The Moto 360 Turns One: 1st Birthday Follow-up Review

The true second generation of Android Wear devices are now upon us, with the release of the 2nd Gen Moto 360, and the upcoming release of the Huawei Watch, among other releases already on the market like the LG G Watch Urbane.

If you’re considering buying a smartwatch, you may be wondering how those first generation Moto 360s have held up, both physically and in terms of functionality. It is also worth noting that you can pick up the outgoing generation for half the price of the new one ($149.99 or less) and thus a review of the original may still be helpful. This is especially true given that many OS updates have happened since the launch period reviews, making much of their information out of date.

So: here are my impressions of the original Moto 360 after a full year of use, taking a look at how the device has held up physically, how it has performed, and the best features and apps of Android Wear.

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Durability and Appearance

When the Moto 360 was announced, I felt like it was a relatively good looking watch in general and a very nice looking smartwatch, and I still feel that way. The round, stainless steel design is modern and attractive without being gaudy or overbearing. Out of the box, it looked like this:

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It is absolutely not a small watch, but I think it is a reasonable size for me. The metal band wasn’t available when I purchased my watch, so I have one of the Horween leather bands. Considering that I’ve worn it every day, I think it has held up, with no tears, gauges, or significant damage. It does absolutely have a worn look at this point, though, and if I had to do it over again I’d probably be more inclined to purchase one with a metal band if I intended to wear it every day. It is worth noting that changing the bands on this watch is not nearly as easy as it is on the Apple Watch or Pebble Time.

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Physically, the watch itself has impressed me with its durability. In the first month of ownership in particular, I was constantly banging it into things, as prior to this it had been over twenty years since I’d worn a watch on a daily basis. While I never dropped it onto a paved surface, I certainly did fumble it and drop it a few times in the house, including a few falls from my night stand onto a hardwood floor.

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Despite all of this abuse, the watch still looks great. The screen has no visible scratches on it, for which I must commend Motorola. There is light wear on the case itself, mostly minor scratches you have to look for by angling it in the light, but considering a year of daily use, I’m very pleased with the lack of major scratches, dents, marks, or other blemishes.

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Performance and Battery

Upon release, the Moto 360 had three main criticisms leveled at it: battery life, performance, and the “flat tire”. Let’s examine how each of these has impacted my year with the 360.

Initially battery life on the Moto 360 was a legitimate concern. With moderate to heavy use and the watch set to Ambient Mode off, I was making it through a typical day but essentially running the battery all the way down. With Ambient Mode on, I could get through my work day, but would have to top up the watch after that.

However, Motorola’s first OTA update resulted in an immediate and major improvement to the device’s battery life. After this update, I’ve ended most of my days with 30-50% battery remaining if Ambient Mode is off, and with it on, typically 10-25%. Generally speaking, I wear the device from around 7:30am until 11:00pm. I haven’t really seen much degradation in the battery performance either, which was a concern of mine knowing that this is a battery that gets run down and recharged on a daily basis.

Performance was a concern on the original Moto 360 because unlike its competitors, which use a Snapdragon 400 processor, the 2014 version uses a much older TI OMAP processor which is both slower and less power efficient. I personally have not experienced significant issues with lag or stuttering in the UI of my 360, but it does happen at times. In a vacuum I don’t notice it, but in comparison side-by-side to the LG G Watch R, I did notice that the Snapdragon-powered watch had more fluid animation.

Note that the new Moto 360 for 2015 has also been upgraded to the Snapdragon 400, which puts it on par with competitors like the Huawei watch, LG G Watch Urbane, and LG G Watch R and enables it to have an always-on screen mode, so that other folks won’t see your watch like this most of the time:

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What is irritating about the original 360 is that because of the small battery and poor power management of its processor, it doesn’t have a functional always on display mode. This isn’t that problematic while standing or walking around and using the watch, as the movement of bringing up your arm and turning your wrist almost always turns on the watch display.

However, if you work in an office setting and have a desk job, you’ll likely find that the more common motion of just angling your wrist to see your watch isn’t sufficient to turn on the display; as a result you’ll have to either move your arm in a somewhat exaggerated fashion, or will have to power the display on using the side button.

[This tension between having a bright, crisp display or having longer battery life and an always on watch face is a difficult decision for smart watch buyers; I’ll look at this in detail in my upcoming Pebble Time Steel Review.]

With regard to the “flat tire” design, I’m somewhat torn; I honestly don’t even notice it any more unless the watch is compared to another like the Huawei Watch. That said, the auto-dimming feature that is added via the sensor that necessitates the “flat tire” look isn’t all that important to me, so if I had my option, I’d probably opt to have a fully round display with no auto-adjusting brightness feature. If you’re considering buying either the original or new Moto 360 and are concerned about this aspect of it, I’d say you can disregard it as a concern unless you’re really dead-set on a non-black watchface.

Android Wear Apps and Updates

When I first got the Moto 360, I was expecting to find and install a lot of apps for it, but instead found that Google’s vision was more centered on notification pushes and interactions rather than native watch-based applications. In fact, Android Wear upon first release did not have a native app launcher or app tray, a missing feature that has since been added via an OTA update.

In addition to its main use as a method of receiving notifications from my phone, I’ve gotten used to three very convenient features of the Moto 360:

  • Google Maps: Receiving directions right on my wrist while driving or walking is extremely convenient, and one of my favorite features of Android Wear.
  • Google Keep: There are a lot of ways to use Keep with Android Wear, but one of my most used is pushing checklists to my Moto 360 when I have a number of tasks to complete, whether those be “to do” tasks at work, or items to pick up at the supermarket.
  • Music and Media controls: Using the Moto 360 to pause and skip playback on Google Play and YouTube is very convenient, especially while discretely listening in situations like at work.

In addition to these Android Wear functions, I’ve also used the Moto 360 as a bedside clock for the past year; recent Android Wear OS updates let me change the color of the clock display when the watch is docked by swiping up and down, and perhaps my favorite function is that I can snooze or turn off my cell phone alarm on the 360 while it is docked.

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The Moto 360 also received the ability to use its wi-fi to connect to the internet allowing a remote connection to your phone as long as both are connected to the internet. This is theoretically useful, but hasn’t been something I’ve needed, and in fact I’ve turned off the wi-fi to preserve battery life.

Final Thoughts

While Android Wear felt incomplete upon its launch, refinements and improvements over the past year make it easier to navigate, and in particular, easier to access settings and launch applications.

With regard to the Moto 360 itself, I’m very happy with how the watch has held up physically, although if you’re going to use this as your everyday watch, I’d definitely suggest going with a metal band.

If you’re not sure that Android Wear is for you, the lower prices of the outgoing generation of watches are a good way to check out the platform at a lower expense, and should have a good year or two of usability left.

Of course, that’s the issue with smartwatches: unlike regular watches, these are much more tech gadget than jewelry, so you always have incentive to buy the newest ones to maximize their relevance. The 2nd generation Moto 360 for 2015 updates the processor, and adds much more customization options via Moto Maker, as well as an “always on” display mode, making it worth the additional expense if you’re committed to the concept of wearing a smartwatch.

If the idea of charging your watch every day sounds far too bothersome, or you need a smartwatch that has more focus on watch-based applications, check out my review of the Pebble Time Steel, coming soon!

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