Four years after launching Android Wear in 2014, Google renamed the software platform to Wear OS by Google, making the Android Wear name redundant.

The software platform itself has come on leaps and bounds since it first arrived though, offering a much cleaner and more intuitive user experience for both Android and iOS users. There are also multiple smartwatches from multiple companies running the software.

Here's everything you need to know about Google Wear OS, along with some tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your Wear OS smartwatch.

What is Wear OS by Google?

Google is well known for its mobile operating system, Android, which it loads onto its own phones - the Pixel line - and allows other companies to adopt on their smartphones. With Wear OS, Google has adapted Android for smartwatches.

It's a software platform designed to bring everything you know and love about Android phones to smartwatches, though Wear OS devices can pair with not only Android phones but also iOS devices - something Apple's watchOS doesn't offer. Wear OS works with phones running Android 6.0+ (excluding Go edition) and iOS 10.0+, though supported features do vary across watches, phones, and countries.

Bear in mind, Wear OS offers a better, more fully-functional experience when used with an Android smartphone. 

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What can Wear OS by Google do?

Wear OS has evolved over the years. Its biggest update - Wear 2.0 - arrived in February 2017, though there have been multiple smaller updates since. The Wear 2.0 build brought Google Assistant, standalone apps, Google Pay (formerly Android Pay), expanded watch faces, new input methods, improved fitness tracking, new functionality for iPhone users, and a new design.

In a nutshell, here's a few things the Wear OS platform can do:

Ask Google Assistant

With Google Assistant, you can check the weather, start a run, set a reminder, control compatible smart home devices and plenty more using your voice. Google Assistant on Wear OS supports Smart Suggestions too so when you ask Google Assistant a question, it will automatically serve up follow-up questions that are related to the conversation.

Answers from Google Assistant are returned over the watch speaker (if it has one) or Bluetooth headphones. If your Wear OS smartwatch doesn't have a speaker, answers are displayed on the watch face.

Use Google apps

The first time you set up a Wear OS watch, you'll be guided to sign into your Google Account. Once you do that, you'll be able to get notifications, share contacts, and sync apps from that Google Account, unless you change it later.

You'll also be able to use the Google apps on your Wear OS watch including Google Calendar, Google Keep, Google Pay, Google Translate, Google Maps, Google Fit, and Google Play Music.

Stay connected

You can text, email (Gmail) and see who is calling on your watch, without pulling out your phone. Google's default apps for these services are included with Wear OS.

To open an app on your watch, tap your screen (to wake up the watch) > Press the main button on the right to open the list of apps > Tap the app you want to open. Alternatively, you can always ask Google Assistant to open a Google app.

Download other apps

You'll also find Google Play Store on Wear OS watches, allowing you to download third party apps, such as Runtastic or Strava in place of Google Fit, for example.

To download an app: Press the power button on your watch > Scroll to the Play Store icon (you'll be signed in with the main Google Account on your watch). To search for a new app, tap 'Search'. If you want to download an app, tap 'Install'.

Store and play music

Most Wear OS smartwatches come with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage, though some of the newer models offer 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage. Either means Wear OS watches can store your music, so you can still gain access to your favourite tunes when you go for a jog around the park, though you will need Bluetooth headphones connected to your watch.

It's possible to download or stream music from Spotify, Google Play Music, Pandora and iHeartRadio straight from your wrist. You can control other music apps on your phone from your wrist too, but you won't be able to download or stream music directly from your wrist for other apps.

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Google Wear OS tips and tricks

As you can see above, Wear OS offers a number of features and functions - and we've only listed a couple of the main ones. Below are some tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your Wear OS smartwatch.

How to access notifications

Swipe up from the bottom of your main watch face to access all your notifications. If you scroll all the way down to the last notification, there is the option to clear all your notifications.

How to block an app from delivering notifications

Any notification that appears on your phone will appear on your watch. To block an app from delivering notifications to your watch, swipe right to left on the notification from the app and tap on block.

