It's been about a year since Google Android Wear smartwatches started arriving on our wrists, and a dizzying array of devices round and square are competing for our attention. Once you're done ogling devices like the Huawei Watch or the LG Watch Urbane, it's time to think about how these gadgets might fit into your life.
That means it's time to get some apps. Smartwatch apps work a bit differently than the smartphone apps we're all used to. To start, they generally aren't downloaded to your phone: 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. Many of the apps you're already using pack smartwatch-friendly features, too, so there's a chance your new Android Wear device will have something of a head start.
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 were only about 35 Android Wear apps to choose from when the platform launched, but you'll have quite a few more options today -- you can find the full list on the Google Play store. 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
Wunderlist is a popular app for creating to-do lists, and it works everywhere you do: there are apps for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone, and it works on the Web, too. If you're already a Wunderlist user, the Wunderlist app for Android Wear might be worth a look. You can't use the app to look at all of your existing lists, but pinning an important one might be a bit more useful. You can quickly dictate new notes, and any notifications or reminders you've set up will be routed through the Android Wear app, too.
Google Keep (free)
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)
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.
OneNote for Android Wear (free)
I've been spending an increasing amount of time in OneNote recently, so this one is of particular interest to me: you can use it to dictate notes directly to your OneNote notebook. This is strictly a one-way affair, so unlike Evernote or Google Keep, you won't be able to sift through your existing notes. But if you need to take a quick note and are a fan of OneNote, this'll be a good option.
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)
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.
WhatsApp / Facebook Messenger (free)
If the people you keep in touch with prefer WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to Google Hangouts, you can grab these apps instead. The general idea remains the same: you'll receive notifications when folks reach out to you, and can reply by chatting into your wrist.
Calculator for Android Wear (free)
Wrist-calculators are apparently rather popular -- who knew! There are a ton of calculator apps for Android Wear devices, and they all, well, calculate. Calculator for Android Wear is equally at home on square and round devices, and offers a few scientific functions too.
Runtastic (free; Pro: $4.99/£1.99/AU$4.99), and Runkeeper (free; Elite: $9.99/£5.85/AU$10.64 per month)
I've shunned excess physical exertion since graduating from college, but that hasn't stopped Runtastic's 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.
If you need a few more options for keeping tabs on your physical exertion, check out Strava and Endomondo. Both are geared toward myriad activities -- with a special nod toward cyclists -- and offer ways to share your efforts with friends and rivals.
Google Maps (free)
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.
I wouldn't dare pick a side on the debate over preferred ridesharing services, but if you're looking to hail a ride from your wrist, Lyft is your only option. Lyft's app will let you speak to your wrist to summon a driver to your location.
1Weather (free with ads; remove ads: $1.99/£1.16/AU$2.12)
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.
Google Play Music (free)
If you've got a pair of Bluetooth headphones and want to rock out without dragging your phone along, the Google Play Music app is among a few options you'll find on Android Wear. Your battery life will suffer and there isn't all that much storage space in these smartwatches to begin with, though.
MusixMatch (free; subscription: $4.99/£4.69 per year)
"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 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)
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.
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.
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?
PixtoCam ($1.99 / £1.31)
I absolutely love this concept: pair your smartwatch with your phone, and then use your wrist as a remote viewfinder and shutter. It serves up a real-time preview, and even works while recording video.