Make your Android Wear watch do more with these five apps

android watch apps 1
Derek Walter

Android Wear is primarily a notification platform. When an alert comes to your phone it’s replicated to the watch; the idea being that you don’t have to constantly reach for your phone every time it buzzes.

But a few apps have gone further than just pinging you with alerts by putting some actual utility on your wrist. You can tip that Starbucks barista, share a photo, or turn your watch into a calculator. While your patience for maneuvering a small screen may vary for some of these tasks, it’s worth exploring how some developers are pushing the Android Wear platform forward.

Leave a tip with the Starbucks app

The Starbucks Android app lets you leave a tip for your barista even after you walk out of the coffee shop with your latte.

starbucks android wear

Tip your barista right from your Android Wear watch.

It resides as a notification on your Android Wear watch for a while after your transaction, so if that particular barista really nailed your drink you can tip them an extra dollar or two.

To make this happen, make sure you pay for your order with the Starbucks Android app. Then look for the notification that lets you add up to $2 for a tip on your watch. Just touch the amount you want and you’ll make someone’s day.

Turn your watch into a calculator

The Calculator for Android Wear app is pretty much what it describes: a simple calculator for the small screen. It’s surprisingly powerful, as it also can do logarithmic, trigonometric, and other advanced calculations.

calculator android wear

Calculator for Android Wear does its job rather well.

Watch apps really only make sense if they can do something quickly and more easily than reaching into your pocket or purse for your phone.  Even though the buttons are small, I didn’t have any problem hitting them, even on the LG G Watch’s rather paltry screen.

The default view matches well with Material Design, though there’s a more retro option if that’s to your liking.

View, share, delete your photos with MyRoll Gallery

The MyRoll Gallery app is an excellent replacement for the stock Google+ Photos app if you’re looking for something minimalist that does some automatic grouping of photos. But here we’re focused on its Android Wear capabilities, which include putting images on your watch and enabling you to share them with others.

photos android wear

Now you can even get those cat pictures on your wrist with MyRoll Gallery.

When testing I found it had two folders: camera and screenshots. In the former, the watch app only listed the 15 most recent images from my camera. After you touch the name of a folder you can swipe through the images. You’re then able to delete it, share to Facebook, set it as your wallpaper, or open on your phone to share it with the Android menu.

Experiment with typing on the small screen

Just the idea of typing on a watch may be enough to make your fingers hurt. But that isn’t keeping Minuum from trying to make it happen.

Don’t get any crazy ideas about responding to text messages just yet. This is straight from the developers in an email introducing you to Minuum on Android Wear: “It’s important to note that Minuum for Android Wear isn’t yet a very useful product, as there aren’t any text fields in Android Wear apps - this APK is purely for testing purposes…”

minuum keyboard

Typing on that tiny screen isn’t as bad as you may imagine.

So think of it as a proof of concept, showing what typing on a watch face could look like. It’s actually not bad—Minuum obviously relies heavily on predictive text, grouping letters together and then suggesting words once you’ve hit a few characters.

To get Minuum on your watch, however, you’ll need to know how to use adb commands and sideload an apk on your watch. If you’ve done this on your phone it’s a similar process; Minuum will email you with detailed instructions when you sign up for access.

If that sounds too intimidating then you’ll probably want to skip this one. It’s worth keeping an eye on, however, to see if some form of text input comes to Android Wear.

Surf the web from your watch

The Wear Internet Browser shrinks down web browsing to the watch face. As you can imagine, it’s not exactly an ideal method for going online. However, just as with Minuum I was surprised that some functions worked rather well.

wear browser

It’s kind of like browsing on a flip phone, but Wear Internet Browser does get you online with your watch.

Its best innovation is the keyboard: it slides to the right and left and leaves enough place to hit the keys. It’s ideal for when you want to type out a specific word and don’t want autocorrect to jumble up what you’re trying to enter.

The browser gives you a list of suggested bookmarks and a button for performing a Google search. The bookmarked sites were actually readable. With the BBC, for example, you could reasonably scroll through the site and read specific news articles. Other sites are definitely hit and miss. Greenbot was difficult to navigate, even though the site is fully responsive for mobile browsing, but that was intended for smartphones and tablets, not watches.

Wear Internet Browser is free if you want to give it a go, but you’re locked to the preprogrammed bookmarks. Unlocking the full functionality is $3, and also gets you an Android phone app for customizing your own favorite sites to visit.

The bottom line is it’s neat to tinker with, but don’t expect to rely on it for any serious type of web browsing.

What will they think of next?

While some of the apps in this roundup are more useful than others, it gives us a peek at the type of functionality that may come down the road as the Android Wear ecosystem matures. Developers are still trying to find that sweet spot between freeing you from being tied to your phone without cramming too many capabilities that don’t make sense.

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