Sep 16th, 2014 publishUpdated   Jan 16th, 2015, 1:19 pm

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When it comes to new tech, wearables like smartwatches have landed themselves in a unique position. While everyone agrees that an aesthetically pleasing smartphone or tablet can be seen as a bonus, it’s not mandatory. These devices spend the majority of their day tucked away out of view inside our pockets, backpacks, or hidden behind protective cases. But because smartwatches are actually worn, they’re just as much a fashion accessory as they are a piece of tech. This could be why Google Glass (at least in its current form) may never hit the mainstream and why tech heads were chomping at the bit over the newest kid on the smartwatch block: the Motorola Moto 360.

Like a girl at a Justin Bieber concert, it seemed like the tech community was eager to award the Moto 360 the distinguished honor of taking their Android Wear virginity based on looks alone. But underneath the chamfered glass and aluminum, is there more to the 360? Or is its primary success merely as an expensive piece of eye candy? We’ll answer all these questions and more in our Motorola Moto 360 review.

Design / Build quality

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After visiting Motorola’s all new HQ in Chicago, we literally got a full tour of the facilities as Motorola employees showed us every step that went into making the Moto 360, from design, to early prototypes, manufacturing, and the final gorgeous product you see today. Having seen all the hard work, blood, sweat, and tears that went into making the 360, we have to admit, we appreciate the watch a little more than we would have otherwise.

So by now, we get it: the Moto 360 is round. It’s the most defining characteristic of the smartwatch and one that — at least when pitted against the current crop of Android Wear devices — sets it apart from the pack. You’ll notice Motorola has been careful to avoid calling the 360 a “smartwatch.” Instead, Motorola chooses the term “modern timepiece,” a fancy way of saying it’s the traditional round watch you’re all used to, only smarter (you know, a smartwatch).

At first glance it appears as if the Moto 360 is floating on the watch strap and, like any other fashion accessory (smart or not), reactions to hockey puck-design have proven to be somewhat polarizing. Some will say it’s the sexiest smartwatch they’ve ever laid eyes on, while others will say it’s something better suited for the ice rink. Whatever your opinion, there’s no denying the Moto 360 at least looks expensive.

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On the face, you’ll find Gorilla Glass 3 raised ever so slightly from its brushed metal frame. The glass uses chamfered edges that cleverly reflect the light as to hide the side pixels of the LCD display when viewing the watch directly. All the distinct layers and pieces really give the watch some character, especially when looking at the lifeless design of rival devices like the LG G Watch. Even the single physical button on the side has a gold layer surrounding it, once again playing into that layered design aesthetic.

It’s these small details that help the watch appear less like it was slapped together in some Chinese factory and more like it was carefully assembled by a master craftsman. The watch looks premium and is further extended by Motorola’s choice in offering Chicago-sourced 100% genuine Horween leather wrist straps out of the box. There is no lower-end, rubber strapped sport “edition” or anything like that. This is the plate Motorola serves you and it’s delicious.

If leather doesn’t particularly suit your tastes, Motorola’s stock bands can be swapped for most standard 22mm bands, you’ll just have to make sure they’re thin enough to slide into the 360’s undercarriage. Motorola’s own official stainless steel link straps will be available later this year for an added $75.

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Upon picking it up, the first thing you’ll notice is how absurdly light the Moto 360 is. For a second we actually thought there was some sort of mixup at the plant and we ended up with a dummy unit by mistake. After strapping the 360 on, the watch sat perfectly in the middle of our wrist and the leather was light and comfy. There’s was no chaffing or pulling of our vast abundance of arm hair when adjusting the strap. It was easy to forget the watch was even on our wrist.

The Moto 360 is IP67 rated and means you wont have to worry about getting the watch wet while vigorously washing your hands everyday, but if you plan on jumping in the pool or hitting some waves at the beach, it’s best to leave it somewhere dry.

Hardware

Display

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There’s no denying the Moto 360’s body is a full 360-degrees round, but the same can’t be said for its display. At 320×290 (205ppi) resolution, the watch is almost perfectly round save for a small black bezel along the bottom which houses the ambient light sensor and the watch’s “display drivers.” Although the circular display can sometimes cutoff UI elements along the sides, the added screen real estate actually allows the 360 to display more words per line when compared to the LG G Watch.

