A closer look at the battery life on the Moto 360 [Updated with info after KGW42R update]

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[Original publish date was September 11, 2014 @ 2:57 pm EST]

The Moto 360 debut was a little tarnished from a lot of talk about the battery life, and rightfully so. After using the LG G Watch for over 2 months, and switching to the Moto 360, I too noticed a dramatic difference. The early reviewers immediately said you can’t get through a day with it, then other sites chimed in saying, “it’s not all that bad,” and chalked it up to everyone overly using it the first few days. That can be true at times, but the opposite can happen when someone is trying to prove something they want so bad. It’s called rationalization. Let’s face it, we all want to say the Moto 360 has fantastic battery life since it’s a very cool watch. I find that people will purposely not use a device as much to convince themselves that things are A-OK. Get a notification and grab it from your phone instead, and so on. Trust me, I am guilty of this myself. Plus there is the whole argument about my usage is more than yours and his usage is less than hers, and blah blah blah. So how does one test the device taking all that out of the picture?

It’s quite simple. You test the device side by side with another device that you have a decent history with. What I did was run an app on both the Moto 360 and the G Watch that will leave the display on full time. I also turned off notifications so there would be no argument that more or less notifications were sent to either watch. Lastly, I set the brightness level to 4 on both watches. I simply charged up each watch to 100%, took them off their chargers and started up the same app and left them until they turned off with 0% battery life. This is very similar to when I test smartphone and tablet batteries by looping video to see how long they last. I know this isn’t an actual use case, but it doesn’t matter since it will show exactly what the difference is between both devices. Since I can’t run continuous video on Android Wear, I used the Coffee Time For Android Wear app, which allows you to pay for your Starbucks coffee with a flick of the wrist. When the app is opened on the watch, it remains on the screen (fully lit) until the user turns it off.

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Let’s start with the G Watch. It lasted 8 hours and 6 minutes (486 total minutes). The Moto 360 had a completely different story. It lasted only 3 hours and 32 minutes (212 total minutes), which is less than half of what the G Watch offered. The G Watch had 57% better battery life. Now one thing I did notice was that the Moto 360 seemed brighter even though both watches were set to a level of 4. I have no technical way of measuring the brightness, but it appears to me a level of 2 on the Moto 360 seems pretty close to the G Watch at 4. I wanted to be fair to the Moto 360, so I ran another test, but this time setting the Moto 360 with a brightness level of 2. It did fair much better, lasting 4 hours and 26 minutes (266 total minutes). However, the G Watch was still 45% better even under that condition.

Now let’s look at my real world experiences. With the ambient display (always-on display) enabled, I can only get about 12 to 13 hours out of the Moto 360. With the ambient display off and auto brightness on (probably stays at a brightness of 1 or 2 most of the time), I get about 15 to 17 hours. And when I do get 17 hours, it’s with barely any usage. In looking at the G Watch, I have been consistently getting 17 hours out of it with the always-on display enabled and the brightness set to 4, but I also have 25% to 35% battery life left every night before it goes on the charger. This translates to roughly 22.67 to 26.15 hours of total usage depending on my day.

Now let’s see if how my real world results line up with the rapid drain test I just conducted. I know I have a good foundation with the G Watch since my experience is over 2 months of usage. Again, that’s 22.67 to 26.15 hours of usage with always-on enabled. Going with the low side of 22.67 hours (always-on enabled) for the G Watch, based on my test, the Moto 360 should get 9.75 hours with the brightness set to 4 or 12.47 hours with a brightness level of 2. Going with the high side of 26.15 hours for the G Watch, the Moto 360 should get 11.24 hours with the brightness set to 4 or 14.38 hours with a brightness level of 2.  My early experience of 12 to 13 hours doesn’t seem all that off now does it? Again, this is with the always-on display (G Watch) and ambient screen (Moto 360) enabled on both devices.

