(Pocket-lint) - Smartwatches are now a thing. It doesn't matter if you love them or hate them, think they are great or entirely pointless, there are new models launching every month and this is only set to continue.
It wasn't all that long ago that options were more limited for iPhone users compared to Android when it came to pairing your device up with a smartwatch. Things changed significantly when the Apple Watch finally launched in April 2015, but even more so when Google announced iOS compatibility for Android Wear at the end of August 2015.
Apple iPhone users now have the pick of the bunch from Apple Watch to the new Tag Heuer's Connected, Motorola's new Moto 360 and Huawei's Watch, along with others. As you would expect, the Apple Watch is as deeply integrated as it gets for iPhone users, like Android Wear is for Android users, but what is Android Wear like for iPhone users?
If you are in the market for a smartwatch but the Apple Watch either doesn't tickle your fancy or is out of your budget, you've come to the right place. Read on to find out what features Android Wear offers iPhone users and what features you miss out on to see if the new Moto 360 or another Android Wear smartwatch like the Tag Heuer Connected could be a viable alternative to the Apple Watch.
Android Wear on iPhone: What features do you get?
As you might expect given how closed Apple's ecosystem is, the Android Wear features you get on the iPhone are limited in comparison to those you get on an Android device. Let's not be picky though, at least the Android Wear smartwatches work with iPhone. If an Android user wanted an Apple Watch, they'd be buying it just to marvel at.
So what can you actually do with an Android Wear smartwatch paired up to an iPhone? Well, they do the basics at the very least when it comes to delivering notifications.
A notification will arrive on your Android Wear smartwatch from any iOS app that appears in the notification centre on your iPhone. This means support for third-party apps including Twitter, Facebook, Outlook, WhatsApp and whichever other apps you want to be alerted about, not just native features like messages, incoming calls and calendar alerts.
The notification centre is a crucial element to get the notification on your wrist. If you have allowed notifications on your iPhone for a particular app but the toggle for showing notifications in the notification centre is turned off, they won't appear on your Android Wear smartwatch. It means going into the settings of your iPhone, followed by notifications and then individually checking and adjusting each app if you want to see it on your wrist.
Some apps deliver more functionality than others, but this is down to the app rather than Android Wear. For example, WhatsApp won't allow you to read the contents of a message on your Android Wear smartwatch, it will simply tell you that a message from a particular person has arrived. This is the same on the Apple Watch. Instagram however, will allow you to read the notification in full on both Android Wear and Apple Watch so functionality is app-dependant.
Swiping right will dismiss a notification on your wrist and iPhone, while swiping left will enable you to block the app.
When it comes to incoming calls, the Android Wear smartwatch will show you who is calling and allow you to reject or answer the call. The latter is pretty useless as it will just hand the call off to your iPhone, with no means to talk through the watch like you can with Apple Watch, not that this feature is by any means a cool thing to do.
Other features on board include Google Now that allows you to choose specific alerts to appear on your wrist, such as upcoming flights, birthday reminders, weather alerts and traffic. There is also music control but it is limited in that you can pause or play but not skip songs. It does work with services including Spotify and Apple Music though.
For those interested in the fitness side of things, the Android Wear smartwatch will count steps and offer basic activity tracking. Some of the Android Wear smartwatches have heart rate monitors, like the new Motorola Moto 360 so you will get more information depending on which device you opt for but the data won't appear on Apple Health.
Android Wear on iPhone: What features are missing?
There are a couple of big features missing for iPhone users when it comes to Android Wear smartwatches. The one we found most obvious was the very limited functionality when it comes to replying to messages or emails, unless Gmail, and when we say very limited, we mean it doesn't exist.
The Apple Watch predicts responses based on the message you were sent for example, or you can dictate a reply using Siri. With Android Wear smartwatches, the only thing you can do is dismiss the notification or block the app. Gmail is the only exception, whereby you can reply to messages if you turn on Rich Gmail cards within the Android Wear app. Speak clearly though as whatever you say, it will send immediately with no way to alter your reply or stop it sending. No room for jokes.
Android Wear app extensions aren't supported on iPhone either, meaning the Apple Watch might be a more desirable option for those that want to read the Guardian directly from their wrist for example. Some apps are better than others and while many are useless on a smartwatch, there are a few that have been designed well, especially for the Apple Watch. You can read about those in our separate feature if you're interested.
"OK Google" will work on Android Wear smartwatches paired up with iPhones, but the commands are very restricted. You'll be able to ask the watch to show you the day's agenda for example, or perform actions within Google's own apps but Siri on the Apple Watch wins hands down in the battle of smartwatch voice assistants.
Android Wear on iPhone: The app
The Android Wear app on the iPhone is limited to say the least. The most frustrating thing about it is that it has to be left running in the background or the Android Wear smartwatch will disconnect. If you're like us and you regularly close down apps on your iPhone, you'll find yourself disconnecting the watch a lot.
There is one main page to the app where you can choose different watch faces and download more but with no Google Play access, you are limited to the Android Wear designs plus 15 extra. Below the faces, is a section called 'Tips' that offers users three ways to use 'OK Google' to your advantage. This section is the equivalent of the apps section on the Android version.
The watch faces and tips conclude the main element of the app, leaving you with the top right hand corner that offers the ability to pair another wearable, view a tutorial or enter into the settings. Within the settings is where you adjust Google Now preferences, turn Rich Gmail cards on or off and fiddle with other sections, such as tilting to wake the display or turning the always on screen on or off. Some settings are also available on the watches themselves.
You can also add other Google accounts and manage your accounts within the settings section, as well as decide which calendar you want your Android Wear smartwatch to deliver notifications from - Apple or Google. Any apps you block using the smartwatch will appear in the settings so you can unblock them if you need to.
Android Wear on iPhone: Setup
Setting up an Android Wear smartwatch on an iPhone is very simple. You will just need to download the Android Wear app from the App Store, open it up and follow the instructions. It will pair over Bluetooth and you'll need to enter the pairing code that appears on the watch into your iPhone.
A number of permission prompts will appear that we suggest you agree to in order to make your Android Wear smartwatch at all useful with your iPhone. Android users can stay connected over Wi-Fi but this isn't an option for iPhone users.
Android Wear smartwatches are compatible with iPhone 5 and newer, running on iOS 8.2 and later.
Android Wear on iPhone: First impressions
Android Wear on iPhone offers those on the iOS platform alternative smartwatches to the Apple Watch. Where you gain in various designs and styles, you compromise on functionality however.
- Samsung Galaxy Note 20, What3Words CEO, and Withings Sleep Analyzer reviewed - Pocket-lint podcast ep. 65
Whether an Android Wear smartwatch is a better option for you than the Apple Watch or another iOS-compatible smartwatch like Vector will depend on what it is you want from a smartwatch. Android Wear for iPhone works well for delivering all your notifications to your wrist, allowing you to leave your iPhone in your pocket or bag and not take it out unless something appears that you need to reply to.
The features are limited in comparison to what Android Wear offers Android users and what Apple Watch offers Apple users, but there are plenty of designs to choose from and iPhone users will get the basics from an Android Wear smartwatch.
We are used to an Apple Watch and therefore we missed the ability to do various tasks when we switched it for the new Motorola Moto 360, but this won't be the case for everyone. Android Wear for iOS could certainly be developed to be better but for now, you don't get everything, but you get enough.