In a previous article I wrote at length about what I like about my Moto 360. I said in that article that I am happy with my Moto 360 and wear it every day. While I am able to list several reasons for using the Moto 360, there are a few things I wish were better: battery life and apps.
Managing battery life
My biggest beef with the Moto 360 has been battery life, however some changes have recently lead to a significant improvement. The bottom line is that a smartwatch must have at least 16 hours of battery life to get one from when they wake up until they return to bed.
It is not as easy to recharge a smartwatch as a smartphone, you have to take the watch off and then plug it in or place it on a charger, rather than simply plug in a cable as you do with a smartphone. Consequently, there is less notion of “topping off” a smartwatch battery and that means it must get through an entire day.
My early experiences with the Moto 360 were wildly different battery life results. One day I had the battery drain in as fast as four hours, the very next day I would get 14 hours, without really doing anything more than restarting the watch.
I wrote earlier of how I like to change watch faces, and I have learned that some faces can significantly drain battery life. Faces that display multiple things like the weather, watch battery life, and phone battery life might drain the battery faster than a face that just displays the date and time.
I posted several messages on Google+ seeking advice about what to do and got many suggestions ranging from re-establishing the connection to the Moto X to not using certain features and sticking with the “stock” faces that Motorola provides. When you pay nearly two hundred dollars for a device you don’t want to limit yourself by not using all its features simply to be able to use the watch throughout the day.
Bottom line is that Google and watch manufacturers have to make long battery life a primary objective for every new release of Android Wear and for every new watch. Fortunately, three recent changes have lead to significant improvement in battery life with my Moto 360, two of the changes came from something I did and one came from an upgrade to Android Wear.
What I Did To Improve Battery Life
The first thing I did was remove Google Fit, which is Google’s fitness monitoring app for Android phones and watches. Google Fit does a decent job of determining whether you are walking, running, or climbing stairs. I really like how the smartphone app displays your steps and progress, and I really wanted to keep using it, but many people were reporting that Google Fit caused a huge watch battery life drain.
After I uninstalled Google Fit from my phone, which it seems you have to do to get Fit to stop running on the watch, there was a noticeable improvement in battery life on the Moto 360. My guess is that the watch app is constantly sending information back to the phone so that it isn’t lost, and that may be causing the battery drain. Hopefully Google finds a way for Fit to not have such a huge hit on battery. In the mean time, I am using Moto Body to track steps on the Moto 360.
The next improvement came courtesy of Motorola when they finally pushed version 5.1.1. of Android Wear to my Moto 360. I don’t have any hard evidence that the upgrade to Android Wear has provided a big improvement, but it feels to me that it has and therefore I choose to give Motorola some credit with improving battery life.
Finally, due to issues I was having with my Moto X, I completely wiped and re-built both my smartphone and the watch. In this case I think the issue had to do with how Bluetooth functions as for now I see bluetooth connections being much more stable between the Moto X and a variety of devices, including the Moto 360.
Lack of apps
Smartwatch apps are challenging to develop. You are limited by very tiny screens and a few forms of input, so developers have a challenge in creating something useful. Consequently, there are few Android Wear apps available and many them have little value to me, but fortunately I find the built-in features of Android Wear provide enough value that I continue wearing my Moto 360.
Most of the watch apps that are available act as an extension to an app you have on your smartphone. For example, the Google Keep watch app displays all the notes you have in Google Keep on your smartphone. If you create a checklist, such as a shopping list, you can display and check off the items on that list on the watch, and that gets updated on the phone.
Google recently added the ability for apps to remain on the display, similar to how watch faces display. In previous versions of Android Wear all apps “closed” and were replaced by the watch face after a period of time, which made it cumbersome working with checklists in Keep. Now Keep stays on the display until you swipe it off, making it possible for you to continually see your shopping list as you are in the grocery store.
Most of the apps, like Foursquare and Glympse, that are on my watch came as part of the app on my phone, I didn’t seek them out. One app that I did specifically install is designed specifically for watches and is called Wear Battery Stats.
You can always see the percent of battery life left on your watch by swiping down on the watch face, however it can be challenging to translate a percentage into how many hours of battery life is left.
Wear Battery Stats displays a graph on your watch showing how fast the battery is being drained and will tell you in how many hours the battery will be empty. The information is also sent to your phone, where you can see a history of how the watch battery has drained over the last five days, which can be helpful in troubleshooting battery life issues. I recommend that everyone with an Android Wear watch install this free app.
The other app I use is IF, which is the app version of the Internet service IFTTT.com. I use the IFTTT.com service to integrate a number of different Internet services. You can create recipes that work with Android Wear, for example, I have recipes to turn the Phillips Hue lights in my house on and off, and I can trigger those recipes by tapping a button on my watch. I’ve also created recipes to quickly send “canned” text messages to my wife, like telling her I am on my way home.
Aside from Wear Battery Stats and IF, I don’t use the other apps on my watch very much. I do keep my eye out for new apps, for example, I really hope a version of MLB At Bat that will provide “near real time” updates of baseball scores will become available. Google Now only updates baseball scores after a few innings, but fortunately I can see scoring notifications from MLB At Bat on the watch.
Right now, one has to hunt to find truly useful watch apps, but fortunately, I think most people will be happy with just a few really good ones. All you might need is one really good reason to keep wearing a smartwatch. I see smartwatches as an accessory to my phone, therefore I find having quick access to notifications, text messages and email pretty useful.
Battery technology is a challenge for every mobile platform, we all desire devices that can go for days before having to be plugged in. One way that smartphone manufacturers have improved battery life is buy selling larger phones that can have larger batteries, but this won’t be an option for watches.
I am not going to wear a watch that is larger than the Moto 360, in fact if anything I want my watch to be smaller. Consequently, battery life is always going to be the great challenge for all smartwatch makers. I am looking forward to seeing how Google and companies like Motorola improve the battery life of smartwatches in the future.