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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.

Twitter's notifications, like those on some other apps, can also become cluttered and unmanageable on a watch's small screen. A notification from Twitter with a single piece of information works fine. But when a notification from Twitter contains multiple pieces of info — more than one mention or a combination or mentions and direct messages — all of the text ends up getting squished into a single card instead of being spaced out properly. As a result, it becomes impossible to read on the watch's display.

Other apps' notifications are even more confounding. Google's own Google+ app, for example, will show you that someone has commented on your post or left you a message — but it won't let you view the actual comment or message from your watch. That's because the corresponding phone-based notification for that app shows the same limited amount of detail, and Google (rather ironically) has yet to optimize it to work more sensibly on the smartwatch form.

From left: A Twitter notification with a single piece of information; a Twitter notification with multiple pieces of information; a Google+ notification.

Beyond the basic notifications, Wear gives you the ability to control audio playback on your phone via your watch — stopping or starting play, skipping tracks and so forth. Controls show up on the watch as a card any time audio is being played from an applicable app on the phone. They're also available when content is being streamed from the phone to any Chromecast dongle.

From left: A Google Play Music control card; two specific functions that appear when you swipe left on the Play Music card; a playback control card for Netflix content being streamed via Chromecast.

When you get a phone call, meanwhile, Wear shows you who's calling and allows you to swipe left or right on the watch to accept or reject the call. If you accept the call, it'll pick up on your phone. (By default, the phone will ring in addition to the watch vibrating, but there's a setting with which you can opt to silence the phone and receive all alerts on the watch only if you prefer (which actually makes more sense to me).

You can't actually conduct a call on the watch itself — which, let's be honest, is just as well; it's refreshing to see a company opting to leave out the gimmicky stuff and deliver a device with purposeful focus.

Notifications on Wear are completely synced with all of your other Google devices, by the way, so if you dismiss a notification on your watch, it'll automatically disappear from your phone, computer browser and any other places where you're signed in.


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