Moto 360: A Beautiful Beta

When Motorola revealed the Moto 360, the initial reaction was overwhelmingly positive: finally, a smartwatch that actually looked, well, like a watch.

It wasn’t so much that Samsung and LG’s smartwatches were unattractive, per se, it was just that they didn’t look like a traditional watch design. There was no chance that someone would look at them and think, “That’s a good looking watch!” Their large size, square design, and mediocre to poor watchbands set them apart from what we think of as a quality watch design. That makes them fine as a gadget for people really into technology, but not really functional as an all-purpose watch.

The 360 changed that:

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There’s really no question that the Moto 360 is hands-down the most attractive smartwatch currently on the market. How did Motorola do with the internals of the device, and is Google Wear worth your money at this point?

Design

Before we look at what the Moto 360 does, let’s look at the design and features of the device. The most notable and distinguishing feature of the Moto 360 is its round design, which more than anything speaks to our understanding of what watch design is “supposed” to be.  To stress this, even the box is round:

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That said, it isn’t just the round watch face that makes the 360; the entire design is visually appealing.

Motorola offers two options at launch: one silver with grey leather watchband, and one black with a black leather watchband, both with stainless steel bodies. Both cost $249.99 and include the watch itself plus a Qi charger, which we’ll discuss more shortly.

The strap, made of Horween leather, can be replaced with any standard 22mm watchband. That said, the strap attachments are somewhat inside the device itself and thus not the easiest to change out. The leather is comfortable and high-quality, though as you’d expect with leather, needs to be kept away from water and wouldn’t make a great sport watch.

Weight comes in at 49 grams, which is quite light on the wrist, especially given the dimensions. This is a relatively large watch, but not overwhelmingly so. For me, I think it is actually right about the size I’d want. Having said that, I’m a 6-foot tall guy; I think the design would look bulky on most women and probably also on some men who are on the thin side.

Later this year, versions with metal bands will launch at $299.99 or separately for $79.99.The screen is a round, 1.56″ LED display, 320×290 with 205 ppi. There are a few things to note here.  First, the pixels per inch may not sound great in a world of super high-resolution displays on phones and tablets, but for a watch, it is more than sufficient. Even upon close review, the watch faces look good, but you can see individual pixels especially when reading notifications and Google cards at a close distance.

The 360 is also rated IP67 for dust and water protection. This is reassuring, though for now with only a leather band, you definitely don’t want to shower with it on regardless.

In addition to interacting via the touchscreen, the 360 includes dual microphones, a vibration motor, and a single button on the right side of the watch, which can turn on the display (short press) or access the settings and application menu (long press).

The LED touchscreen display is responsive and the display is visible outdoors; you can read it in direct sunlight, though obviously it looks much better when not in those conditions. It is coated with Gorilla Glass and should hold up reasonably well to normal use and abuse.

There is something worth noting about this “round” display, though, which you can see in the picture below:

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You may have noticed that the display dimensions are 320 x 290; there’s a black bar at the bottom of the screen. This allowed Motorola to keep the device from having a thick bezel and avoided having to widen or thicken the watch. For some, this design trade-off has been a deal-breaker. For me, honestly, I barely even notice it. In particular, if you’re comfortable with a watchface design with a black background, you can mask it relatively well.

For comparison, you can see the alternative take with a round display and bigger bezel on the LG G Watch R, which is coming later this year.

Whether you like the design of the 360 is a matter of opinion, but I think Motorola did an excellent job overall with the 360’s appearance. It looks and feels like a watch, and an attractive one at that. The delay on the metal bands is unfortunate for those who prefer that to leather. The only significant issue with the design is that black bar at the bottom of the display. Again, in my opinion, this isn’t a deal-breaker as it blends in pretty well with a black-background watchface:

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Processor and Battery

The Moto 360 ships with a 320mAh battery powering a TI OMAP3. There’s been some controversy on both of these.

