Moto 360 gets Android Wear 5.1 update

Update brings all the goodies that I loved in the LG Urbane watch!

moto 360 bw 1
Credit: Swapnil Bhartiya

Last night just as I was about to place my Moto 360 on the charging cradle for the night, I noticed the much-awaited notification: there was a software update for the watch.

Initial experience with 5.1 update

It took over 30 minutes for the update to install, apps to be synced and the watch to reboot. After upgrading to 5.1 and restarting the watch, I found it to be extremely slow and unresponsive.

I recalled Motorola’s reluctance to update the watch due to potential performance issues. I feared that the latest software was way too heavy for this watch and that I had just turned my Moto 360 into a walker. But it turned out that the watch was just 'warming up'. After 10 minutes the watch was in full swing. In fact, I found it to be more responsive than the LG Urbane, which had many UI freezes. If you just updated your own Moto watch and noticed performance issues, give it at least half an hour before panicking.

What’s new?

Maps on the watch. The first thing I opened when the watch was updated was Maps. I am pleased to report what I found.

I now have full fledged Maps on my Moto 360. Of course it’s tethered to the GPS of the paired phone. However, now I can navigate right from my watch without having to look at the phone. It’s great for activities like hiking and biking.

WiFi support is here. Moto 360 was listed among those Android watches that would be receiving the WiFi support. It has landed. Now I can stay connected with my Google account, even if I am not within the Bluetooth range of my phone, and continue to get messages and use the watch.

It’s extremely easy to connect to the WiFi. Just click on the desired SSID and it will open the settings on the phone and you can enter the password for that network. I have yet to test if the watch will automatically connect to those networks that are already on my phone.

Brand new UI with refined menus. I must admit that I was not a huge fan of the Android Wear 5.0 UI, mostly because I had tasted what 5.1 was offering on the LG Urbane Watch. This update has brought a much more refined UI to the watch. Swiping from the right will open settings and apps; swiping from the top provides quick access to watch settings and swiping from the bottom opens the latest notifications. Tap and hold opens the settings to change the watch face, and one tap on the screen opens apps and settings.

Cover up for quiet. One neat trick Moto 360 has up its sleeve (no pun intended) is that you can cover the watch face to turn the screen off or silent any notification or call. That's quite useful if you are in a meeting and don't want to rudely keep looking at your watch. If you are really bored and need to leave, well, notifications are your friend. Check them every 10 seconds and you will have a reason to excuse yourself out of a killer conversation.

Gestures are here. This update brings gestures and twists to the Moto 360. With a twist of my wrist, I can scroll through latest notifications if my hands are busy.

Ambient mode. Ambient mode is a gift and a curse. What I love about Ambient mode is that it keeps the display on in a power efficient, black and white mode. This mode allows you to see the time, date and other supported apps, including Google Maps and to-do list. The clear benefit is that you don't have to turn on the full screen, which drains the battery, in order to see such apps. You can continue to navigate or shop while keeping the screen in battery saving mode. The probable flip side is that it keeps the display on all the time. I am not sure yet whether it actually saves battery or consumes more. I will be able to report after using the watch for some more time.

Prior to the 5.1 update, I was getting as much battery life as I get from my Nexus 6 - more than 12 hours. I charge my devices at night, as a rule. I have to see how the update is going to change that.

Drawing emojis is easy. I am not much into emojis, but Google has made it extremely easy to send emojis directly from the smart watch. All you need to do is draw an emoji on the watch and Google's algorithm will select it and offer the matching emoji, which you can send with one tap.

Better call Saul. It's extremely easy to make phone calls from Moto 360. Just tell it: 'Make a phone call to Swapnil Bhartiya' and it will pull my info from Google Contacts and connect the call. If the person is not in your contact list then you can simply tell it to dial a number.

What I expect from the future

I love my Moto 360 and the 5.1 update has given me almost everything that I wanted from the watch. However there are a few features that I hope will make it to the watch in the future.

The ability to make phone calls from the watch and not via the phone. There are already Linux-powered watches that can do that, but Android Wear lacks the feature. Software alone won't do it as the watch would need a speaker.

Hangouts support for calls. I make a lot of international calls - both personal and business - and I rely heavily on Google Hangouts, so I also expect Hangouts support for calls.

Nest support. I am also looking for Nest support for the watch. In fact, the UI of Nest would look perfect on Moto 360, and I could control my HVAC system right from my watch.

There are reports of the next Moto 360 watch and I will upgrade in a heartbeat if these capabilities become available. I am already a watch wearer and with Moto 360, my watch does much more than just tell the time. There is nothing to complain about. If you have Moto 360, have you upgraded to 5.1? If yes, what's your experience so far?

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