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Wear OS 2.0 review: Simplicity, speed, and Assistant's wearable redemption

AC

Score

4.5

Wear OS, Google's smartwatch platform has not had an easy life. It's been blasted and bemoaned for a clunky UI, and its watches — powered by long-outdated chipsets — have fallen further and further and further behind the Apple Watch, in performance, in style, and most starkly in fitness and health. WearOS got a name change last year, but what it needed was an overhaul of how it actually worked.

In August, Google announced that overhaul was indeed coming to most current Wear OS watches, and last week, it began to trickle out in a slow public release. This new UI promised a simpler, streamlined experience: the recently redesigned Google Fit would be a single swipe away, as would a quicker, better Google Assistant.

Well, Google has delivered on its promise, and the future for Android wearables is looking brighter than ever.

Versions and confusion

About this review

I have tested and tinkered with the new Wear OS 2.0 update for about 36 hours after receiving it Monday morning on my TicWatch Pro, which I have been wearing for over three months. I have been a consistent Wear OS user since the original Moto 360, using an original Huawei Watch, LG Watch Style, TicWatch E, and TicWatch Pro over the last 4 years, using it primarily for notifications, quick replies, media controls, Google Keep grocery lists, and TicHealth's hourly reminders to take a break and some steps.

Everything revolves around the watch face

Swipe for sanity

Wear OS 2.0's condensed UI brings efficiency and simplicity

Wear OS's previous incarnations were a bit of a hot mess. If you swiped left or right on the watch face, you'd swap to another watch face. Each notification was its own card and its own slide on a Rolodex of a feed. The app drawer was a dense carousel, and Google Assistant could only be summoned by pressing and holding the power button. Now, the main Wear OS UI has been simplified into a cross of sorts:

The new Wear OS layout

  • Center: watch face — To swap or customize the watch face, long-press the face.
  • Top: Quick Settings — Toggles: Airplane mode, Battery saver, Theater mode, Do Not Disturb, Play/Pause music. Shortcuts: Settings menu, Google Pay tap-and-pay, Music controls
  • Right: Fitness app — For most watches, this will be the redesigned Google Fit, showing your progress on Move Minutes and Heart Points and a shortcut for starting a new Workout.
  • Bottom: Condensed notification feed — No more wasted space! Tap a notification to expand them in-line and reveal any actions and quick reply suggestions.
  • Left: Google Assistant — Voice prompt icon at the top of a Google Now-like feed, showing search and command suggestions based on location, weather, time, and upcoming trips or deliveries.

It's hard for me to say which one of these improvements is the most useful, because they're all much better than they were — well, except for TicHealth's paltry replacement of Google Fit, but that's an anomaly most users won't have to deal with. It's also one I hope Mobvoi changes quickly. The condensed notification feed is much easier to sift through, and the new Assistant feed makes it much quicker to initiate searches or check on upcoming items like flights and reservations.

Quicker settings

Everything is quicker to get to and easier to use.

Quick Settings has more than doubled in usefulness, and the addition of Google Pay and music is especially gratifying. Now, playback controls won't get buried under a mountain of new messages — or accidentally cleared away with them — and tap-and-pay can be easily summoned without leaving your current app or activity. The sound toggle is a welcome addition, as well, sitting somewhere between Do Not Disturb and Theater mode on the scale of interruption control.

This update also fixed several recent bugs that had been creeping into Wear OS, such as music not appearing in the Now Playing complications on watch faces. Overall, responsiveness and speed seem to have picked up a little, too, even if the biggest benefits of Wear OS 2.0 are going to be reaped by upcoming watches with the new Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip.

Usability, at last

Still shaking off the shackles of Wear OS's sluggish past

While the main UI has seen a definite upgrade here, it doesn't reach to every corner of the system yet. Most apps seem to load a tiny bit faster, but the Google Play Store, in particular, is still a hot mess: slow to load, slow to download apps and updates, and a complete pain to try and look for apps or watch faces on. Google Keep and Nest have been quicker to load, and even data-intensive RadarScope has been zippier when switching radar sites and adjusting the positioning, but Google Play is clunky and just as hard to navigate as ever.

Another area that has seen little improvement on current devices — but should see a boon on new models — is voice prompts. There has been a small bump in the speed of voice recognition, but Wear OS is still slow to start listening, missing the first half-sentence of spoken replies on my TicWatch when trying to reply to Hangouts and Slack messages. The Wear 3100 has specific hardware improvements that Wear OS will be able to easily capitalize on, but for those of us who already have a smartwatch, things are at least a tiny bit better. Thank Google for small mercies, I suppose.

It's still way better than actually trying to type on a smartwatch.