Unfortunately I don’t have any long term experience with the always-on display disabled on the G Watch, but I got 30 to 32 hours with the few times I tried it. Using the high side, that would translate to 14.4 hours on the Moto 360 with a brightness level of 4 or 17.6 hours with a brightness level of 2. My 15 to 17 hours is right in line, but to give you an example for today, I am on pace for a 15.5 hour day, and I have the brightness set at 1. Absolutely ridiculous. Using the ratios for the rapid drain test, you would think I would be getting more than 17.6 hours. My guess is that the ancient OMAP processor is not as efficient as the Snapdragon 400 so the spread actually widens with longer cycles. The days that I actually get 17 hours, it’s with very, and I mean very, limited use.

As you can see, the G Watch will get your through the day with some spare change, but the Moto 360 will barely make it, and that’s if you’re willing to turn off the ambient screen. If you’re like me and like to enjoy your watch face, you have zero chance of making it through the day. Now I know the G Watch has a bigger battery, but that is irrelevant to the fact that the Moto 360 might not offer adequate battery life. I am merely trying to further prove just how good or bad the Moto 360 battery life is. I should also note that the Moto 360 ambient screen is a lot dimmer than the G Watch’s always-on display. Plus, as I mentioned in my previous article, the Moto 360 display still turns off in ambient mode. With all of these gimmicks to save battery life you would think the Moto 360 would be the thoroughbred here, but unfortunately it’s not. I can only assume the OMAP processor is the culprit.

Assuming you don’t mind turning off the ambient screen, 15-17 hours seems like enough if you consider 7 – 9 hours of sleep (who the hell gets 9 hours of sleep?), but what about the days in which you’re up later or if your usage is high? How about when you want to use a third party watch face that might drain your battery a little more? The bottom line is Android Wear is meant to be used. That means glancing at your emails throughout the day and deleting them if they are unnecessary. Responding to Hangouts or SMS messages or even checking into Foursquare (Swarm). It makes no sense to spend your hard earned money on a smartwatch and barely use it so you can try to just make it before you hit the sack. A smartwatch battery needs to last 20+ hours in order to guarantee that you will actually get through the day. I also believe it needs to provide the same 20+ hours with one of it’s main features turned on. Yes, the ambient screen. Those that like it should be able to get through an entire day just like with the G Watch, and those that don’t mind turning it off should get the added benefit of longer life if they desire it.

No matter how you slice it, the Moto 360 battery life  isn’t adequate enough, and in my opinion is a major fail for what is the best looking smartwatch on the market. I wish I had a different story, but I have tried everything, and it just doesn’t cut it.

UPDATE

The Moto 360 received an update (KGW42R) a couple of weeks ago, and many users are reporting a dramatic improvement in battery life. So I wanted to update this post with my results.

I am definitely seeing an improvement, but nowhere near as good as what other’s are reporting. I have seen some people report that they are getting 20+ hours with the Ambient Screen on. I am certainly not implying that anyone isn’t telling the truth, but all I can do is report my experience. My results are based on moderate to low usage.

Starting with Ambient Screen off, I am now getting approximately 22 hours, whereas I had trouble even achieving 17 hours. When enabling the Ambient Screen, I am now getting 14 hours. Previously I was only getting 10 to 12 hours. Now that 14 hours is based on using one of Motorola’s stock black watch faces, so I wanted to see what impact a third party watch face might have. Using a Facer watch face (black again), I can get almost 13 hours, which isn’t that far off.

There is no question that there is an improvement with the battery life on the Moto 360 after the update, but when using the Ambient Screen, it still can’t compete with the likes of the G Watch. However, even if it could, I still go on record in saying that the Ambient Screen is a major issue with this watch regardless of the battery life. When comparing it to “Always On” on the G Watch, it’s much dimmer and it still turns off regularly. So you end up with a display that constantly bounces around from  black, to dimmed, to bright, which is kind of ridiculous and annoying. You could give me 5 days battery life in Ambient Mode, and it wouldn’t make me happy since I prefer the “Always On” from the something like the G Watch. Now I know many of you aren’t concerned with that. I have had a few good debates on Google+ about it. The good news is that if you’re in that camp, you should be happy to know that you will have no problem going from the time you wake up until you go to bed without needing to recharge your watch. If you’re like me, then this probably isn’t the watch for you. I could somehow live with the 13 to 14 hours of battery life if Motorola’s implementation of Ambient Mode was the same as other watches. It isn’t, so I am looking forward to the G Watch R.

