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Android Wear's 5.0 update changes the way notifications are handled, and it's a mixed bag

Things are unchanged if your phone runs KitKat, but Lollipop users will be in for some learning

Android Wear recently added a whole bunch of useful tweaks and features, building on a new base of Android 5.0 Lollipop. Though the focus of the update was on proper APIs for creating third-party watch faces and new "theater" and "sunlight" modes, the latest Android Wear update also changes the way notifications are handled on your watch when you're connected to a phone that's also running Lollipop.

The changes are likely to evoke mixed responses from people depending on how they usually use their Android Wear watch and how they feel about Lollipop's new handling of notification priority. But in either case we can all benefit from a little better of an explanation of the situation — read on.

Things have changed

Notifications on Lollipop

As a good number of Android Wear users have yet to receive the Lollipop update on their watches, I've been testing things out on my G Watch connected to my Moto X running Lollipop. The biggest thing that stands out to me post-update on my G Watch is that notification priority is now synced between your phone and watch, so long as both are running Android 5.0. In contrast to the way Wear worked before, now if you set your phone to have priority or no notifications, your watch will reflect that change and be on the same mode.

At the same time, and much more frustratingly to me, if you pull down settings shade on your watch and toggle to none, priority or all notifications that state is synced back to your phone. It's a big and confusing change to anyone who was used to manually muting their watch with a single swipe and not having that action affect their phone, and one I'm still trying to get used to.

The change makes sense in terms of simplicity and not having to fiddle with your watch independently of your phone (and silencing my pocketed phone via my watch is kind of a neat trick), but there are still many situations in which I just want my watch silenced.

What can you do about it?

Theater Mode on Android Wear

Overall the new syncing notification states are probably an improvement, but where it doesn't make sense are those times that you want your watch to be silent, but not your phone. Thankfully when the watch is charging it is muted from vibrating on incoming notifications (but not calls, oddly), meaning you won't have to worry about additional little buzzing noises on your nightstand throughout the night.

Aside from tossing the watch on its charger, your only other options for silencing the watch without also silencing your phone are to full-on disconnect the watch — via a couple taps in the Android Wear app — or change the watch into "theater" mode. The latter isn't a great solution as it also turns off the screen completely (which is a bit overkill), limiting the usefulness of it as a time piece.

Still on Jelly Bean or KitKat? No need to worry

As interesting and confusing as the change is, if you have your Lollipop-running watch paired with a phone running an earlier version of Android, you get a standard mute switch on the watch that makes it silent as long as you want. No funny business with your phone, syncing or notification priorities — you can mute the watch and it won't change your phone in any way.

It's pretty clear at this point that many people aren't fans of the way Google is handling notification priority as a cheap excuse for a plain old "mute" switch on phones and now watches, but I have to say it's not nearly as bad as I thought at first glance on Wear. It's a net positive move — let's just hope the growing pains are small for most people getting the update this week.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

