Review: Verizon Wireless Wear24 Android Smartwatch
The Wear24 from Verizon is among the first to support Android Wear 2.0 from Google. The wearable is a classy-looking smartwatch that offers LTE-based calling and messaging integration with your main mobile number. If you use an Android handset, the Google-focused Wear24 can handle vital communications when reaching for your phone isn't ideal.
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Smartwatches are struggling. Two years ago it seemed they were on a trajectory to eliminate dedicated fitness wearables (and possibly even smartphones) to become the wrist-borne computers we all thought we wanted. They can answer messages! They can track your workouts! They can set calendar appointments! Then reality struck.
Smartwatches are neat, but they can't always replace a smartphone. Interacting with the small screen is often frustrating. Battery life can be inconsistent. Some are big and bulky, while others aren't powerful enough. The market has been topsy-turvy since Day One, particularly where Google's Android Wear platform is concerned. Google hoped Android Wear 2.0 would solve many of these problems. It promised to deliver a more powerful set of features that would be available across a wider range of wearables. Then reality struck again.
Google's Android Wear 2.0 platform arrived in February, nearly four months later than originally planned, and nine months after it was first announced in May 2016. The revised operating system includes, among other things, a refreshed user interface and tools such as the Google Assistant, an on-device storefront, and better text input. The number of new smartwatches with support for Android Wear 2.0 are few and far between. In fact, all the models announced so far would fit on a single arm. The Wear24 from Verizon Wireless is one of them.
Not only is the Wear24 among the first to support Android Wear 2.0, it's also among the first to include LTE for mobile data on the go. This is a big deal for Android watches, which have always required a nearby smartphone for network access. Are Android Wear 2.0 and LTE the turnkey features smartwatches need to finally spur real consumer interest?
Google-based smartwatches tend to fall into one of two camps: "sport" or "classic". The former are generally made from plastics and silicone, while the latter typically feature metal and leather. Where about half of the new Android wearables focus purely on fitness, the rest are content to exist as conservative-styled arm jewelry. The Wear24 is trying to be both.
The main casing of the watch is formed by stainless steel. It comes in a raw, unfinished look, as well as gunmetal gray and rose gold. I found the unfinished steel to be the most appealing of the three, though that's not saying much. It is bright and shiny, and yet generic and somewhat boring. The plain shape of the Wear24 features smooth contours, a thin bezel, and just a single button on the right side. The quality of the brushed metal finish is not in question, but the Wear24 looks like a million other watches. I suppose that's the point.
The Wear24's metal chassis would go really well with a leather strap to complete the classic look. It's too bad Verizon selected a cheap, sport-like silicone (rubber) strap to wrap around your wrist. The silicone strap is crappy. It's perfectly functional, yet it cheapens the entire experience. Worse, you can't swap it out for a different strap. (Instead of standard pins, the strap is secured to the watch with custom screws and a contoured shape where it adjoins the chassis.) Verizon says the strap was designed this way because it contains the LTE antennas. This is an unfortunate engineering decision, as it directly impacts usability.
On a personal level, I had an allergic reaction to the Wear24's strap and the Wear24 gave me a rash after wearing it a few days. The strap of the Apple Watch did the same thing (both are rubbery). The rash issue makes the Wear24 a non-starter for me; I can't wear it. Apple, by way of comparison, was happy — and able — to swap out the silicon strap for a nylon strap at no cost to me. Verizon can't do that with the Wear24's custom strap design.
At 0.53 inches thick, the Wear24 is a beefy wearable. It's not as ridiculously huge as the Samsung Gear S3, but it's not a svelte timepiece, either. The chassis has a rounded, plastic underbelly that I found comfortable against my skin. The strap has more than enough holes in it, which allowed me to find just the right fit on my wrist (not too tight, not too loose.)
