The Complete Guide to the Wear Operating System

What it is, the types of devices that use it, and where to get it

Wearable devices, such as smartwatches and fitness trackers are taking the consumer electronics world by storm. Whether you want to stay connected with easy to access notifications or count your steps and monitor your heart rate there's a smart watch for you, and chances are it's running Wear (formerly Android Wear), Google's "wearable" operating system.

Apple, of course, has the Apple Watch (don't call it an iWatch), and Windows Mobile has a handful of devices but, for now at least, Android has this market cornered. (Plus, you can pair Wear devices with the iPhone, so there's that.) There are lots of Wear apps to go along with the device of your choice too. Let's explore.

Wear Interface and Apps

Wear OS apps interface
Google

Wear lets you to use a Wi-Fi-enabled smartwatch independently of your smartphone, which is a big deal since initially smartwatches were more of an accessory as opposed to a fully functional device. With support for built-in speakers, microphones and LTE, your watch can do nearly as much as your smartphone.

Wear OS notifications interface
 Google

Wear includes a mini keyboard and exercise recognition, so you can easily track biking, running, and walking workouts. You can also display information from third-party apps on your watch face, rather than being limited to Google's apps or those created by your manufacturer. The best part about Wear is that it includes an "always on" feature and a "tilt to wake screen" setting that lights the screen automatically when the watch is raised or tilted.

Wear OS Google Assistant interface
Google

Another nice feature is its integration with Google Assistant. The Assistant can answer questions and give you smart suggestions using the watch's speaker or through paired Bluetooth earbuds.

Supported features vary by country and language.

What Apps Can You Use With Wear?

You can use nearly any app you have on your smartphone on your smartwatch, plus there are many developed specifically for Wear. These include weather, fitness, watch faces, games, messaging, news, shopping, tools, and productivity apps. Most of them should seamlessly work with a smartwatch, such as a calendar, calculator, and other tools, though some, like weather and finance apps, only serve notifications.

If you already track your workouts with a smartphone, you probably already have a favorite app and it's likely compatible with your smart watch. There are also a number of games adapted for Wear. One of them, PaperCraft, is exclusive to the wearable operating system.

How Do You Give Commands?

You can use voice commands to control most apps. For example, you can navigate to a location in Google Maps, send a message, and add a task or calendar item. Alternatively, you can use your smartphone to search for a destination and then navigate on your watch. As long as your devices are connected via Bluetooth, what's happening on one will sync with the other. 

Wear Devices

Wear requires a phone running at minimum Android 4.4 (excluding the Go edition) or iOS 9.3. With every new Android release, these requirements change. You can visit g.co/wearcheck on your device to confirm whether it's compatible, but this information should apply no matter who made your Android phone: Samsung, Google, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc.

There are about a dozen different wearable devices running Wear including brands like Moto, Asus, Casio, Fossil Q, Huawei, LG, Sony, and the Tag Heuer. All offer devices that are watches first with its own style and features.

Once you choose an Android smart watch, be sure to add it as a trusted device using Google Smart Lock. That way your smartphone won't unlock as long as the two devices are paired.

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