Out of all the Android Wear devices, the Moto 360’s display is definitely the brightest, acting as a small flash light if for some reason you aren’t using the auto adjusting brightness setting. Speaking of which, the 360 is currently the only Android Wear device to come with an ambient light sensor, something that takes away the hassle of having to manually adjust the display. This is especially convenient when traveling from a dimly lit room out into daylight where the 360 was still tough to read (like most LCD devices), but at least it auto adjusted the brightness accordingly.

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Something we should note, the review unit we were provided with actually came with 2-dead pixels. Although we’d normally dismiss it as a fluke, we’ve been hearing reports from other 360 owners experiencing similar on their units, even after getting it replaced. You might want to check yours out of the box (it’s easier to see with an all black background) and make sure you purchase from a reputable retailer with a convenient return policy. You know, just to be safe.

Like on our LG G Watch, we also found the display on the Moto 360 wasn’t always the most responsive. Often times, you’ll find selecting UI elements on the display requires multiple taps because the first tap didn’t register. It’s annoying and interesting that we can now confirm it happening on two separate Android Wear devices, so this isn’t necessarily a Moto 360 thing.

Power button

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The Moto 360 is actually one of the few Android Wear devices to come equipped with an actual physical button. Located on its side, we thought it odd how it primarily acts as yet another way of waking the display on the watch if for some reason tapping the display was just too easy. We originally thought this was a conscious decision by Motorola simply to keep the device looking traditional but we soon learned the button serves a another purpose: long pressing the button actually acts as a shortcut to the device’s settings. This normally requires a ridiculous amount of effort (tap to wake, tap to voice search, scroll down to settings, tap again to select).

Another bonus is when turned off, you can even — brace yourself — power the device on. I know, your mind is blown, right? Although this might not sound like such a big deal, the LG G Watch has no buttons and once powered down, requires you to dock and connect the device to its charger (or use a paperclip to press the tiny button on its back) before it can be booted up again. Let me tell you, there has been more than a few occasions where I was rushing out the door, only to realize I forgot to boot up the G Watch, forcing me to go about my day with a watch I couldn’t power on. For having the foresight to see the convenience in something as simply as an easily accessible power button… for that, I tip my hat to you, Motorola.

Heart rate monitor

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The 360 isn’t just a pretty face. The watch also packs a few tricks up its sleeve that you can’t find in competing smartwatches (like the LG G Watch). For all you fitness types, Motorola threw in a tiny heart rate monitor located on the bottom of the device with a glowing green LED (see above pic).

This hardware feature is supported by Motorola’s own specialty apps and while great for tracking your daily fitness goals, is actually quite finicky when trying to get an accurate reading on the go. We found that you have to remain almost completely still to check your heart rate, so you’ll need to jump off the treadmill to get an update on your progress. We’ll go over both Heart Rate and Heart Activity apps more during our software portion of the review.

Wireless Charging

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Because manufacturers want to keep their smartwatches looking as svelte as possible, just about every Android Wear device — with the exception of the Moto 360 — feature their own proprietary methods of charging. This can make it difficult in the event you forget to pack a charger or, heaven forbid, lose your charger and have to pay through the nose for a first-party replacement.

The Moto 360 on the other hand features wireless charging. Since this is using the Qi wireless charging standard, it’s the same kind of wireless charging found on many popular Android handsets. This means if you or someone else already has a wireless charger for their phone, you also have another means of charging your Moto 360.

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When it comes to Motorola’s supplied wireless charging dock, it’s actually quite small and features a smooth, soft touch finish. Since the dock faces outward, it’s meant to act as a bedside clock when charging the Moto 360 overnight. Because the Moto 360’s battery is so small, it won’t take more than an hour to reach a full charge, giving you plenty of time to charge while performing your normal morning ritual.

