Review: UPDATED: Moto 360

Review: UPDATED: Moto 360

Introduction

Update: Android 5.1 was released with the LG Watch Urbane first and now it’s starting to roll out to a few other Android Wear smartwatches.

The Moto 360 has finally received its update meaning it can now connect via Wi-Fi so you’re not stuck with your phone everywhere, scroll hands free with a flick of your wrist, access contacts quicker, doodle emojis and have the face always on. The interface has also been tweaked for a better Android watch experience.

The update should have downloaded over the air but if not, go into the settings on your phone to check.

Review continued below …

Moto 360 proves that smartwatches can be as fashionable as its Google Now-integrated software is functional, making it the first Android Wear watch worth strapping to your wrist.

Its circular watch face takes cues from stylish designer wristwatches with analog tickers, not square-shaped smartwatches. The very computerized-looking Pebble Steel, Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch are no match for what Motorola had up its sleeve.

There’s a certain beauty to outer Moto 360 build quality too, not just its form. Its stainless steel housing and genuine leather default wristband make it appropriate for almost any occasion. It’s enough to make it rank second in our best smartwatch list.

The specs on the inside, however, do leave the smartwatch feeling a little hollow. Poor battery life and an underperforming processor don’t do Moto 360’s good looks justice. The watch’s charm is shortened by its lack of longevity, but Motorola clearly shaped a winner that’s more ambitious looking than the overly boxy Apple Watch.

Moto 360 review

Release date and price

Moto 360 launched in the US on September 5, and it’s currently on sale (but sold out) at select UK stores while on pre-order at others. Expect it to ship again with a late October release date from O2, Clove, Amazon, John Lewis and Tesco. In Australia, it’s still on track for the vague fourth quarter.

The Moto 360 price in the US and UK is on par with its all-metal construction and leather strap. It costs a reasonable $250 (£200, likely AU$275). That’s $100 cheaper vs the entry-level Apple Watch.

That’s only a little more expensive than the extremely limited Android Wear smartwatch pickings from Samsung and LG, none of which can compare to Motorola’s stylish design. Moto 360 may be cheaper than rival round smartwatch competitor LG G Watch R too, so it’s reasonably priced.

Display

There are few sharp-edged downsides to the Moto 360, and none of them can be found on its round, 1.56-inch LCD display. In fact, Motorola’s enterprising circular screen is so attractive it instantly became the antithesis of the "smartwatches look like a miniaturized cell phone worn on your wrist" argument when Google first announced Android Wear in March.

Complimenting this traditional watch appearance is Moto 360’s always-on screen. It tells the time even when its backlit LCD kicks into a power-saving dimmed display mode. It shares this feature with the Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch along with Gorilla Glass 3 protection. All three watches remained scratch-free during our week-long testing periods.

Moto 360 review

Moto 360 further draws circles around its competition with an ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts the LCD brightness. It’s especially convenient when you need a bright screen in sunny conditions or want to reduce battery life consumption in dark environments without having to manually adjust the setting. Walking and fiddling with a tiny touchscreen you can’t even see outside is a wearables world problem that Moto 360 solves. Pebble has this bonus feature sans a color-rich screen, while the colorful Galaxy Gear and G Watch do not.

This does mean that the Moto 360 LCD isn’t a full circle. Its ambient light sensor and display drivers are housed inside a blank horizon line that sits at the bottom of the watch face. While the black bar doesn’t ruin the analog watch experience, the screen is cut off and it has allowed the LG G Watch R to tout itself as the first "full circle" Android Wear smartwatch. LG is hiding the components inside the outer bezel, masked with second-hand tick marks, while Motorola chose to extend the screen pixels to the edge. It’s really a matter of preference.

Moto 360 review

Filling that nearly perfect circle is 205 pixels per inch with a 320 x 290 resolution. That’s roughly the same resolution as the smaller Gear Live but fewer pixels vs Samsung’s 278ppi. Doing the math, this means Moto 360’s bigger LCD has stretched pixels and there’s a noticeable "screen door effect" in a side-by-side comparison. Moto 360 also forgoes a fancy OLED screen like Samsung’s smartwatches and sapphire glass like the forthcoming Apple Watch. But it’s a better trade-off given the on-point price.

Hands and wrists down, Moto 360 has the best-looking smartwatch design thanks to its circular display that other smartwatches are clearly looking to mimic.

Design and comfort

Update 3/10/2015: Moto Maker is the tool that lets users in some regions and on certain carriers customize the Moto X, and now, you’ll be able to use a new version of the program for your Moto 360.

Starting in March, the Moto Maker will let you design a 360 with the following options: silver, black and champagne gold casings, two sizes of leather or metal bands and 11 different default watch faces.

You’ll be able to pick your favorite configuration, seeing the watch’s look update in real time – and once your custom 360 arrives you’ll be able to freely exchange it for a different design if you don’t like it after seeing it in person.