The lone button on the right side is easy to find and use. It has good travel and feedback. A small hole for the microphone is next to the button. There's no rotating bezel, no buttons, and no ports. The Wear24 charges wirelessly via the included dock. Like most smartwatches, you simply drop the Wear24 on the dock and it starts charging. It couldn't be easier to use.
The wearable has an IP67 rating, which means it can handle getting wet. Verizon indicates that it can handle rain and short immersions in water, but it's probably not a good idea to go swimming with the Wear24 on your wrist.Software
Setting up the Wear24 requires some time. You'll need a Verizon Android smartphone, the Android Wear application, and some patience. Inexplicably, the Wear24 shipped to me with Android Wear 1.5.x installed, despite the fact that the Wear24's primary promise is being among the first smartwatches to use Android Wear 2.0. I had to download and install Android 2.0. What the what?
With 2.0, the home screen (watch face) behavior of Android Wear now strongly resembles that of Android phones themselves. Swipe down from the top of the watch to access your radio controls, status indicators, screen brightness, and settings. Swipe up from the bottom of the watch to see notifications, which can be dismissed by swiping to the right or opened with a single tap. Swipe left or right on the watch face to explore alternate watch faces.
The biggest change in Android 2.0 is the new app drawer, which is accessed by pressing the hardware button on the right edge. The app drawer is now a semicircular carousel that lines the left side of the screen. Swipe up or down to move through the carousel. You can "star" up to 5 apps, which will be pinned at the top of the carousel for easier access. By default, the most recently used apps appear first. Press the side button to dismiss the app drawer. Pressing the button also acts as a "back" control when using just about any other app.
I had no problem using Android Wear 2.0's basic user interface and neither should most anyone else. But I do have a few complaints.
The most significant issue facing Android Wear 2.0 and the Wear24 is the Play Store. You can use the Play Store to browse through or search for Android Wear apps, which you can download and install directly on the watch (rather than via the phone). Finding the apps isn't a problem, but downloading and installing them sure is. It takes forever, whether you're downloading over WiFi or LTE. Google Play Music, for example, took nearly 30 minutes to install via WiFi. The app measures just 10MB. Similar-sized apps required just as long. Updating apps directly via the watch is similarly painful. You're much better off using the Android Wear app on your smartphone to download and install watch apps, as it is much quicker and more reliable. I'm not sure if the experience here is dictated by the OS, hardware, or network. Whatever the cause, it's not good.
Most of the preloaded apps worked as you'd expect on a smartwatch. For example, the weather app lets you gauge the current conditions and view the forecast for the next three days. Rather than allow you to view a full calendar app, Android Wear 2.0 includes an agenda app providing details on your next few appointments. It's just useful enough. I had no trouble with core functions, such as calling, using the stopwatch/timer, and handling notifications from my phone.
I do wish there were more preloaded watch faces (there's only one). Finding new watchfaces requires us of the Play Store. As noted earlier, you'll be much better service by downloading new watchfaces in the Android Wear app on your phone.
I am somewhat annoyed by the bloatware. Verizon saw fit to load the watch with VZ Message+ and MyVerizon — both of which cannot be deleted. Smartwatches have extremely limited storage space. Cramming even two unwanted apps aboard is unnecessary.Performance
The Wear24's display measures 1.39 inches across and has 400 by 400 pixels. This is an improvement when compared to the first generation of devices, which had similar-sized screens but fewer pixels. The improved pixel density means the Wear24 supports smaller fonts and graphics. This, in turn, allows the screen to accommodate a bit more content. This mostly impacts longer setting and menu screens, as it makes more text available in a single glance. The AMOLED lighting is bright enough so the watch is easy to view indoors and out. It's pretty good at keeping fingerprints at bay.
A 450mAh battery is tucked inside the Wear24 and it does an admirable job. Verizon suggests basic standby time lasts up to 60 hours, and that's about right. With minimal use, the watch lasted about 2.5 days in between charges. If you're using it full time throughout the day to make calls and send messages, the battery will give up the ghost by the time you go to bed. In other words, most people will need to charge the Wear24 every night. It would be better if the wearable could make it through two days of real use, but it doesn't. Thankfully the included charger fills up the battery in just over an hour.
