Google released Android Wear 2.0, available on the new LG Watch Style and Sport, with an overhauled UI, autonomy, LTE, app downloads, and Google Assistant.
Google’s Android Wear distribution for smartwatches and wearables has cumulatively held its own against the Apple Watch, but considering the sorry state of the smartwatch market in general, that’s not saying much. Google is giving it at least one more shot, however, with the release of Android Wear 2.0.
Android Wear 2.0 on LG Watch Style (first three on left) and LG Watch Sport
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Many of Android Wear 2.0’s new features have already appeared on the Apple Watch Series 2 with watchOS 3, as well as Samsung’s Tizen Linux-based, dual Cortex-A53 Samsung Gear 3. Some have even appeared on select Android Wear watches. But there are a few new tricks here as well, along with a greatly improved interface. In any case, it’s all built in, making it easier for those vendors brave enough to continue in the smartwatch market to reach market more quickly.
LG collaborated with Google to be the first out of the gate with the $249 LG Watch Style and $349 LG Watch Sport (see farther below). Many other recent Android Wear watches will also be getting the upgrade in the coming weeks and months, including some earlier LG Watch models, as detailed in this December story from The Verge.
There’s no single leading feature in Android Wear 2.0, but Google’s announcement highlights the new interface with its redesigned watchfaces and watchface personalization features. You can swipe to switch between watchfaces for work, gym, home, social functions, and more. In addition to some hands-on user customization, you can load third-party apps to run in watchfaces that for the first time include watchface complications: details beyond time, such as a battery indicator.
Two new Android Wear 2.0 watch faces, including one on the Rose Gold version of the LG Watch Style
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There are now more single-tap functions. “When you receive a message, you can expand the notification and tap to respond by dictating, typing or handwriting your answer, or drawing an emoji,” says Google.
A Feb. 8 review of the new LG watches from The Verge praised the new UI. The interface is “simpler and more obvious to use, with less reliance on hard-to-find gestures,” said the story.
Among other enhancements, a Smart Reply feature “intelligently suggests different responses based on the message you received.” That may sound a little creepy until you read through your texts and realize just how predictable and repeatable most of them are. And it’s definitely harder to enter data on a watch.
Google Fit (left) and Google Assistant Android Wear 2.0 interfaces
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Speaking of creepy things that can actually save you time, the new release now offers Google Assistant built in. The Alexa- and Siri-like voice interface, which is built into the Amazon Echo like Google Home, and which may be heading for the Raspberry Pi, is initially available in English and German, with more languages coming.
Google has updated the Google Fit app to let you track your pace, distance, calories burned, and heart rate. You can also track weight-lifting reps, push-ups, sit-ups, and squats.
Android Wear 2.0 watches can now be fully autonomous, including LTE voice telephony, assuming your watch supports it. However, some functions are enhanced when a smartphone is tethered. When Google Fit is dominating local operations, for example, a tethered phone lets you continue to call, check messages, use apps, or stream music from Google Play Music.
In addition to customizing watchfaces, you can now choose which apps you want, and download them directly onto the watch from Google Play Store. This improves upon the clumsy old app installation and management system, which required a tethered phone
iPhone support now appears to have drawn even with Android. Even if you have both an iPhone and an Android Wear watch — which is unlikely — you can locally run apps including AccuWeather, Android Pay, Bring!, Foursquare, Google Fit, Google Messenger, Google Play Music, Lifesum, Robinhood, Runkeeper, Runtastic, Strava, Telegram, and Uber.
There’s also built-in Android Pay support, which requires an NFC chip. If you typically shop at retailers with Google’s payment scheme, then you may agree with The Verge when it says: “Android Pay might be the best reason to buy an Android Wear watch this year.”
On the other hand, The Verge dinged Android Wear 2.0 for “being buggier than it should be, especially given the fact that it had an extended public beta period and its launch was delayed by months.” Google Assistant was said to be particularly error prone.
LG Watch Style and Sport
Neither of the first two Android Wear 2.0 watches are luxury watches, but neither represents a price breakthrough, either. The more rugged, $349 LG Watch Sport supports all of the new 2.0 features, while the $249 Watch Style is more limited.
LG Watch Style (left) and LG Watch Sport, both with titanium styling
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Both watches feature Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC, which first appeared last year on the Android 1.4-ready Casio Mission. The 1.2GHz, quad-core Cortex-A7 SoC is joined by 768MB LPDDR3 on the Sport and 512MB on the Style, as well as 4GB eMMC.
The Sport features a 480 x 480-pixel 1.38-inch display, while the Style has a 1.2-inch 360 x 360 display. Both are round, P-OLED touchscreens. Common features include WiFi-n and Bluetooth 4.2 LE, while the Sport adds LTE, NFC, GPS, and heart sensors.
The watches provide a “rotating power button that lets you easily scroll through your stream, bring up the app launcher, or get help from your Google Assistant,” says Google. This newly supported feature, similar to the Apple Watch bezel, is joined on the Sport by two customizable quick-launch buttons that by default load Google Fit and Android Pay.
There’s a 430mAh battery on the LG Watch Sport and a 24mAh on the LG Watch Style, and they offer IP68 and IP67 protection, respectively. The Style is thinner, at 10.8mm, compared to 14.8mm on the Sport. The Style is available in silver, rose gold, and titanium finishes while the Sport offers titanium or dark blue. They both support Android Wear swappable straps.
The two watches, and especially the Sport, have already received some enthusiastic reviews. In the case of a positive Engadget review of the Sport, which praises the watch for its speed and features, but dings it for a “lackluster battery and a thick body,” the best feature is Android Wear 2.0 itself.
The LG Watch Sport and LG Watch Style will be available Feb. 10 on Google Play, starting at $349 and $249, respectively. Verizon has posted a page for the Sport selling it for $330 on a two-year LTE contract or for $380 on its own, and AT&T has a coming soon page for the Sport. BestBuy has the Style for $250 in titanium or silver, or $279 in rose gold.