Review continued below …

There’s more to the Moto 360 design than its disk-shaped display. Stainless steel surrounds the screen with very little bezel and this all-metal frame is smooth and undecorated. It’s only interrupted by a microphone hole on the left and single button on the right. Stainless steel can also be found in the traditional watch clasp with an identical silver finish.

Matching that quality is a genuine leather strap made by the Chicago-based tanner Horween, the company known for being the exclusive provider of NFL footballs. The Moto 360 strap not only feels durable, the leather has been devoid of the typical stretch marks and wrinkles that, after a few fastens, so often mar other smartwatch bands including the Pebble Steel.

Moto 360 review

This also contrasts with the Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch even more because they use plastic casing and rubber straps out of the box. Motorola is making leather the default strap in the US and UK. The first colors introduced are black and gray, while an even lighter stone leather option is listed as "coming soon." Falling under the same here-but-not label are light and dark stainless steel bands that are going to cost extra $299 (likely north of £224, $299) when they launch with the watch.

You can always upgrade to the metal straps later, as they’ll be sold separately too, or add a third-party 22mm band. But be warned: Motorola doesn’t guarantee all 22mm off-the-shelf bands are compatible with Moto 360. Plus, its own custom-made leather slips out of the rear of the stainless steel housing without lug ends or visible spring bars. It looks elegant, but requires patient digging in order to successfully swap out what’s already a great default strap.

Moto 360 review

Even with the premium materials on-board, Moto 360 weighs 1.7 oz (49g) with its genuine leather strap. That’s actually lighter than both the Samsung Gear Live at 2.1oz (59g) and LG G Watch at 2.2oz (64g).

Motorola comes up a little light in the specs, as we look beneath the stainless steel facade.

Specifications

Update 12/15/2014: Motorola has stated that all Moto 360 devices should now have received the Android 5.0 Lollipop update, bringing all of the cool new features of Google’s latest mobile operating system to its wearable.

Smartwatch specs are often considered boring because they’re filled with small numbers and purposefully underperforming processors next to today’s monster PC components. That’s why a lot of manufacturers are quick to tout the outward appearance before hastily glossing over the lightweight internals. Moto 360 takes this to a whole new level.

There’s a Texas Instruments OMAP 3 processor making this digital smartwatch tick, and it’s about four-year-old technology that can also be found in the MotoACTIV and Moto Droid X. Maybe Motorola had to burn through these 45nm chips instead of opting for the more efficient, yet capable Qualcomm-made 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 found in the LG G Watch and Gear Live.

Moto 360 review

The TI OMAP 3 translates into occasional lag when swiping through Android Wear menus, almost as if you didn’t apply enough pressure on the touchscreen. It’s not you, though, it’s the the turn-of-the-decade chip. Just as frustrating is that the watch’s connection to our phone (and therefore the internet) was lost several times, more than with its Google-powered rivals.

Even with a decently sized 320mAh battery listed on the specs sheet, the inefficient Moto 360 processor taxes its – at best – day-long battery life before it shuts down. That shouldn’t be. Our Samsung Gear Live ran even longer with a Super AMOLED display with a 300mAh battery. Likewise, we got a day and a half out of the LG G Watch with a 400mAh battery.

Moto 360 review

Moto 360 does come with 512MB and 4GB of internal storage, exactly like the Samsung and LG watches, so the blame lies squarely on the round watch’s inferior chip. It does lack the GPS capabilities being introduced with the Sony Smartwatch 3 later this year and offline music playback that is expected to be a part of future Android Wear watches.

However, Motorola managed to make Moto 360 somewhat workout-worthy thanks to a built-in optical heart rate sensor and pedometer neatly integrated into its first-party fitness app.

Interface, apps and fitness

Update 12/12/2014: Along with two new band colors – silver and the new champagne gold – Android Wearhas been updated with Android 5.0 Lollipop meaning the Moto 360 should have some nifty new functions coming soon.

The update is focusing on watch faces which you can download from the Google Play store. Designs are centered around PAC-MAN, Despicable Me, Plants vs Zombies (which you can check out below) and much, much more thanks to a new Watch Face API now available to developers.

The Android Wear app has also been updated to make browsing, downloading and switching watch faces simpler – plus you can now view your apps’ battery usage and storage. You can also quickly bring a card back if you’ve accidentally dismissed it, quickly access various settings by swiping down from the top of the screen, easily block notifications from any app directly from your watch and recently used actions now appear at the top of the list when you tap the watch face.

New modes include Theater Mode which lets you keep the screen off and mute vibrations when you’re in a dark room, and Sunlight Mode which temporarily boosts the screen to maximum brightness.

With the update, users can add and swap out Android Wear watch faces using the companion phone app.

