Supercharge Your Smartwatch: 16 Ways You Should Be Using It
Do you already own a smartwatch, or are you thinking of getting one? Here we’ll look at 16 great ways to put your Wear OS (Android) smartwatch to work for you. So let’s list them first, before considering them each in turn (click one to jump straight to that part).
Find my phone
Maps navigate & explore
ParKing: Where is my car?
Photo Wear Watch Face Sleep
Trusted Devices (unlock your phone)
Wear audio recorder
Wear OS is Google’s operating system for smartwatches. In the early days, you had to install several apps to provide even relatively basic functions. Over the years since its initial release, Wear OS (formerly Android Wear) has increasingly added extra functionality, and it now comes with most of what you need already built in.
Sure, there’s the fundamentals: from setting an alarm to getting a timely reminder; viewing a text or checking who’s calling with a single glance at your wrist. But today’s smartwatches are capable of so much more. So let’s dig in and see what’s possible, all from the comfort of your wrist.
We’ll kick off with an easy one. Do you remember the 1980s (yes, I’m showing my age)? Casio brought out their calculator watch – a great hulking slab of plastic, but didn’t anyone who owned one think they were the best thing since sliced bread. How cool was it to carry out actual mathematical sums right on your very wrist. How far we’ve come when you consider the modern smartwatch: mini computers that strap to our wrists with colour touchscreens that run apps just like a smartphone, and they even tell the time, too!
So, if for no other reason than to experience a touch of nostalgia, one of the first things to do must surely be firing up the old wrist calculator. There’s no shortage of this type of app for Android Wear. Calculator for Wear OS (Android Wear) is a good one, but take your pick. So, whether you just want to relive your youth, or if you’d like to check your weekly shopping bill, get tapping on that little number pad and entering your sums.
How about controlling your smartphone’s camera remotely from your smartwatch? If you have Google’s latest generation of Pixel smartphone, the camera app now has this facility baked right in. For the rest of us, there’s the Camera Remote: Wear OS, Galaxy Watch, Gear S3 app, which is available from the Play Store. This gives you complete control over your smartphone’s camera, all from your smartwatch – you can even view the live video feed right on your watch’s screen. Unfortunately, it’s only available on a limited free trial, after which you have to purchase the app to continue using it, but, if you find this a useful feature, it could be well worth the money.
If all you want to do is control your phone’s camera – being able to remotely press the shutter to take a photo, for example – then you could opt instead for Wear Cam. This app is completely free of charge, but lacks the advanced features of Camera Remote.
Wear OS let’s you initiate a phone call directly from your watch (just as you can also see who’s calling, before deciding whether to answer it). Making a phone call from your smartwatch might not sound very appealing (and may not be possible anyway, unless your watch has a speaker and microphone built in). Even if it does, unless you have some burning desire to emulate Michael Knight talking to Kitt (remember the Knight Rider TV series?), the idea of conversing with your wrist probably holds little interest. But there is another possible use…
This one is for those of you who use automatic (electric) gates. Quite often these systems require you to dial a number to open or close the gates. With your smartwatch, you could do this straight from the small screen on your wrist. If you use one of these systems, odds are you already have the gate’s number stored in your phone’s contacts. Why not put that (or a link to all of your contacts) right on your smartwatch’s homescreen. You could also Favourite your most regular contacts (not just the gate) and even add a photo to make them quickly identifiable on your watch’s screen. In the suggested use case, a couple of taps on your wrist could open and close said automated gates without even having to pull the phone from your pocket.
You don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to make us of this one, but, conversely, it’s a useful reminder not to rest on your laurels (which is a polite way of saying, don’t just sit on some less polite body part all day). After inputting a few simple baseline parameters – such as age, weight and height – the app sets off tracking your daily activity (the clue is in the title).
After a short while, it can provide you with all sorts of useful information. You can flip through multiple screens to see such things as the number of steps taken, calories burned, distance covered, time active, and height climbed – it even includes a heart rate readout. This information can then be monitored over time and, potentially, put an end to that sedentary lifestyle.
