Android Wear vs Apple Watch: Which wins the wrist?

Will this Android Wear devotee find something to love in the Apple Watch?

apple android

Which watch?

As a tech enthusiast I love new gadgets and technologies, though I lean towards vendor-neutral and open source technologies to ensure that none of my data is locked into the ecosystem of one company. I was excited when Android Wear powered smart watches came out and bought both the LG Watch Urbane and the Moto 360, which I loved to the core.

Even though I was quickly and totally hooked on smart watches, those particular watches had some limitations that left me wanting more. So when Apple announced Apple WatchOS 2, I didn’t waste time and ordered a Sports edition Apple Watch.

I have been wearing the Apple Watch for almost a week now. Following is a look at how it stacks up against my much-loved Moto 360.

GPS

Navigation

Navigation is one of the features that I was looking for in a smart watch. There are plenty of situations, such as riding a bike or hiking, or simply walking, when I don't want to have to look at my phone for navigation. Moto 360 introduced Navigation via an update, but I found the navigation app of Apple Watch to be better than Android Wear. On Apple Watch you can press on the map and it opens a UI where you can search for location, contact or change the mode between transit and standard. There is no such interface on Android Wear: You have to run the search from the regular ‘search’ option. What I like the most is the gentle tap (not annoying vibration, but tap) on your wrist before you have to take a turn. I am not a huge fan of Apple Maps, but it does do a decent job compared with undisputed leader Google Maps.

Win goes to: Apple Watch

Phone call

Ability to make calls

One of my biggest gripes with Android Wear is the inability to make phone calls. Yes, you can dial a number from your Android Wear watch, but all it does it open the dialer on the phone and dial the number. You still have to use the phone for the call because the watches don’t have a built in speaker. On Apple Watch I have often made and received calls and I found them to be very clear. It’s very easy to make calls from Apple Watch, just say ‘Hey Siri, call Jennifer’ and it will dial the number from the watch.  And, no, it's not at all awkward to put your palm on your chin and talk to your watch then hold a 6x3” inch phone next to your year. This seems to be the restriction of Android Wear as both Samsung and LG have calling capabilities on watches running their own Linux-based operating system.

Win goes to: Apple Watch

Music playback

Music

Both Android Wear and Apple Watch are capable of music playback when paired with a compatible Bluetooth handset. On Apple watch you can use the digital crown to control the volume, where as on Android Wear you have to use the, not too appealing, GUI. While Android wear can sync all the music that you have downloaded in Google Music, Apple Watch can play only one playlist. The only workaround is to create a playlist specifically for the watch and add songs that you want. It is unclear whether Apple will expand this feature.

Win goes to: Android Wear

Email

Better email

Ok, I don’t expect (or want) to manage my work from the watch, but I do want to be able to get a glimpse of the emails that I receive while I am on the go. The built-in email app on Apple Watch makes it easy to check previous emails. Android Wear has no such built-in app, which is surprising given that Gmail is one of Google’s major products. That said, there are third party apps – for both Android Wear and Apple Watch – that you can install to keep an eye on emails. With version 2 of WatchOS, users can now reply to emails either using pre-defined stock messages or compose new message via voice dictation. I found the dictation feature to work fine on both watches. Once again I preferred the UI of Apple Watch as compared to round Moto 360.

Win goes to: Apple Watch

Messages

Messaging

Both Android Wear and Apple Watch do a good job at messaging. I use Hangouts as the default SMS app on my Nexus 6 and I was able to check messages through it on my Android Wear watch. Apple has its Messages app which handles all messages. Once again I like the clean interface of Apple Watch as compared to Android Wear. Another point in favor of Apple Watch is that it displays the attachments, such as images that you send in Messages, while Android Wear just shows the text ‘image’ instead of showing the image.

Win goes to: Apple Watch

Search

Siri vs. Google Now

I was excited about Google Now initially, but when it dawned on me that it’s none of Google’s business to show what kind of ‘news’ I want to read, I stopped using it for that purpose. Google Now, however, does an excellent job at pulling important info from your mail and configured cards and shows things like flight tickets, delivery estimates for packages that you order and other such stuff. Apple is not there; though they are working on implementing some of the Google Now ideas.
 
Beyond that both Siri and Google Now both do a great job at searching content. Though Apple Watch seems to show more information in a more readable format than Android Wear. Let me confess, I tend to use Siri more than I use Google Now.

Win goes to: Apple Watch (by a small margin and only because I use Siri more)

User interface

User experience

When I used the Moto 360 for the first time, I loved it (but not for its UI). When I wore Apple Watch, I loved it, and this time UI played a big role. The Apple Watch UI is extremely polished and the focus is more on content. The black background and white text make it easy to read at night or in broad daylight. By contrast, the overall UI of Android Wear is extremely confusing and irritating as you have to swipe and swipe and swipe to go to apps and then scroll and scroll and scroll some more to reach the desired app. On Apple Watch all the apps are there on the home screen, and you can configure their placement. A swipe from the bottom on Apple Watch gives you direct access to many apps and settings that you can configure from your phone. Overall I found the Apple Watch UI to be more polished and intuitive than that of Android Wear.

Win goes to: Apple Watch

Swapnil with his new watch

Conclusion

I spent considerable amount of time with Apple Watch to avoid any bias I might have had towards an unfamiliar interface. This is the second version of WatchOS (the first one had many limitations) and Apple has made considerable progress. The biggest difference between Apple Watch and Android Wear is that Apple Watch has many capabilities that don't require use of the iPhone, including navigation and making calls (though you do need the phone nearby).

To my surprise, I ended up wearing my Apple Watch more than my Moto 360. While the Moto 360 had been primarily a notification accessory, the Apple Watch turned out to be something more.

I am looking forward to the next version of Android to see what else Google has up its sleeve.