Me And My Moto 360 – What do I like?

I’ve been wearing a Moto 360 for a little over six months, so I thought now would be a good time to share some of my experience with using this Android Wear smartwatch. I’ll be writing about the Moto 360 because it is the watch that I own, but what I am writing about applies to all Android Wear watches. Android Wear is very much a work in progress, and as you will see, my experience reinforces this fact.

I started to write one article about what I like and dislike about the Moto 360, but that quickly grew too large so I decided to break the article into two parts, one about what I like and the other about what I dislike. In this first article I will explain six things that I like most about the Moto 360.

Voice support

Compared to smartphones, smartwatches have small screens that will only get smaller over time. The ability to precisely touch buttons or icons on the screen is only going to get more difficult, and therefore voice support is important. My ability to speak commands to my watch is one thing I like most about the Moto 360.

To set a timer I say, “Ok Google, set timer for 10 minutes” and a timer is set on the watch for 10 minutes and begins running. To set an alarm I say, “Ok Google, set an alarm for 3 PM.” To find out the the outside temperature I say, “Ok Google, what is the temperature outside?” and a card displays with the current outside temperature.

When someone sends me a text message or email, I can browse the message and dictate a reply that is translated to text and sent as a reply. Speech to text does require an Internet connection, provided either via phone or a WiFi network, but I find it works pretty well.

One surprising aspect of the Moto 360 is that it does not have a speaker, so you will not hear the Google Android speak back the answer to my question about the temperature like you do with Android smartphones. Consequently, you cannot use an Android Wear smartwatch as a phone, such as you might have seen in those old Dick Tracy comics. Some may find the lack of audio as a deficiency, but I could take it or leave it.

Glance-able information

My first experience with notifications, now common on all smartphones, is with the Fossil Abacus SPOT (Smart Personal Object Technology) watch back in 2004. SPOT was a data protocol developed by Microsoft that used the FM radio band for wireless communication. Microsoft pushed snippets of information, things like sports scores, stock quotes, and news headlines, from the MSN service to the watch.

I really liked having this information pushed to me throughout the day, and bear in mind this was several years before the smartphone notifications we are familiar with today were first introduced.

All notifications that appear on my smartphone can appear on my Moto 360, which allows me to glance at that information without having to take out my phone. I can specify which notifications I want to see so that I am not constantly feeling a buzzing on my wrist. To close a notification, I simply swipe it away to the right and it is removed from my Moto 360 and my smartphone.

Watch faces

What I like most about Android is how I can personalize it with wallpapers, widgets, icons, and folders. It is no surprise then, that I really like the ability to change watch faces on my phone.

The Moto 360 ships with several different watch faces, each that you can customize either by changing backgrounds or adding items like the date. One Moto 360 face has two little clocks that you can set to different time zones, which I find helpful when working with colleagues outside the United States. I’ve customized another face with a picture of the Wrigley Field scoreboard, and I like to switch to that face while watching the Chicago Cubs.

An ever growing number of watch faces are available on Google Play either for free or for a small amount. I use an app called Watchmaker that one can use to create a watch face, and there is a huge library of free faces at Facerepro.com. Every week or so I browse the Facerepro site for new faces that I download to my Moto X and then transfer to the Moto 360 as I wish.

Wireless charging

The Moto 360 is the first device I have ever owned that charges wirelessly, and it is wonderful. Each night I simply place the Moto 360 in its charging cradle, with no fiddling to open a cover on the watch and attach a cable.

It may be a factor of how small the battery is in the Moto 360, but it recharges pretty quickly. In a little over an hour my Moto 360 is completely recharged. Motorola had the good sense to use the Qi charging standard, so you can place it on all sorts of charging pads.

If only the Moto X supported Qi charging.

IFTTT

By now you may have noticed that I have yet to write anything about apps. I think it is fair so say that Android Wear lags in apps, not too unlike how Android initially did in comparison to iOS.

Part of the problem may be that it takes effort to design a useful smartwatch app. You can’t simply port a smartphone app to the watch, it takes some thought to design an app that has functions you actually will use on a watch.

An app that I think does this well, is IF, which is the app version of the If This Then That (IFTTT) Internet service. You can use IFTTT to integrate different Internet services, apps, and devices. Think of it as, IF something happens THEN do something, for example IF the time is 9 AM THEN turn on the Hue light in my home office.

For Android Wear the trigger, or the “IF” part of the equation, is pretty simple, it’s basically when you tap a button on the screen. In my case I have options for turning the Philips Hue lights in my house on or off. I also have a simple IF trigger on my watch to send a text message to my wife to tell her I am on my way home.

The best thing about IFTTT is that it provides a way to add functionality to your watch or phone without having to wait for a developer to write an app. IF is by far the most used app on my Moto 360.

