The preview version of Android Wear 2.0 came out a few weeks ago at Google I/O. Since then, many of us have had the opportunity to play around with it and explore its features. But, since it’s only available for the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition LTE and the Huawei Watch, a good chunk of us are left out in the wild, wondering how good it really is. And, in this article, I’ll tell you not only some of the new features, but if it’s really worth it.
One of the bigger changes was in the way you switch between watch faces. Previously, you would long press on your current watch face, then swipe across an extremely long list of your watch faces. Now, you just swipe from either side to the opposite side to bring up the horizontal list of your favorites. This has several benefits and annoyances associated with it. The main benefit is that it’s super easy to change your watch face, but sometimes it’s too easy. Many, many times I will look down only to find my watch face switched. I find this more annoying than useful at times.
Another major overhaul was in the app drawer. Thankfully, this is an excellent change! Instead of having the most recent apps at the top, followed by all the rest of your apps, it has your most used apps at the top, and the rest of the apps below. What makes this so different? You can now see five apps on the screen at once, instead of the three we previously had. This is achieved by wrapping the apps around the side of the watch screen, versus keeping it in the middle of the screen. To top it off, the background is a dark gray color instead of a retina-blinding white!
One of the other areas of Android Wear that saw a major facelift is the quick settings. On Android Wear 1.0, we had several screens of quick settings, which required multiple swipes and taps to get only two settings changed. Now, we have all the quick settings on one screen, just like we’ve seen in Android N. You’ll find airplane mode, sound, brightness, notification mute, and a settings shortcut. The brightness toggle is a most welcome addition, as I was always annoyed at having to dig around to find such a seemingly simple setting. Oh, and battery is still there, although the date is no longer found on the quick settings screen—minor annoyance.
Some of the other things you’ll find different in Android Wear 2.0 are the slightly revamped settings screens, which include a few new minor settings. System wide, you’ll find new, beautiful material design animations that enhance the otherwise laggy experience tremendously. The navigation has also seen some significant upgrades. Instead of the back button always returning you to your watch face, it has been changed to be a back button. Although this change caught me off guard at first, I have now grown to like it. Sometimes I really do want to go back to the main settings screen instead of my watch face. Sometimes I clicked the wrong app. In many different situations, I find this to be a major improvement.
Of course, one of the more notable changes was in the way that watch face designers can use Android Wear to their advantage. This is through the use of complications. What complications allow you to do is harvest and display information like calendar appointments, emails, texts, Google Fit data; everything like that. This is so that developers can focus on making beautiful watch faces and displaying the info in an intuitive way, instead of working on building systems to harvest that data. Of course, all these cool things aren’t available yet, as Android Wear 2.0 is still quite early on in the development stage, and many developers haven’t had a chance to build their watch faces with the new Android Wear 2.0 APIs.
Now, these are all really cool features, but is Android Wear 2.0 worth installing if you’re only a consumer who loves to play with new software? That answer depends on how much you rely on your smartwatch. For me, I don’t rely on my smartwatch that much. As long as I can rock awesome watch faces and receive notifications most of the time, I’m happy. Others, maybe not so much. I just thought the Wear preview was too cool to not install (even though it took way too long). I’ve stuck with the buggy Wear preview since the day after it was launched, and I’ve been pretty happy. It does what I need it to. Sure, apps will crash daily. Sometimes even Android Wear OS will crash. The Google voice search doesn’t work yet. However, if you’re okay with all that and more, I say: go for it. You’ll love it.