The processor is the same TI OMAP3 that powered 2010’s Moto Droid phones. Some reviews have stated stuttering and missed frames with the device that they attributed to the processor, but I haven’t really seen any of that in my use. I would think the processor should have more than enough juice to power the OS and features it needs to on the 360 without any problems, as even 2010’s smartphones had much more functionality than this watch.

Where this processor is problematic is in its power consumption. Today’s chips, like the down-clocked Snapdragon 400 powering other similar devices are far better in their power needs. Four years is an eternity in technology terms. Unfortunately this leads us into the device’s other controversy: the battery.

There has been some debate over the battery, which is listed at 320mAh on the Motorola website and marketing materials, but a consumer teardown reported a 300mAh battery. Combined with reviews that stated less than a full day of battery life – some as few as 8 hours – and the Moto 360 launch had a major issue.

So what has my experience been as far as battery is concerned?

When used in its default setting – brightness on Auto and Ambient Display set to “Off” – I’ve had no issue getting through the day with the device. I typically sleep about 6-7 hours a night, and don’t put on the watch until right before I leave the house in the morning, so that’s from around 7:30am until 11:30pm daily, or 16 hours of use. Thus far, even “playing” with the watch a decent amount in its first week of use, I’m ending my day at 20%-40% battery life after 16 hours.

However, if you set that Ambient mode to “on”, the battery life does take a big hit. When I tested it with this setting on, I was burning through about 8%-12% of the battery per hour. This leads me to believe that testers rating the 360 with very short battery life were using the watch this way, or had turned up the brightness significantly.

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What, exactly, is Ambient mode? With Ambient mode on, the watch display never turns fully off. When you tap the touchscreen, short-press the button, bring the watch up to look at it, or receive a notification, the display will turn on. After a short time, it will dim, and then after another short period of time, it will dim almost completely. In this mode, the display will pop back on slightly faster when you turn or raise your wrist to look at the display, and it also seems to react a bit faster when coming back “up” for use.

With Ambient mode off, the watch will power the display all the way down when not in use. This preserves battery life significantly, at the price of having the display turn back on slower. Some people really want an always-on display, and unfortunately you’re not going to get that out of the 360. Most of the time, other people are going to see a watch that looks like this:

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I suspect that a few generations from now, this won’t be the case, but for now the price you pay for not having an E-Ink display (like the Pebble) is that the battery gets preserved by shutting the screen down.

This does bring up one of my complaints with the 360: to “wake up” the screen, you pretty much need to “raise up” your arm for the display to kick on. This is fine when you’re walking or standing, but when sitting down, most of the time you’re not going to raise your arm like this. Instead, you’re going to turn your wrist. In far, far too many situations like this, the display doesn’t turn on. You should not have to tap your watch face or do an extra arm waive to wake up your watch. Hopefully this can be improved through an OS update.

It is worth noting that the charging of the Moto 360 is awesome. It works via an included Qi charging stand, and when placed onto it, the watch transitions into a very nice bedside clock:

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The battery may be small, but it charges very quickly, reaching a full charge from 20% to 100% in around an hour.

Features and Android Wear

The Moto 360 runs Android Wear, and as such it has the same functionality as the other devices on this platform. Unlike Android on phones, Google has mandated that these devices ship with a stock, unmodified version of Google Wear.

So what, exactly, can you do with this thing?

Its main purpose beyond telling the time is to act as a recipient of notifications from your connected smartphone. The 360 connects via Bluetooth 4.0 to any Android phone running Android 4.3 or later. Using the free Android Wear application, you can sync up your Watch to your phone and control which applications push notifications to it. You’re able to read emails and text messages, and can reply via voice commands. You can see Facebook notifications and can open them on your phone from your watch, but can’t actually see them from the watch.