58 Comments
  • I love the idea of it. But a bit more granularity in priority, and I'd use "none" if it meant alarms would still ring. I silence my phone every night but I need the bloody alarm to go off. No way to do that now. Specific to Wear 5.0 I love that it syncs the state. I think it is a much better implementation setting it once and having it affect both devices.
  • I hope they add a toggle to have none mute alarms or to not mute alarms. I usually have my phone on priority which I have set up as my silent mode, while my watch would be set on normal so I forwarded my notifications to the watch. Now I can't do that as easily. Posted via Android Central App
  • Is there ever a time that you would want alarms muted though? I mean, that's why you can toggle alarms on and off in the clock app. Alarms should never be muted Posted via the Android Central App
  • I agree, if you want your phone/watch to not make a peep, for anything, including alarms, then you want flight mode, or power off.
  • Uugghhhh...Google just needs to add the mute switch back into Lollipop. For me, I like having the ability to silence my phone and yet still have my 360 buzzing to tell me my notifications. It's quiet enough without interrupting anything, and I still know what's going on on my phone.
  • Well you can do that via the Android Wear app, kinda, by turning on the "mute connected phone" setting.
  • True. I guess this is more just a convenience factor than anything.
  • Except it doesn't seem to work as you'd expect; my phone still rings with this option selected Posted via the Android Central App
  • Not working as expected here either. Was surprised when I received a phone call today at work and my phone started blaring out the Moto ringtone. Same setup as Andrew: G Watch connected to Moto X, both on Lollipop. It seems to be keeping texts and emails silenced just fine. FWIW this happens while notifications are set to "All" and "Mute connected phone" is enabled. I have priority notifications enabled for phone calls, but I only have priority mode set to be enabled during Downtime (which it is not when I'm testing this phone call issue).
  • Hunh interesting. Wonder if the setting is there for KitKat folks only. If so that's pretty bad to just leave it there for everyone. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I like to switch back and forth between having my phone notify me or not because sometimes I miss it if I'm actively doing something and only my watch vibrates. Sucks that I'll have to go into the settings to toggle this every time now.
  • in LP settings are synced watch/phone, so you can change the setting from your watch, and it will apply the phone as well.
  • Just got the Lollipop update on my LG G3, and the mute connected phone feature isn't working, and notifications aren't coming over at all to my 360, nor are phone call notifications.
  • So... I've used priority notifications on my phone, but had my 360 vibrate on everything. You tell me that's no longer possible? Either both devices go into priority or I have to set both to all? That's kind of a bummer.
  • Precisely.
  • Honestly it sounds like the update is an improvement. It took a minute to understand the notification of lollipop but I welcome it. If I put my wear watch to priority or none for notifications I'd expect the same on my phone and vice versa. And the theater mode shutting the screen off is great. Any amount of light not coming from the screen drives me nuts. I think you just need to get on 5.0 and you'll enjoy it. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Honestly, I like this idea. The Theater Mode replaces what used to be mute, while being more useful, and the new options allow me to better represent wanting everything silenced. Seems like a good call.
  • replace? my moto 360 still has the mute option along with theater mode and sunlight mode
  • You're running Lollipop on your phone, and the mute option doesn't mute your phone as well the way this article indicates? It has Mute in ADDITION to None, Priority and All?
  • Sorry, but Theatre mode does not replace mute. Mute only muted the device, not the watch. Theater mode mutes the entire watch,so I might as well turn my watch off. Also, I don't really care for the new profiles. They aren't relevant for me at all. I just need on, vibrate, and mute. Kind of makes me wish I could upgrade my 360 to the previous version. The only good thing is the improved watchface settings. Posted via the Android Central App
  • So damn obnoxious with the muting the watch and turning the phone back up when charging. Scared the shit our of me the other night. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I don't like the lollipop notification drawer. I like how I can customize my tiles on cyanogenmod. I guess I won't have this feature with cm 12? Posted via Android Central App on 1+1
  • Yep, this post was totally about the Notification drawer.
  • This is such a pain in the ass. Even when the watch is on NONE it will respond to rising it up and looking at it. I know you can turn this off in the app settings, but I liked it to brighten up when I looked at it and it wasn't silenced, and I liked it to not brighten up when I silenced it. And setting to none also turns off alarms...wtf?
  • Theater mode
  • And then you can't see the time. Great solution...
  • This is pretty annoying and kind of making me wary of getting a Wear watch. On my Pebble I always have my phone to not vibrate or make any noise because I get my notifications on my wrist. What is the point of having my phone vibrate if I have a smart watch? Isn't that point if the smart watch, so I can have that vibrate instead if my phone?
  • I don't really like this because I like having my phone on mute while having my watch give me all my notifications. I do see how it could help but in my case it sucks. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I do wish you could customize the different modes. Theater mode isn't as bad on the 360 because of the power button but I can see how that would be weird on anything without one. I would like a "sleep" mode similar to the pebble do not disturb mode (that can be set for specific times). Its a pain when I sleep with my moto 360 and it either buzzes for random notifications or flashes in my face anytime I move with ambient screen on. :/
  • i turn on mute and theater mode..
  • I haven't seen one benefit to the way notifications are handled now. They don't do what most people seem to want and they are confusing to set up. It's another thing Google changed that only a fanboy could love.
  • Android wear updated for me and didn't give me any of these features on my 360. Cool for me. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Phone is prob not on Lollipop yet, right?
