Moto 360 review: Does it live up to the hype?

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Google introduced Android Wear back in March with a lot of fanfare all because of a circular watch about the size of an Oreo cookie. Motorola announced the Moto 360 on the very same day telling us that we would have to wait until the summer. The anticipation seemed to grow daily for what seemed to be the sexiest smartwatch ever. We would see a few leaks here and there, but they just left us salivating for more.

Then came Google I/O in June when Google officially launched Android wear and a couple of watches. The hopeful were anticipating the release of this fine device, but we were told to expect it later in the summer. We were able to get our hands on it, but again, we were just salivating dogs eagerly waiting for the big day.

That day came on September 5th, when the Moto 360 was finally offered for sale. It has been nearly 6 months of anticipation and just about as much hype as any Nexus phone. Now that it’s finally here, there is only one question left….Does it live up to the hype? Priced at $249, it isn’t the cheapest, but it’s round (well mostly) and it looks damn good. Hell, it’s $100 cheaper than the cheapest version of the Apple Watch, and that isn’t even available yet. So is the Moto 360 the holy grail of smartwatches? Well hit the break and let’s get started.

Design

You are going to find very few people that don’t agree with the fact that the Moto 360 is one gorgeous time machine. Smartwatches are different from smartphones for various reasons, but probably the biggest differentiating factor is fashion. For the first time, people will select a mobile device based on how good it looks and how good it looks on their wrists.

The Moto 360 is the only smartwatch that is currently available that not only looks good while wearing jeans and a t-shirt at your local diner, but also looks good with your suit (or dress) at a formal event. The all stainless steel body covered with Gorilla Glass 3 is tastefully simple, but elegant. For starters, it’s only available with a leather strap. However, this isn’t just some cheap strap. It’s made from the Horween Tannery, the same leather used by the NFL.

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A very nice high quality strap indeed, but it doesn’t do this watch justice. When paired with the stainless steel  straps that will be available in the fall ($79 each or $299 with the watch), you have what appears to be something that you thought Apple might introduce. Nope, it’s Motorola and it’s a thing of beauty.

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Now with all that said, there is one minor flaw that has a few people irked and that is the flat tire. What I mean is that the circular display isn’t a full circle. There is a small black area at the bottom that gives it the appearance of a flat tire.

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Why is it there? It this some sort of screw up on Motorola’s part? Couldn’t they see that it’s not a full circle? What’s wrong with them? No, there is nothing wrong with Motorola folks. The reason for that small area is it contains the components for the display and the light sensor. Alright then, why can LG offer a fully circular watch (G Watch R)? Motorola had that option as well. They opted to go this route to maximize the size of the display. You will notice the 360 has barely any bezel. The LG G Watch R, on the other hand, has a larger bezel. The 360 sports a 1.56-inch display, while the G Watch R sports only a 1.30-inch display. Motorola decided a 20% larger display with a minimal bezel was the better way to go. Pictures are worth a thousand words. Below you will see two Moto 360 prototypes. You will see the one on the right is fully round, but the bezel is much larger.

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Now here’s a look at the difference between the Moto 360 (left) and the LG G Watch R (Right).

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Now you can make your own judgements, but let me just tell you that it’s not as big of a deal as you would think. It’s not because it’s unnoticeable, it’s because of how Android Wear works. When the watch face lights up, there is always a notification card at the bottom of the display that covers approximately 25% to 33% of the face depending on what watch face you are using. You are not going to see the bottom anyways.

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The only time it’s an issue is when it’s in ambient mode. I will touch on this later, but this is the standby mode where the watch face is dimmed. In this mode, it’s optional to display cards so you might notice it more if you have them turned off. However, it’s not too much of an issue either based on how the 360 treats ambient mode. Again, more on this later.

The Moto 360 looks like a solid watch and it is. However, it’s not as heavy as it looks. It comes in at 60 grams and it doesn’t feel heavier than any other watch you have worn in the past. As far as size, I mentioned in my opening that it’s about the size of an Oreo cookie. The 360 comes in at 46 mm x 46 mm (or 1.81 in x 1.81 in). An Oreo cookie comes in at approximately 44.4 mm x 44.4 mm (1.75 in x 1.75 in). As far as thickness goes, the 360 comes in at 11.5 mm or .45-inches, while an Oreo comes in in a little thinner at 7.98 mm or .314-inches. I never thought I would be comparing devices to cookies, but it does give you a good reference if you are unable to see the 360 in person before ordering it.

Just like other Android Wear smartwatches, the bands are interchangeable with standard 22 mm straps. Motorola did tell us to be careful here as all straps might not work or look as good. Straps usually attach at the outside of the base on most watches, but with the 360, they will sit inside the body just a little, so some straps might not fit properly.