Integration with Moto X

The final item is the integration between the Moto 360 and my smartphone, a Moto X. I configure all my smartphones with a password to provide a level of security should it be lost or stolen, however if I am frequently accessing my phone having to constantly enter the password can be a pain. The Moto 360’s ability to be a trusted device alleviates having to constantly enter the password on my phone.

Trusted device is a feature first introduced by Motorola and originally unique to the Moto X and Verizon Droids, but Google has since incorporated it into Android 5.0 (Lollipop) so that this feature can be available forĀ all Android phones and tablets.

Whenever you bluetooth pair a device with an Android phone you will be asked whether you want to set up that device as a trusted device, meaning that as long as the device is connected to the phone you will not have to enter the password. Using a watch to provide this type of authentication makes a lot of sense.

Another way that the Moto 360 integrates with my phone is with notifications, when I swipe a notification away on the watch it is also cleared away from my phone, which only makes sense since I don’t need to see it twice.

I see integration, not just with phones, but with tablets, computers, and more, as key to answering the question of why would one want to buy a smartwatch. Size limitations are going to limit how much functionality a smartwatch is going to provide on its own, but if the watch can communicate with objects around me, that is a whole additional level of functionality that I think many may find appealing.

For example, today I have to use the IF app and select an option on the watch’s screen in order to use my Moto 360 to turn on my Hue lights. What if, instead, the Moto 360 were able to communicate directly with the lights so that when I came within range of the room the lights automatically turn on?

The key to this type of integration lies in the services that a device communicates with, and this is an area where I see Google having an advantage they have yet to fully exploit. Perhaps the best reason for owning an Android Wear watch is to experience the leading edge of wearable technology being developed by one of the world’s leading services companies. I look forward to seeing where Google takes Android Wear in the future.

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Use A Keyboard With Your Tablet To Increase Productivity

If you use a tablet at work, you probably fall into one of two camps, either you use a portable keyboard case in which you carry the tablet, or you use the tablet without a keyboard and use it for referencing information. You enjoy the portability of the tablet and the ability to be productive as you move between appointments, but when you get back to your desk the tablet most likely goes unused until the next time you leave your desk.

I’ve recently found a way to increase my productivity by using my tablet while sitting at my desk, and the key component is the Logitech K480 keyboard. Each morning when I get to work I drop my Nexus 9 in a slot on the K480, placing it right below my computer monitor and in a position where I can easily see what is on the tablet. The K480 connects via bluetooth to my notebook and tablet computers and I can easily switch the keyboard between the two, making it easy to quickly enter text on the tablet.

During the day I keep my to-do list displayed on my Nexus 9, which helps me keep focused on the tasks I need to complete. If I am attending an online meeting or watching a webinar on the computer monitor, I can easily take notes using Evernote on the tablet. In short, what I find is that once you have a way to easily use a physical keyboard with a tablet you will find ways in which it can make you more productive.

The Logitech K480 is just under twelve inches wide, eight inches tall and weighs just under two pounds, so it is designed to sit on a desk rather than be carried around, although I find it fits easily in a computer bag. The physical dimensions put the keyboard on par in size with most notebook computer keyboards. In fact, the keys are the same size as on my notebook and are spaced far enough apart that I can type comfortably.

In addition to a full compliment of QWERTY keys and a number row, there is a row of function keys at the top that are programmed to perform many common tablet functions. For example, the F1 key is also the Android home button and the F2 key is the Android app switcher.

The K480 supports bluetooth connections with Android tablets and smartphones, iOS tablets and smartphones, along with computers running Windows, Mac OS, or Chrome OS. What makes the K480 different from other bluetooth keyboards is that you can configure it to connect to up to three different devices and easily switch between the three.

To switch between what device the keyboard connects to you move a dial, located at the top left of the keyboard, between three different positions. For example, the first device my K480 connects to is my notebook computer, the second device is the Nexus 9, and I simply switch the dial between the two positions as I move from computer to tablet.

A slot located along the top of the K480 provides a place to set a tablet in landscape, or if you prefer, there is enough space for a tablet and smartphone in portrait orientation. The slot positions tablets at a perfect viewing angle to be seen while typing.

At a cost of $49, the Logitech K480 is not the cheapest tablet keyboard on the market, but it is cheaper than the Microsoft Universal keyboard that also connects to multiple devices and costs $64. If you are looking for bluetooth keyboard to use with a computer, and you use a tablet and smartphone, I think you will be pleased with the functionality that the K480 provides and therefore recommend it for your consideration.

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Exchange Did Not Think My Nexus 9 Was Encrypted

Google recently upgraded Gmail for Android so that it now not only works with Gmail but also with POP/IMAP and Exchange. Last night I configured Gmail on my Nexus 9 to work with an Exchange server that enforces a security policy requiring device encryption. I didn’t expect the encryption policy to be an issue because the Nexus 9 is encrypted by default, as shipped from the factory. Gmail, or the Exchange server, didn’t believe the tablet was encrypted and therefore it refused to synchronize.

