In case you haven’t heard, Android Wear 2.0 is here. Well, almost here. The first two watches to run it will be released on February 10, and within weeks, a whole assortment of new and old watches will be able to take advantage of the new features, which are nearly nine months in the making.
But while the new version of Android Wear isn’t all that different from the version that was previewed at Google I/O last May, it is a pretty major upgrade to the long-in-the-tooth wearable OS on current watches. It’s not a complete overhaul of Google’s original concept, but it adds and changes enough things to make the overall experience feel fresh and new, and whether you have an old watch or plan on buying one of the new ones, you’ll be able to dive right in without needing to learn a whole new set of instructions.
Here are some of the highlights of the new Android Wear overhaul you should check out first.
Learn the layout
The first version of Android Wear wasn’t exactly complicated, but it also wasn’t as intuitive as it could be. With the second release, Google has simplified things all throughout the system, from the way we change watch faces to how we access notifications. There’s a new circular interface for selecting apps, direct access to Google Assistant via the power button, and, with the new LG-Google watches, easier scrolling and selecting with the rotating crown. Everything is friendlier and simpler, and this time around, your first instinct is probably the right one.
Check out the Play Store
Apps on our watches aren’t as necessary as they are on our phone, but it’s still fun to check out what’s new in the Play Store. With Wear 2.0, you won’t even need a phone to do it. Head into the app screen and you’ll find a new Play Store icon, which will let you explore and install apps just like you would on your phone. It’s fast and convenient, and it also means you won’t need to clutter your phone up with a bunch of apps you might not need. And now, even iPhone users can get in on the fun. Only a handful are available at launch—among Google’s own offerings, AccuWeather, Foursquare, Telegram, and Uber—but many more will surely be landing soon.
In previous versions of Android Wear, you had to load an app on your phone, which would push the watch component over. Now, watch apps stand alone, which means you can have an app on your watch without a corresponding app on your phone at all.
Start a workout
Google Fit has always been a fine workout companion in Android Wear, but in version 2.0 it’s become a full-fledged personal trainer. In addition to step counting and bicycle riding, the new app tracks a ton of extra activities, including pace, distance, and calories burned, in addition to measuring weight-lifting reps, push-ups, sit-ups, and squats. Some features will require new watches with new sensors, but even for older watches, Google Fit should be able to do more to keep you in shape.
Ask a question
Previous Android Watches could execute a set of voice-controlled actions and answers, but with Android Wear 2.0, Google has built Google Assistant right into your wrist. Available via “OK Google” or by long-pressing your watch’s power button, Google Assistant opens up Android Wear to a whole new world of hands-free information. Google provides a few examples to get you started: “Ask your Google Assistant about the weather or remind yourself to bring an umbrella. Make a restaurant reservation or navigate to work. You can even update your shopping list right from your wrist.” But as Google Assistant matures and integrates with more apps, the possibilities are endless.
Write a message
One of the best features of wearing a smartwatch is being able to get notifications on our wrists, but responding to them has always been an issue. With Android Wear 2.0, Google has made it easier to interact with notifications as they arrive, letting you write and return messages just by tapping an incoming alert. And with dictation and handwriting support, and even a new on-screen keyboard, you can draw letters and even emoji to create quick replies. You’re probably not going to want to use it to write anything more than a few words at a time, but you won’t need to pull out your phone anymore just to tell your friend that you’re on the way.
One of the coolest features of Android Wear 2.0 is support for Android Pay, provided your watch has a built-in NFC chip. And most don’t—including the smaller LG Style watch that is just going on sale. But it’s sure to be a feature that makes its way into most future releases. All you need to do to pay with your watch is verify your cards in the Android Pay app, press the side button to bring up your available cards (or open the app), select the one you want to pay with, and hold your watch next to the payment reader. And your wallet won’t even know what happened.