AsteroidOS is a smartwatch operating system that wants to offer an alternative to Google’s Wear OS. If you’ve got a compatible smartwatch, you can try out the OS now and even get it running alongside Google’s smartwatch software if you want to.
Developed and built by French computer scientist Florent Revest, the open-source OS is based entirely on Linux libraries and technologies and enables users to access notifications, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, music app remote control, the weather forecast, and even a calculator.
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While it’s all pretty simple stuff so far, the hope is that with an SDK already available, it will make it easy for developers to write apps, build customized watch faces and much more for the Wear OS rival.
After entering alpha testing way back in December 2016, AsteroidOS has now hit version 1.0 and is ready for intrigued Wear smartwatch owners to play around with. For the moment, it’s limited to a select number of smartwatches running Google’s wrist OS – you can find a full list here. You’re also going to need to get the software manually flashed over to your watch, a process we’ve explained here.
We’ve pulled out our LG Watch Urbane and spent some time getting to know the OS to find out if this really could give Wear a run for its money.
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AsteroidOS: Design and look
AsteroidOS may not have the same array of watch faces as Wear OS does, but the 11 faces you do get (eight digital and three analogue) are mostly well done, looking smart and professional on the wrist. We liked most of them, and quickly settled on a stylish face combining both analogue and digital time with the current date.
Those 11 watch faces can be mixed and matched with 42 different wallpapers that come with AsteroidOS, a selection of nature scenes and cityscapes that look like they’ve been pulled from a generic wallpaper repository somewhere. There’s also a ‘signature’ AsteroidOS wallpaper, a tiled background of grey or blue.
Other than that, you don’t get much in the way of design customization options, but you don’t really need anything else. Menus, icons and notifications are clearly shown on screen, and for the most part, AsteroidOS looks just as good as anything Google is designing for the wrist at the moment.
You get seven built-in apps with AsteroidOS: Agenda, Alarm Clock, Calculator, Music, Stopwatch, Timer and Weather. They all follow a nicely consistent interface design approach, and it’s not difficult to work out how each one operates.
It’s actually a real challenge to find anything amateurish or poorly designed inside AsteroidOS, from the iconography to the layout of menus. Of course a few more watch faces and customisation options would be welcome, but it’s still early days for the platform — as more developers get on board with the project, the number of custom looks and skins is going to grow.
AsteroidOS: The basics
AsteroidOS doesn’t do all that much at the moment. You’ve got the basic time-telling functionality, and the seven built-in apps, and basic support for notifications. You don’t get step tracking, or a smart assistant, or the ability to reply to notifications directly as you do with the Wear OS software that AsteroidOS is intended to replace.
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What AsteroidOS does do, though, it does well—everything works with a simple swipe left, right, up or down, and we noticed very little lag in terms of shifting through the screens. A push of the digital crown turns the display on and off (on the LG Watch Urbane at least), though there’s no “always on” or “tilt to wake” option that we could find, so quickly checking the time is more tedious process than it really should be.
Notifications work fine and work well straight out of the box, giving your wrist a discreet buzz as they come in — basically anything that causes a notification on your phone leads to an alert on your AsteroidOS smartwatch too. Any text in the alert (such as an email preview) is carried over to AsteroidOS too.
As far as settings go, you’ve not got too much to play around with, besides the wallpaper and watch face options we mentioned above: you can adjust the brightness, the language and units of measurements used, and that’s about it.
We would be lying if we said we didn’t notice any bugs or problems with AsteroidOS 1.0. Changing the watch faces or wallpaper would occasionally cause our LG Watch Urbane to hang, though the device usually sorted itself out after a few minutes. Version 1.0 of the software is not without its problems then, though it feels stable and reliable enough to use every day.
All the apps that AsteroidOS comes with work as advertised, and as we’ve mentioned there are seven that come as part of the smartwatch operating system itself — Agenda, Alarm Clock, Calculator, Music, Stopwatch, Timer and Weather.
On the whole they work intuitively and as you would expect. Calculator does your sums, Stopwatch lets you time something from your wrist (there’s no lap function but you can pause and resume), and Alarm Clock will buzz your wrist at a time of your choosing (alarms can repeat daily if needed).
We did have trouble syncing weather and agenda updates to our wrist, though the associated Android app is also under development (and is only up to version 0.11) — it managed to connect to the watch fine, but couldn’t sync anything over. It might be a bug on our hardware or software, but getting weather forecasts and schedules up on your wrist are two of the main reasons for getting a smartwatch in the first place.
Music simply controls Spotify on your Android phone, and this works perfectly well—you can pause and resume playback, and skip forwards and backwards through tracks. It’s a handy way of controlling the tunes on your phone, and it requires no additional setup.
There’s no iOS app available right now, and with the Android app a little limited in what it can do, you’re largely stuck with what AsteroidOS itself offers: a few basic apps and notification support (and your schedule, if you can get the calendar sync working better than we managed).
AsteroidOS: A genuine Wear OS rival?
AsteroidOS doesn’t have the breadth and complexity of Wear OS, but considering it’s an open source project manned by a few enthusiasts, it’s a very, very impressive piece of software. There’s nowhere near the same app selection of course, but the apps that are there work fine, and the AsteroidOS interface is slick and polished.
The biggest issues we had were trying to get any sort of weather or calendar information synced over to our phone. Add in the limited number of Wear OS watches that can take an AsteroidOS installation, the effort required to install it, and the occasional bug, and it’s hard to see the software having mainstream appeal anytime soon (you can dual boot your watch with Wear OS and AsteroidOS if you prefer).
On the plus side, the watch faces and wallpapers are all polished and attractive, the apps and menus are easy to navigate, and the notifications work perfectly without any extra configuration required.
We have to take our hats off to the AsteroidOS development team, because this is a fine and innovative effort considering how few resources they’re working with compared to the mighty Google. We’re definitely going to be keeping AsteroidOS installed on our LG Watch Urbane, and we’re looking forward to seeing where it goes next.
By Florent Revest
While AsteroidOS doesn’t have the same sophistication and app support as Wear OS, there’s a lot to like in this open source effort, and it’s improving all the time. If you’re a little disillusioned with Wear OS and want to support an independent project, we think you’ll enjoy spending some time with AsteroidOS, as long as your smartwatch supports it — just be prepared to miss out on some functionality along the way for now.
- Stylish interface
- Nippy performance
- Useful built-in apps
- Occasional bugs
- Limited functionality
- Basic phone syncing