  • I found the change refreshing. Before heading into my building I used to mute my phone with a long press on the power. On Lollipop, it became a several step process, exacerbated by having music/popcast playing because any use of the volume keys would change the media volume. I would have to pause the music, exit the app, press volume up/down, then click None. Now I make a couple clicks on the 360. Done. Posted via Android Central App
  • I'm okay with the new notification system in lollipop, I got used to just selecting none instead of pressing volume down. Does the same thing. Just selecting it on screen instead volume rocker. As for the watch I'm pretty mad about this change because there are times (at work) when I want no notifications on my phone... but want my watch vibration. So I know I got a notification with out disturbing others with phone sound or phone vibration on my desk. So this is a horrible change!! That just ruins 1 very important thing my watch was useful for. WTF Google?! Posted via the Android Central App
  • Perfect solution for people like you who don't care about getting notifications when their phone is silenced nor have alarms go off. For most of us we want our alarms to go off and we want to get notifications when the phone is silenced without vibrating and without the phone making all sorts of other systems sounds that priority notifications won't turn off.
  • Am I the only one having major battery drain on my watch since the update? I can't even last half a day now Posted via the Android Central App
  • Battery all fine here Posted via the Android Central App
  • Since the update (phone is still on KitKat) I'm having issues getting accurate deep sleep readings for the last three nights. Low readings for deep sleep three nights in a row (not even two nights in a row at these numbers) has never happened to me before. Also I've noticed that my number of steps seem to have increased. My theory is that since the watch OS upgrade to 5.01, it has increased sensitivity and therefore counts more steps than previously and interprets even the slightest movements during sleep tracking as a lack of deep sleep. Anyone else noticed this and have any ideas?
  • Is anyone else still waiting for the update? I sure wish there was a way to force the Moto360 to download an update. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Still waiting Posted via the Android Central App
  • I am new at the a Droid phone. I have an HTC EVO 4g/3g. Iike it. I have had it. Nearly 2yrs and I find something new everyday. Still wouldike to find out if my phone has lollipop on it?
  • You do not have it. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Sorry you don't have it and never will Posted via the Android Central App
  • I never have found myself in a situation where I want to mute the watch and not my phone, and can't really understand why one would. I do, however, often times want to mute my phone and not my watch.
  • Notifications on lollipop on a 1-10 scale is about a 5(to me), I hate the iOSish pop down, it takes up the screen when your doing anything and it doesn't even give you the full message, or even half, plus there not even actionable like iOS. I liked the previous kit kat way of it being incoherent in the status bar and giving the full message, I've never like the iOS style. And while there are some new features I do like about 5.0 AW I too enjoyed the mute pull down, they should have just gave 1 more option for only muting the watch, theater mode(?), how about watch silent mode... anyhow, Lollipop is a mixed bag for me so far but hey what do you do.
  • Yeah, the removal of the mute feature actually makes this "update" a significant downgrade. I already had the ability to change the phone's volume setting via Wear Mini Launcher, which I still use in place of the new UI. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Just like everyone else, I usually left my phone on silent and relied on the watch for notifications. This will be fine again when the mute connected phone action works reliably. It's very hit and miss. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Worked fine for me with the Mini Launcher app Posted via the Android Central App
  • Someone at Google really didn't think this one through. I'll be on KitKat until the next update to resolve this change. At least give us choices. Posted via the ACA on NEXUS 6
  • How to change my mnc on alactel. onetouch icon pop
  • Not really looking forward to this. I am constantly putting my watch on silent so it doesn't vibrate when I am in work meetings. However, I still want to know that I did get a notification so i want my phone to buzz. My phone buzzing in my pocket isn't as distracting to me, or the person next to me, as my watch buzzing... (Luckily, my phone isn't on Lollipop yet so I don't have to worry, but we'll see if it is still like that in the coming weeks...)
  • What I really want is for Android Wear to honor my request to block notifications from Navigation (Maps) and Music. I spend hours driving each day, and during that time I use Navigation and listen music/podcasts from my phone. Even though those apps are on my block list from the Android Wear app, and even though I muted all notifications on the watch by swiping down from the top of the watch screen, those apps still run down my battery.
  • I want to do the opposite. Mute my phone and only get notification on my watch.
  • I just got a zen watch and can't believe I can't have my phone silenced and have my watch vibrate. I thought this would be great for notifications at work. I think I might return it. Why do I need a watch for notifications if my phone has to be vibrating or making noise? I have to have my phone silenced and no vibrate at work.
  • Install Wear Mini Launcher. That is how I mute my phone at work, plus it's just an awesome app to have Posted via the Android Central App
  • I hate the way notifications now sync. I prefer to keep my phone muted at all times and use my Moto360 for notifications I'm interested in at any given time. I don't need both devices to alert me.
  • Why in the HELL would I EVER want to have notifications sync'd between devices? The whole point of a vibrating watch is so that my phone does not also vibrate too! I dont need to be notified twice by 2 damn devices for the same thing! That defeats the entire purpose! I would never survive as an employee at Google because I would have thrown fits up and down the hall decrying this stupid "feature" until they fired me. I would simply not have let it go! Sync'd notifications is stupid stupid STUPID!