Heikki Hellgren

@drodil

WearOS pitfalls

WearOS (previously Android Wear) is operating system designed for smartwatches and other wearable devices designed by Google. At the time of writing there is around 40 different models that run WearOS on the market. I got my first of those models, Mobvoi Ticwatch Pro, just a week ago. Previously I had the amazing little thing called Pebble 2 which was very good product with its great battery life and other great but not unnecessary features. Unfortunately it broke after 2 years of use and I had to find a replacement.

I have been using Android since forever but WearOS is a new thing for me. Most of the things I am pointing at this story, or review if you want to call it, maybe because of the Mobvois way of doing things or simply because of the operating system itself.

Pitfalls

So what is annoying me with my new watch? Well, couple of things actually:

  • Setting the language. When you first time start the watch it will, of course, make you select the language you want to use it with. As I am not very comfortable using any device in any other language than English I of course choose that. The problem here is that when you select the language, you cannot change it without hard reset. This might not be a problem but if you choose the US English instead UK English, all measurements such as temperature are in some (absurd) non-standard format.
  • Copying data from phone. The WearOS companion app is visually very pleasing like most of the Google apps are. When you start setting up the watch it copies your accounts to the clock — but not the apps. What I would have liked to see is that you can choose which apps to install to the watch from the apps you have on your phone. Instead I have to open the play store from the watch and use the not very pleasant little keyboard to find Spotify, Maps and other apps I would like to see on my watch. It’s a little thing but would make the setup much less painful.
  • Lag. This is one of the things I am not sure is because of WearOS as I do not have previous experiences but I think it’s pretty major problem. The lag is sometimes really bad and it can take seconds to open an application. Changing the animation scales from 1.0x to 0.5x from the developer options helped the lag a bit but turning them off completely makes the UI flicker and unusable as seen in the following video:
Do not set the animations off — the UI will flicker like a mad man
  • Screen timeout. One of the most annoying thing in the whole watch is that I cannot change the screen timeout. The default is only few seconds and yes, it can save your battery, but if I don’t even have time to read the notification I just received before the screen goes off it’s really getting on my nerve. Luckily I found out about an application called Staylit which allows customizing the timeout. It’s good and simple piece of software but I would see this kind of feature should be in the OS instead.
  • Battery consumption. This is most likely problem for all WearOS devices and while Ticwatch Pro promises, and actually keeps the promise, of better battery life than most of other watches it’s still poor. This is something that should be looked first from the software point of view and see what is taking the resources and consuming the battery. I know the display is the most power consuming element in the watch but there must be something to be done in the software as well. Here is my one day consumption chart from the watch:

Digging deeper

Taking a closer look at the performance issues with simple top command while in idle shows few things. The system_server process is all the time using a lot of CPU capacity even when the watch is idle. This is though predictable as the system_server is used for taking care of all core services inside Android system. Another thing using the CPU are watchfaces. No matter which I use, seem to take their piece of the CPU even when the display is off. The watch also seems to run on very low memory as you can see:

Not the first WearOS device

I might have mislead you a bit as the watch on my wrist is not actually my first WearOS wearable. I already had one Ticwatch Pro that lasted almost one week before going to bootloop and never recovered. Fortunately I got the replacement on the same day thanks to Verkkokauppa.coms great customer service. Let’s see how long the new piece lasts before taking it back to the store…

It’s not all bad

Even the start of this story was quite hard criticism, the WearOS and Ticwatch Pro have also good things. I really love the FSTN screen on top of the AMOLED as it saves the battery and provides the most valuable information like what time it is. Also the watch is packed with features like GPS, NFC and heart rate monitoring which I appreciate a lot.

WearOS also has a lot of useful applications in the Play Store and I am sure I haven’t found out the best ones yet. Drop me a comment of your most loved WearOS applications — I am happy to try them out!

The future

I see the wearable market will grow a lot in the future and the problems here might be obsolete even in few months. There is new CPUs coming for wearable devices (such as Qualcomm Snapdragon 3100) which promise more speed and better battery life. Competition is also growing and there is more and more suppliers of the wearable devices — usually with their own invention of the operating system. One thing I hope is that Google will not drop the WearOS completely but continue the development and figuring out ways to fix the problems. And of course that I can get my hands on their newest things ;)

About me

I am Heikki Hellgren, Software Expert and technology enthusiast working at Elektrobit Automotive. My interests are in software construction, tools, automatic testing and all the new and cool stuff like AI and autonomous driving. You can follow me on Medium and Twitter. Also you can check out my website for more information.

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