Moto 360

Moto 360

Moto 360

Original review continued below …

Moto 360 runs the same Android Wear as every other Google-powered smartwatch. It has a familiar card-based interface lifted from Google Now and Google Glass, and it often slides contextual information onto the screen in addition to text messages and important email. This time, however, it’s all done on a circular screen.

Moto 360 review

The round display doesn’t really change swiping up and down between different notifications and flinging them to the right to clear them. Sliding your finger left still explores the pop-ups a little more, whether you want to transition from today’s weather to a full five-day forecast or access messaging options like "reply with voice," "delete" or "open on your phone."

Most of information is actually "glanceable" with little touchscreen interaction needed. Android Wear is designed to predict what you want to know, meaning commute times to places you’ve searched, frequently visit and add to your calendar appointments should automatically slide into view. Same goes for friends’ birthday reminders, stock data and tracking of packages. It all sits right under the current time without you needing to set anything up.

Moto 360 review

That came into play when I searched for the nearby Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field after touring Motorola’s headquarters. Sure enough, right before I left for the ballpark, it listed the commute time complete with traffic. When I got to the game, Moto 360 followed along in near real-time with score updates. Gray clouds gathered during the seventh inning and Moto 360 beamed me a timely severe weather alert about three minutes before rain suddenly whipped through the historic stadium. Everyone else, including the grounds crew, was caught by surprise.

Moto 360 review

That rain delay gave me an opportunity to test out Android Wear’s voice recognition feature by saying the magic words "Okay Google" whenever the screen is active. Dictating texts messages to friends without retrieving my phone with my slippery hands made the 30 minute wait a little more Chicago bearable. When the game was officially canceled, saying "Okay Google, call a car" summoned Lyft. Uber is still missing out on the novelty of having its users summon a car sort of like Batman can do with his Batmobile.

Google’s software picks up the right words most of the time, though it doesn’t work well in noisy crowds or give you much time to think. A one-second pause transitions to the "sending" menu on its part and initiates frantic canceling on yours.

Apps and fitness

Moto 360 launches with a few more apps than early adopters who bought the Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch had access to on July 7. There are now 44 "featured" apps that are part of the Google Play Store’s Android Wear section, up from the original 35 apps.

Eat24 makes sure that food delivery is within arm’s reach, Wunderlist lets you organize a better to do list and Tinder lets you swipe left and right on potential dates that you’ll never actually go on. These new Moto 360 apps join existing top names like Groupon, IFTTT, All the Cooks recipes, American Airlines and Glympse.

Moto 360 review

Glympse is particularly useful on a watch because it sends your location to contacts of your choosing. Meeting up with someone while you’re busy walking or driving? Say "Okay Google, start Glympse" and send them your real-time GPS coordinates in an instant. They can follow you for a set period of time on their phone, taking the guessing game out of that meet-up time.

Google Maps is still one of the most useful Android Wear apps. Asking Moto 360 to "navigate to…" initiates turn-by-turn directions on the watch while starting the full route mapping on your phone. It beats having to deal with the normal phone interface that’s dangerously complex and takes too many presses in order to get where you’re going.

Moto 360 review

Moto 360 doubles as an activity tracker, and it’s a slightly better workouts companion than the Gear Live or LG G Watch. That’s because Motorola goes a few pedometer steps further with a heart activity app that tracks how you’re performing against daily and weekly benchmarks. My custom goals require 30 minutes of running and the watch counts down the minutes over the course of the day while also adding up all of my steps. Swiping to the left, I can then see a (hopefully) built-up streak Sunday through Saturday.

Google Fit is here too. It uses the watch’s built-in pedometer and heart rate monitor whenever I ask "Ok Google, show my steps" or "Ok Google, show me my heart rate." It counts up the metrics on small-scale graphs and timelines, which isn’t enough to compete with the Jawbone Up 24, Basis Carbon Steel Edition and Fitbit Force. There’s also no way to see this data on a phone or tablet just yet. That may come with the Android L launch.

Motorola also promises more functionality in future software updates including the ability for the Moto 360 to recognize when your transition from running to cycling without your manual input. That’s a rare feature among watches, and one we liked from the brainy-but-ugly Basis Carbon Steel fitness tracker.

Compatibility and battery life

Moto 360 is compatible with all Android smartphones that run Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, Android 4.4 KitKat and the not-yet-delicious-named Android L beta. The requirement is in place due to the fact that Google introduced Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy support in its July 2013 update. You’ll find this is demanded by almost all modern smartwatches and fitness trackers.

Android 4.2 Jelly Bean users are out of luck as are loyal iPhone owners. Neither the iPhone 5S nor the flashy new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus can sync with the Moto 360, as much as Apple fans may envy the round smartwatch that outclass the newly unveiled Apple Watch. So far, no Android Wear watch is compatible with iPhone.

