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Android Wear update: all of the new features explained and how to update

Google is updating Android Wear with tons of new features in order to compete against the Apple Watch, including phone-free notifications, handwriting recognition and gesture support.

Google’s update will roll out to the LG Watch Urbane today and other Android Wear devices later in the week, and you can install the new features on your device by updating the Android Wear app on your smart device.

The refresh introduces WiFi for capable devices, without the need for a smartphone, allowing users to go outside the Bluetooth range of their smartphone and still receive notifications, make calls and use Google Now.

Another new addition which will hit with the update is the ability to draw Emoji and have them translated into the real thing on-screen. The feature was shown off last week in Google’s Handwriting Input app and it promises to make replying to messages and emails even quicker and easier, if you’re the type to fill your messages with winking smiling faces.

All you’ll have to do is trace your hand on your watch’s screen and draw what you want – a smiley face, a thumbs up, a flaming dog turd – and there it will appear. If there’s any uncertainty you’ll be presented with a menu populated by emojis which match your scrawl, allowing you to tap on the right one.

In our time with the Handwriting Input app we’re hugely impressed with its ability to recognise your scrawls, so this feature promises to be a great addition.

Another standout feature is the new gesture support. Google’s update will let users navigate their device without even touching the screen by waving their mitts at their watch. For instance, you can scroll back and forth through Google Now cards by flicking your wrist outwards or inwards, which won’t at all look weird when you do it in public.

Google has also included three homescreens in the Android Wear update. Swiping from left to right, the first screen will be populated by apps, the second will feature your contacts and the third will give you instant access to voice search.

Finally, the low-power feature – which was previously used to display a watch face on your Android Wear wearable when it was resting – will be available to all apps, letting them display only the information they need without gobbling up your battery life.

This massive Android Wear update will certainly breathe new life into devices which, up until now, may have been a bit clunky to use. And with the next generation of Android smartwatches inbound, the OS will now appear as much more of a threat to Apple’s Watch, due to launch on April 24th.

Read next: Android Wear tips n tricks

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