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Do More With Your Smartwatch With These Android Wear Apps

Get more out of your Android Wear smartwatch with these apps.

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

So you bought an Android Wear smartwatch. Now what?

Whether you have the Moto 360, Samsung Gear Live or LG G Watch, you’ve probably discovered that wearable devices do a pretty good job of showing you your phone notifications. But with a few apps, they can do a lot more so you can take out your phone less often.

The Google Play store is now filled with dozens and dozens of Android Wear apps for your smartwatch. Predictably, some are junk, but there are also plenty of useful ones. Below, you’ll find a selection of apps that fall into the latter group. Most are free, and I’ve categorized them by what kind of wearer they might be good for.

Best for any Android Wear user

App: Wear Mini Launcher
Cost: Free
Similar to the Android operating system, Android Wear isn’t the most intuitive to use right out of box. In fact, it can be downright frustrating. One particular issue is launching third-party apps from the watch. Currently, your only options are to use a voice command, which isn’t ideal if, say, you’re in a meeting, or swiping through a long list of apps. But a third-party app called Wear Mini Launcher offers a better solution.

With it, you can swipe from the edge of your watch’s display to bring up a drawer of apps and quickly tap on the one you want. Swipe the screen again, and you get a menu where you can adjust various phone settings (volume, Wi-Fi, etc.), change the brightness of your watch’s display, and view battery life. It’s a simple and handy app that I’d recommend to any Android Wear user.

App: Wear App Manager for Wear
Cost: 99 cents
Another good app to have is Wear App Manager by Udell Enterprises. This app lives on your smartphone and shows you all your Android Wear apps in one place. It’s useful because it’s not always clear which apps have Android Wear compatibility. For example, the to-do-list app Wunderlist offers smartwatch functionality (push notifications and note creation), but it only shows up as a regular app on your phone and not as a dedicated app on your watch. Wear App Manager takes the guesswork out of the equation.

The app itself is rather basic. It shows you stats for each Android Wear app (storage, permissions) and gives you the option to uninstall it or open it on your phone. A company called Aggro makes a similar app called Wear Apps Manager. Its user interface isn’t as slick as Udell’s version, but it works, and it’s free.

Best for the forgetful

App: Find My Phone
Cost: Free with in-app purchases
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older or just have a lot on my mind, but I’m becoming quite forgetful lately. Case in point: This past weekend, I spent three hours tracking down my smartphone because I left it at a restaurant after lunch. Find My Phone for Android Wear is designed to help prevent such situations.

If you’ve misplaced your mobile, you can press the “Tap to find!” button on your watch, and it will play a sound on your phone to help you locate it. Since your smartwatch requires a connection to your phone to work, Find My Phone can also alert you if you are out of range of your handset. For example, when I went to the laundry room located in the basement of my apartment building, my LG G Watch buzzed and alerted me that the connection was lost between my watch and phone. Some may find this annoying (you can disable this feature), but I’d rather do that than spend a beautiful Saturday afternoon looking under the couch cushions for my phone.

Best for the perpetually late

App: Glympse
Cost: Free
Running late for a meeting or trying to meet up with friends for a night out? Glympse can help by updating people of your whereabouts.

From your watch, and using your phone’s GPS capability, you can send your location to a friend with just a couple of taps. Your recipient receives a text message with a link they can open in a Web browser or the Glympse app that shows your location on a map and real-time tracking. The message expires after a user-specified time, so you don’t have to worry about Glympse constantly sharing your location.

The one downside of the Android Wear version of Glympse is that you can only send your location to contacts in your call log or your favorites list. Glympse says it made the decision to limit access to these lists because it would take too long to load an entire address book, and would require a lot of scrolling.

Best for the fitness fanatic

App: RunKeeper
Cost: Free
All Android Wear smartwatches keep track of how many steps you take in a day, but if you’re looking for deeper stats or want to log a specific activity (running or biking), use an app like RunKeeper. It displays information like distance, pace and duration as you go. Then, at the end of your workout, you get an activity summary, including the number of burned calories.

Honorable Mention: Runtastic
Cost: Free
Runtastic is another fitness-tracking app that works with Android Wear. It, too, tracks data like distance, calories and duration. But I didn’t like it as much as RunKeeper, because its interface requires a little more attention. That said, it works well, and is another solid option, especially if you’re already a Runtastic user.

Best for city-dwellers looking for a ride

App: Lyft
Cost: Free
If you live in a city that’s served by the ride-sharing service Lyft, the company’s Android Wear app can make arranging a pickup easy. You can request a Lyft ride by using the voice command, “Okay Google, request a car,” or simply launch the app on your watch. The app also allows you to change the pickup address via voice, track how long till your car arrives, and rate your driver. Like many of these apps, it reduces the need to pull out your phone, and Lyft has done a nice job of fitting information onto a smaller screen.

Best for the mathematically challenged

App: Wear Tip Calculator
Cost: Free with in-app purchases
It’s embarrassing how bad I am at math (there’s a reason that I majored in English and journalism). So whenever the bill arrives after a meal, more often than not I have to fish my phone out of my purse so I can calculate the tip. But Wear Tip Calculator lets you do that right from your wrist.

Simply use the slider to enter the bill amount and select the percentage of tip you want to leave. The app then takes care of all the calculations for you. To exit the app, just hold down the little percentage icon.

For 99 cents, you can also unlock a feature where Wear Tip Calculator can figure out per-person cost if you’re splitting the bill with friends.

It’s still early days for smartwatches, and for many consumers, these devices remain nice-to-have items and not must-haves. But apps like the ones above offer a promising look at their potential and what’s to come.

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