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In addition to application notifications, you’ll also receive Google cards on your watch, with information about weather, sports, traffic, stocks, and so on. Unfortunately, you can’t just hide these, you have to open or dismiss them, and when you do, you can’t get them back. This is one area of Google Wear that needs to be improved as the OS matures.

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You can also say, “OK Google” from an active watchface to launch a Google voice search or to control the device. From here, using your voice, you can complete many actions, including but not limited to:

  • Complete a Google search
  • Launch navigation to a destination
  • Take a note
  • Start a timer or stopwatch
  • Set an alarm or reminder
  • Launch an application
  • Send a text message
  • Send an email
  • Play music

I do like the fact that I can read entire Gmail emails from my watch.

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It also makes a decent remote control mp3 player, but could use a more full-featured application devoted to this.

One of the coolest of these features in my opinion is how navigation works with the phone. For instance, I can say “Ok Google, navigate to Best Buy” and navigation will launch on my phone and watch. The watch will display a navigation screen with direction, and then go dim. A quarter mile from the next turn, it will vibrate, then light back up and display the next turn. I personally love this, and find it very easy to see these directions on my wrist. This is an awesome feature regardless of whether you’re driving or walking.

You can also change your watch face. Long-pressing the screen opens up the watchface selection screen. One nice piece of customization from Motorola is the Connect application for your Android phone lets you customize the colors of the stock watchfaces. I’ve been using the “Classic” watchface with black background and Roman numerals.

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Android Wear also can have applications installed through the Google Play store. These download to your phone and then sync to your watch. So far, there aren’t any “killer” applications for Google Wear. Arguably the most popular thus far is “Facer” which lets you make custom watchfaces. This is a pretty cool thing to have as the internet has already produced some awesome options:

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Source: http://www.androidpolice.com/2014/09/19/facer-is-fast-becoming-the-de-facto-custom-watch-face-maker-for-android-wear/

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Source: http://phandroid.com/2014/09/08/goldeneye-watchface-moto-360/

So far, these are unofficial applications and will drain your battery more than the stock faces, but this should change with the release of the API for Google Wear later this year.

From a functionality perspective, though, there’s no killer application yet, and honestly hardly any applications to even speak of. I’ve installed an application that lets me control my phone’s camera via my watch, and one that notifies me whenever my watch disconnects from my phone, and an app launcher. That’s it.

Speaking of an application launcher, there’s no app tray by default, and launching applications is unwieldy. You can say, “OK Google, launch <application name>” but voice detection on this is spotty and generally I would prefer not to talk to my watch in most situations. You can bring up the watch face, tap the screen, swipe up, then scroll all the way down to the launch application option in that menu. It works, but feels way too lengthy. There are already several third-party app trays that you can use by swiping left to right from the first watchface screen. I’m shocked that Google hasn’t included something like this by default.

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My overall impressions of Google Wear so far are mixed. Voice control works reasonably well, but there’s no escaping the fact that talking to your watch is often awkward at best, and in many situations is totally impractical. As such, it needs to have an intuitive and useful touchscreen menu system as well. I’ve gotten used to navigating Google Wear’s menus but can’t say I find them intuitive. It is pretty easy to feel “stuck” in a set of screens with no clear method of “escape” other than pressing the side button to turn off the display.

Combined with the general lack of applications at launch, Google Wear just feels a bit incomplete right now. It is functional, and some of what it does is helpful and useful and cool, but it doesn’t match the intuitive feel of modern Android on phones and tablets. At its worst moments, it feels a bit like early adopters are in an open Beta rather than a finished product.

Health and Fitness

The Moto 360 also includes built-in fitness tracking. It can monitor your steps, including custom notifications for milestones and historical data visible right from your watch:

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The other thing the Moto 360 does is check your heart rate:

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In theory, I really like both of these. The step tracker matched up relatively well to my Fitbit Flex, with my Fitbit tracking about 10% more steps than the 360. However, the concept of wearing a nice, leather-strap watch while working out, or other strenuous physical activity, seems odd. This is one area where Apple comes out way ahead: by offering the ability to easily switch to a “sport” strap, the Apple Watch can in theory match up better with wear all the time to capture all your steps.

