Motorola Moto 360 (2015) review: A little better, a little flat

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Motorola, one of Android Wear’s head advocates, is back again with an updated Moto 360. Feedback from critics and consumers led Motorola to slightly alter its smartwatch for the better. But, while the Moto 360 (2015) is better than its predecessor, this smartwatch still has things preventing it from becoming a real winner.

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Almost everyone in the business of producing mobile devices is investing in wearables. Smartwatches, in particular, are the focus of this new strategy because they can be easily positioned as a companion to your phone. At Google I/O 2014, Motorola was presented with an opportunity to show the world a special smartwatch unlike anything before it. The Moto 360 (2014) debuted with a round display rather than a rectangular one as seen on the Samsung Gear Live, LG G Watch, and ASUS ZenWatch. Motorola was heading into uncharted territory as no other mainstream smartwatch had shipped with a round display to resemble a traditional watch. Although impressive, the Moto 360 (2014) was disappointing.

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Motorola chose to implement an ambient light sensor to give the owners of the Moto 360 (2014) control over the display’s brightness. Other smartwatches could only have display brightness changed manually, which Motorola rightfully avoided. The real issue, however, is that the company’s first smartwatch had a ‘flat tire’ at the bottom of its display. To keep the bezel normal and still have an ambient light sensor, the component consumed a small amount of space that would have been for the display.

The Moto 360 (2015) is better than its predecessor with one nuisance that should’ve been taken care of by now.

Editor’s note: Launched alongside the Moto 360 (2015) was the Moto 360 Sport. That smartwatch is focused on health and fitness, so the overall experience is different than what the regular Moto 360 offers. Click here to read our review of the Moto 360 Sport.

Design

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The Moto 360 has a precision-crafted case made from aircraft-grade stainless steel. Fancy, huh? When wearing this smartwatch, you can see and feel the high-end experience Motorola is shooting for and achieves. It doesn’t give the same elegant vibe as the Huawei Watch, but the Moto 360 is modern and trendy. The bezel sits atop the case with the glass barely raising above it all. These separate pieces, all well-defined, make for an impressive and stunning multi-layered look.

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Industrial and elegant were two adjectives I labeled the Huawei Watch with, leading to the realization that Huawei is selling a versatile device ready for all types of occasions. The Moto 360, being modern and trendy, isn’t quite a fit if you’re going out for a jog or doing something that isn’t professional. Then again, style is subjective and what appears good to one person may look awful to another. So go ahead and wear your Moto 360 anywhere at any time.

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A welcome design change is the relocation of the only physical button on the Moto 360. Motorola moved it from the the dead center of the right side to the top right of the smartwatch. It’s much easier to reach in this new spot.

While the original came in just one size, Motorola upped its smartwatch’s appeal by offering two sizes of the new version. Now the Moto 360 comes in 42mm and 46mm widths to ensure buyers get a smartwatch of a comfortable size. And, regardless of the size selected, the smartwatch measures slightly thicker than the Huawei Watch. While Huawei’s flagship wearable is 11.3mm from top to bottom, the Moto 360 is 11.4mm. I’ve used both smartwatches in the last few months and the size difference between them is not noticeable. Overall design is what gives them each an identity. They’re both built from premium materials and have the price tags to prove it.

The two sizes also come in to play when using Moto Maker, which I’ll talk about in a bit.

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Heart rate sensors and IP67 certification are common in most smartwatches, and this one is no different. Motorola’s smartwatch can take a splash and tell you how frequently your heart is beating. And, of course, it has the proper sensors to track activity. Motorola actually puts the sensors to good use here, and that’s be covered in the Software section.

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Yet again, Motorola is receiving positive and negative attention with its smartwatch’s design. On one hand, the Moto 360 has a circular display. Who wouldn’t want their smartwatch to mirror the design of a traditional watch? On the other hand, competitors do too and this one still has that flat tire at the bottom. That flat tire frustrates critics, including myself, as well as consumers. It’s very hard to believe that Motorola can’t figure out a way to keep the ambient light sensor while not enlarging the bezel. Sure, it’s manageable when you’re using a dark watch face; however, light watch faces exist and really emphasize how odd the flat tire can make the Moto 360 look. Motorola needs to recognize its time to press its talented engineering team to think of something better.

