The Android Wear apps you should download right now

Are you the proud owner of a new Android Wear smartwatch? Then you probably want some apps -- read on for our best suggestions.

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The Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch (right) Sarah Tew/CNET

Google's Android Wear smartwatches are finally upon us. So you've got a brand new Samsung Gear Live sitting on your wrist, or maybe you opted for the LG G Watch -- now what?

Time to get some apps, of course. Smartwatch apps work a bit differently than the smartphone apps we're all used to. To start, you won't be downloading anything to your watch at all: you'll be pairing your smartwatch to your Android smartphone, where all the apps you'll be using are housed. Once the devices are paired, compatible apps will populate your smartwatch automatically. And you might not be downloading many new apps at all, as developers are updating their existing smartphone apps with smartwatch-friendly features.

Despite being all but tethered to your smartphone, the current crop of Android Wear apps are still generally designed to act independently of it. You'll be using your fingers and your voice to go places, get things done, or just get more information. But make no mistake, if your phone goes missing or its battery dies, your wrist-borne gadget won't be doing all that much.

There aren't all that many apps to choose from yet -- about 35 as of this publication date -- but you can find the full list on the Google Play Store. I've had some time to fuss with these smartwatches and have stumbled upon quite gems -- read on for apps you should definitely check out. And be sure to have a look at our list of Android Wear How-Tos for tips and tricks on getting the most out of your new gear.


Getting things done

Google Keep (free)

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Create and edit notes on your wrist with Google Keep. Nate Ralph/CNET

Google Keep has slowly become my go-to app for jotting down simple notes to myself, and it works surprisingly well on Android Wear. I just need to say "take a note," and then say whatever it is I'd like to remember. If you've created notes in Google Keep, you can also browse through the nine notes that sit at the top of your list, though you'll need the phone or Web app if you want to organize or change the color of your notes. I also couldn't create new checklists, though I could add new add new items to existing ones, so I suspect the functionality isn't far off. If you've got multiple Android Wear-compatible productivity apps on your device that can take notes -- in my case that's Keep, Evernote, and Trello -- you'll need to choose one.

Evernote for Android Wear (free)

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Create Evernote notes on the fly. Evernote

I'm a huge fan of Evernote, but its smartwatch incarnation will take some getting used to. I have a few hundred meticulously organized notes at any given time -- not a massive collection, but more than I'd ever dream of perusing on my wrist. The app instead gives you a few options for finding notes, including voice search, notes you've modified recently, and notes you've created nearby if you've activated Evernote's location-tracking functionality. You can also search To Dos, which lists any notes that have items with checkboxes. The notes are necessarily limited by the interface: if there's lots of text involved, you'll spend a lot of time scrolling, and you won't be able to open any links. You can also create a note with your voice, if you haven't opted to use Google Keep instead.

IFTTT (free)

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Create recipes for your smartwatch from your phone, or the Web. Screenshot by Nate Ralph/CNET

If This Then That is a phenomenal and powerful automation service the utility of which is going to vary wildly from person to person. Most of the action will still happen when your various Internet services interact with one another, but IFTTT adds a new function specifically for smartwatches in the form of a button. Push the button, and stuff happens: maybe it'll adjust appliances like a Nest thermostat or Philips Hue light bulbs, or send a canned email or text message to friends or family. You can create as many IFTTT recipes as you like, with plenty of customization options.

Google Hangouts (free)

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Reply by voice or with canned responses. Screenshot by Jason Cipriani
Is chatting on your wrist as ludicrous as it seems? Yes. But it's also incredibly convenient: my phone spends most of its time buried in the bowels of a messenger bag, but the world doesn't stop chatting just because I'm not paying attention. A quick buzz of the wrist lets you know that someone's trying to get in touch, and you can swipe over their message to reply with your voice, or send a canned response like "OK, I'm on my way," or even just a frowny face. And if the conversations ever get a little too frantic, you can always mute the app temporarily.

Wear Calc (free)

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A calculator -- on a watch! Nate Ralph/CNET

Sometimes you just need to crunch a few numbers -- Wear Calc is here to help. Android Wear can't technically run native apps, but this is near enough: once installed from the Google Play Store, Wear Calc won't appear on your phone, but it can be run on a smartwatch if you say "Open Calculator," or if you open it manually through the "Start..." option. As a calculator, it works well enough in a pinch. But the developer gets eternal kudos for recreating the classic Casio calculator watch for these modern times. If you ever decide to remove the app, just look for "Calculator" in your list of installed apps on your phone.


