You might be forgiven for thinking that the Apple Watch is the only smartwatch worth buying. But watches running Android Wear are alive, kicking, and getting better.

With the Apple Watch seeing better-than-expected sales and tons of media exposure, Google is trying to keep pace with upgrades for Android Wear, which powers watches from Motorola, LG, Sony, and others.

The most recent May update adds apps that are always on, they remain visible even when you drop your arm. The update also features quick access to apps by swiping, a new flick-of-the-wrist gesture to scroll between cards (snippets of information), as well as the ability to draw emojis as responses. There are also new heads-up notifications, like text messages that appear on screen even if you’re looking at something else.

The LG Watch Urbane ($350) was the first to get the update, while the Motorola Moto 360 ($250) is getting the update now. Both the LG Watch Urbane and the Moto 360 have been praised for their elegant round designs compared to the rectangular Apple Watch.

The Urbane is the Android Wear watch of the moment, though, because it’s new and boasts a classic fully-round look replete with a gorgeous OLED display. Also, thanks to an Android Wear update, it allows you to connect, via Wi-Fi, to your phone remotely. Theoretically, you can be very remote, but note that being too remote can be problematic in the “real world.”

The Apple Watch’s Wi-Fi, on the other hand, only works when connected to the same Wi-Fi network as the iPhone.

What else sets Android Wear apart from the Apple Watch experience? Android watches are more aware of what you’re doing at any given moment (thanks to Google’s cloud services) than Apple’s offering and Android Wear is more aggressive at trying to predict what you need based on your Google searches, Gmail, and calendar.

“Android Wear does have the edge over Apple Watch when it comes to context,” Ramon Llamas, research manager of wearables and mobile phones at market researcher IDC, wrote in an email to Foxnews.com.

“Understanding context is a function of how both Google Now and [Apple’s] Siri are set up. Siri is very good at ‘fetch and bring back to me’ while Google Now will provide just about everything under the sun, but also serves up information proactively before you need it,” he added.

Llamas wrote that Siri is getting an upgrade this year, and that users should “expect an improved contextual experience” that could come to the Apple Watch eventually.

But there can also be a downside to Google Wear’s contextual awareness. Some reviews point out that too much information can come in randomly, ultimately marring the user experience.

As for other areas where Android Wear excels, Llamas wrote that Android has more watch faces, lower price points, different watch styles.

“Let’s not forget the 4000 apps,” he added. “In short, right now you get more choice with Android Wear. With Apple, you get what Apple offers and controls … there are pluses and minuses to both.”

by Brooke Crothers

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