Android Smartwatch Review: Motorola Moto 360

2015-01-29

We've had smartwatches available in the market for a number of years now, but Google's push into the sector happened in 2014 with the launch of Android Wear. At the time, Google and partners Samsung plus LG released two Android Wear devices, the LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live. Motorola also previewed the Moto 360, an Android Wear device with a round face. We had to wait a few months for the Moto 360 to be released but for many people, it was worth it for that round face rather than the squared faces of the other two first Android Wear devices.

Back in late October 2014, I penned an article writing about how smartwatches might be put into use as a productivity tool. At the time, I wrote that the biggest issues with smartwatches was a combination of their look (they're geeky) and how the software is reactive rather than proactive. I explained how Google Now was the killer application for a smartwatch because it is designed to anticipate what the user needs and wants based on observation. Let's take a look to see how the Moto 360 can be put to good use from a productivity perspective but first, let me put this into perspective: it currently means being at the right location, at the right time, for a meeting. It means picking up on messages, emails and calls when my ‘phone is in silent mode. What it doesn't mean is writing reports on the smartwatch!

In most reviews, the device specification features reasonably early on. In the case of the Moto 360, the specification does have some relevance but the Android Wear devices are more software limited than hardware limited. However, for the record the Moto 360 is based around a Texas Instruments OMAP processor backed up by 4 GB of storage and 512 MB of memory. There's a 1.5-inch round display and a 320 mAh battery. It includes Bluetooth, an optical heart rate sensor and an ambient light sensor, too. The smartwatch is IP67 rated, meaning it is freshwater resistant of up to one meter for thirty minutes. The device also includes WiFi, which requires Android Wear 5.1 or later (and as I write, this software update is rolling out).

The last item on the specification sheet is the way that the Moto 360 is charged and for me, this is a killer feature: unlike most other smartwatches, the Moto 360 includes a wireless Qi charger, the same technology as found on the Nexus 4, Nexus 5 and 2013 Nexus 7. There are no cables to plug in, nor do you need remove the watch from the strap; instead the Moto 360 comes with a nifty dock that you put the device on to recharge it. Furthermore, the 360 recharges very quickly, taking about an hour from empty to full on the dock.

The Moto 360 is the first round Android Wear device. It's quite large at 46mm diameter, and it's reasonably thick too at 12mm: the 360 is a substantial-looking chunk of steel and glass with a single hardware button on the right edge. However, it's also surprisingly light too. The screen does not quite cover the full circle as there's a black cut out at the bottom, which is for the ambient light sensor. Because of this I find I tend to favor black watchfaces rather than any other color, because this almost hides the cut out missing at the bottom of the screen. Almost being the operative word! It doesn't bother me day by day but for some watchfaces it is obvious.

The standard Moto 360 comes with a leather strap, either stone grey or black depending on the model picked. It's a nice leather but is is easily discolored with age and use: I have no qualms with this myself as it gives the watch character, but it might be an annoyance. Motorola also sell a stainless steel bracelet version and you can buy replacement straps, including the bracelet – but they aren't cheap, even if the price has dropped since launch.

The Moto 360 has two microphones (one pin hole is obvious) and a single button. The optical heart rate sensor is the only other distinguishing feature of what is, essentially, a minimalist design. Of course, it's what happens when the screen is activated that makes the Moto 360 so special.

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When it comes to the Android Wear software, it's important to write that this is designed as an extension to your Android smartphone. The device shows you notifications from your Android smartphone on its round screen. The Moto 360 shows all notifications; some are interactive and some are not: for example, Gmail and Google Hangouts allow you to reply to a message. You can also instigate applications by voice command, such as telling your watch to take a note: this is not always perfect and relies on the smartphone having an Internet connection as your voice is understood via Google's cloud computing system. The 360 provides notifications by vibrating on your wrist and lighting up. And this is the core function of the Moto 360, together with telling the time.

The more one uses Google Now, and the more notifications a device receives, the more useful the Moto 360 will be. As a side effect, the more notifications that are handled on the smartwatch, the harder the battery has to work on the Moto. Early software versions were not especially kind to the battery but successive software versions have dramatically improved battery life. Even with many notifications arriving on the Moto 360, I did not have an issue getting through an extended working day on a single charge. Note that I did not use Ambient Mode, which keeps the screen on all of the time.

However, after a busy day, putting the Moto 360 onto the included Qi wireless charger dock pulls up the dim charging watch face and, of course, recharges the device. Because the device needs a daily recharge and because it's a small, fiddly piece of hardware, Motorola's adoption of the Qi standard is very, very welcome.

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