Setting a timer or alarm has been one of my favorite conveniences since I started using a Wear device regularly 6 months ago. Granted, they aren't must-haves in my life, but they do come in handy occasionally, and I find myself using them on Wear more often than I would on my phone.
Google is probably well-aware these features get a comparatively high amount of use on Wear, so they've completely revamped the UIs and even added some features that make these tools even more useful. While we haven't yet highlighted the new activity launcher in our Wear 5.1 feature spotlights, you can find dedicated listings in that launcher for the timer, stopwatch, and alarm that were not present in the old "start" UI of Wear 5.0.
Android Wear 5.1 is surprisingly full of new features, and the lock screen may be one of the more exciting ones. Until now, there was no OS-level way to secure your Wear device from unauthorized use. With Wear 5.1, a pattern lockscreen has been introduced, and it should pop up any time Wear detects your device is no longer on your wrist. For a quick walkthrough of the feature, see the video below.
Setting up a lock screen is dead simple, just go into settings, find the lock screen option, and enter the 4-point-or-greater pattern you want to use (twice). At this point, your watch is set up to lock its screen whenever it no longer detects it's on your wrist.
App discovery on Android Wear isn't outstanding to start with, but one thing that always rubbed me the wrong way was just how blissfully unaware you could be that an app you had installed on your Android smartphone also installed a Wear mini-app on your watch. With Android Wear 5.1, you'll live in ignorance no longer: every time a new Wear app is installed on your watch, it'll serve up a notification letting you know, just like the one above (this is also true for watch faces).
Is it a small feature? Absolutely. But it's one of those things you're happy to have when you do, and might not even know you miss when you don't.
One thing that I've always found annoying about notification management on Android Wear is that dismissal is generally handled in bulk. If an app is serving you multiple notifications, like Inbox, for example, you can't go through each of those messages and dismiss them individually. Nope, you can either dismiss all of them or none of them (unless you use a specific action that subsequently dismisses the card, eg, "Done").
Android Wear 5.1 appears to have addressed this in some apps, with the Inbox, Hangouts, and Calendar apps on Wear now allowing you to dismiss single cards from a larger stack, instead of having to swipe them away en masse.
Wi-Fi connectivity has been one of the real headline features for Android Wear 5.1, and rightly so: this new functionality will allow your Android Wear device to stay connected to the internet even when your phone is nowhere to be found (so long as you have a saved Wi-Fi network nearby). Here's what we've learned about the feature in using it so far, including a video primer of how to get it set up.
First things first: this feature will not allow you to use a Wear device without ever connecting it to a smartphone. An Android smartphone is still required, because things like entering the Wi-Fi network password take place on the paired phone rather than the watch itself.