Wear OS by Google: Everything you need to know about the smartwatch platform

The Wear OS by Google platform has welcomed significant changes in recent years, not least the rebrand away from Android Wear.

However, the crux of the smartwatch operating system is still the same as it was when it launched back in 2014, and, despite its flaws, it’s one of the best options for those with an Android phone.

In fact, Wear OS is very much a viable option for those with an iPhone, too.

Before you get lost in the wonderful world of Wear OS, though, there’s plenty to understand. And, in this guide, we’ll be detailing what exactly it is, how it works, the best smartwatches that work with Wear OS and much more.

What is Wear OS by Google?

For every smartwatch, there’s a software platform running on-screen. With the Apple Watch, it’s watchOS. For Samsung, it’s Tizen. For Fitbit, it’s FitbitOS. You get the idea.

Wear OS works slightly differently, however, as Google partners with third-party smartwatch makers. So, instead of a Google-branded smartwatch, you’ll instead see watches from brands such as Fossil, Emporio Armani, Kate Spade and TicWatch using Wear OS.

Deals: Best Fossil Black Friday deals

This means there’s a much greater variety of designs in the Wear OS catalogue. Like the Android smartphone platform, however, the software is essentially the same from device to device.

What can a Wear OS smartwatch do?

What can a Wear OS watch do?

So, that’s what Wear OS is, but you also need to know what the platform actually allows for, too. Particularly if you’re looking to buy a smartwatch for the first time, it’s easy to wonder what exactly it can do.

Wear OS watches, like most, are much more than just second screens for your smartphone. Here’s a list of a few abilities, but keep in mind that not all the features below are available on every model.

  • Daily activity and workout tracking
  • Heart rate data
  • Google Assistant
  • Google Pay
  • GPS location tracking
  • Google Calendars syncing
  • Google Maps navigation
  • Smartphone notifications and calls
  • Alarm clock and stopwatch

Which Wear OS smartwatch is best?

Which Wear OS watch is best?

Below, we’ve summarised five of the top smartwatches running Wear OS you can buy in 2019, but head over to our complete Wear OS smartwatch buying guide for the full list.

Best Wear OS watch for men: Fossil Carlyle HR

Buy now: Amazon | $295

A new addition for 2019, Fossil’s Gen 5 smartwatch brings all the same bells and whistles from the Gen 4 models, adds a speaker and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 3100 chipset.

For the mid-tier price and a simple, classic smartwatch design, this is an ideal pick for men in need of a Wear OS watch.

Best Wear OS watch for women: Michael Kors Access Sofie HR

Buy now: Best Buy| $325

A follow-up to the popular original, the Access Sofie HR brings a much-needed heart rate monitor, GPS and support for Google Pay.

This is still a smartwatch with design as its core focus, but you now have the option to use it as a fully-fledged exercise companion.

Best Wear OS watch for exercise: Fossil Sport

Buy now: Amazon| $255

One of the first Wear OS smartwatches to house the Snapdragon 3100 chipset is also the best example of how the platform can be used primarily for sport and exercise.

It comes with a choice of two sizes, several different colors and the lightweight body and strap make it ideal for swimmers, runners and more.

Best unisex Wear OS watch: Skagen Falster 2

Buy now: Amazon| $295

Arguably the sleekest smartwatch to run Wear OS is the Skagen Falster series, which received an upgrade in late 2018.

Like other fourth-gen Wear watches, it got the GPS, NFC, heart rate and waterproofing support the first iteration lacked, and the improvements make it a versatile option for both men and women.

Best budget Wear OS watch: TicWatch E2

Buy now: Amazon| $159

The best example of a truly budget watch in the Wear OS collection, the TicWatch E2 is feature-packed, offers a great screen and ideal for more sporty users.

The design isn’t as svelte or easy on the eye as more expensive watches running the software, but you won’t find a better overall package for this low a price tag.

More Wear OS smartwatch reviews

Downloading apps to Wear OS

Downloading apps to Wear OS

As is now the growing custom with smartwatches, users can download apps directly from the wrist.

That means you can browse the Google Play Store from your Wear smartwatch and begin enjoying them instantly. Of course, if you prefer, you can still download through a phone over Bluetooth, as well.

