Thursday, February 22, 2018

Android Wear

I've had a few questions about the smartwatch that Mitch got me for Valentine's Day. Since I've had it over a week now, I thought I'd blog a bit about how it is working for me.
For the record, I have a Huawei Watch 2, running the latest version of Android Wear 2.0. I just got the Oreo update on the watch this morning! Fun times! Round emojis! My phone is an HTC U11, also running Android Oreo.
I thought it would be cool to shoot a few short videos, explaining a little about how I use my watch. This video talks a little about the watch face itself. The "complications" I reference in the video is the Android Wear word for widgets on the watch face. Tapping them performs an action or opens an app.
The watch face on an Android Wear watch can be a very powerful tool. And it's super easy to change and modify to suit your particular needs. The number of watch faces available for Android is staggering, so there is certain to be one that is perfect for whatever situation arises.

Phone notifications are one of the more useful aspects of having a smartwatch. Instead of having to pull out your phone for every call, text or email, you can simply glance at your watch, to see if further action is needed. This also applies to other app notifications, such as those from games or informational apps.
While you can't interact directly with all notifications, Android Wear does make it pretty easy to respond to calls and texts. You can make and receive calls directly from the watch, if you don't mind looking like Dick Tracy... The call quality is actually surprisingly good, much like a having your phone on speaker or using the bluetooth calling feature in your car. Receiving and replying to texts is also really easy, with voice, emoji or swipe typing.
Android Wear watches also come with Google Assistant onboard. It's a little slower than using it on a phone, and you don't get audio feedback, but it is still pretty useful, particularly if you have home automation that you have set up through Google Home/Assistant. Although Alexa is the voice of my home, I did connect my SmartThings up to Google Assistant, just for use on my watch. I also have an Alexa app on my watch, but since the integration isn't as tight, it's pretty slow.
Fitness tracking is actually how I ended up with a smart watch. I know, not what you'd expect from me! Mitch initially bought a Garmin vivoactive 3 (which he LOVES) to track his workouts. Once he had been using the watch for about 24 hours, he realized how functional it would be for me. And he was right! I even use the fitness tracking functionality from time to time! Smartwatches are amazing wearables in this regard. They can track your workouts with ease, including heartrate and even vo2 max.
In addition to fitness tracking, a smartwatch can also measure other health related factors, like sleep. Most smartwatches have built in sleep tracking programs, and there is also an excellent one (that also works for phones!) called Sleep as Android, which combines the heart rate and accelerometer data, along with audio from your phone to get a pretty comprehensive look at duration and quality of sleep.
Here's my data from last night. I know, I need to sleep more... But at least I don't snore!
Apps are an interesting hybrid of on the phone and on the watch. Android Wear 2.0 includes a Play Store right on the watch itself, so you can download companion apps as well as apps that are stand alone watch apps. For watch faces at least, standalone watch apps definitely have more customizability and seem to work more smoothly on the watch, but each app is different.
One of my most used features of my watch (and previously my phone) is Android Pay/Google Pay. I love the convenience of just tapping my watch to the terminal and *bing* all done! No need to even get anything out of my purse. And with a smartwatch, it's that much easier. Just tap the screen!
Music is another thing I use my phone for a lot. We use Amazon music in the car and around the house, and it's super easy to control with my smartwatch. As soon as the music starts playing, the watch is ready to go, so you can put your phone back in your pocket, and enjoy your tunes, hands free. I also have the ability to stream music direct from the watch using Pandora and iHeart Radio as well as Google Play, so if those are your preferred streaming services, you are in luck! Leave your phone at home and jam out!
So, those are the functions I find myself using my watch for the most. I love that I can leave my phone in another room, while staying connected to what is going on. The phone and watch connect with bluetooth, but the watch also has a wifi backup, so as long as there is a friendly network around, they stay connected. Several watches also are available with LTE service, so you get a SIM card for your watch and you can leave your phone behind. Pretty sweet.
One con to the watch - the battery life is short. To get full functionality, you want your watch on your wrist, so charging during the day can be challenging. And if you want to track sleep, you can't charge it overnight. I have found that if I put it on the charger while I'm getting ready for bed, I can get a charge to last all night for sleep tracking. I then put it on the charger as soon as I wake up, and it's usually fully charged and ready to go when I am, about an hour later. So far, I've only had the watch die once, and that was a day that I was downloading a lot of apps and watch faces as well as tracked two walks with GPS. With typical use, I haven't had a problem. For the fitness buffs, I do occasionally find that my watch drops the heart rate when the positioning on my wrist isn't optimal. I suspect that would be less of a problem in watches that were designed more for fitness. Other than that, I have really enjoyed this piece of tech. Is a smart watch for you? Only you can answer that question. For me, I can honestly say that I am finding it very useful. Is it essential? No, but neither is my Roomba or Alexa, and I wouldn't give either of those up! Does it improve my life? Yes, I think it does.

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