The watch itself does sport a button on the right side resembling a basic watch winder, but it does have a purpose. You can use it to turn on or turn off the display with a quick press or you can hold the button in (while the display is completely lit up) to open the settings. In the event the watch is locked up, you can hold the button in for about 10 seconds to completely power it down. The left side of the watch sports the microphone for picking up your voice commands. If you turn the watch over, you will find sensors for detecting your heart rate.

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You won’t find any charging ports as the watch utilizes the Qi standard for wireless charging, and you get a cradle along with your purchase. This is a cool thing, but it’s also a little bit of a pain in that it’s yet another thing you have to bring with you when traveling. Wireless charging is convenient, but it would be even more convenient if the watch had a micro USB port so you could use one of your existing cables. On the other hand, this watch wouldn’t look nearly as elegant if it did have a port on the side.

The included charging cradle is a very nice touch. Just leave it on your nightstand and when you place your Moto 360 in it, it becomes a nice looking clock. You can also use other Qi chargers if you have any laying around the house.

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The Moto 360 is easily the best looking smartwatch available today, but beauty is only skin deep right? There’s always more to the story so let’s move on.

Hardware

The Moto 360 sports a 1.56-inch (320 x 290) backlit LCD display with Gorilla Glass 3, a TI OMAP 3 processor, 512 MB of RAM, 4 GB of internal storage, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, pedometer, heart rate sensor, Qi wireless charging, IP67 certification, and 320 mAh battery.

Performance

For whatever reason, Motorola opted for a TI OMAP processor which is pretty ancient. So far, the other Android Wear offerings have chosen the Snapdragon 400, which is a quad-core, but tuned down to one core. Now some might argue that the processor should not matter in a smartwatch. That might be true, but I will say I had some issues with performance. Whether they were software related or because of the OMAP, I cannot say for sure, but I suspect it’s the OMAP. I did have some slight lag at times, but my biggest problem was its ability to respond to touch. Sometimes I had to tap on the display 2 or 3 times to wake it. I also found that tapping simple things like Delete (for an email) required me to tap it twice or hold my finger down a little longer.

The display is very good. In fact, it’s much brighter than the G Watch. I found that a brightness level of 2 on the Moto 360 was equivalent to a level of 4 on the G Watch. So it performed very well in sunlight. However, the ambient screen (always-on display on G Watch and Gear Live) had little to be desired. Motorola turned down the brightness in this mode to obviously save on battery life. As you will find out in a bit, it’s unlikely you will utilize this mode though.

Battery

Now we are on to what is a pretty big debate in the blogosphere. Early reviewers killed the Moto 360 for lack of battery life. Then other reviewers chimed in saying things weren’t so bad. All I can tell you is my results.

You can see my full analysis in my previous post, but the bottomline is my experience isn’t so good. I am able to barely get through a day (17 hours) when the ambient screen (always-on on the G Watch and Gear Live) is off, and only about 10-12 hours when the ambient screen is on. Over the last couple of days, I have been able to get closer to 20 hours, but I will say my usage was very very low in those situations. I find that I like to glance and interact with the notifications I receive regularly, which is what Android Wear is about. It’s not meant to sit dormant on your wrist because there is more to these watches then just telling time. So if I get caught up with my busy day and barely pay attention to the watch, it will get upwards of 20+ hours. Again, that is with the ambient screen turned off.

Now some reviewers claim they are interacting with the watch a lot and still getting 20+ hours with it, so I obviously can’t predict what your experience will be. Is this a software issue, a few bad batches, or something else? I don’t know and Motorola hasn’t responded to it. The fact that Motorola claims “all day mixed use” in their specs, means they know battery life is an issue. So I can’t tell you for sure what kind of battery life you will get, but one thing I think every reviewer can agree on is that you most likely will have to forget about enabling the ambient screen. It just sucks way too much juice. But even if it didn’t, it’s almost useless since Motorola dialed down the display brightness even further than say the G Watch, and also because the ambient screen isn’t “always-on” like the G Watch and Gear Live. It actually turns off when the watch is idle or turned away from you. So now you will go from a black screen, to a dimmed screen, to a fully lit screen. Absolutely annoying.

Software

Since the Moto 360 is an Android Wear watch it operates just like any other Android Wear watch. However, Motorola did include a few add ons if you will. I am only going to go over Motorola’s additions, but if you want to read up on the rest of Android Wear, check out my G Watch review.

The first is a heart rate sensor. This in itself is nothing new since the Gear Live sports one as well, but Motorola included software to constantly track your activity and monitor how many minutes a day you have been exercising. You can certainly check your heart rate at anytime, but it appears the Moto 360 is doing it automatically every so often so it can help you reach the goal of 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day.

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I should also note that the 360 also includes a pedometer, just like other Android Wear offerings, and will keep track of your steps each day.

