Wear 2.0 has a troubled history. Announced well over a year ago with a rocky response from those testing it, the initial September 2016 release windows was delayed until Q1 this year. Google took a lot of things back to the drawing board in an effort to appease the early testers. Now that it’s finally made its way to my Moto 360, was it worth the wait?
The first thing I noticed after installing 2.0 is the speed. My 2nd gen 360 would lag just scrolling through notifications or pulling down the quick settings. Thanks to the update it is now silky smooth. This is certainly the fastest it’s ever been. Voice recognition is better now as well, thanks to Google moving the recognition software to the watch instead of the phone. So instead of waiting for your watch to ask the phone what the hell you just said, it can work it all out in its own. Little things like waking up from ambient mode and wrist gestures are smoother as well.
Battery life is about the same in 2.0 and that’s not a bad thing. I could easily get through two days use on my 360 and I still can. Usually with updates like this I worry about battery life declining, so while increased battery life would have been better, at least it didn’t get worse.
Complications make watchfaces all the more useful. Previously apps would have to make their own indicators for things like battery status, weather and fitness info. Now they just need to allow access to complications and the user will be able to choose what information is displayed. The info is grabbed from the other apps on your device, such as Weather Timeline or Google Fit. The Android Wear app has some useful complications of its own like an unread notification count, battery status, currently playing media or a shortcut to a specific app.
The method for switching watchfaces has changed, instead of long-pressing you swipe from either the left or the right. You can pin favourite faces to this menu and use a “add more watch faces” button to view the rest. Sadly Motorola haven’t updated their faces to support 2.0 functionality, so chances are you’ll be downloading something from a third-party. The good news is that there are plenty to choose from and I specifically recommend Puji Black. It offers limitless customization and adjustments.
Opening the app draw is now accomplished by pressing the physical button, thus freeing the swipe gesture for face selection as mentioned above. App icons now populate the left side of the screen in an arc that matches the curve of the display. It’s definitely more appealing than before, although it could also be part of the reason none of the square watches got the update. Scrolling through this list is smoother than before, and you can pin your favourite apps to the top like an app dock.
Android Wear now has a Play Store of its own, meaning you don’t have to have the phone version of something just to use their wear app. Browsing it easy and downloading apps is fast thanks to the Moto 360 supporting Wi-Fi. As far as I can tell the watch only auto updates when charging to save power, although I could be mistaken. On device apps really do make a lot of sense, especially as you can now edit and setup watchfaces purely on the watch instead of the phone.
Quicksettings are now all in one page, instead of using multiple pages. On Wear 1.5 I would often trigger the wrong quicksetting whilst trying to swipe to the one I wanted. The new look is quite busy looking, but I’m willing to sacrifice form for function.
Google Assistant is available and does most of the things available on your phone. I’ve found it useful for quickly looking something up without pulling out my phone. Otherwise I don’t use it all that much. However worthwhile having Assistant on a watch is, at least it works.
At long last Wear has a keyboard. I just don’t feel comfortable talking to a watch in public, I look weird enough as it is! Now you can tap type or use gestures like on your phone, or you can use handwriting recognition. Tap and gesture works perfectly for me, but handwriting really doesn’t. Then again, I can’t get handwriting to work well on a phone or tablet either, so maybe that’s just me.
Sadly Wear 2.0 isn’t all good news. Google has made the watch a separate entity to the phone it’s connected to. This is good for what I’ve mentioned above; individual app installs and watchface editing etc. But in some cases it completely defeats the purpose. The “open on phone” button is gone. Unless an app has it coded in, which most don’t as it was there automatically in Wear 1.5, there’s no way to open the notification you’re viewing on your phone. You have to unlock your device, scroll through and find that notification and then open it there. One positive thing I can say about the new notification system is the existence of a clear all button. No more incessant swiping!
It gets worse with Do Not Disturb. Previously pressing the DND button on the watch would put both your phone and watch into that state. it worked the other way around to, putting your phone on DND would do the same on the watch. Now they’re both separate. If you get to a meeting and can’t remember if your phone is on silent, now you’ll have to get it out and check. There’s no way to silence the phone discreetly from your watch anymore.
All in all this is a solid update. Despite a few niggles, this is the best version of Wear yet. A few months ago I’d started losing interest in my 360. I just wasn’t using it at all. Now I find myself looking for reasons to use it. Everything from the smooth animations to the informative watchface complications make it a joy to use. This has truly renewed my faith in Android Wear!