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October 4, 2017

Google kicks off the Android Wear beta program with Android 8.0 Oreo

by John_A

Why it matters to you

If you don’t mind a little instability, the Android 8.0 Oreo beta for the LG Watch Sport is the best way to preview the new Android Wear.

Can’t wait to get your hands on the newest version of Android Wear, Google’s smartwatch operating system? You’re in luck — that is, if you happen to have an LG Watch Sport. On Monday, Octobeer 2, Google announced a beta program for Android Wear that brings a few of the features of Android 8.0 Oreo, the newest version of Android, to wearable devices.

It’s an extension of the Android beta program, Google says. “The Android Beta Program gives you an opportunity to try out prerelease versions of Android and Android Wear, and provide feedback. The feedback you provide on the beta will help us identify and fix issues, and make the platforms even better.”

Singing up isn’t terribly difficult, but you’ll have to enroll manually by heading to the Android beta web page and signing in with your Google account. Assuming you’ve set up your LG Watch Sport and paired it to your smartphone, it will show up beneath the page’s Your eligible devices subheader. Click the Enroll device button next to the picture of your Watch Sport, and you’re golden — in the next few hours, you’ll get an over-the-air update to the latest beta of Android O for Android Wear. Alternatively, you can kick off the update manually by heading to the Watch Sport’s Settings menu and tapping System > About > System Updates. 

Be aware, though, that it is preproduction software. You’re likely to encounter bugs and instability.

So what’s new? One of most visible new features is Notification Channels, which offers fine-grain control over the alerts, messages, and replies that buzz your wrist. In apps that tap into Android 8.0 Oreo’s notifications framework (like Clock, Play Music, and the Play Store), you’ll see toggles for categories like “New follower” and “Likes” that can be switched off at will. During the 2017 I/O Developer conference earlier this year, Google gave the example of an airline app: You might want to block airfare promotions, for instance, while letting upcoming flight reminders go through.

The Android Wear beta’s other big feature is background limits, which is a bit tougher to quantify. Google describes it as “increased restrictions on […] services” like location updates and background tasks, which should translate to better battery life.

The update’s other changes are on the minor side. In the Settings app, there’s a new screen that shows how much of the watch’s internal storage each installed app is using. A new Apps & Notifications screen consolidates app info, notifications, and permissions menus in one menu. And a new vibration adjuster lets you switch between a normal, long, and double pattern.

Google says the Watch Sport beta will be the only one before Android 8.0 Oreo for Android Wear’s final production release.

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