Moto 360 – A Very Smart Watch
The Moto 360 has been one of the most highly anticipated devices of recent times and is widely accepted as the first Smartwatch offering not only usable features but also a traditional, high quality and more to the point; beautiful design.
Many have come before it and many will arrive in 2015 including the much fabled Apple Watch. For now though, there are only a couple that appeal to both tech and fashion conscious people and one of those is the Moto 360.
Unlike every other Smartwatch on the market besides the newly launched LG G Watch R (that’s a mouthful), the Moto 360 sports a more traditional round case that’s preferred by a greater majority of people than the bulkier square or rectangular faces chosen by its competitors. The only disadvantage of this is a missing section of display at the bottom where the driver is housed. It’s genuinely not something you notice and it doesn’t take away from the experience in the slightest.
Made out of high quality stainless steel, the Moto 360 really feels like a product of excellence rather than another boxy and heavy geek-watch. The case itself is 46mm in diameter and 11.5mm deep and with the leather strap it also only weighs 49 grams which is a great deal lighter than I was expecting. Only one physical button is present on the watch and you’ll barely ever need to use it – it turns the display on and off and brings up a settings menu when held.
Flipped over, the Moto 360 has a slightly convex back that houses an optical heart-rate monitor and technology that supports Qi wireless charging. The included charger works perfectly, is made of a nice quality soft-touch plastic and thanks to the aforementioned wireless charging, the Moto 360 has no ports or metal connectors to spoil the clean design Motorola have strived for.
The strap on our device is made of American crafted, tanned Horween Leather – a company who have been producing premium leathers since 1905. It’s supple, luxurious and extremely comfortable. It does suffer from the odd minor crease but certainly nothing to shout home about.
There are even a few customisation options – Black or Silver cases with either a leather or metal band in black, silver or stone, plus a champagne gold model with a narrower 18mm band.
Inside the watch, one part of the hardware is lacking and unfortunately it’s the thing that drives it. The TI OMAP™ 3 processor is now four years old and pretty inefficient. From Motorola’s point of view, it’s also cheap and smaller than another they might otherwise have used. Occasionally the performance of the device makes this obvious but a recent software update cured most of the lag issues.
There’s an in-built pedometer, vibration motor which is brilliant for noticing incoming notifications, dual microphones, 4GB storage and 512mb RAM, a 320mAh battery and it’s all IP67 water resistant too.
The 1.56 inch display doesn’t have a particularly high resolution at just 320 x 290 which gives it 205 pixels per inch. For some perspective, the original iPhone only had a 163ppi display so we’re not talking about a bad one by any means. It’s not difficult to see the pixels, particularly when the watch hands are constantly moving but it’s perfectly acceptable.
Touches are registered accurately every time without fail and the Android Wear operating system it’s running only ever requires the most basic of gestures – press, swipe up, down, left or right. No pinch to zoom or double tapping is present here which is a good thing on such a small device. The only downside to a touch screen watch is the almost constant presence of greasy finger marks – a minor downside.
With the technical stuff out of the way, how does it actually perform?
In short, it performs extremely well when it works and can be extremely annoying when it doesn’t. For the most part, the basics work almost flawlessly.
First of all, customising which apps send notifications, choosing a watch face and a few other tweaks are all achieved with ease using the Android Wear companion app. Watch faces can be switched instantly and changes are applied with equal efficiency. There are also various other apps out there, including Facer, which allow you to import completely customised watch faces from yourself or others so you’re not stuck with the handful provided as default.
Notifications are displayed and felt on the watch immediately after they are heard on the phone – you can disable the phone sounds in the watch settings. Junk mail is particularly nice to handle with just one swipe to the left followed by a touch on the delete button which is vastly quicker than the same process on my phone. Most things feel a lot quicker to deal with because the watch is always instantly accessible, though there aren’t always times when dictating a message back to someone is going to be your first choice. I certainly won’t be heard dictating messages or using the voice commands at all while on a train, for example.