Find my phone
Have you ever put your phone down and forgot where you left it? Not a problem if you’re wearing a smartwatch. With Find my phone, you simply tap the app and your watch rings your phone. The two are connected by bluetooth, so the only proviso is that both devices are within range of one another, which shouldn’t be a problem in the home. With a mere tap of the wrist, you’ll never need to go hunting for your mobile again.
If your smartwatch supports NFC (Near Field Communication) and you’d like the convenience of being able to pay for stuff when your out shopping right from your wrist, Wear OS comes with Google Pay. This allows for contactless payments. Hold your watch over the store’s payment terminal until it makes a sound or vibrates; job done. Sure, most bank cards will let you do the same thing these days, but you’ve still got to take the card out of your wallet. A watch is already on your wrist. How easy is that? Is it just me, or are we all getting lazy? Let’s call it innovative, it sounds better. Note that, while the system supports credit and debit cards, debit cards may require you to enter the pin number to complete the purchase – well at least your fingers will get a workout!
Got a video or some music playing on your smartphone? You could prop it up on the beside table and control it from your watch. Play/pause, skip tracks, playback volume – all the basics are covered. Start something playing on your phone – a YouTube video, for example – then sit back and take (remote) control. Just think, now that your hands are free of lifting your smartphone, you could be holding a beer instead!
ParKing: Where is my car?
Have you ever parked in an unfamiliar city and then struggled to find your car? That’s where ParKing can come to your rescue. When you park up, tap the big button to add your location to the map. Then, after you’ve gone about your business and it’s time to go home, re-open the app to find your way back. There are three options to assist you, and all of them work through your smartwatch.
First, bring up a map within ParKing itself to help relocate your ride. Second, tap the icon to launch Google Maps (personally, I think this is the best option, as it provides turn by turn guidance back to your vehicle), or, third, select the compass, which shows the distance between you and your vehicle as well as the general direction. With so many choices, there’s no excuse to ever misplace your car again.
Photo Wear Watch Face
Would you like to use your own photos for the display on your smartwatch? That’s precisely what Photo Wear Watch Face (for Wear OS) allows you to do. This watch app comes with a few images built in, but in order to select your own photos, you need to install the smartphone app as well. So get creating your own personalised watch faces – how’s that for taking smartwatch customization to a whole new level!
Suffering from insomnia, or simply feeling tired all the time? Use your smartwatch to track your sleep patterns. Simply launch the “Sleep” app and grab forty winks while wearing your watch. During your slumber, the app with use sound and movement to gather data on how you’re sleeping. It’s not ideal if you usually charge your smartwatch overnight (although some people recommend against doing this anyway), but several watches now support fast charging, if you do find yourself in need a quick top up during the day.
I find this one very useful. Pop a shortcut to the Torch app directly on your watch face, and then a single tap can turn it on. It may not look like much in the screenshot, but illuminating the screen in a bright white is surprisingly powerful, and will certainly come to your aid should you need to shine some light on the situation. You probably won’t want to overuse it, as you may find your tiny smartwatch battery takes a turn for the worse, but for occasional use it can come in extremely handy.
Imagine being on holiday abroad. You don’t speak the local lingo. How useful would it be to open up (Google) Translate right from your smartwatch, choose your own language and that of the place you’re visiting, and then ask your watch how to say a word or sentence. That’s precisely what this app does. Just tap the microphone symbol and speak. The screen will display what you’ve just said, first in your own language (so you can check it heard you right) and then in the language you’ve asked it to translate to. No more struggling to remember that pigeon French you picked up back in high school. Be confident you’re using the correct words – and all while leaving your smartphone securely in your pocket.
Trusted Devices (unlock your phone)
Don’t mess around with Face ID, or fingerprint scanning. Set up your smartwatch as a Trusted Device and let it take care of unlocking your phone. That’s right, so long as both devices are within range of one another (they’re connected by bluetooth), you won’t need your bothersome pin, or anything else to unlock it. NB. I find the only exception to this is first thing each morning, when you’ve not been using your devices overnight, you may be asked to enter your pin, if this is your alternative unlock method (probably just as well, or I might forget it entirely!) If the watch and phone lose their connection (e.g. by going out of range), the phone will be automatically locked.
