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How to use your smartwatch as a camera remote

How to use your smartwatch as a camera remote

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Stop scrambling when you take your next group photo

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The Apple Watch comes with a built-in camera remote app.
The Apple Watch comes with a built-in camera remote app.
Photo by Victoria Song / The Verge

Most people think of 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, like the Apple Watch, have this feature built in. Others require you to download a separate third-party app. You’ll also need to be within Bluetooth range, since that’s how smartwatches communicate with your phone. This probably won’t be an issue in most scenarios, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re thinking of using this feature on a more ambitious photo project. 

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

Apple Watch

If you’ve got an Apple Watch, good news: as mentioned earlier, 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 review the picture directly from your wrist after you’ve taken it. Plus, you can use the watch to toggle other settings like flash, HDR, and Live Photo. Siri is also available as a hands-free option when using the feature. 

Fiddling with settings is easy. Hit the three-dot button.
Fiddling with settings is easy. Hit the three-dot button.
Image: Apple

To take a photo:

  • 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 what your photo will look like on your watch face. Take this time to compose your shot.
  • 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 review the photo you just took by tapping on the thumbnail in the bottom left. Double tapping will make the photo fill the screen. Swiping left or right will let you see other photos you’ve taken.
  • Tap the three-dot button in the lower right to access the settings menu. With this menu you can add a three-second timer, switch between the front and rear cameras on your iPhone, edit flash settings, edit Live Photo settings, and toggle HDR on or off.
  • If you want to fiddle with focus, you can tap on 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.
Samsung also has a Camera Controller app for its smartwatches.
Image: Samsung

If you’ve got a Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 or Watch 4 Classic, you don’t have to worry about installing anything. The Camera Controller app comes preloaded onto your smartwatch. However, if you’ve got an older Samsung watch that runs on the proprietary Tizen OS, 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 search for the Camera Controller app
  • Tap Install
  • Follow prompts for granting permissions
  • When prompted, agree to install the app on the phone the watch is paired to. You won’t be able to use the app otherwise.

As on the Apple Watch, Samsung’s smartwatch camera remote will let you review photos on your watch. You can also use the watch as a viewfinder, set timers, and pick which camera you want to take a picture from. Lastly, Samsung’s camera remote feature also lets you record video.

To take a photo or video:

  • Open the Camera Controller app
  • Take this time to set up the shot
  • For videos, switch to Video Mode on your phone
  • Tap Capture for photos or Record for videos

Tips and tricks:

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

Wear OS smartwatches

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

The Fossil Gen 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
  • Search for the Google Camera app and download it onto your watch

To take a photo with Google Camera:

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

Tips and tricks:

  • You can toggle the timer on or off by swiping up and tapping Timer. You can’t customize the amount of time, however. You’re stuck with the default three-second timer.
  • To zoom in and out, drag the slider to the right or left.

Third-party camera remote apps

If you’ve got a Garmin, Fitbit, or a non-Samsung Wear OS watch that’s not paired to a Pixel phone, you’re going to have to download a third-party app to get this feature. There are plenty of options available — though you may have to pay for the app and your mileage may vary.

That said, third-party apps are hit or miss. Because the manufacturer isn’t the one coding these apps, they can end up broken after an update and are at the whim of whatever software updates a manufacturer pushes through. Different Android phones may also have different power-saving settings that can impact how well the app works.

Keep in mind that because these aren’t native apps, you might have to follow a few extra steps to install and use the apps.

The upside is there are a variety of apps out there with different features and you’re free to do a little hunting on your own to find which apps suit 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 aren’t native apps, you might have to follow a few extra steps to install and use them. This is particularly true for Fitbit and Garmin owners, as these watches don’t have robust third-party app ecosystems. In general, you’ll have much fewer options to choose from on these platforms and the options that are available don’t tend to be highly rated. 

Below, we’ve listed a handful of options for third-party camera remote apps. The ones we’ve chosen offer a variety of features and support articles, and have been updated within the last 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, group photos, record audio, take time-lapse videos, and save photos onto your watch or an SD card, and has multiple timer options. It’s free to install, but there’s a premium version that affords more features and better picture quality.

Camera Remote

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, as well as adjust settings like zoom, exposure, and flash. You have the option of setting timers, recording video, and switching between front and rear cameras. In other words, it’s not terribly advanced, but you do get the basics.

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

Fitbit and Garmin:

Camera Remote Watch (iOS, Android, Fitbit, Garmin)

This $1.99 app can be used on certain 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, there are more steps involved than with your usual camera app, which can make the photo-taking process tedious or prone to errors. The app developer includes several tutorial videos, FAQs, and step-by-step instructions on its website

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

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