When I tap Settings, Security, the Encryption section is as shown below, indicating that the tablet is Encrypted. Clearly there was a disagreement between Exchange and Android on the tablet.

After searching via Google, I found others who have had the same problem. The key piece of information is posted in this issue thread on Google’s Android forum.

If you have configured devices running versions of Android earlier than Android 5.0 (Lollipop) to be encrypted, and you have a Nexus 9, you should notice a difference in how the Nexus 9 boots up versus those devices. In prior versions you had to enter your device PIN or password once during the initial startup and then the device boots a second time to decrypt and startup. After the device boots, you have to enter that PIN or password a second time in order to access the device.

The default boot up process of the Nexus 9, with encryption enabled as indicated in the screen shot above, does not have the initial PIN or password prompt. Instead, it starts up just like any other, non-encrypted Android device, although you will have to enter the PIN or password in order to unlock it. Apparently, the Exchange policy that confirms whether the device is encrypted is checking to see whether that startup PIN or password is assigned, but it doesn’t provide this specific information.

The encryption policy requirement causes Gmail to force you down the path of encrypting the device, in other words, it acts as if it thinks the device is not encrypted. If the battery has at least an 80% charge, and is plugged into power, you can elect to encrypt the tablet. The encryption process will reboot the device, determine that it is encrypted, and leave you at the screen lock, and you will keep cycling though this process.

To make Exchange, and presumably any other application or process that requires it, recognize that the device is encrypted you need to configure Android to require a PIN or password at device startup. Tap Settings, Security, Screen lock, then enter your PIN or Password. Tap the option you prefer on the screen lock screen, in my case Password, to display the page below and select the option Require Password (or PIN) To Start Device and tap continue. You will be prompted to enter either a Password or PIN and specify how notifications display on the screen lock page.

After configuring my Nexus 9 to require a password at device startup, Gmail and Exchange recognized that the tablet was encrypted and data synchronization began. Assuming that the Nexus 9 is in fact encrypted by default as the settings indicate, Android should be reporting that a device startup Password or PIN is required rather than acting as if the tablet is not encrypted. As it exists right now, the user is sent down an infinite loop of executing the process for encrypting an already encrypted device and returning back to the Gmail Exchange account settings to encounter the Encryption Security policy requirement over and over.

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Wearing Android Is A Drain

I got a Moto 360 for Christmas, and while I am happy with the watch’s functionality, I’ve been struggling to manage battery life.

Unlike Android smartphones, Android Wear does not include what I consider to be robust battery monitoring tools. You can use the Android Wear app to see a graph of battery life, with a prediction on how long the watch will last before the battery drains, but it doesn’t provide specific information on what is consuming battery life.

Wear Battery Stats provides a little more detail, but it is not as good as the GSam Battery Monitor app I use on my Moto X. The one important piece of information that Wear Battery Stats does provide is the percent of battery consumed per hour, which is the best indication of how well the device is using power.

Initially, the Moto 360 consumed more than 10% of battery per hour, which is not good at all and results in much less than 12 hours of overall battery life. Twelve hours is the minimum amount of total battery life one can live with, truth is you really need about 14 to 18 hours to get one through a full day from waking up to going to bed. I can live with recharging the watch every night as I sleep.

I should mention that I have the very latest version of Android Wear on the Moto 360, it was pushed to the watch right after I initially set it up.

Several posts I found on the Internet suggested that there is a break-in time during which the battery monitoring syncs with the actual battery life, and this seemed to coincide with my experience. I have also found that watch faces, particularly ones that display information like the temperature and steps, can consume a lot of power. Facer is a popular app for downloading free watch faces and changing them on the watch, but I have found it consumes too much power just by being on my phone and watch. Watchmaker appears to have a much less hit on battery life.

Over several days I managed to get the hourly battery drain down to around 5%, but after my first commute to work today battery during the one hour commute was drained 25%. What was I doing?

During my commute I use Pocket Casts to play podcasts on my smartphone. When I checked Android Wear, it indicated that Bluetooth was the highest power consumer. Best that I can tell, it seems that because playing Pocket Casts causes media controls to appear on the watch, doing so drained the battery at an alarming rate.

I found that there is no way to disable media controls on Android Wear. I posted on Google’s product support forum of my experience and theory that media controls was causing the problem, but others responded saying they have no problems using media controls.

Next, I went to Motorola’s forums and found a thread started by others who found that after they installed the latest version of Android Wear, version 5.0.1, on their Moto 360, they had worse battery life than prior to the upgrade. (I note that prior to an update released on September, the almost everyone was experiencing poor battery life, but the September update seems to fix that problem.) Some reported on this thread that Bluetooth appears to be the highest consumer, which aligns to my experience this morning.

