Android Wear Lollipop 5.1 update: New features in-depth

Everything you need to know about the latest Google smartwatch update
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Android Wear has had its fair share of updates during 2015 - here's a rundown of some of the features you might not have tried out yet.

The latest update starting rolling out to smartwatches at the end of August and brings interactive watch faces including Google's Together face for quick watch to watch sharing.

Read this: The best Android Wear smartwatch you can buy

Here's what you can look forward to with the latest Android Wear updates...

Interactive watch faces

Android Wear Lollipop 5.1 update: New features in-depth

The latest update livens up watch faces by bringing the info you're looking for right to the watch face itself. Most of these display alt info with a single tap of the display and one must download is Google's own Together app.

It lets you hook your watch up to your partner or friend and share sketches, stickers, emojis and photos super quickly as well as your current activity e.g. if you're down at the gym. As a rival to Apple's Digital Touch, it's an immediate way of staying connected without taking too much of your attention away from what's in front of you. The new features also include Translate, for bilingual conversations at the flick of your wrist, which works with 44 languages.

Improved Android Wear UI

Android Wear Lollipop 5.1 update: New features in-depth

The first thing you'll notice is that there are a few new menus on offer, and it's much easier to start apps and access the things you need most.

Google seemingly realised that a list of actions wasn't the most helpful thing to pop up when you tap the watch face. So now there's a new menu system which means that with one tap (or a simple swipe if you prefer), you can access a list of apps. It's a bit like the popular Wear Mini Launcher app, although much easier to access and much nicer looking.

Must downloads: The best Android Wear apps

From the main apps list you can then scroll to the left for contacts; from here you can send a text or email, or initiate a call to start on your smartphone. If you choose the text or email options you'll have the choice of dictating a message, selecting a preset one or drawing an emoji...but more on that later.

Android Wear Lollipop 5.1 update: New features in-depth

One more swipe to the left brings up the 'old' control menu, with quick-app starters; 'take a note', 'remind me', 'navigate to' and so on.

Another nice touch is, if you swipe down from the top of the display, you'll get the Lollipop notifications settings menu, making it easy to set which alerts you get. From here you can also swipe sideways for a few on/off quick settings.

Android Wear Lollipop 5.1 update: New features in-depth

If you have found yourself downloading apps simply for quick access to other apps, you're not alone, and these updates should save you a bit of hassle.

Wi-Fi for Wear


Wi-Fi support has arrived on Android Wear. Most Android Wear devices pack in a Wi-Fi radio but this update is the first time the system is ready to make use of the hardware.

The Wi-Fi feature means that, if you're at home or in the office, you don't need to rely on Bluetooth to connect your phone to your watch, you can use Wi-Fi too. It also means if your watch is connected to Wi-Fi elsewhere and you don't have your phone, it will pick up notifications.

Smartwatch showdown: Android Wear vs Apple Watch

There are a few caveats mind. Your phone will be required to join new networks for the first time, so heading out with just your smartwatch will only work if you're planning to connect to familiar networks.

Also, this functionality won't work with all Android Wear devices. The Asus ZenWatch, one of the best-looking smartwatches we've tested, doesn't have Wi-Fi capabilities and neither does the original LG G Watch.

In our testing we've found the updates coming over Wi-Fi, when not tethered to a phone, flakey at best, completely not-happening at worst. A work in progress we think...

Movement gestures

Android Wear Lollipop 5.1 update: New features in-depth

Flicking your wrist while wearing an Android Wear watch turns the screen on. Now, it can also scroll through notifications or potentially, say, a recipe app if you have your hands full.

For now, flicking your wrist away from you scrolls forward one card, flicking backwards goes backwards. It actually works pretty well and, if you're not impressed, you can always turn off the new wrist-based gesture controls in the settings menu.

Always-on apps

Android Wear Lollipop 5.1 update: New features in-depth

The low power always-on watch face screen has spread its love to apps. At least it will do; for now only Google's own Keep app seems to tap into the new functionality.

Once devs get around to tweaking their app's settings they'll be able to make them behave just like watch faces, by turning to monochrome after a small period of inactivity, rather than powering off the screen entirely.

The apps will only show in full battery-draining colour when you turn your smartwatch towards you.

Emoji action

Android Wear Lollipop 5.1 update: New features in-depth

Ah, emojis. We have a love-hate relationship with them but it seems they're here to stay. In the new Android Wear update, you can draw hundreds of emojis directly onto your smartwatch touchscreen.

Your smartwatch recognises the emoji and sends it as a quick reply, for instance, to an incoming text. The 'draw emoji' option is also a default for composing new emails or texts to contacts.

It actually works pretty well and, while not as complete a system as Apple's Digital Touch platform, it's a nice little addition for Android Wearers.

Lock it up

Android Wear Lollipop 5.1 update: New features in-depth

The smartphone lock pattern feature is now part of the Android Wear package, meaning an extra layer of security for people not wanting strangers (or annoying pals) to take their watch for a ride.

You set up the pattern exactly as you would on an Android smartphone, by inputting it twice, and then you can set it to kick-in everytime you take your watch off.

It's incredibly fiddly to swipe a pattern on the small screen however, and we've lost count of the amount of times we've been locked out of our smartwatch after too many unsuccessful attempts.

Smartwatch phone home

Android Wear Lollipop 5.1 update: New features in-depth

There were already some third-party apps offering a Find my phone feature but now Google is officially letting you call your misplaced smartphone from your wrist.

Even if your phone is set to silent, it will still ring.

Have you got the update yet? Let us know what you think of the new features in the comments.

How we test

Paul Lamkin


Wareable Media Group co-CEO Paul launched Wareable with James Stables in 2014, after working for a variety of the UK's biggest and best consumer tech publications including Pocket-lint, Forbes, Electric Pig, Tech Digest, What Laptop, T3 and has been a judge for the TechRadar Awards. 

Prior to founding Wareable, and subsequently The Ambient, he was the senior editor of MSN Tech and has written for a range of publications.

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