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Android Pay on Android Wear 2.0 just isn't that good

I was relatively late coming to Android Pay on phones, mainly because my bank was one of the last in the UK to adopt the payment service. But I've gotten in on the ground floor with Pay on Android Wear, and I return with tales from an almost-convenient future where it's nearly really easy to tap and pay with a thing attached to the end of your limb.

Which is another way of saying Pay on Wear isn't quite there yet, for a wide variety of reasons.

The process of setting up Android Pay on your Wear 2.0 smartwatch is a somewhat convoluted series of steps involving bouncing between your phone and your watch — and, in my case, an actual phone call to a human at your bank to finally approve everything.

Then you're ready to go. Except... nope, not yet. You'll need to set a pattern or PIN lock on your watch for security, which makes sense. This sounds incredibly onerous, but in fact you only need to re-enter your pattern when the watch breaks skin contact, so effectively it's only a once-a-day chore.

Next you'll realize that finding Android Pay in the app drawer each time you want to pay is kind of a pain in the ass, so you'll inevitably assign your Watch's custom button (on the LG Watch Sport or Huawei Watch 2) to this app. That's because, unlike Android phones, the app itself needs to be open on the watch when you pay. Pressing a physical button is easier than tapping, swiping and scrolling.

Android Pay

Then comes the moment of truth — actually paying with your watch. The positive and negative outcomes from this endeavor are amplified considerably compared to paying with your phone. You'll feel even more like a wizard from the future when it works. The occasional times when it doesn't, you'll feel like even more of an idiot. Here in the UK, contactless credit and debit cards have been around for the past few years, and the idea of paying with your phone isn't completely alien either. (Though some cashiers still assume it's Apple Pay or nothing.)

Paying for purchases with a smartwatch is still strange and alien to many.

NFC terminals are fairly common in the UK, but the experience of paying with a watch is still new and confusing to many. Maybe that'll change, as it has for contactless cards and phone payments. Then again, given the niche appeal of smartwatches, maybe not.

Aside from the conceptual awkwardness of explaining that you want to pay using your watch — and that, yes, that's actually a thing you can do — there's also the physical awkwardness of holding your watch face (on the Huawei Watch 2) or strap (on the LG Watch Sport) up to the terminal. If you're right-handed, and thus wear your watch on your left arm, many payment terminals are on the wrong side for easy reachability. Same deal with NFC contacts for gates on the London Underground. You're also dealing with a relatively small NFC target, so things need to line up just right.

Here's where we run into the gap between theoretical convenience and actual convenience. It seems like it'd be way easier to pay with something that's attached to your body at all times. In practice, it's actually simpler to make the connection using an object you're holding in your hand, because the motion of lining your wrist up just right with the terminal is unexpectedly clunky.

And again, you'll look like even more of an idiot that one time it inevitably doesn't work. Even when it does, the Android Pay app on Wear 2.0 can take its time loading, and occasionally hang altogether. Admittedly, I'm using it on a pre-release Huawei Watch 2, but my colleague Andrew Martonik has experienced similar bugs on a production-quality LG Watch Sport.

Smartwatch payments aren't inherently a bad idea, but it's still early days here. Things aren't as magically convenient as you might expect, and the real world hasn't yet adjusted to the idea of waving your wrist over things to pay. As a taste of the future, Android Pay on Android Wear is neat. As a real-world convenience, not so much.

Alex was with Android Central for over a decade, producing written and video content for the site, and served as global Executive Editor from 2016 to 2022.

