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Google's new Wear OS watch update is here, and it's surprisingly good

A few new gestures make a big difference.

The new Wear OS update on a Fossil Q Explorist HR watch and Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus.
Sarah Tew/CNET

Google's big fall hardware event is coming on October 9, but there's no new Google Pixel Watch on the horizon. Instead, a flurry of new Google Wear OS watches are arriving to try to capture more of the wearable market. There's also a WearOS software update, available Friday, that changes the interface: mostly, for the better. I've been using it on a Fossil Q Explorist HR watch, and it's a far more useful update than I expected.

The new Wear OS software features, revealed back in August, add directional swipe gestures to each part of the Wear OS watch interface. Each one does something helpful.

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Swipe left, and you get a redesigned Google Fit with motivational goal rings based on activity and more active heart rate-based "heart points."

Swipe right, and there's Google Assistant, with quick AI-generated suggestions and a related search term shortcut to recent requests.

Swipe down, and a bunch of new dashboard controls are there, similar to the Apple Watch. It's easier to silence the watch, play music or quick-access Google Pay.

Swipe up, and notifications are now shown in a more compressed stream. Wear OS doesn't have nested notifications like Apple Watch has in WatchOS 5, but it's better than what Wear OS used to be.

The new gestures are fluid, and so far everything feels responsive on the Fossil watch I'm testing on. Accessing watch faces now requires holding a finger down on the watch face, instead of swiping to pick new faces. I like the change: I don't need quick watch face swaps on the fly, and prefer peeking at fitness stats or using Google Assistant faster.

Many of this fall's new Wear OS watches are including NFC and Google Pay, swim-level water resistance, and onboard heart rate, but there's more coming. Upcoming watches will also adopt Qualcomm's newer chips for longer battery life in low-power modes, which might be worth waiting for. The slow wave of watches is confusing from a shopping perspective, compared to the simplicity of the single-device approach of Apple Watch. If you're an Android phone owner, you should consider Samsung Galaxy Watch (which isn't WearOS, but runs its own customized software that still has better fitness features.)

But, Google's Wear OS has been getting better in clear ways, even if it still has room for improvement. If you already have a recent Wear OS/Android Wear watch, you're probably going to be happy with this update.

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