Moto 360 review

As for its compatibility with water, Moto 360 isn’t completely waterproof, but it did receive an IP67 water and dust resistance rating. It can be worn in the shower, rain and when you sweat, and can survive one meter down for about 30 minutes before you run into trouble. Keep in mind, none of these scenarios will bode well for the default leather strap.

Our first week of Moto 360 battery life tests always gave us a few hours shy of a full day per charge. Its 320mAh battery is better than the 300mAh battery found in Samsung Gear Live, yet it actually lasted less time than the Samsung’s smartwatch.

Three weeks in, a Moto 360 firmware update extended the battery life and we became more diligent at turning off the screen and ambient light sensor sometimes. We didn’t quite see the two days that others have reported, but the battery finally bested previous its 24-hour mark with a solid day-and-a-quarter of moderate use. Better, but still not good enough.

The LG G Watch leads the Android Wear lineup with a still-unacceptable day-and-a-half of battery life, and LG may retain that honor with a 410mAh battery in the LG G Watch R. Pebble Steel and the original Pebble remain the overall smartwatch kings of longevity with up to seven days between charges.

At least there’s a novel way to recharge the Moto 360. It comes with a Qi charging dock that is perfect for resting the watch on a nightstand and instantly turning it into a small bedside clock. It dims the display so that you can still see both the clock in the dark and the energy ring that completes the battery’s circle of life by reaching 100%. This takes about two hours before the Moto 360 is ready for another 24-hour day.

Moto 360 review

Our tests have found that Moto 360 is compatible with other chargers like Google’s own Nexus Qi charger meant for the Nexus 5 smartphone and Nexus 7 tablet. The included Qi charger is small enough to tout around in a backpack, but its major drawback is that you have to remember to pack it. Spontaneous daytrips will often leave you without a way to juice it up again and, in effect, turn Moto 360 into a paperweight that can’t even tell you the time of day.

It doesn’t have the more practical micro USB port that the newly announced Sony Smartwatch 3 is going to have, but the Moto 360 charging method is much more futuristic and cool. That better fits the stylishing theme that Motorola is going for with its watch.

Verdict

Moto 360 is the Google-powered smartwatch that early adopters have been holding out for, and it has finally started ticking. Motorola is just in time too. Less than a week after it launched, the fabled iWatch turned into the real 2015-bound Apple Watch. The full-circle LG G Watch R also went into production for a fall release.

But now that it’s here, Moto 360 is the best Android Wear smartwatch next to the slim pickings from Samsung and LG. Its cut-off bottom that houses the screen tech doesn’t bother us, and we kind of like the fact that this pushes the pixels out to the edge in place of an ugly bezel. It’s a nice effect that compliments the overall design that’s fashion-forward, specs last.

Moto 360 review

We liked

Moto 360’s circular display is attractive, and it outclasses every other smartwatch with more than just that thanks to its premium build. Stainless steel casing and genuine leather straps really contrast with the plastic and rubber-constructed Gear Live and G Watch. The ambient light sensor, a first for an Android Wear watch, gives its almost full circle screen an edge too.

Its Qi inductive charger is leagues better than the proprietary Pogo pin chargers used by both Samsung and LG. Rounding out its attributes, Moto 360 is lighter, more comfortable and has better fitness tracking capabilities for a price that isn’t much higher than its rivals.

Moto 360 review

We disliked

It’s clear that the later-than-expected Moto 360 release date wasn’t enough time to perfect the first circular Android Wear smartwatch. Battery life is often 18 to 24 hours with normal use and the LCD isn’t as crisp as the Super AMOLED displays found in Samsung’s never-ending lineup of smartwatches.

The Texas Instruments OMAP 3 processor doesn’t do it any favors either. It’s underpowered in terms of performance, yet requires more actual power than the efficient Snapdragon 400 chips used by Samsung and LG. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

The small Qi charging dock, while a step in the right direction, may leave you stranded without a way to charge and leave you out of luck. Completely missing the boat are envious iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus owners, as even the new iOS 8 isn’t compatible with the stylish Moto 360.

Moto 360 review

Final verdict

Moto 360 has been on our wrists for a week and, unlike its short battery life, it has become an undying source of questions from tech-savvy and fashion-focused admirers alike. It’s not always functional to show off to these folks. That constantly draining battery and archaic processor means the watch occasionally fails to respond. Nevertheless, its round design really does bridge the gap between geeky smartwatches and traditional watches.

That’s to be expected. Motorola’s marketing team likes to tell a story about how the company asked a group of children to draw a watch. Almost every youngster drew a circular watch. It’s the iconic watch design that Samsung and LG didn’t tackle, and Apple Watch misses entirely. Motorola, of all companies, comes through with a real winner. It’s ready for the Apple Watch vs Moto 360 watch face-off.

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