24 Comments
  • Samsung pay on my gear s 3 has been a breeze..No issues and I Love it!
  • Agreed! The main reason I bought the S3 was for Samsung Pay and it has not disappointed. I have better luck with my S3 than I do with my S7E. It doesn't fail nearly as often.
  • My experience has been the same. I've had my S3 about 3 months and haven't yet found a retail store that it didn't work at. Even at my local old fashion hardware store!
  • I don't care if people think I'm weird because I'm using my smartwatch to pay. It's all about convenience. Setting up Android Pay isn't all that inconvenient. Just makes it more secure.
  • Why would they think that's weird?
  • It worked great on the LG Watch Sport. You press a button on the side of the watch as stated in the article, then you tap on the card you want and hold it up to a terminal. Lot of nitpicking going on here...
  • Exactly
  • I pull my wallet from my pocket, slip my debit/credit card from said wallet, tap the card on the terminal, slip the card back in the wallet and then slip the wallet back in the pocket. Unless I'm at a store for which I have a loyalty card, then I swap cards, slip the loyalty card back in the wallet, then the wallet back in the pocket. I don't see using my phone/watch any more convenient. Plus, if something does fuçk up, it's rarely my card(s). And the best part? I didn't have to pay an insane price to do so.
  • To be fair a phone can be more secure and that's an undersold aspect... But paying with a phone is ergonomically about the same thing as with a card, slip it out (and unlock with a finger at the same time), then tap or swipe... Actually the phone you can do one handed unlike the wallet OR watch.
  • I can't speak about Android Pay on Android Wear but I will say Samsung Pay on the Gear S3 is fantastic. I use it everywhere I go and it works every time.
  • Samsung Pay is the way to go..... Use anywhere even when there is no NFC.
  • Never got to try it on Android Wear, but sounds like a similar set-up / operation like Apple Pay on the Apple Watch. I think my debit card was added easily, but I had to give Capital One a call to get it added to my watch. If I remember correctly, I had to double tap the crown to launch Apple Pay.
    And yeah, when it didn't work I felt like a total doofus in line.
  • Yep. Samsung Pay is a winner. I hope Apple Pay and Android Pay can catch up, since some people claim to be having handling-issues.
  • Samsung pay is def far superior and always funny when a cashier says, we don't accept Apple pay and it works. But it's the ONLY killer feature! I have both gear s3 and LG watch sport. Gear s3 is horrible for everything else. The interface is a pain to navigate, all support is lacking. Notifications are simple (Facebook just shows who commented without the comment). No way to see txt logs without a Samsung phone. Svoice is a dumpster fire. You need a Samsung phone to txt via voice (without going to contacts). Full verdict. Wear destroys tizen... Especially if you don't use a Samsung phone. SPay is better than Android pay, but Android pay works fine where it's accepted. Gear s3 is better looking but I don't buy tech for fashion.
  • In the UK the convenience of tapping a card to the machine is far easier than either a watch or phone. No setup either :)
  • For you maybe. It took me all of 20 seconds to set up Android Pay. It's inherently no different to swiping my bank card, but why would i bother digging around in my bag for my wallet when my phone is my pocket? Far easier.
  • Bingo
  • Agreed on all the positive Samsung Pay comments. Works great on my Gear S3 and Note 5.
  • Alex samsung pay is the standout feature on the gear s3. So easy to use.
  • The TV ads for these features make it seem so quick and flawless but IRL it becomes a point of rage. Truth be told, we're in that awkward 5 - 10 yr span till all the kinks are worked out and it does become as quick and flawless as card swipes.
  • So they're gonna move all the terminals to the left hand of the register for people with watches and tell those with cards to deal? TBH if that happened I wouldn't even mind since I use my phone with my left hand 95% of the time... So even without an NFC watch I'd benefit, but I don't see it. I don't see Google removing the need to open the app either, which keeps it as a two hand operation the same as a wallet. At least a phone you can pull out, unlock, and pay with it all using the same hand.
  • Couldn't disagree more with this article. Aside from the set up, this works better than the phone for me. Easily change cards on wear unlike phone
  • Granted Alaska is a bit of a backwater, but there are very few places I've seen Android pay accepted. After using MST with Samsung pay, I don't think I would have any interest in trying a NFC based payment method on my phone or wrist.
  • I've been saying this is exactly how it would pan out and I often got lambasted for it. Even if they can make the app load quicker and can figure out the terminal placement (that seems unlikely) or general alignment issues (somewhat more likely)... The fact is you still need two hands to pay with your watch. You need to use one hand to reach towards the other to press that button, then potentially do some wrist gymnastics to tap. With a recent phone you can do it all one handed, just slip it out of pocket and unlock it seamlessly with your finger, then tap. Ladies with purses might be the exception here tho... Google would have to remove the need to open the app first to really make it as convenient a phone (and solve all the ergo issues), and that's possibly a security no no.