I followed instructions posted on the thread to uninstall Android Wear and Moto Connect, do a factory reset of the watch, then go through the first start setup process, which according to others, restored battery life to what it was before the 5.0.1 update was installed. I know I didn’t do a factory rest after the update installed on my watch, so I am hopeful this resolves the problem.

Unfortunately, I am not home right now so I cannot recharge the watch to observe whether the reset that I have performed has resulted in better battery life. If it continues to discharge at the previous rate the watch will be dead by the time I commute back home later this afternoon. I hope that the factory reset provides the fix to the problem.

What I am finding is that battery life is a huge issue with Android Wear. If one spends more than $200 on a device they don’t want to limit how it is used just to get the battery to last a full day. A smart watch needs to provide full functionality or it ceases being “smart” and not worth the cost. Certainly, features that cannot be disabled, like media controls, must not be huge battery drainers. If the media controls continue to be a problem the only solution I can think of is to not use my smartphone for listening to podcasts, which totally unacceptable. A smartwatch should not decrease my smartphone’s functionality, particularly given the fact that it is really a smartphone accessory.

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The Nexus 9 Is Great, But Lollipop Is A Tad Sour

Once the Nexus 9 began to ship, I read all the reviews written, and the consensus has been that the hardware build quality did not meet the expectations for a tablet at its $399 price. The reviewers were comparing the Nexus 9 to the Nexus 7, which drew high praise for a combination of features and low ($249) price. In my experience, I have absolutely no problems with the hardware build quality, but I have had problems with Android 5.0 “Lollipop.”

Most point out two hardware problems: flexing of the back case when pressing in the middle near the Nexus logo and light bleed along the edges of the screen. Consensus seems to be that these items are not show stoppers, but disappointing for a tablet that costs as much as the Nexus 9.

The back case of my Nexus 9 does not flex when I press on the middle near the logo. Either assembly and/or manufacturing improvements were made before my Nexus 9 was assembled, or people are being really picky. I do see some light bleed, most noticable near the top right of the Nexus 9, but again I really don’t see it as a problem. Frankly, I think people are using their disappointment over the price of the Nexus 9 to color their opinion rather than evaluating the device on its merits and how it best fits their needs.

Where I have seen problems using my Nexus 9 is in the software, and I suspect it is due to a combination of bugs in Android 5.0 and apps not being fully compatible with this latest version of Android. The Facebook app particularly seems to have a problem.

Occasionally the screen just goes black when attempting to return to the home screen, although I can see the top status bar and bottom navigation buttons. Sometimes I can resolve the problem by switching to another app, and then selecting home, but there have also been times when I have had to shut down and restart the tablet to get it functioning properly.

Another problem I have had is home screen widgets failing to update, and the only fix is to restart the tablet. I note that both problems relate to the home screen, and seem to me to be memory related. It’s possible there is a memory leak issue causing the problems.

The good news with software problems is that they can be fixed, and Google has already released an update to Lollipop, Android 5.0.1. Unfortunately, while 5.0.1 has decreased the frequency that these problems appear, it has not eliminated them.

What cannot be changed are the hardware features, and I can report that I am very happy with the Nexus 9 hardware. The most significant feature of the Nexus 9 for me is the screen size and corresponding aspect ratio, and I love both. Open a book in the Kindle app and what you see is nearly identical to the printed page of most books. Web pages are very readable, and content in Evernote and Pocket display wonderfully.

The Nexus 9 is not as light as the Galaxy Note 8 it is replacing, but is much lighter than my iPad 3. I cannot hold the Nexus 9 in one hand for as long as I do the Note 8, but it is more comfortable to hold in two hands for long periods of time than the iPad. Would I like it to be lighter? Sure, I wouldn’t complain if it where lighter, but I find it light enough.

Battery life for the Nexus 9 is not as good as the iPad 3, but given that the Nexus 9 is smaller and lighter than the iPad, I really don’t expect it to be. GSam Batttery Monitor showing average screen on time per charge of 5 hours, 20 minutes and most the time battery discharges at a rate of 2 to 3% per hour. I don’t think the battery is completely conditioned yet, but I am not having any problem with the battery running out during my normal daily use.

Bottom line is that I am happy with my purchase of the Nexus 9. As I wrote previously, I don’t find the iPad Air 2 more compelling and with a larger screen, I prefer the Nexus 9 over the iPad Mini. I say this while fully acknowledging a bias towards Android. While I disagree with other reviewers who think the Nexus 9 is too expensive given their problems with its build quality, I do think that unless a person has a bias between iOS or Android, a decision to purchase the Nexus 9 comes down to price.

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