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Android Wear deep-dive review: A smart start to smartwatch software

JR Raphael | July 10, 2014
Google's Android Wear platform is an impressive first step toward making smartwatches people will actually want to buy. Here's an in-depth look at where the software shines -- and where it falls short.

When it comes to smartwatches, Dick Tracy set a difficult standard.

Over the past few years, companies large and small have been struggling to convince us we need computers on our wrists. And let's not beat around the bush: Their efforts have all been pretty underwhelming.

From the Pebble to the Galaxy Gear (and all of their subsequent variations), no single smartwatch has managed to crack the code — to establish a compelling use for the technology that's also stylish and simple to operate.

Now it's Google's turn to step up and take a swing. With its new Android Wear platform, Google is hoping to do for smartwatches what it's already done for smartphones: Create a massive and expandable platform that'll attract hordes of manufacturers, developers and, ultimately, consumers.

So what's Wear actually like to use in the real world — and could it succeed where so many other efforts have failed? I've been living with the platform for the past two weeks to find out.

(Note: This review will focus specifically on the software side of the Wear experience. For a detailed look at the first Wear devices, click over to my separate Samsung Gear Live vs. LG G Watch: A real-world evaluation review.)

Getting to know Android Wear

When you walk around a city talking into your watch, you're bound to get a few quizzical glares. In that regard, wearing Android Wear makes you feel a bit futuristic and ahead of the curve — kind of like living out a James Bond fantasy (minus all the explosions and scantily clad co-stars).

The best way to describe a Wear watch, I think, is as a device that makes it easier to keep up with the information you need. And thanks to all the data Google has collected about you and your world, Wear is in a unique position to provide that service.

Case in point: The heart and soul of Android Wear is Google Now, the intelligent virtual assistant Google has woven into Android and Chrome over the past couple of years. Google Now uses a combination of search data from your Google account, location data from your mobile device and cues from things like your Gmail messages to compile bite-sized tidbits of info — known as "cards" — that appear contextually throughout your day.

You might get a card in the morning alerting you to traffic on your route to work, for instance, or a card with directions to a business you searched for earlier in the day. Some cards are as simple as the number of steps you've taken so far that day or the weather for your area — or for an area you'll be traveling to in the near future. Others are more surprising, like a card that might appear on a Friday evening with the current drive time to a bar or restaurant you tend to frequent on that day of the week.


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