The Wear24 has a number of wireless radios buried within, including Bluetooth, LTE, and WiFi. The Bluetooth radio works okay, but I've seen better. I noticed the watch disconnected from my smartphone a handful of times for no reason at all. It has a 30-foot limit, so it will definitely lose the connection if you wander away from your handset. Worse, it won't necessarily automatically reconnect. I had to prod the phone to reconnect to the watch on several occasions. Competing devices were better at reconnecting under similar circumstances.
The WiFi radio appears to work. I streamed music using Google Play Music when at home. The sound quality was terrible, but it functioned properly.
The LTE radio does its job when you're out in the world sans phone. One of the chief marketing pitches from Verizon is that the Wear24 can make phone calls and send messages without a smartphone. Using the on-board app, you can easily access your contacts and make calls. The Verizon Message+ app, preinstalled handles incoming and outbound messages without problem, but you have to agree to use Message+ on the handset itself. Thankfully you can download and use the messaging app of your choice (I prefer the Google Messages app.) Composing messages on a watch is tricky. Android Wear 2.0 includes an actual on-screen keyboard. It is painful to peck out messages, but it does work. Alternately, you can select from a number of pre-written responses, or dictate via voice. I would love to say dication is the way to go, but the Wear24 had real problems hearing my voice.
You can have the Wear24 stand alone as its own distinct device for calls/messages, but it's better if you associate it with your Verizon phone number. This way, when people call your main number it will ring your phone (wherever it is) and the smartwatch on your wrist. You can answer calls on the watch and use the built-in speaker or a separate Bluetooth headset. Call quality was generally pretty bad no matter how I chose to take the call.
You won't find a heart rate monitor on the Wear24. You can use Google Fit (or the app of your choice) for tracking walks, runs, hikes, bike rides, weightlifting sessions and more, thanks to the included GPS. Hardcore fitness buffs who want the best workout metrics, including their own heart rate, should probably target different wearables.
NFC is available, but the Wear24 doesn't support Android Pay. That's dumb, and we can lay the blame here at Verizon's feet.
Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 2100 platform powers the Wear24, with 768MB of RAM and 4 GB of storage. I didn't find the performance of the user interface to be all that smooth. I noticed laggy screen response time, slow apps, and delayed actions, like scrolling. It's hard to say if what I saw is related to the processor or buggy software.
Google Assistant barely works. Despite manually turning on hotword detection — "OK, Google" — the Wear24 hardly ever responded to my voice-based Assistant requests. When it did, it was often unable to understand my requests, even when they were simple commands for performing Google Searches or texting my contacts. I'm pretty sure this is a microphone problem rather than a software problem, especially when I consider the poor quality of voice calls.
I'm pretty stunned at how crummy a piece of gear the Verizon Wireless Wear24 truly is. The cons outweigh the pros at least three to one.
I'll start with the positive stuff. The stainless steel chassis is well made, it's water resistant, and the screen looks good. The Android Wear interface is easier to navigate than previous versions of the platform. The LTE radio does permit calling and messaging from the watch pretty much anywhere Verizon offers service. Battery life is adequate.
The silicone strap is cheap, gave me a rash, and is not interchangeable. The Bluetooth radio didn't create strong connections, and WiFi wasn't fast enough. There's no heart rate monitor, and the NFC radio doesn't support Android Pay. The Google Play Store is a nice addition, but downloading and installing apps via WiFi or LTE is a painful endeavor. The Google Assistant — which should be able to help ease the process of performing half the tasks available on the watch — rudely ignores most requests. The generic design does little to stand out or endear itself to potential owners.
The Wear24 is exactly the type of shoddy gear retailers like to foist on unwitting consumers at the point of sale. It's a $350 mistake waiting to happen. No one needs this smartwatch, it's too compromised. Stay away. Wait for something better.
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