Google’s Android Wear line is the first big step into wearable technology. We’ve already helped you pick out a device, and though there aren’t as many apps available for Wear as there are for your phone, there are still a few essentials you’ll want to install on your watch right away.
1. Slumber (Free)
Most Android Wear devices turn on to charge and display a screen showing the current battery level while doing so. If you’re charging your watch overnight, this light will be shining in your face, and on some watches the constant display has even caused screen burn-in.
Slumber simply blacks out your screen when your watch is charging so you don’t have to worry about any of that.
All you need to do after installing Slumber is run it a single time, and it will then take over and display a black watch face when charging. It’s not a perfect solution (it would be better to have the screen turned off completely) but it’s better than nothing and should be downloaded by any Wear owner.
2. Wear Mini Launcher (Free)
Out of the box, launching apps on your watch is annoying. You have to either say “Okay, Google, Launch APP,” (not always an option if you’re in a quiet space) or swipe through three layers of menus (tedious at any time). Thankfully, there’s a much better solution: Wear Mini Launcher, which adds a slide-in menu accessible from anywhere on your watch. Slide over once to launch apps, and slide again to quickly toggle settings that are otherwise buried in menus.
The idea is similar to Swapps! for Android, and should really come standard on Wear. You probably won’t have as many apps on your watch as you do on your phone, but this is still an essential tool for any smartwatch owner.
3. Wear Battery Stats (Free)
Smartphone battery life is the subject of much debate; while task killers are a bad thing, there are some ways to ensure you get more out of a charge. Certainly, if you have a rogue app that’s destroying your battery, identifying it is key, and Wear Battery Stats lets you do just that.
The app’s watch counterpart gives you a barebones version of what’s going on with your battery, but for the most details you’ll want to open the app on your phone. Here, you’ll be able to view the screen-on time (useful for knowing if your battery loss is due to usage or if something is running without you using it) and apps that have been active.
Battery life isn’t Android Wear’s strong point to begin with, but you check your gas mileage to be sure it’s satisfactory, so why not observe battery, too?
4. Facer ($1) / WatchMaker (Free, $1)
The default watch faces are okay, but we’ve showcased some alternative faces to make your watch your own, and you’ll need one of these apps to get started. If you’re creative, you can make your own design for your watch; if not, you’re still able to browse the ones made by others and select one that matches your style.
Facer and WatchMaker offer different styles, so for the most variety it’s best to pick them both up. Using a site like FaceRepo, you can import new styles into one or both of the apps. With so many to choose from, you can have a new watch every week!
5. Calculator For Android Wear (Free)
This one isn’t terribly exciting, but most people use their phone as a calculator, so having one on your wrist saves you the trouble of digging your main device out of your pocket. It includes a second page with advanced functions should you need them.
Obviously, you won’t want to use this for calculus homework (that’s more the speed of Wolfram Alpha, which can do more than you think), but for calculating a quick sale percentage, tip at a restaurant, or double-checking your math, having an accessible calculator is a good idea.
6. Find My Phone Android Wear (Free)
Apps that let you find your phone are common, but since your watch is paired with your phone, it’s a great idea to be able to ring your phone right from your wrist.
Simply opening the app and tapping “Find!” on your watch will ring your phone as long as it’s connected to your watch via Bluetooth (so this app is designed for when you lose your phone in the couch cushions, not when it’s stolen). The app also allows you to set a notification on both your watch and phone that sounds when they’re disconnected. That way, if you’re about to leave the house with your watch but not your phone, you’ll be alerted before you make a silly mistake.
The app’s basic functionality is free, but to customize the ringtone and other behavior you’ll have to cough up $2 for a premium in-app purchase.
7. Wear Apps Tracker (Free)
When you install an app on your Android phone (perhaps one of the best), you get a notification letting you know it was installed. On Android Wear, there’s no such confirmation. In addition, some phone apps install Wear counterparts that you might not even know about.
Wear Apps Tracker fixes this issue by alerting you to when an app installs, updates, or is removed on your watch, as well as providing a basic overview list of what’s installed on your wearable.
It’s not the most exciting app in the world, but it does take away the mystery of knowing what’s on your watch. As mentioned, some apps (like the dating service Tinder) are phone apps with optional Wear components, and some don’t show up in your phone’s app drawer at all.
Though the Android Wear app already does show you everything installed on your watch (shown left, below), the notifications, sleek interface, and ability to quickly uninstall apps make this worth a download.
8. Wear Speaker (Free)
Your watch allows you to answer and initiate calls from your wrist, but it’s not super useful because you still need to use your phone to talk.
If you’re someone who uses the speakerphone frequently, Wear Speaker is for you. This tiny app simply lets you toggle speakerphone on your device whenever you enter into a call via a notification prompt on your watch.
It’s simple, but it works. For those times when your hands aren’t free or your phone is across the room, it’ll save you some work.
The base app is free, but for a $1 in-app purchase each, you can add the ability to change speaker status during a call, call your contacts from within the app, and remove the ads on the phone portion. For the most part, though, the free offering should do just fine.
9. Aeris Wear Weather (Free)
Android Wear comes with weather cards built-in to Google Now, but weather aficionados will probably be looking for something better. Aeris doesn’t do anything special as an app on its own, but on your wrist, it provides as much info as you’d want.
Current conditions, temperatures for the next several hours, four-day extended looks, and even a radar are available at a tap. Other available features include severe advisory notifications and a customizable refresh rate.
If your daily schedule requires you to have the most up-to-date info available at a glance, or if you just love checking the weather, it’s worth a download.
10. IFTTT (Free)
It interacts with two simple commands: pressing a button on your watch as a trigger, and receiving a notification as an action. Searching “Android Wear” in the recipe directory will give you some ideas from others, as you can always create your own scripts.
An obvious example is to have IFTTT send notifications to your watch that you once had sent to your phone (such as sports scores, stock information, or shipping updates).
Even better, though, are recipes that allow you to mute or unmute your phone from your watch, control smart home equipment such as the Nest thermostat, or automatically send a text. It takes some time to get recipes ready, but once you do, you’ll be saving time every day.
11. WeaRSS (Free)
RSS, a web technology that provides instant updates for sites you care about (see our RSS guide for more), is great for quick updates, which lends itself naturally to an Android Wear app.
Using WeaRSS, you can add your favorite feeds and be notified when something new arrives. Your watch isn’t ideal for reading full articles, obviously, but the headline and intro should be enough for you to decide if you want to read more later.
RSS doesn’t fit everyone, so if you feel like you’re trying to force it into your workflow, don’t fret. However, if you like news updates throughout the day, this is a perfect app to use.
12. Runtastic Running & Fitness (Free, $5)
Runtastic is a top fitness app, and its wearable component only makes it better. With it, you can track your run on a map, view calories burned, keep a workout diary, and set training goals. On your watch, you can begin a session right from your wrist and worry about the details later.
If fitness is a priority to you, using a watch with Runtastic is a no-brainer. If you like what you see, an upgrade to the Pro version, which adds various new features, is available for $5.
Trick Out Your Android Smartwatch
This isn’t a comprehensive list, as plenty of awesome apps are available for Android Wear, but these are the basic ones anyone should install right away.
And if you’re not using a custom watchface yet, check out our favorite Android Wear watchface recommendations!