Making moves

Runtastic (free; Pro: $4.99/£1.99/AU$4.99), and Runkeeper (free; Elite: $9.99/£5.85/AU$10.64 per month)

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Runkeeper offers detailed stats, right on your wrist. Runkeeper

I've shunned excess physical exertion since graduating college, but that hasn't stopped Runtastic and Runkeeper's apps from piquing my interest. Choosing one will largely be up to personal preference: Runkeeper offers a bit more information on your wrist at a glance, but both scroll through their info cards, and you'll find that apps will serve up plenty of data on your pace, the distance travelled, and the calories you've burned. Both the Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch will count your steps without an app, but that's about it -- if you need a bit more, one of these should serve you well.

Google Maps (free)

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Google Now knows where you need to be, Google Maps gets you there Nate Ralph/CNET

I get lost. A lot. Thanks to Google Maps, I don't have to get lost quite so much anymore. And thanks to Google Maps on a smartwatch, I can stay the course, unobtrusively. If you've got appointments, Google Now will give you an approximate commute time and will work with Maps to give you text directions at the press of a button. If you're like me, you can just say "How do I get home?" and your wrist will point the way.

Wear Compass (free)

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An alternative compass for your smartwatch. Wear Compass

The Samsung Gear Live I've been testing actually has a compass built in, and I suspect many other smartwatches will, too. But if you're looking for an alternative, consider Wear Compass, from the same developer that brought us Wear Calc. It's a compass: if you need to figure out the cardinal directions, it'll have you covered.

1Weather (free with ads; remove ads: $1.99/£1.16/AU$2.12)

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1Weather offers detailed weather info. 1Weather

I can generally be found in a hoodie and jeans no matter what the weather's like outside, but maybe you like to prepare for the elements. Google does offer some rudimentary weather info, but if you want to glance at detailed forecast info for the day or the week, the 1Weather app is currently your best bet.


Downtime

MusixMatch (free; subscription: $4.99/£4.69 per year)

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Conquer Karaoke. MusixMatch

"Tommy used to work on the docks, uhh... Gina works the diner all day... for love? We'll give it a shot!" We've all been there: a classic track comes on the radio and you'd love to sing along with your chums, but you don't remember the words. Struggle no more, as MusixMatch is here to help. MusixMatch will listen in on whatever's playing and display song lyrics right on your phone and smartwatch.You can also play tracks in apps like Spotify and Rdio and get the lyrics sent directly to your wrist, convincing all of your friends you're some kind of lyrical savant who's just really interested in the time. Don't worry, I won't tell.

Pinterest (free)

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Visit places you've pinned on Pinterest. Pinterest

Pinterest is a surprising first entry for social networks on Android Wear, but here it is. When you're near a location you've pinned on the Web or through the smartphone app, you'll get a notification on your watch. That's it. It might not seem like the most enterprising use of the technology, but if you've pinned quite a few places -- say, restaurants you'd like to try -- and happen to be make an unscheduled jaunt through the right neighborhood, it could make for a pleasant surprise.

The Guardian (free; premium: $3.99/£2.49 per month)

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Headlines from The Guardian, now on your wrist Nate Ralph/CNET

The Guardian is one of the first news outlets to jump on board with Android, and while it does little more than send alerts for breaking news, it remains one to watch. Once you've signed into the app on your phone, you can save headlines of interest to read later. You can't actually read any stories on your phone, though. There's also a "Share" button, which opens the Share dialog on your phone. That's not entirely useful either, and likely a holdover from the Android notification shade. But as a proof of concept, and a way to save stories you may otherwise have missed while you're on the go, it's an interesting idea.

Eat24 (free)

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It's always a good time for pizza. James Martin/CNET
You had pizza on Wednesday, and you had pizza on Thursday. Friday evening's rolling around, what're you gonna do? If you ordered those pizzas through Eat 24, then you could be having pizza again with just a few taps or voice commands. The app lets you easily re-order and pay for meals right from your wrist, so you can feast on the same exact thing one more time. Because you're an adult now, and you've earned it.

DuoLingo (free)

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Practice your Portuguese on the go. DuoLingo

DuoLingo is an awesome, free way to learn a new language, and the app is now Android Wear-compatible in a pretty clever way. Open DuoLingo on your smartwatch, and you'll get quick 10-word proficiency quiz. My Spanish quizzes, for example, display an English word to translate. I'm then presented with the answer: swipe up if got it right, swipe down if you got it wrong. Sure, it's working on the honor system, but are you really cheating here anyway? It's incredibly simple, and a great, low-impact way to keep lessons fresh in your mind when you only have a moment's time. I'd like to see the quiz results tie into the full DuoLingo experience a bit better, but it's a great first stab.

Bunting (free)

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Tweet with your voice, if you're into that sort of thing. Bunting

If you ever felt the need to send a tweet from your wrist, Bunting has arrived. Sign in with your Twitter account, say "Start writing a tweet," and then share your spoken wisdom with your eager followers. I suspect the novelty of dictating your tweets to your wrist will wear off rather quickly, but "Yo" is a million-dollar thing, so what do I know?

 

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