Today Google unveiled its new watchbands for Android Wear called MODE. The new snap-and-go technology allows you to customize your watch so you can easily go from the office to the gym to your evening's activities. We spent three days getting to know the new bands and the latest Android watch, ASUS ZenWatch 2 ($129-199), which was released in October. Well, 72 hours, five minutes, and 19 seconds, according to the digital secondhand on our analog smartwatch face....
We selected two bands for our new toy, a white silicone water-resistant band for the gym, and black leather band for, well, everything else. The bands comes in four sizes and 16 colors, with the silicone bands clocking in at $50, and the leather bands at $60. Setup is a cinch, even though we're connecting the watch to an Apple device, the Android Wear app is straightforward. When testing with an Android phone, we encountered some lag time between the face updating on the watch itself after we selected our design on the app (which provides you with a large array of sporty, minimalist and old-school options), but this bug seemed to fade after the initial setup was complete.
The watch comes pre-loaded with a slew of functional apps — the watch relies on a simple "cards" system where you swipe to navigate to other apps or get more information within a card — including "OK Google," weather, and fitness tracking (it can also track your workout on more in-depth levels beyond just steps; just tell it you're going for a run or bike ride). It's also loaded with a built-in microphone, Bluetooth connectivity, and WiFi capabilities (if you're not by your phone, that means you can get notifications over WiFi). By far, our happiest Day 1 moment came when watching a Netflix documentary while scrolling through the watch's apps and a vaguely familiar tune kicks in. Shazam kicked in and alerted us that Eddie Vedder was in fact crooning away on-screen, and promptly halted a would-be significant other disagreement in its tracks.
Note: To ensure smooth sailing for connecting to your iPhone, open the Google app on your iPhone and opt in for updates (just click, "Yes, I'm in" to try it). This ensures you'll see cards for weather, directions, as well as your calls, emails, texts, and social updates throughout the day. Swipe to get rid of them when you're done reading.
Realizing we were embarking on a Saturday away from our apartment, we realized we should probably charge our watch. The full battery charge was complete in just about 45 minutes, and we were on our way. Unlike competitors, like the Fitbit Blaze, it's nice that the ZenWatch can be plugged in with watchbands intact and doesn't require you popping the face out and connecting that to a charging hub.
After a long walk in Central Park, the watch revealed that we were 3,000 steps away from our daily goal of 10,000 steps. Conveniently, handy on-screen transportation updates also told us that the nearest subway station would put us 14 minutes to home, giving us just enough time to take a shower before heading out for an early dinner. (Luckily, the watch itself is safe in the shower.) At dinner, our companions were quick to point out how sleek the watch looked compared to our regular Fitbit clunker. With the help of a customized face design, the ZenWatch really does read more analog luxury than second generation smartwatch. While the text alerts became a little much during a communal meal, it proved better than being "that guy" who pauses during a communal meal to check his phone time and time again.
We'll be honest, we didn't think the MODE watchbands would be that cool. But we were pleasantly surprised by how seamless the transition between bands was. For instance, quick-release watch bands (like the ones used by Moto 360) have easy detachment without a tool, but can be difficult to attach. "Our cross-functional team had worked on more than 10 concepts for the mechanism prior to proceeding with MODE. Our focus was on ease of use as well as compatibility for the majority of the ecosystem (hence the MODE mechanism lives solely on the band and uses regular watch pins)," says Jen Lu, product manager, Google Accessories. MODE is also an open-source design, so expect even more bands to arise to meet market demand after the launch.
Band-geeking-out aside, the fitness capabilities were among the highlights of our 72 hours with the ZenWatch. The built-in pedometer, which allowed us to set goals, along with an activity tracker and progress reports on all of our fitness activities were nice features. (Google claims it's industry-leading in step-counting accuracy, and for what it's worth, when wearing our Fitbit Blaze on the other for a two-mile walk, steps differed by about 300.) Another Day 3 watch win? Watching emoticons transferring seamlessly to the display face as texts came through to our watch. Nothing is quite as satisfying as seeing a slew of dolphins and whales taking over from your sea blue watch background....
To purchase a MODE band, which hit virtual shelves April 25th, click here.