waterproof smartphone with you to a water-related activity. Smart watches cleanly solve all of these problems, allowing you to continue tracking your steps and calories through Google Fit or a number of other fitness apps while your phone stays safe and sound back in your car.

A watch face for 2015

Android Wear smart watches stand above traditional watches in a few key regards. Customizable watch faces allow you to quickly adjust your watch to match your personal style on the fly, and interactive watch faces allow you to place a portal to other information and applications within easy reach on your wrist at all times. It feels good to buy a $250 accessory and know that you can configure it to go with whatever you may be wearing or even doing on a given day, instead of knowing that if you wanted a more specialized accessory you just need to buy a new one.

An accessory that makes your phone smarter

At the end of the day, the biggest value of the smartwatch to me was not the features of the watch itself, but how those features made my smartphone easier to use. Google now and notifications on your wrist allow you to control your phone without it leaving your pocket. Custom watch faces let you match your watch to your style and current needs without having to ditch your current watch setup. And decoupling fitness tracking from your smart phone lets you track kinds of activity that you would normally shy away from tracking due to concern for your phone’s well being. Overall, I’ve felt more like I’m using a a high-tech device than I have since I bought my Nexus 5 back in November 2013. I don’t know where the future will take my smartphone usage, but for now at least, it seems like a good chunk of it will be staying on my wrist.