Dictation is very accurate, presuming the connection with the phone is live. Occasionally, though rarely, there’s a bit of de-sync with the phone which causes a delay in recognising your words. They do get there eventually and of the times where it recognises your speech instantly, which are far more frequent than when it doesn’t, it’s flawless. Replying to a message however, is activated by pressing a reply button – it listens out instantly.
With the display on, saying “OK Google” to the watch allows you to ask an infinite number of questions or perform a number of different actions. Just like on your phone, you can ask “how many grams are in a kilogram?” or “how many people live in Milan?” and you can set timers with “set a timer for 5 minutes”. You can ask to see how many steps you’ve walked today or even ask it to initiate a call to someone – this is particularly brilliant if you’re handsfree. You can send a message to anyone in your address book, though oddly this is limited to text messages.
The problem is getting the watch to accept the “OK Google” command that allows you to do all of these things. In a perfectly quiet place, it works most of the time and then sometimes takes three or four or five goes to activate. Hardly ideal. Leaving the house and speaking to it straight away is another story.
Take for example when I leave the house and want to call my girlfriend. The phone handles switching from WiFi to Cellular perfectly but for some reason the watch doesn’t like it and so, you either end up with an unhappy cloud symbol telling you to try again, or nothing happens at all. As soon as one connection is clear, it works again. To prevent this annoyance, I made sure I had cleared the WiFi zone, which is about 50m down the road, before asking it anything.
The duration between saying “OK Google” and following up with a command can be aggravating sometimes. I hasten to add the emphasis onto ‘sometimes’. On occasion, it will activate and then follow with a tips menu right away, which stops you speaking to it. The only solution is to swipe it away and start again making it not handsfree.
There are a few other annoyances, though less of a detriment to the overall experience. For the display to turn on, the required movement has to be quite obvious. You know the movement I’m talking about – the typical arm up in a curved motion and a slight flick of the wrist to see the face. You can’t simply tilt your wrist and expect to be greeted with the time, you’ll have to tap the display or the button instead.
Using one of the available analogue watch faces means you see the watch hands jump to the current time from the one shown before it last turned off and sometimes the backlight doesn’t come on when it should. Oh and then there’s the heart rate monitor, which works about 30% of the time. It’s accurate when it reads your heart rate but for the other 70%, it asks you to tighten the band and try again, even though the watch is already tight, or for test purposes, being pressed firmly into your wrist!
The thing is though, despite the things the Moto 360 can do, you’re likely to end up using them sporadically or infrequently. The main purpose of the Moto 360, as with any Smartwatch is to provide you with the time (of course) and your notifications. Notifications are the absolute essence of what a Smartwatch is for. Whether I’m walking down the street, out for a run or even sat at my desk, it is quicker to see and deal with a notification on my watch than it is using my phone.
Lots of the other abilities are what I’d call the novelty features. They’re things you test and use regularly when you first own it but over a fairly short period of time, you’ll use it almost solely for the purpose it was really intended – for the notifications.
I said the other stuff would be used sporadically because that’s exactly what will happen – you’ll need to set a timer or prove a point in a heated discussion. You will ask your watch whether Pluto is no longer classed as a planet and you’ll feel good when you find out you’re right – and then you’ll go back to just using it to manage your notifications.
The great news is that will make the Moto 360 battery last for a couple of days at a push – one might have been a stretch when you first purchased it and were constantly asking it things. We all did that with Siri on the iPhone and now who uses it?
The extended capabilities of the watch aren’t being wasted, they’re just there for when you actually need them.
The Moto 360 is a Smartwatch not free of the occasional issue but evidently the best available right now and generally a pleasure to use. If you’ve got the money to spend, I’m certain you’ll want one and I’m sure you’ll like it. Is it worth breaking the bank for? That depends how much of a tech junkie you are.
The Moto 360 is on sale now for £199.99.
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