Assistant ascending: Google's AI is finally usable on your wrist

A world of difference

Google Assistant in the previous incarnations of Wear OS was entirely reliant on voice, and even worse, reliant on a long-press reaction to summon up the voice prompt screen. The Google Assistant feed might not be something you use all the time, but being able to swipe over and tap that microphone icon in half a second is worlds better than pressing a hardware button for two seconds and waiting another 2-5 seconds for Assistant to load and start listening.

With the feed and its suggestions, as well as the slightly speedier voice prompts, Google Assistant is finally, feasibly functional on your wrist.

Small update, big promise

Software's fixed, time for hardware

A new day for Wear OS watches, old and especially new

Wear OS 2.0 might still have some small, slight imperfections to work out, but by and large, this is the Wear OS that we've been waiting years for. No more swiping through card after card of individual notifications, no more accidentally switching watch faces, no more waiting eons for Google Assistant. This update will breathe new life into almost all of the Wear OS watches on the market today.

4.5 out of 5

For those who have long-since given up hope on the platform, they might actually change their tune once we see how a Wear OS watch performs with this snappier new UI and Qualcomm's new Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip sipping battery and sliding through a busy week on a single charge.

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

63 Comments
  • They might of gotten the OS right (dunno haven't used it yet), but my god no one has gotten the hardware right - they are all oversized and rather hideous.
  • Get you some man wrist. 46mm is pretty standard size for men. But hey you can always get MK 41mm rose gold watch for women. Oh and BTW Skagen makes a beautiful 42mm Falster 2 watch for men. But I see you haven't done much research on what's out there. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • When I first opened my Ticwatch E I thought it was big. But after a few days I didn't even notice the aize
  • It's still hideous.
  • Sorry some people don't like cracker jack box toy watches.
  • Taste is subjective. Thanks to a grandfather who was a watchmaker and ran his own repair shop, I got to wear many watches that were far nicer than I would typically have. I wore a very nice Tissot in grade school, lol. That being said, I picked the Ticwatch E because it was more discreet and has a better screen to body ratio than the Apple watch. Having a higher resolution screen and better battery life is also a plus, as is being so comfortable that you forget you are wearing it.
  • I know right. Don' t think they look bad at all but I still think the OG Huawei watch is the best looking watch thus far.
  • Yep. I own the original Falster and it's fine. I'm glad Wear 2.0 is out though. I was ready to throw it against the wall!
  • Couldn't agree more. Have you seen these out-in-the-wild? Look pretty dorky !
  • "they are all oversized and rather hideous." Yet my Q Explorist 3 is thinner and smaller than my best friend's "normal" watch.... And god knows Fossil makes some gorgeous watches
  • I also have the Fossil Explorist 3 and people mistake it for a standard watch until I get a notification on it, it looks and feels really premium. Just checking Fossil's website they've just released an Explorist Version 4, which has NFC and heart rate monitor, which was lacking in the previous version, bargain for £250! https://www.androidcentral.com/e?link=https2F2Fcli...
  • Actually looking more into the GEN 4, its also fully waterproof, but unfortunately it uses the old Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip, so it's worth hanging on as Fossil have announced that they're going to release a version which uses Qualcomms new Snapdragon wear 3100 chip.
  • I like the new UI and my Fossil Venture seems snappier to say the least. Battery life is surprisingly better as well. So far so good.
  • Got the update this morning for my Ticwatch E. So far so good. It does seem a bit snappier and the user interface is much better. Can't tell if the battery life is any better yet, but I don't think it is any worse.
  • That thing looks comically huge on that wrist lol. Apple watch anyone?
  • The Ticwatch e is huge?? That's a bit of an overstatement isn't it, so is saying it's hideous. It looks pretty plain and inoffensive. It's nice and light and about the same size or smaller thana regular g-shock watch.
  • I get where he is coming from. Standard size for men's watches are 40-42mm. 46mm is considered very large, but that's also the fashionable thing right now.
  • And fashion is typically ridiculous.
  • Fashion is a matter of opinion I guess
  • That's the 45mm Ticwatch Pro on Ara's cute wrist, so it's going to look large. It's 5mm bigger than the smallest Apple watch, and 1mm bigger than the large one. The odd thing is that the Ticwatch Pro can go 30 days on a charge, while the Apple watch can barely make it 1 day.
  • My apologies for being a 113 pound white girl.
  • Lol. I didn't bother looking at who wrote this. I just thought to myself I have the same watch and boy this guy's arms are tiny.
  • 113 pound white girl would look better without a watch that looks like it weighs more than she does.
  • The watch looks fine and why do you care?
  • When they make Wear OS watches that are reasonably sized for my wrist that include NFC, HR, and a decent battery, I'll give one a look. Until then, I've got an LG Watch Style I bought myself for when I need a more refined look and a TicWatch Pro that was given to me as a review unit.