The 4 Best Features of Wear OS 2.1

Android Wear no more; Wear OS grows up

Man on beach against wearing smart watch
Carina Knig / EyeEm / Getty Images

Wear OS by Google (formerly Android Wear) got an update in late 2018 that significantly improved usability. While Google isn't promoting it with a version number, it will show up as Wear OS 2.1 in the settings for compatible smartwatches.

Among the updates are new gestures and controls: swipe right for Google Assistant suggestions, swipe left for Google Fit, short press the main watch button to see all apps, and long press that button to ask Google Assistant a question.

Notifications also get a much-needed redesign, and you can more easily find Google Pay and Find My Device. The update is a good step forward for Wear OS, which faces a lot of competition from the Apple Watch since it's also compatible with the iPhone.

Many, but not all Wear OS smartwatches got the update; if your watch is more than a couple years old, you may be out of luck. Check with the manufacturer to confirm whether your watch is eligible. Wear OS by Google works with phones running at least Android 4.4 KitKat (excluding Android Go) and iOS 9.3 and later.

Here are our favorite features of Wear OS by Google (2.1).

01
of 04

Improved Notification Layout

Wear OS by Google notifications panel

Wear OS by Google 2.1 has a refined notification layout that's accessible by swiping up. All of your notifications are on one screen that you can scroll through, rather than viewing them one by one. Previously, each notification was on a separate screen so that you couldn't get a big picture view. Now you can scan through the list, tap on a message notification to send a canned Quick Reply or swipe right to dismiss any notification.  

What We Like:

  • Much easier to keep track of notifications.
  • Can respond to messages without leaving feed.

What We Don't Like:

  • So far, we don't have any complaints.
02
of 04

Google Assistant Feed & Smart Replies

Google Assistant feed on Wear OS by Google

Wear OS 2.1 introduces a Google Assistant feed with a preview of your day. Swipe right to see weather information, calendar, and task reminders, and other information based on connected apps, such as travel information.

Google Assistant will also suggest replies to messages, such as "on my way" or "sounds good," and will even offer up applicable emojis. Using the Assistant on your watch is almost as rich as the experience on your phone. For example, you can ask "which gate is my flight at?" or "how do I get to my hotel" and, if your confirmation details are in your email, the Assistant will tell you the gate and offer you directions via Google Maps.

The Assistant is still not perfect, though. You may be an inappropriate suggestion every once in awhile, though. For example, you might get a message from someone cancelling an event, and a suggested reply of "that's great news," which could be super awkward if accidentally sent.

What We Like:

  • Can access Google Assistant features without pulling out your phone.
  • More conversational voice commands.

What We Don't Like:

  • While the Assistant's suggested replies are improving, sometimes they're off the mark.
03
of 04

Faster Google Fit Access

Google Fit screen on Wear OS by Google

Previously, swiping left on a Wear OS watch brought up watch face options. On the latest version, it brings up your Google Fit screen, which has two rings that track your health: one for move minutes and the other for heart points. In 2018, Google partnered with the American Heart Association and the World Health Organization to create these two goals based on scientific research into fitness.

From the Google Fit screen, which can also be your default watch face, you can log activities, such as a run, launch the app to get more detail about your goal progress and get a heart rate reading on the fly. You can also adjust settings, including your goals and your profile.

What We Like:

  • Quick access to fitness stats.
  • Redesigned Google Fit watch face is easy to read.

What We Don't Like:

  • Can't choose workout type from the main screen.
04
of 04

New Quick Settings

Google Pay screen on Wear OS by Google

Finally, you can swipe down to access Quick Settings, which now include Find My Device and Google Pay in addition to airplane mode, watch settings, battery information, and do not disturb. If your Wear OS watch has NFC (near field communication) for mobile payments, you can use Google Pay right from the watch. Swipe down, tap Google Pay, and you'll be ready to pay when you get to the register. It works the same as when you use Google Pay on your phone. Just place the watch near the payment terminal's contact point and wait to see a blue check mark on the screen indicating that payment is approved.

Tap Find My Device if you've misplaced your phone and it will ring at full volume, regardless of whether it's muted or in Do Not Disturb mode. It must be powered on, though. If location services are on, you'll be able to pinpoint its location on a map. Otherwise, you'll need to be within earshot. Find My Phone has been a Wear OS (formerly Android Wear) feature since 2015, but previously you had to dig through settings to find it.

What We Like:

  • Fast access to features you need quickly.
  • Can easily check that Google Pay is ready to go.

What We Don't Like:

  • Can't add or remove apps from the Quick Settings screen.