 

 

 


About the Author: Robert Nazarian

Robert lives in upstate New York where he was born and raised. Technology was always his passion. His first computer was a Radio Shack TRS80 Color that used a cassette tape to save programs, and his first laptop was a Toshiba T1200FB that sported a CGA greyscale screen and two 720kb floppy drives (no hardrive). From the early 90’s through late 2011, he only owned Motorola phones starting with the MircroTAC all the way through to the Droid X. He broke that streak when he bought the Galaxy Nexus. Now he's sporting a Galaxy Note 4, and absolutely loves it. He has a wonderful wife and a 6 year old son. In his free time he enjoys sports, movies, TV, working out, and trying to keep up with the rapid fast world of technology.


  • Kevin Verdesca

    How long have you had the moto 360?

    • RobertNazarian

      7 days.

  • Mark Adams

    Dang it. I’m still going to buy a Moto 360 and see if my usage habits will get it through a day. But this is extremely disappointing on Motorola’s part. They were all hyping up the battery life prior to launch. Maybe I get a G Watch R? No good choices right now for Android Wear.

    • Matthew Hojnacki

      I wouldn’t its now been 4 days and there is no way this thing will make it through a time period you are out of the house. Its hard to explain, but most of the time when you plan to go out for a long time you tend to want to do things with the watch but cant. Like when i run to the store real quick im not going to use the watch all that much and i wont be out of the house for long. If im at work i want to use the watch and i wont be home for a long time. Then the fact of the matter is there are not Qi Charging Pads everywhere and you cant even fit the charger in your pocket.

  • Ivan Padron Dimas

    Too bad I was so excited for this watch and we waited for so long time, I remember months ago when the rumor was 2 days of battery life.
    Anyway I had the chance to order one through google play but after reading the initial reviews the main concern was battery life and for me is a big issue… so I had to cancel my order :(
    Now the waiting continues now for the G Watch R or the Sony Smartwatch 3

  • Quarn

    There is always the iWatch :p
    Maybe HTC will rise to the challenge.

    • http://twitter.com/ryocoon Kurtis Whittington

      The Apple watch is look at about 11 hours battery life from some of the reports I’m reading, but I’ll wait and see when it really comes out before passing final judgement.

  • Elliot Tally

    I attended I/O and have been using a Samsung Gear Live since then. I can consistently get through a day with 20-30% left, and have a couple of times managed to have battery left the next morning after forgetting to plug it in at night. I received my Moto 360 this week and yesterday was the first time I wore it out. It went from 100% battery when I pulled it off the charger at 5:30am to 80% battery only two hours later. This was using the default settings (ambient on, brightness 4), and with literally 0 active use on my part other than to change the watch face and dismiss a few cards. I am so far extremely disappointed in the battery life. Shocking even myself, I find I actually prefer the rubber strap on the Samsung to the leather on the Moto, especially in the hot, sweater summer.

  • http://tachyonlabs.com Tané Tachyon

    I’m another Google I/O attendee who got the Samsung Gear Live there, and the Moto 360 on Wednesday. Thursday the battery conked out on me pretty early on, so today I decided to do a control test basically just using it as a pedometer — not paired/connected, and in airplane mode. At about 8:15 am I took both watches off the chargers and put them on. When I got home at 4:30 pm the Moto was definitely dead — I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but the last time I noticed it doing anything was around 2:30 — whereas now at 10:25 the Samsung is still going strong. From messages I’m seeing on Google+, I’m wondering if there was a batch of bad batteries that a bunch of people got, whereas others got better-behaved batteries.