11 new things you can do with your Android Wear smartwatch

Google's second attempt at wearables is full of new features and tweaks. Here's what you need to know.

Sarah Tew/CNET
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If you have one of the many  Android Wear watches compatible with Android Wear 2.0 (full list in link), you're in for a treat. For those who pick up the new LG Watch Sport or LG Watch Style, well, you're in for a treat as well.

Google redesigned the interface and added new features that are aimed directly at competing with the Apple Watch, and giving Android fans a more capable wearable.

Below are 11 tips and tricks to help you get the most out of Android Wear 2.0.


1. Your watch no longer needs your phone

Android Wear watches are no longer dependent on a smartphone.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Your watch is now a standalone Android device, complete with access to the Play store. In order to download, update or use Google services and apps on your watch, you'll need to add a Google account to it.

The first time you power on a device running Android Wear 2.0, you will see a prompt asking you to add your Google account to the watch. Adding your account is easy, just follow the prompts in the Android Wear app on your phone.

2. Basic navigation

Android Wear 2.0 still relies heavily on gestures and taps for navigation. However, the functionality of button(s) on the watch will be different for each model of watch. It's a good idea to go through the tutorial after updating your watch. The tutorial will show you which button does what, assuming your device has more than one. If there is only one button, then view it as a home button.

Some basic navigation tips I found useful are:

  • Swipe from the left edge of the display to go back one screen.
  • Swipe down from the tap of the screen to view an app's menu.
  • The main button on your watch should function as a home button with a quick press, and bring up Assistant with a long press.

3. Install apps

You can now add apps to a watch without using a phone.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Since your watch no longer relies on your phone, you now have access to a dedicated Android Wear Play store on your wrist.

First, launch the Play store and agree to the terms and services. A list of apps with pending updates will show up, followed by a list of apps you have installed on your phone that also offer an Android Wear version. You can search, browse by category and discover apps built specifically for your watch.

4. Manage complications

You can enhance watch faces with complications.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Android Wear watch faces now include complications, giving you an app shortcut or glanceable information without having to actually launch an app.

For example, a complication for the Calendar app puts your next appointment on your watch face at all times. Or you can set Google Fit to constantly show your step total for the day.

Customize complications with a long press on the watch face, then tapping on the icon for each respective complication. Select the app or info you want the complication to represent, then press the home button to save your settings.

5. Google Assistant

The Google Assistant is ready to take your requests from the watch.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Google Assistant, which lets you make voice-based commands is now on Android smartwatches. That means you can get a lot of things done through your watch without ever touching it.

Long-press the power button on your watch to activate Assistant, and then ask questions or give commands. Swipe up from the bottom of the Assistant screen for suggestions of what you can ask and do with Assistant. Alternatively, you can raise your wrist and use the "OK, Google" wake phrase to begin talking to Assistant. 

Tailor how Google Assistant functions on your Android Wear watch by opening the Wear app on your phone and tap on the Settings icon. Under the Assistant section, tap on Settings

6. Quickly change your look

With a quick swipe to the right or left across your watch face you can switch between faces with ease.

It's a quick gesture to switch between, say, a watch face for work, complete with complications that you can use while on the job and another watch face for workouts, encouraging you to run faster.

A swipe up or down on a saved watch face will delete it.

7. New app layout

You can take the new app menu layout for a spin.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

When viewing your watch face, press the power button to view your app list. On the LG Watch Style and Watch Sport, the digital crown scrolls through the list of installed apps. On other watches, you'll need to use gestures to scroll up or down to view your apps.

Naturally, tapping on an app will launch it. More importantly, you can now pin apps to the top of the list with a long press on its icon.

8. Two keyboards

There are new ways to quickly jot down a message.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

You now have two new options tools to help you respond to messages from the watch. There's a teeny-tiny keyboard that's nearly impossible to type on (at least in my experience), and then there's a handwriting recognition tool that lets you scribble words on the display.

The next time you compose a message or reply, tap on the keyboard icon. The default setting is the small keyboard, but you can quickly switch between the two keyboards with a long press on the keyboard icon.

9. Android Pay

Android Pay is currently only available on the LG Watch Sport due to NFC requirements. You can install Android Pay from the Play store on the watch if it's not already installed.

After opening it, you'll need to set up a passcode for your watch. Any time you take the watch off, you will need to enter the code to use it. Not only does this mean a would-be thief won't find much use of your watch, but it stops them from using your Android Pay card.

10. Stream music without your phone

Forget having to have your phone always by your side just to listen to your favorite tunes. Now that Android Wear 2.0 allows standalone apps, you can stream music through the Google Play Music app over Wi-Fi or LTE (if your watch has cellular service).

As I type, I'm streaming an album that's stored in my Play Music catalog over AT&T's LTE signal, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth turned off on the LG Watch Sport.

When you begin streaming on the watch itself, you will be asked if you want to pair to a Bluetooth speaker or headphones. If your watch has a built-in speaker, you can also choose to play through the watch itself.

11. Quick settings are now quicker

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Android's quick settings are a convenient way to easily do common tasks, such as put a device in airplane mode or adjust brightness of your display. Android Wear 2.0 puts quick settings on the same screen, instead of forcing you to swipe left or right to adjust settings as it was on previous versions of the OS.

To access quick settings on Android Wear 2.0, swipe down from the watch face. The top line settings icons are toggle airplane mode and silence your watch; the bottom line, left to right, are enable theater mode, toggle Do Not Disturb and launch the Settings app.

Editors' note, June 2: This story was originally published on February 11, 2017, and has since been updated to include new Android Wear features.

CNET Magazine: Check out a sampling of the stories you'll find in CNET's newsstand edition.

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