Moto Maker

Because devices running Android Wear are so similar by software, Motorola uses Moto Maker to allow you to build your own smartwatch. The customization suite, which has been around for a few years now, lets you alter every part of your Moto 360’s exterior. The catch is that certain alterations raise the price of the smartwatch, but I view all of them worth it to match your style.

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These are the areas you can touch with the Moto 360 in Moto Maker:

  • Style
    • Designed for Men: 42mm, 46mm
    • Designed for Women: 42mm
  • Bezel
    • Chamfer: Silver, Gold, Black
    • Micro Kurnl: Silver, Gold, Black
    • Peak (W): Silver, Gold, Rose Gold
    • Micro Etch: Silver, Gold, Rose Gold
  • Case
    • Silver, Gold, Black, Rose Gold
  • Band
    • Leather: Cognac, Black
    • Leather (W): Stone Grey, Blush
    • Double Wrap Leather (W): Blush
    • Metal: Silver, Gold, Black
    • Metal (W): Silver, Gold, Rose Gold

Both leather and metal bands are well-made, and I’ve been using a black metal band for months without noticing any wear and tear. That’s usually not the case with black metal bands. The leather bands, too, are comfortable and durable. But you can swap out Motorola’s bands for an outside party’s. The men’s 42mm uses a 20mm band while the women’s uses a 11.4mm band. And the larger men’s 46mm takes a 22mm band. As long as your band meets a size for the corresponding model, you’ll be set to further customize your Moto 360.

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Motorola’s leather and metal bands are priced at $39 and $89, respectively. On the company’s site, you’ll also be able to pick up a silicone band made by TYLT for $29.

If you’d like to remove links from the Motorola-issued or other metal bands, I recommend the SE JT6305A on Amazon. I’ve used it to successfully get metal bands on the Huawei Watch and Moto 360 fit for my wrist.

It’s nice seeing Motorola play to men and women with the Moto 360, especially with the double-wrapped leather band in blush. I’m not saying other companies don’t design their smartwatches for women. It’s just that women are often pushed to settle with smartwatches because of lacking options, but Motorola is proving customization should (and can) be offered regardless of gender. Thanks for breaking the mold, Motorola. Much respect.

Hardware

The Motorola Moto 360 features a 1.37- or 1.4-inch (360×325 or 360 330) IPS display with Corning Gorilla Glass 3, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad-core processor, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage, a 300mAh or 400mAh battery battery, a heart rate sensor, IP67 certification, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, and WiFi 802.11 b/g/n.

Performance

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The company may not have changed the display’s size and structure all that much — it remains an IPS display, but Motorola did give the new Moto 360 fine-tuning. Resolution has been raised up to 360×325 and 360×330. Alright, so that’s not as good as the Huawei Watch and its 400×400 resolution; yet they both lack the sharpness that I’m eager to see on a smartwatch. The Huawei Watch does beat the Moto 360 in contrast ratio and overall quality, but I’m not discrediting the Moto 360’s display. It gets the job done well. And going in its favor is that the fuzziness I saw on the Huawei Watch’s display isn’t here. The Moto 360 looks sharper, a quality you definitely want on a device you’ll be looking throughout the day.

Getting a new processor from a reputable supplier could be the best move made by Motorola in going from the original to this one. Motorola’s first smartwatch had Texas Instruments’ OMAP 3. Ever hear of Texas Instruments? You probably have but not for mobile device processors. If you do know that company for its mobile device processors, look no further than the Galaxy Nexus and its performance woes. Texas Instruments started winding down production of OMAP processors for mobile devices in late 2012, but Motorola opted to use one for the original Moto 360. It can only be speculated that Motorola chose the OMAP 3 because it got a good deal on dated technology. The new Moto 360 bursts on to the scene with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 400 and 512MB of RAM.

Doing what Android Wear is capable of to date is easy for the Moto 360; the same couldn’t be said last time. We’ll see Android Wear evolve over time and, when it does, Qualcomm will have the Snapdragon 2100 ready. Motorola’s parent company, Lenovo, signed on to be a partner for Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear platform. So we know that Motorola will be at the forefront of implementing new technology in future smartwatches.

The new Moto 360 sends and receives data over a Bluetooth connection, but it also supports WiFi for when your phone isn’t nearby or you want to conserve your phone’s battery. Just don’t expect the smartwatch to make any sounds. Motorola did not include a speaker. Huawei’s smartwatch has one, and that’s a product of having the Huawei Watch in development for such a long time.

