Saturday, September 23, 2023

How to use your smartwatch as a camera remote

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Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

Most people see a smartwatch as a fitness gadget or a way to discreetly view notifications. But did you know that you can also use your smartwatch as a camera remote? Instead of scrambling to beat the timer for your next group photo or selfie, you can instead use your smartwatch to control your phone’s camera shutter.

Some smartwatches, such as the Apple Watch, have this feature built in. Others require you to download a separate third-party app. You also need to be within Bluetooth range, because that’s how smartwatches communicate with your phone. This probably won’t be a problem in most scenarios, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re considering using this feature for a more ambitious photo project.

Anyway, here’s how to enable the feature on some of the most popular smartwatches.

Apple Watch

If you have an Apple Watch, good news: As mentioned, the Apple Watch already comes with a camera remote and timer app pre-installed. You can also use your watch as a viewfinder when setting up the photo and view the photo directly from your wrist after taking it. In addition, you can use the watch to switch other settings, such as flash, HDR and Live Photo. Siri is also available as a hands-free option when using the feature.

Fumbling with settings is easy. Press the button with the three dots.
Image: Apple

Take a picture:

  • Once you’ve set up your iPhone to take your photo, open the Camera app on your watch. It’s the same icon as the Camera app on your iPhone.
  • After you open the app, you should see how your photo will look on your watch face. Take this time to compose your recording.
  • Use the Digital Crown to zoom in and out
  • Tap the shutter icon in the center of the watch screen to take your photo

Tips and tricks:

  • You can view the photo just taken by tapping the thumbnail at the bottom left. Double tapping causes the photo to fill the screen. Swiping left or right will show you other photos you’ve taken.
  • Tap the three-dot button at the bottom right to open the settings menu. This menu lets you add a three-second timer, switch between your iPhone’s front and rear cameras, edit flash settings, edit Live Photo settings, and toggle HDR on or off.
  • If you want to play with the focus, you can tap a specific area in the photo on your watch screen.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 and Samsung Tizen watches

Samsung also has a Camera Controller app for its smartwatches.
Image: Samsung

If you have a Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 or Watch 4 Classic, you don’t have to worry about installing anything. The Camera Controller app is preloaded on your smartwatch. However, if you have an older Samsung watch that runs its own Tizen operating system, you’ll need to download the app.

For Tizen watch owners, here’s how to install the Camera Controller app:

  • Open the Galaxy Store App and look for the Camera controller app
  • Tap to install
  • Follow the directions for granting permissions
  • When prompted, agree to install the app on the phone the watch is paired with. Otherwise you will not be able to use the app.

Just like on the Apple Watch, the Samsung smartwatch camera remote lets you view photos on your watch. You can also use the watch as a viewfinder, set timers and choose which camera to take a photo with. Finally, Samsung’s camera remote function also lets you record video.

To take a photo or video:

  • Open the Camera controller app
  • Take this time to take the picture
  • For videos, switch to video mode on your phone
  • Tap To establish for photos or file for videos

Tips and tricks:

  • Swipe up on the watch to switch between the rear and front cameras
  • If you want to set a timer, there’s a timer icon at the top center of your screen
  • To view all the photos you’ve taken, tap the Gallery icon that appears next to the Record button

Wear OS smartwatches

For Wear OS watches, you have a few options. If your watch is paired with a Pixel phone, the easiest option is to download the Google Camera app. (Note: This app does not work with non-Pixel Android phones, but is compatible with both Wear OS 2 and Wear OS 3.) If you have a Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, please see the section above. If you have a non-Samsung Wear OS watch that isn’t paired with a Pixel phone, you still have options — which we’ll discuss in the next section.

The fossil generation 6

The Fossil Gen 6 paired with a Pixel phone can use the Google Camera app.
Photo by Dieter Bohn / The Verge

For Pixel owners:

  • Navigate to the Google Play Store app
  • Look for the Google Camera app and download it on your watch

To take a photo with Google Camera:

  • Navigate to your app menu
  • Tap Camera
  • Press the circular shutter icon in the center of the screen

Tips and tricks:

  • You can turn the timer on or off by swiping up and tapping Timer. However, you cannot adjust the amount of time. You’re stuck with the default three-second timer.
  • Drag the slider to the right or left to zoom in and out.

Third-party remote camera apps

If you have a Garmin, Fitbit, or non-Samsung Wear OS watch that isn’t paired with a Pixel phone, you’ll need to download a third-party app to get this feature. There are plenty of options available, although you may have to pay for the app and your mileage may vary.

That said, third-party apps are hit and miss. Since the manufacturer is not the one to code these apps, they can break after an update and depend on the software updates that a manufacturer pushes through. Different Android phones may also have different power saving settings that can affect how well the app works.

The upside is that there are a variety of apps with different features and you are free to do a bit of hunting yourself to find which apps meet your specific needs. To find these apps, you can search the Google Play Store, the App Store, the Garmin Connect IQ store, and Fitbit’s App Gallery.

Keep in mind that because these are not native apps, you may need to follow a few extra steps to install and use them. This is especially true for Fitbit and Garmin owners, as these watches don’t have robust third-party app ecosystems. In general, on these platforms you have far fewer options to choose from and the options available are usually not highly rated.

Below, we’ve listed a handful of options for third-party remote camera apps. The ones we chose offer a variety of features and support articles and have been updated over the past year.

Samsung Galaxy Watch and Wear OS smartwatch:

Camera One

This app is compatible with both Samsung Wear OS watches and Tizen watches. It’s also available for any Wear OS smartwatch, like the TicWatch Pro 3. You can use it to take selfies, take group shots, record audio, take time-lapse videos, and take photos on your watch or an SD card, and has multiple timer options. It is free to install, but there is a premium version that offers more features and better picture quality.

Camera remote control

This app mostly works with Wear OS 2 watches and while it’s free to install, it does have in-app purchases. You can use your watch as a viewfinder and adjust settings such as zoom, exposure and flash. You have the option to set timers, record video and switch between the front and rear cameras. In other words, it’s not very advanced, but you do get the basics.

You need a third-party app to use this feature on a Fitbit smartwatch.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Fitbit and Garmin:

Watch remote cameraiOSandroidFitbitGarmin

This $1.99 app can be used on select Fitbits and Garmin devices, regardless of which operating system your smartphone uses. For Fitbits, the app works on all Versa models, the Sense and Ionic. Meanwhile, you can use the app on most Garmin devices – you can find a list here† That said, it takes more steps than your usual camera app, which can make taking pictures tedious or error-prone. The app developer contains various how-to videos, FAQs and step-by-step instructions on her website

Another thing to keep in mind is that this app stores your photos on your phone, not the watch. (Although you can view the photos on your watch.)


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