How to change a watch face

Wear OS offers multiple watch faces to choose from and many manufacturers, like Michael Kors and Emporio Armani offer their own watch faces too. To change your watch face, press and hold on the watch face and swipe across until you find the one you want to use.

How to access Google Fit 

Swipe right to left from the main watch screen to access Google Fit. You can also press the bottom action button (if your smartwatch has this), though this hardware button can be changed to give you access to other services.

How to access Google Assistant

Swipe left to right from the main watch screen to access Google Assistant. You can also turn on "Ok Google" detection so you just have to speak to your watch to launch Assistant.

To turn on "Ok Google" detection: Open Settings (swipe down from the top of your watch screen) > Personalisation > Scroll down to "Ok Google" detection > Toggle on.

How to customise the hardware buttons

Swipe down from the top of your watch display > Tap on the Settings cog > Scroll down to Personalisation > Customise Hardware Buttons > Choose which app you want the top right and bottom right action buttons to launch.

How to turn the display off quickly

Swipe down from the top of the watch display > Tap on the watch icon > This will turn the display off. If you press the power button, your watch face will turn back on.

How to turn the screen brightness up or down

Swipe down from the top of the watch display > Tap on the sun icon > Press the "+"or "-" icons to turn the display brightness up or down. You'll probably want it up if it's sunny outside.

How to return to the previous screen

Swipe left to right on whatever screen you are on to return to the screen before hand. For example, when in Personalisation in the Settings menu, swiping left to right will bring you back to the main Settings menu.

How to turn Always On display on or off

Swipe down from the top of your watch face > Tap on the settings icon > Display > Scroll down to Always On display > Toggle on or off.

How to increase or decrease how much your watch vibrates

Swipe down from the top of your watch face > Tap on the settings icon > Apps & Notifications > Scroll down to Vibration Pattern > Choose between Normal, Long and Double.

How to turn on magnification gestures

Swipe down from the top of your watch face > Tap on the settings icon > Accessibility > Toggle on Magnification Gestures.

How to restart your Wear OS smartwatch

Swipe down from the top of your watch face > Tap on the settings icon > Scroll down to System > Scroll down to Restart.

How to pair Bluetooth headphones

Swipe down from the main screen on your Wear OS smartwatch > Tap on the settings icon > Connectivity > Bluetooth > Available Devices. Look for your headphones, which need to be in pairing mode (check the instructions that came with the headphones if you're unsure).

How to dim your Wear OS watch's display

Cover your Wear OS smartwatch's display with your palm and the screen will dim.

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How do you setup a Wear OS watch?

Before you start, make sure your watch and phone are compatible here. Download the Wear OS app from Google Play Store or Apple's App Store to your mobile device. Connect your watch to your phone, by following these steps:

  1. Turn on your watch.
  2. On your phone, open the Wear OS app.
  3. Tap Set it up.
  4. On your phone, tap the name of your watch.
  5. You'll see a code on your phone and watch. If the codes are the same: On your phone, tap Pair. Pairing can take a few minutes. If the codes are different: Restart your watch and try again.
  6. To finish setup, follow the onscreen steps.
  7. When your device and watch successfully connect, you'll see the 'Connected' label in the Wear OS app. When they're not, on your watch's screen, you'll see the 'Disconnected' logo which is a cloud with a diagonal line through it.

It's worth remembering that if you have connected your Wear OS smartwatch to an iOS device, you will need to ensure the Wear OS app is always running in the background.

Which smartwatches run Wear OS?

Google partners with a number of watch and technology companies, resulting in a huge number of Wear OS smartwatches.

We've collated the best Wear OS smartwatches we've reviewed in our separate feature, but here are a couple of the best ones we've used or seen in the flesh that are worth checking out in more detail if you're still in the market for a Wear OS smartwatch.

Check out our smartwatch hub to find all the Wear OS we have reviewed. You can also visit Google's Wear OS smartwatch page to see all the available Wear OS smartwatches.