Use these tips to get the most out of that little block of polymer
If you picked up an Android Wear watch, or know someone who picked one up, or just listen to what people are saying on the Internet, you know that battery life is a big issue for many new watch owners. The need for frequent charging combined with a tiny proprietary charging cradle to keep track of isn't the best experience in the world. Never mind the fact that finding a second charger is a bit like pulling hens teeth, so you have to take it with you or be at the same spot every time you want to top things up.
We've been testing different things over the past couple of weeks, and now we can stretch things out a bit further, and in a pinch can go two full days without the watch meeting the charger. Everyone uses their watch in different ways, but using these tips will keep your watch on your wrist — and off the cord — longer.
Brightness makes a big difference
And this is a tough one to overcome. Even at the highest brightness level, you can barely see anything on both the Gear Live and the G Watch if you head outside under the bright sun. We have a feeling the Moto 360 won't be any different. If you're working or playing outside, you'll need to have it cranked way up or you're that guy who is trying to use one hand to cast a shadow over the screen so you can read it. We get it — tiny battery means you can't crank the screen over 9,000 nits. But we still would like to see this addressed in future hardware somehow. It will be interesting to see how the rumored Apple iWatch handles this if we ever see it.
In the meantime, know that setting the screen brightness to 1 can dramatically increase your battery life — just like you would expect it to do. You'll have to find that balance where the brightness is high enough to see, but low enough to save a little juice. Maybe an ambient light sensor can help here, and we hope to see one in upcoming products. It's also worth noting that while the LG G Watch brightness has an extra step (it goes to six, while the Gear Live goes to five) screen brightness makes a bigger difference in the Samsung Gear Live.
Always on isn't a big factor
In the Android Wear software there is a setting to keep the screen awake all the time, albeit in what's called a "dim mode." In this dim mode, things are in black and white and everything is at a very low brightness. The benefit here is that you can always see the time and if you have a notification (based on the Android Wear app settings). Tapping the screen or raising your wrist brings things back to normal.
You can shut this off in the settings, and when your watch is idle the screen will be off. Raising your wrist or tapping the screen still brings things right back to normal, so thinking this is a battery saver is a natural conclusion. It probably is to some extent, but it's not a big enough factor to make a difference in "real-life" tests here.
If I were pressed to put a number to things, I would say you'll get a couple of extra hours over the course of two days at most by turning the screen off. I also didn't see much of a difference between the Gear Live and the G Watch here. If you want your watch to always be a watch, leave this enabled — it's not going to destroy the battery. They are watches after all, they need to act like a watch, right?
Use the snooze
When you don't need or want your wrist to be buzzing every time your mom emails you to ask how to "work" her new phone, you can turn the notifications off. Just pull down from the main screen on your watch and notifications will cease until you pull down again to turn them back on. While notifications are off, your screen isn't lighting up and the vibration motor isn't running. Both of those things need juice. Turning them off means they no longer use your juice.
This is a good way to extend your battery life if you have a routine where it works. While I'm at my desk doing Android Central stuff, my phone is laying right on the desk in front of me. If I don't want my watch to go off because I'm in front of the computer and have my phone out already, I can shut them down.
And shutting down notifications can make a huge difference ...
It's all about the notifications
This is what kills your battery, plain and simple. When you get a notification on your wrist, the screen of your watch lights up and comes on for a few seconds. Those seconds add up, and if you're constantly getting notifications, you're going to need to visit that little charging cradle at least once a day. If you have the screen brightness cranked up high, it gets even worse.
Of course, having notifications on your wrist is a big part of the allure of Android Wear, so turning them off is a bit like having a shiny new riding mower and no gas. Luckily, the Android Wear app on your phone allows you to fine tune what gets sent to your watch. This made a big difference here, and when I shut down the things I would never want to see on my wrist battery life got better. It still wasn't good, but it was better. I had to go deeper.
We all get the mails that come in to the Android Central email account. That's a good bit of mail. I was also monitoring the AC Twitter, and I'm sure the Google+ or Facebook account would be the same — the screen can never get enough sleep. I shut off Twitter, and made a few filters in my AC Gmail so things would skip the inbox. Again, things got better but still not good enough. Phil was getting better battery life than I was, and we were basically doing the same things with our watches.
Then I noticed that Gmail was still lighting things up all the time. My personal Gmail. I'm not that popular, so I had to take a long look at all the stuff coming in to see how I could adjust. In my case, it was as-they-happen Google groups updates. I'm subscribed to just about all the Google product and technology groups, and every time one rolled in my watch(es) woke up to tell me. I jumped into the settings for the various groups and scaled things back to a daily digest of notifications.
No more 200-plus emails a day, and my battery life went from absolute crap to something I could deal with.
By learning how to better manage my Gmail notifications, I doubled the battery life on my new watch. Gmail may not be your culprit, but chances are whichever app is notifying you the most has some settings somewhere that you can adjust to filter out what is important enough to show up on your wrist, and what can wait until you go looking for it. If you take the time to do this, you'll be glad you did.
My current battery life stats
At it's worst, I was getting less than eight hours from my Gear Live. I had the screen always on, I had the brightness cranked way up and had far too many notifications for things I wasn't going to read right away coming in. The G Watch was a little better, but not much.
Now, with my screen brightness at two (yes, I head for the shade when I'm outside and my wrist vibrates) and the screen still in always on mode I can stretch things out to two full days of battery on the average. I use the snooze feature when I'm asleep or at my desk with my phone in front of me, and I've found a balance.
You'll have to find your own balance, because the way you use your watch is going to be different than the way I use mine. Use these few tips to help, and you can spend more time away from the little charging dock.