Android Wear apps: Lots of promise, lots of glitches

Android Wear apps: Lots of promise, lots of glitches

The Android Wear ecosystem is young, but already there are apps that will make using and navigating your smartwatch much easier.

As I wrote earlier this week, the new Motorola Moto 360 is a beautiful device and the best of the three Android Wear smartwatches on the market.

Still, the real value of wearables is in what they allow you to do and that primarily comes down to which apps you can use on your smartwatch.

While the Android Wear ecosystem still is in its nascent stages, developers of existing Android apps are scrambling to adapt their creations to the tiny screen. A year from now the choices for Android Wear users will be exponentially larger.

For now, though, Android Wear users will have to go to war with the apps they have, not the apps they wish they had. And what they have available for now in the Google Play store can be found here (presented in the usual clunky and slightly confusing Google Play way).

If you go to the link you'll see a lot of the following:

  • Cool watch faces
  • Phone "finders" (your smartwatch alerts you when it's out of range of its paired smartphone
  • More cool watch faces

But you'll also see apps that will make your Android smartwatch a better productivity tool and more fun device. These are a bunch I've downloaded and played around with over the past two days, so these aren't recommendations (unless they are).

Hand Dialer for Wear -- Download this app, tap the icon, and you get a simple phone dial pad with large enough buttons that it's easy to tap out a phone number that your smartphone will then dial.

As I wrote in my review of the Moto 360, Android smartwatches allow users to voice dial a specific contact, but sometimes you're not in a place where you can easily use a vocal command, or you don't have the number in your contact list.

The rectangular layout of Hand Dialer is better for the Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch, but it fit easily into the round screen of the Moto 360.

And as with all of these apps, users can open Hand Dialer with a voice command. Just say "OK Google," and after the watch screen says "speak now," tell it to "Open (app name)." ("Start" also works as a command.)

Calculator for Android Wear -- This is another simple app that does one thing well: Calculate. A numeric keypad on your smartwatch screen allows you to do basic math; slide to the right and you get a screen that enables users to determine square roots and perform trigonometric, logarithmic, and exponential functions.

I tried another Android Wear calculator (Wear Calc), but every time I tried to open it, I would get this message: "Unfortunately, Calculator has stopped." I uninstalled Wear Calc because Calculator for Android Wear is working, and Wear Calc wasn't. Maybe it will work for you.

Audio Record for Android Wear -- Enabling your smartwatch to initiate audio recording on your smartphone seems like a handy feature, but the two I've played around with so far deliver a disappointing experience. Again, first-generation growing pains.

This app suffers from three problems: One, on my Moto 360, the "Record" button is mostly off the screen. In fact, you can only see the letters "ord" way up near 11 o'clock on the watch face. Second, it seems to crash a lot. Third, the recording quality is variable. And the thing is, Audio Record for Android Wear cost me 99 cents. I paid for this microphone, Mr. Green!

I also tried Wear Audio Recorder, a free audio recording app whose round "start" button is dead center on my Moto 360 and which (unlike Android Record for Android Wear) records from your smartwatch. Sadly, the quality of the recording for me was terrible: Voices sounded choppy and robotic.

Attopedia -- This sounds like a cool app -- when it works. It didn't for me. You're supposed to be able to just tap your smartwatch screen and be able to browse Wikipedia content. But nothing happened when I tapped the screen, even after I uninstalled and reinstalled the app. I'll leave it on the phone and try some other time. Again, it might work for you; I'm just giving you my experiences.

Swipify Getting an Android Wear launcher will make your life easier because navigating your smartwatch to open an app can be a real pain. Swipify organizes your apps icons into two neat rows against a black background (see photo above), making them much simpler to locate.

This Android Wear app offers differently shaped launchers depending on the shape of your smartwatch. It certainly makes navigating apps (when you can't use voice commands) less frustrating.

Swipify also includes a number of useful functions such as the ability to control your Google Play Music Player on your smartphone and the ability to change your phone's volume from your smartwatch. It also includes a RAM monitor and displays phone and smartwatch battery levels.

I've really just started exploring Swipify, so I haven't tested all of its features. One problem I've had is swiping off the Settings screen.

In fact, swiping on your smartwatch isn't foolproof or seamless just yet. It's another one of those little things that have to get better. But it will.

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