I’d imagine this is something future versions of the Google Wear devices will include.

Final Thoughts

When considering the Moto 360, I think it helps to provide some background.

In my case, I haven’t worn a watch in over 20 years, and thus buying a watch was already kind of on my grown-up “to do” list. The 360 appealed to me because I was already looking for a watch, and the added functionality of the smartwatch concept added to that appeal.

Now that I have it, I’m glad that I purchased it. It is definitely convenient to receive app notifications on my watch, and the navigation functionality is awesome. The 360 itself is attractive, well-made, and looks and feels like a premium device. The battery life hasn’t been an issue, and I’ve had no problems with stuttering or frame loss.

The charging stand makes a great nightstand alarm clock. This, to me, is one of those almost throwaway design decisions that ends up giving you extra value.

That said, there are some issues.

The fact that the watch doesn’t turn on with a twist of the wrist is somewhat understandable, as it’d turn on quite a bit and the battery life would be impacted, but it is also frustrating when you need to tap the watch or otherwise interact with it just to see the time. The swiping actions and menu system of Android Wear aren’t as intuitive as they could be, and the lack of an app drawer or any killer applications is disappointing.

I had some other random issues as well. Sometimes notifications come through to the watch, and sometimes they don’t, with for no reason I can discern. For example, I received a message on Facebook, and it didn’t come through to my watch. I replied on my phone, and then the next one came through to my watch. Around three to four times a day, the watch disconnects from my phone. It usually reconnects quickly, but I have no idea why this occurs. It has nothing to do with distance or the phone transitioning from wireless to 4G. Sometimes the Google voice search shows it is offline, even when my phone has a data connection. These seemingly random OS happenings make Android Wear feel like a Beta, albeit a polished and near-complete one.

All things considered, for the average user, I don’t think I’d suggest you run out and buy one of these. You can tell this is a first-generation device. Future generations will almost certainly have better battery life and higher resolution screens, and Android Wear has a lot of room for improvement.

However… if you’re an Android user and want a smartwatch, I can strongly suggest this one. If you’re into watches and want one that integrates with your smartphone, you’ll like this and it won’t feel too out of place in your collection. If you make frequent use of Google Maps as a GPS system, the navigation function of the watch is awesome. And, if you’re a power Android user, having access to emails, notifications, and notes from your watch is great.

If you want an always-on watchface, don’t like the black bar on the bottom of the screen, need the watch as a fitness tracker / sportswatch, don’t want a watch you have to charge every night, or want an integrated MP3 player, then I suggest you pass.

For more on the Moto 360:  https://moto360.motorola.com/

The 360 retails for $249.99 but has started seeing discounts to $229.99.

Buy the Moto 360:

    

3 thoughts on “Moto 360: A Beautiful Beta”

    1. Overall I’m very happy that I got the Moto 360. I wear it every day, and have a few times realized in the car (in the drievway) that I didn’t have it, and have gone back in to get it. It is great for not missing calls or texts when phone is on silent (like at work), and I love how it interacts with Google Maps navigation. I still wish there was better control or user access with Google cards so I could maximize the benefit from those. And, while I have fewer drops through Bluetooth, lately when it does drop I have to reset one or both devices (phone and watch) to reconnect. Not sure what’s driving that. Battery life has been excellent though. Overall quite happy and looking forward to the next round of watches and improvements in Wear after Android 5.0 Lollipop.

  1. I really enjoy my Moto 360. The only thing I cannot get it to do is to initiate a text message. I get a message on the phone ” to complete this action turn on contact recognition on your phone”. I have a Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Neither Motorola or Samsung have answers. Once a text is sent to me though I can respond. My watch band is rubber just need to get to know it better to get full benefit. Great article by the way.

    Evo@aol.com

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