Surely you have heard of Android. It’s just the most widely adopted mobile operating system in the world. Chances are it’s on your smartphone or tablet right now.
A mobile operating system and the main competitor to Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android is most commonly associated with smartphones, whether from Samsung, Motorola, OnePlus, Sony or Google itself, among countless other companies. that sell phones that run it.
But, Android’s versatility and the fact that it’s open source has also made it the mobile operating system of choice for many avid software developers for their hobby projects. Some of them, myself included, have had it running on countless other devices besides smartphones – from old laptops to the random retro gaming handheld I bought in China last month . But let’s say these are niche cases. You know what’s not niche? Connected watches! the Apple Watch dominates this market and is hugely popular, running Apple’s own WatchOS operating system, while the closest competitor – Samsung Galaxy Watch – runs Google’s Wear operating system.
These are dedicated smartwatch operating systems that obviously have limitations compared to full-fledged Android, but are perfectly suited to the devices they are intended for – smartwatches with circular or round screens.
But what if we get a much bigger operating system aimed at smartphones – the aforementioned full-fledged Android – and put it on a smartwatch that certainly can’t handle it very well? Well, we get a fun hobby project!
I bought an Android smartwatch just to see how bad it was, and…
My home screen, using Nova Launcher and a clock widget
Yeah, that’s bad, but also – a really fun project to have fun with. I won’t mention which smartwatch it is because I certainly can’t recommend it to anyone except those who are willing to waste money playing with something niche and broken by default .
So what I’m working with here is an older version of Android, 5.1 to be precise, on a 5 year old smartwatch that was probably sitting in a warehouse somewhere until I stumbled upon it.
The first thing I did when I received it was install Nova Launcher on it from the Google Play Store, then I added a big clock widget to make the home screen actually look like a smartwatch, not a generic Android homepage with just tiny app icons.
And what do you know – installing Nova Launcher, and just an extra app or two (YouTube, Spotify) was pretty much enough to fill up all the storage, because apparently this particular smartwatch has around 400MB free ready for use. job, even if 4 GB was advertised.
That’s the “fun” chance you take when buying an unbranded product from China – you can’t really trust the specs listed! It actually has around 2GB of storage, with Android taking up most of it.
But hey, it’s full Android on a smartwatch, and now we’ve installed some big smartphone apps on it…
How do full Android apps work and look on a niche, underpowered, rotund smartwatch?
YouTube wasn’t made for round screens, like pretty much any other Android app
As bad as you think! But it’s still cool to see the smartphone version of YouTube running on that little round screen. With a good chunk of it, because the YouTube app was designed with square-edged displays in mind, not circular ones.
So I open YouTube and type in the search bar…Wait a second, how do you type in that?
Ready to write an essay with this keyboard?
Well, this watch comes with a tiny comic keyboard pre-installed, which can switch between English and Chinese, and only has text prediction for the latter. And you can’t disable the latter, and other keyboards I’ve tried installing haven’t worked well enough. But in any case…
With a bit of effort, I search PhoneArena’s YouTube channel and play a video. As expected, a lot of the video is cropped, but it plays great performance-wise, and since the smartwatch has a (reasonably good!) speaker, I can hear it too.
YouTube Works Great, But It Definitely Doesn’t Look Good
What happens if I put the video in full screen? Well, it goes full screen with black borders, but the orientation changes jarringly, so it’s not an ideal way to watch YouTube videos on your wrist either.
But okay, the Android YouTube app works pretty well, aside from the fact that it’s not meant for round screens. And Spotify is a similar story. And Facebook. And Twitter. It’s fun to see their full Android builds open on a small round screen, but because of that, they’re all almost completely unusable.
You can’t access any menu items in the top right or top left corners because they’re cropped, and unfortunately that’s exactly where most Android apps have them positioned.
No amount of compromise can make this good
Have you ever seen an Android app drawer on anything other than a phone or tablet?
What if you have cherished photos or videos that you want to take with you at all times, even when your smartphone is not with you? You put them on this smartwatch, right?
Well, photos are fine – they’re small in size and the watch has a built-in file browser you can use to watch them, but videos… Those will work too, don’t get me wrong, you can even install the VLC video player…if there was storage available for all that jazz.
But no – full Android on this underpowered round smartwatch is generally unusable, slow, there’s no storage for more than an app or two, and to top it off – battery life is almost comically terrible.
Even when it is not doing anything and it is turned off, the battery of this smartwatch is draining for some reason. I don’t know if all my passwords are sent to some random place in Guangzhou area of China or what, but if it runs out when turned off, you can imagine how “good” it is when you actually use it.
No kidding, about an hour of use is the best I can get out of it, even with all the battery-saving tricks I know how to try. And whether that’s due to a small battery, or the fact that it’s degraded from sitting in a damp factory somewhere for years, or just because Android’s full operating system isn’t not made for this (it must be!) – the bottom line is – don’t get a no-name smartwatch running full Android.
See our list of the best smartwatches to get right now, which, of course, all run dedicated smartwatch operating systems instead. Those that are designed for unique display shapes and are light enough to work fast and last long between charges, even on a small battery.
But as for me – I don’t really need an Apple Watch. What I love is tinkering with weird devices, seeing what they can do. And this one – it can do a lot, but badly, and for a very short period of time, before it flattens out and needs recharging. I don’t regret trying it, though, because of how fun and ridiculous it is as a concept. The things that exist there!