Don’t forget, many apps, like Spotify and Cardiogram, are pre-installed onto most Wear watches, too. You can tackle our guide on how to download apps to Wear OS, but here’s five app suggestions for you to get started with.

1. UV Index Now

2. Strava

3. FourSquare

4. Google Keep

5. Facer Watch Faces

Check out the rest in our complete list of the best Wear OS apps.

Changing watch faces on Wear OS

Changing watch faces on Wear OS

Once you’ve skipped through the tutorial, downloaded a couple of apps and got to grips with the basics of Wear OS, you’ll want to customize the thing you’ll be looking at most – the watch face.

Whether your preference is digital or analogue, or you want to just change up the widgets the face you’ve picked, doing so is simple from the watch itself.

1. On your watch, wake the screen.

2. On the home screen, touch and hold the screen for two seconds.

3. View the watch faces available on the watch by swiping from left to right.

4. Tap on the option you want as your new watch face.

Check out our favorite Wear OS watch faces in the complete roundup.

Wear OS for iPhone

Wear OS iPhone

It’s one of the most common questions get asked: “Can Wear OS watches work with an iPhone?”

The answer is yes. While Apple doesn’t let those with an Android smartphone pair with an Apple Watch, iPhone users are able to use Wear OS smartwatches.

And, for a long time, the Wear OS app for iPhone was an extremely shallow experience. However, recent improvements now mean that users can now access Tiles, notification settings, calendar syncing, Google Assistant, Google Fit and add more watch faces.

It’s far from the perfect companion app, but it’s certainly enough to get by.

In our complete guide to using Wear OS on iPhone, we detail how to set up and more.

Tracking activity on Wear OS

Google Fit Wear OS

Wear OS is slowly becoming a better place for those who like tracking activity, especially since fourth-gen devices began packing GPS and heart rate monitors.

However, having sensors present is only half the job, with every second of logged activity only as useful as the portal used to store it in. In the case of Wear OS, that’s the Google Fit app.

In detail: Google Fit guide

Available on both your phone and the smartwatch, Google Fit splits your daily activity into two key components: Move Minutes and Heart Points.

However, it’s also the place that stores logged exercises, step counting history, sleep data and weight information, through a tab called the Journal.

Wear OS and Google Assistant

Wear OS and Google Assistant

Google has always shown more commitment to its Home platform than it has done to Wear, so it makes sense, therefore, why it sees the Google Assistant as an important addition to smartwatch experience.

With the addition of a built-in speaker in fifth-gen Wear OS devices, the Assistant has an even more integral role to play, too.

In terms of the experience from the watch, Google Assistant is both more consistent and more refined than Alexa (which features on just the Fitbit Versa 2), offering detailed read-outs and a strong integration with apps.

For ideas on how to use Google Assistant on Wear OS, scan our guide.

Google Pay on Wear OS

Google Pay on Wear OS

Though it was a little late to the contactless payments parade, Google Pay is supported by pretty much every Wear OS smartwatch from 2018 and later.

As you might imagine, this works similarly to Google Pay on smartphones – or, well, any other payment platform.

We’ve detailed everything Google Pay on Wear OS in our big guide, but, if you already know your watch supports the feature, follow these step-by-step instructions to add a card to your wrist and use it to pay.

Add a payment card to your smartwatch

1. On your watch, open the Google Pay app.

2. Tap the ‘Get Started’ prompt.

3. Set up screen lock, if you haven’t already.

4. On your phone, follow the instructions to add a credit or debit card. This will only add them to your watch, not your phone as well.

5. Your card will then show up on your watch.

How to make a smartwatch payment using Google Pay

1. On your watch, open the Google Pay app and select a card.

2. If asked, choose Credit, regardless of your type of card.

3. For debit card transactions, you may have to enter a PIN.

4. Hold your watch over the contactless payment terminal until you hear a sound or feel vibration from your watch.

Wear OS guides for beginners

Getting started with Wear OS can be tricky, and understanding the basics outlined above is essential to your experience with the smartwatch. That’s why we’ve pulled together a collection of quick and easy how-to guides for Wear OS users.

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