The Moto Connect app also works with the watch in that it allows you to customize the pre-installed watch faces. It works well, but it’s a little limited. I have 2 videos below showing you each of the six pre-installed watch faces, along with a demo showing you how to customize the faces using the app.

 

Earlier I mentioned that when the Moto 360 is placed in the wireless charging cradle, it becomes a clock for your nightstand. The software recognizes when the watch is in charging mode and it will automatically change the face to a digital clock along with a dial showing you what percentage the battery is at. It reminds me very much of the Halo look. For now, there is no way to customize this clock, but it does activate whether you use the included charging cradle or any other Qi charging pad.

One last thing the Moto 360 offers is auto brightness. You should already be familiar with this on your smartphone, and now it’s on a smartwatch for the first time. There are 5 levels of brightness (1 – 5) on the Moto 360, but you can also select auto brightness. So when you are in sunlight, the brightness will automatically increase, and when you’re in a dark room, your brightness will automatically decrease. I found that a brightness level of 1 or 2 is more than sufficient, but if you’re in and out of sunlight a lot, auto brightness is probably you’re best bet.

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Closing

So now that we have gone over everything, it’s time to answer that question….Does the Moto 360 live up to the hype? Unfortunately whenever any product is hyped up a lot, it rarely is able to live up to it. The Moto 360 came pretty close, but unfortunately it’s not the holy grail of smartwatches. It’s not the fact that it’s not fully round. If that was the only problem, it would be the holy grail. For me, it’s the battery life and the fact that this watch is useless when the ambient screen is displayed.

Starting with the battery life, it is my opinion that if you actually plan on using the watch for what it’s intended for, meaning actually interacting with it a lot, than you are always going to be walking on egg shells trying to get through the day. Getting through the day is important because nobody wants to take off their watch midday to charge it. With that said, I could live with this watch with the life I am getting when the ambient screen is turned off. I like the looks of the watch too damn much not to suffer.

However, call me picky if you want, but I can’t stand the fact that I cannot leave the ambient screen on.  It’s a complete battery hog and even if I didn’t mind charging it twice a day, the ambient display is useless. It’s turned down too low and it still turns off regularly. Android users love customization, and I want to enjoy my chosen watch face on the display at all times. What is the sense if you only see it when it’s lit? The first notification card covers up 25% to 33% of the face anyway. So with the Moto 360, you really can’t enjoy all those custom watch faces like you can on other smartwatches. I have been able to set the LG Watch’s display to always on and never once had an issue getting through the day on one charge. I know this has nothing to do with the “smart” aspect of these kinds of watches, but it’s pretty damn important. I can guarantee you that when Android Wear apps hit the 10,000 mark, 5,000 of them will be watch faces. To me, it’s very sad and disappointing that the best looking watch sits on my wrist with a black screen most of the day. If you agree with me, you might want to wait for the LG G Watch R. I know the display is smaller, but it will most likely sport better battery life, and you will be able to leave your display on full time. If you don’t agree with me, the Moto 360 is probably your watch.


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.


  • Tony van Hedgewinkel

    Sorry Robert, by your definition I don’t agree with you, as I shall be getting this bad boy as soon as it goes on sale in the UK. The bad points (in your opinion) are trifling small. Did you not sleep well and decided to be persnickety towards the watch? I think a lot of the things you think are bad are software related and with an update to Android Wear expected shortly, a lot of them could be addressed and solved. I do respect your opinion on most of what you say, but on this occasion I will chose to read it, store it, then ignore it!

  • tardis 13

    I’ve been waiting since the first announcement to grab a Moto 360 but the more I read, the more hesitant I grow. It’s killing me to say this but between the “ancient” processor (why why why ???) and the ambient screen/battery issues, I’m leaning towards waiting even a bit longer… for Moto 360 Gen 2.

  • reneej

    I’m waiting on the samsung gear s.

  • Tripp3235

    I got the Moto 360 a week ago. The cutoff the bottom does bother me a little but the Retrogade clock face in black and now it’s not a problem. Now I don’t have an issue with the response when I’m in an app so we differ on that. I have noticed a lag when trying to tap the watch to turn it on and I just decided to go ahead and go with ambiant display on and that solved it but of course that cuts into battery time. While 10-12 hours is not the greatest use out of it, it’s good enough for a regular day and I can live with it. Should I travel I’ll turn that off so I can squeeze a bit more out of charging.

    As to using the Android Wear at all, it’s changed my life. When receiving notifications, you can be far more discreet checking your watch rather than looking at your phone. I had to switch to two different apps for an email and texting (You’d think the motorola messaging app would give the option to reply on the Android Wear on Moto360) to have full capabilities. And Since I run an XBMC player at home and Yatse just updated their remote app, I can control my TV from my watch which is pretty awesome.

    So overall I love it. Battery life could be better but for most days it shouldn’t be a problem for me. I can see where someone else might have a problem.