Battery

The Qi standard is what gives the Moto 360 power while sitting in the wireless charging dock. Its predecessor used the same standard for its wireless charging dock but don’t try using the new model with it. Motorola says the new Moto 360 is not compatible with the old Moto 360’s wireless charging dock.

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What I really like about charging the Moto 360 is the flexibility. The wireless charging dock is not permanently attached to the cable and adapter. This means you can use any micro-USB charger to charge the smartwatch because the wireless charging dock has a dedicated port. Conversely, the Huawei Watch’s charging is awful because you’re forced to use a proprietary charging cradle that doesn’t let you disconnect the cable and adapter.

Battery life, according to Motorola, is up to 1.5 days of mixed use with automatic brightness off on the 42mm. With automatic brightness on, that should be reduced to about 1 day. I have the 46mm and I’m easily getting two days of mixed use with automatic brightness on. To be fair, my primary use for smartwatches is checking time and notifications. Other actions are fluff to me at this point. If I want to get anything done, I’ll take out my phone. After all, it’s always on me.

Software

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Despite being the leader of customization in hardware, Motorola didn’t provide a wealth of watch faces. Moto 360 owners get less than twenty of them. The Huawei Watch, meanwhile, comes with nearly fifty watch faces. Fortunately, the Moto 360 does allow you to customize almost all of them and Google Play has more to choose from. So you shouldn’t view the small number of Motorola-designed watch faces as shortcoming. There’s a giant pool of watch faces waiting for you, and Google even recommends some if you’re worried about feeling overwhelmed.

Motorola Connect

You’re required to use the Android Wear app with the Moto 360, but Motorola has its own companion app called Motorola Connect. The app allows you to manage the Moto 360; you can change and customize watch faces, choose a color for the time while charging, and see the location of your smartwatch.

There just isn’t a need for Motorola Connect because the Android Wear app and on-device software are suitable. Using the Moto 360 without Motorola Connect won’t hinder your experience.

Moto Body

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On the actual smartwatch, the only Motorola-made feature is Moto Body. Data collected by your Moto 360 is stored, organized, and presented on the app which is available on the smartwatch or on your phone.

The Moto 360 tracks steps, distance, calories burned, and heart rate. Then you can track your progress and set goals to follow a healthy lifestyle.

If you’re seeking to buy a smartwatch for health and fitness reasons, choose the Moto 360 Sport or expand your search to devices like the FitBit Blaze.

Closing

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The Moto 360 (2015) isn’t all that different from the original. What Motorola did with its smartwatch is similar to what HTC did in going from the One (M8) to One M9. These companies just refined what was working. Refining, though, can be troublesome in today’s world of consumer technology. The ‘latest and greatest’ is always being sought, and refining a product doesn’t necessarily appeal to consumers. So that’s why Motorola’s Moto 360 feels like it comes up short to so many people. We saw a similar design the last time around and the flat tire — the predecessor’s biggest issue — is still here. Motorola say whatever it wants in defense of the flat tire, but it makes an otherwise beautiful smartwatch no so attractive.

Because Motorola hasn’t figured out an alternative to the flat tire in twenty-four months of development, the Huawei Watch continues to stand as the best Android Wear smartwatch on the market. Although it doesn’t have a display with automatic brightness, Huawei’s smartwatch’s design and performance are unrivaled by the Moto 360 (2015) and other offerings vying for a spot on your wrist. Motorola’s latest iteration of the smartwatch is good enough for those who want a custom piece of hardware, though your money can go a little further with the Huawei Watch.

In 2016, Motorola really has to get it right. A skilled engineering team and Lenovo’s backing should lead to Motorola having the best smartwatch in the future.

[Motorola] [Google Store] [Google Store – Women] [Amazon] [Best Buy]


About the Author: Justin Herrick

Born and raised in New Jersey, Justin is a graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University where he studied marketing with a focus on digital marketing. He's very talkative and enjoys discussing anything from technology and sports to video games and television. As for Justin's current device rotation, he carries around the HTC 10 and Nexus 9. In the rare case that his phone or tablet is not in his hand, he is either flicking through cards on his Moto 360 (2015) or typing away on the Microsoft Surface Book. Justin is patiently waiting for the day that Google replicates the Galaxy Nexus with modern day specifications. When not glued to his Android devices, Justin works as Sequoia Technologies' Social Media Coordinator.