Hands-on with Android Pie on Wear OS: This smartwatch doesn't need a charger

After officially rebranding Android Wear to Wear OS a few weeks ago, Google has released a developer preview for the Huawei Watch 2 that gives us an early look at some of the improvements Android P will bring to the platform.

The preview system image is available on the Android Developers site, where Google also provides instructions on how to install it through ADB on any Windows, Mac, or Linux computer. The developer preview works on both the standard Watch 2 and the more ritzy Huawei Watch 2 Classic — I've been testing it on the latter for a few days now, and making notes of some of the changes made to Wear OS.

Download Wear OS preview

The biggest visual change to Wear OS is the dark UI that's now enabled by default. This isn't necessarily a new feature — dark mode has been around since Android Wear 2.8 — but having it enabled by default encourages much better power efficiency on watches with AMOLED displays. The Huawei Watch 2 only has to illuminate the pixels for text and icons, leaving out the pitch black background and causing significantly less power drain.

Most of the changes are under the hood, but they all amount to better performance and significant power savings.

That's not the only new way that Wear OS conserves power, though. With some exceptions like watch faces, apps can no longer run in the background unless the watch is on its charger. Wireless connections like Bluetooth and WiFi will also automatically turn off when the watch detects that you're not wearing it. If you have a Huawei Watch 2 with LTE, your cellular radios will be disabled as well.

WiFi no longer turns on automatically when Bluetooth is disconnected. In the past, this has been a measure to continue seamlessly receiving notifications when you're not connected to your phone, but moving forward you'll need to turn on WiFi manually if you want to keep on top of new notifications. This may seem like an annoyance, but it's a good way to keep your power consumption low when, for example, you're at the gym and only brought your watch to stream music to your headphones.

Android Pie doesn't revitalize Wear OS, but it reminds us that it's not dead just yet.

In the Wear OS release notes, Google lists a few known issues, but they're mostly related to filing bug reports. For the most part, the Android Pie developer preview has been perfectly stable, though one usability issue to bear in mind is that the Watch 2 sometimes has trouble accepting incoming phone calls. If you like to handle most of your calls from your smartwatch, you may want to hold off on the developer preview build for now.

It's great to see Google finally giving its wearables some attention again, but I fear it may be too little, too late. The Wear OS selection has been dwindling for years, and the Huawei Watch 2 is already over a year old — how much does new software matter without any new hardware to demonstrate it on? Still, even in their diminished state, smartwatches offer a number of conveniences for the right kinds of people, and it's good to know that Google hasn't completely given up on the market.

Are you still interested in Wear OS and smartwatches in general? And if you have a Huawei Watch 2, would you or have you installed the developer preview? Let us know in the comments below!

Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.

29 Comments
  • Gave up on wear OS a long time ago. Switched to a Fitbit Ionic. Will not be going back to wear OS. 5+ day battery life, better fitness tracking and the top apps that I need.
  • Why do you say the "Wear OS selection has been dwindling"? True, tech brands have been pulling back but fashion brands have bee pushing out many, many more models. Just look at Fossil and their related brands with dozens of models. I've been using a Fossil Q Explorist since last fall, after owning the original Moto 360, and have been very happy with it. The biggest hindrance to Wear right now is the lack of an updated Soc. The Wear 2100 SoC should have seen two updates by now to bring in lower power and more features.
  • Michael Kors, Movado, Fossil, Casio, Mont Blanc, TAG, and then the tech companies.
  • +1
    I'm actually hoping that Google's first rumored self-created SOC is something for wearables.
  • "This smartwatch doesn't need a charger" "With some exceptions like watch faces, apps can no longer run in the background unless the watch is on its charger." So... unless the watch is on its charger, which it doesn't need? Who writes this feces?
  • Lol
  • Yeah I got quite excited my the headline thinking we were maybe getting watches that could be charged by body movement (Kinetic) Click-bait at its best I guess
  • Don't get the title about the chargerless thing. Guess I've been click-baited after all
  • It would have been nice if you mentioned what type of battery life you've gotten since your headline seems to imply that it's good.
  • Your thread title is wrong, or at least a little mis-leading don't you think? Had me thinking solar-charging capabilities. You don't mention any details regarding actual battery life improvements with android P. "Hands-on" implies some degree of actual usage results.
  • Love the Watch Sport 2. Great battery life as is. Wear OS seems fine to me the way it is, I don't need it to be a fully separate OS. Voice IS the next OS input frontier and Google has that down better than the competition. Wear seems to be turning into a minimal touch input based medium to access Android. That's pretty great to me.
  • So, how do you turn dark mode on for other watches?
  • Clickbait
  • I'll stick with my Gear S3 for now
  • I'm using the Samsung Gear 3 , a better hardware experiance with the crwon and button that actually doing something usefull and the touch UI that actually is an UI.
  • Glad I read the comments. I'm not the only one wondering about actual battery life. It's an important topic for me because I want another smart watch, but not touching one until battery is vastly improved. Sticking with Fitbit until then.
  • So how do you recharge it without a charger?
  • Yes, keep this alive, once you wear a watch, you'll realize how convenient it is! I got the LG sport and love it!
  • I hate say it but Google needs to get Wear OS up to par with Apple Watch.
  • That will never happen. They are following the same path as Microsoft with Windows 10 mobile. WoreOS will never have the update support that the Apple watch has. I love my Moto360, but the lack of responsibilities from Google killed it for me. My next will be the Apple watch.
  • I'm still rocking the Asus Zenwatch 3....I would like to see more people interested in Android Wear! If more of us buy watches the software and hardware will improve!
  • I have a hard time calling that rocking. It's also my watch, and it's a POS. Charging connector is the worst so I frequently wake up to it dead, and it's often dead before I go to bed even when it did get a full charge. And slow as molasses. Also, we can't simply subsidize better hardware and software by buying the crappy stuff. That's not on us. They need to make it better before I'll be willing to invest again. This isn't crowdfunding.
  • Yes, the title is an exaggeration to highlight the battery life improvements... much in the same way a friend calls me Mister "I-never-have-to-charge-my-phone". She knows it has to be charged of course, but it seems to go on forever compared to hers. Curiously, since the title references battery life, why no report on that?
  • Seriously? What is this site coming to? Articles that are nothing more than click bait and no substance. Time to find another Android site to get my info from.
  • I've been wearing the original Huawei Watch almost since it was launched. I was happy with it until I bought a Pixel 2 since there's a bug with the Pixel phones that don't allow me to pick up the calls directly on the watch or else I have a 12 seconds delay when I pick up a call on the phone since we can't hear each other. Google knows this since December has has not solved the issue yet, which is unacceptable. Here's the bug report on Google https://issuetracker.google.com/issues/71010564
    This happens with ALL the Wear Smartwatches.
  • I gave up on wear os last year. It may get my attention with some new hardware with better internals, and on top of that wear OS improvements.
  • Would have been interesting with some numbers/comparing on how much battery performance improved.
  • I just bought the Fossil Skagen Falster. Amazing design. Though I have to admit I am waiting for Huawei to make a real successor to my beloved 1st gen Hawaii Watch
  • I would not expect much here, despite the title. Its only 2018, Lithium based battery chemistry, touch screen technology and data-microprocessing has not advanced that far or that fast in that short of a time span. Dark theme is nothing new, neither are faces designed for power efficiency. Since the earliest days of Android Wear you can manually choose to keep off radios, dial back notifications and permissions. As any experienced android user will tell you, delete all background resource intensive apps.... or any app that runs rogue without your control. Poorly written article. Writer could have at least compared performance with features manually set to improve battery versus the default OS settings.