Wear audio recorder
I would never advise that you go around surreptitiously recording your friends and colleagues, but having an audio recorder fastened to your wrist can be a useful tool. Imagine you want to take a memo or make a note of something you need to type up later. What better way than to record it on your watch? The age of the dictaphone may be over, but a wearable recorder can still have its uses.
Fancy your very own weatherman strapped to your wrist? I’m sure there’s laws against that sort of thing, but of course I’m talking about a virtual weather assistant, not a real person. The Weather app gives you all sorts of useful information. Besides temperature, you get wind speed, and a handy short range forecast of what to expect over the next few days. Little picture’s display what’s coming, with clouds, sunshine and rainy spells all present – it even shows you the likelihood of needing an umbrella! So, don’t get caught out in a passing shower, check what’s happening before you even leave the house, all from a quick glance at your smartwatch.
Summing up (perhaps its time for the calculator app again)
There you have it: all 16 of my recommendations of apps for your smartwatch. I hope you found something useful, and, if you don’t already own a smartwatch, perhaps it may have convinced you to finally take the plunge and invest in one.
In the interests of full disclosure, all apps in this article were tested on a Huawei Watch 2 Sport Smartwatch (which also took the screenshots) that I bought myself and would highly recommend. I’ve had several smartwatches over the years since they first appeared, including a Pebble, Motorola 360, and Sony Smartwatch 2. The Huawei has, to date, been the best of the bunch, although I do miss the Pebble’s incredible battery life. Here’s a link to Huawei’s second generation device on Amazon, if you’d like to check it out.
Before finishing, let’s take a look at a few of the most frequently asked questions regarding Wear OS smartwatches.
How do I install apps on Wear OS?
Android Smartwatches have their own version of the Play Store actually on the watch. Some apps can be installed from there alone, but many will also require the smartphone version of the app to be installed through the Play Store on your phone.
Why isn’t an app displaying on my smartwatch?
As mentioned previously, your watch has its own Play Store. If a smartphone app is compatible with Wear OS, you need to ensure the watch version of the app is installed as well, otherwise it won’t show up. To check, open the Play Store on your smartwatch, then swipe down its homescreen until you come to “Apps on your phone”, where, if it’s not installed, you’ll see the option to download and install it.
Is Android Wear dead?
Yes and no… allow me to clarify. As mentioned much earlier in passing, Google have renamed Android Wear and it is now called Wear OS.
Can I pair a Wear smartwatch with an iPhone?
This didn’t used to be worthwhile, as the experience was very limited, but when Google rebranded Android Wear to Wear OS (possibly in an attempt to convince iPhone users that Wear was no longer just linked to Android), and certainly since Wear 2.0 came out, iPhone users get a far better experience using Wear OS watches with their phones. A lot more features are now supported, and, while I can’t personally confirm it (as I no longer have an iPhone), some people say its nearly as good as going Android only.
How do I choose a smartwatch?
As with Android smartphones, Wear OS watches come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Do you want a round screen, or would you prefer a square one? Is the physical size suitable for your wrist? It’s a shame there aren’t more watches on display in high street stores (at least, there aren’t many here in the UK), as ordering such a personal device online isn’t ideal.
Many same generation smartwatches tend to share similar underlying hardware – certainly in terms of processor, memory and internal storage – so often choosing a watch comes down to personal aesthetic preference. Obviously all Wear OS smartwatches run the Wear OS operating system, so the experience you’re going to get with the software should be pretty consistent, regardless of the particular watch you plump for.
The one caveat I would mention here is sensors. In this area, not all watches are created equal. Some have heart-rate monitors, others do not. Some provide GPS (for location accuracy), while others are lacking. One watch may come with NFC (for contactless payments), and another may not – and don’t forget a microphone, if you’d like to take down a memo! So, if these things are important to you, check them out before buying.