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For those instances when you happen to be away from a wall outlet, don’t forget it’s possible to power the charger using one of the many portable battery chargers on the market. We paired our Moto X with Motorola’s tiny Power Pack Micro for a quick charging solution on-the-go. Surprisingly, it made for a nice mini charging station without all the wires or bulky battery packs.

Performance

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Inside the Moto 360, you’ll find an aging single-core TI OMAP3630 running the show. It’s by no means a powerhouse (not that it needs to be), just an odd choice by Motorola given the fact that rival OEMs all went with the more powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 400.

While actions are executed relatively quick, it’s the smoothness of the UI that suffers from the former Motorola Droid X SoC. That may not sound like a huge deal — and things have gotten smoother since the latest 4.4W.1 update — we have a feeling that over time, the OMAP will ultimately hold the smartwatch back and in some cases, it already does. Check out our battery life results below.

Battery life

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By now you may have noticed that battery life reports are all over the place. Since the latest software update, I’ve been able to consistently hit 20+ hours with the Moto 360 and its tiny 320mAh battery, but that wasn’t always the case.

Elsewhere, I’m still seeing reports of 12-15 hours and all we can do is scratch our heads, wondering why the experience differs so greatly person to person. It could have something to do with half-baked software, poor internal components, or even a shoddy Bluetooth connection with the paired handset. But the bottom line: I consistently got a full waking day, which passes the minimum expectations for these first generation smartwatches.

Unlike its Android Wear rivals, the Moto 360 comes with “Ambient screen” mode turned off right out of the box. Ambient mode is a fancy way of saying the display is always on, so you can quickly glance at the time without having to lift your hand and face the watch towards you (or press the physical button). While it only makes sense that battery life would suffer as a result, it’s nowhere near as big of a problem on other Android Wear devices as it is on the Moto 360.

With ambient mode on, you’re looking at barely 10 to 12 hours of battery life, a stark contrast to the 20+ hours with other devices like the LG G Watch. Again, we have a feeling the culprit is the Old-Man Jenkins OMAP which isn’t anywhere near optimized to run in a low power state like the Snapdragon 400. Simply put, it’s a shame and probably the only thing keeping the Moto 360 from unfettered greatness.

Connectivity

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I’ve seen more than a few reports of Bluetooth connections dropping in and out, and where I’ve only experienced this once or twice since my 2 weeks with the device, it could be due to any number of causes. Outside interference, the connected phone, the OS, the Android Wear app — who the heck knows. The bright side is it only takes a simple disconnecting/reconnecting of my watch using the Android Wear app to fix the problem.

I was hesitant to mention this in our review because I’ve had similar experiences with Google Glass and other Bluetooth devices. Again, it’s tough to figure out exactly what is to blame — the Moto 360, smartphone, or something else entirely — but thankfully it seems this was largely remedied in the latest 4.4W.1 update.

What’s missing

Because the Moto 360 is a first generation device, of course there are going to be some things Motorola left out whether to add for its inevitable sequel, or because they simply aren’t supported. We’re not going to hold it against them — especially given battery life is already at the bare minimum of what we would deem acceptable — but the Sony SmartWatch 3 has a GPS sensor, while the upcoming Apple Watch features NFC for quick mobile payments.

And although it’s never been discussed, we also wouldn’t mind seeing an IR blaster for quick universal remote functionality. Just file this under Motorola Moto 360 (2015) features we would like to see.

Software

Android Wear

Android Wear reservation

As one of Google’s flagship Android Wear devices (it was announced back during Google I/O alongside the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live), we’re sure by now you know everything there is to know about the modified Android OS that powers the watch. One of its main functions is simply quick access to Google Voice Search and if you’re curious to see all the information it can deliver, check out our video of 40+ voice commands you can do with Android Wear.

Aside from its handy Google Search functions, the primary goal for Android Wear is not to act like a tiny smartphone, but more of an extension of the notifications already found on your Android-powered smartphone. We don’t have statistics, but in our own experiences we’d say that anywhere between 80 to 90% of notifications you receive throughout the day don’t require an actual response, or perhaps just a quick one.

This is why Android Wear exists. Instead of pulling out your phone every 5 seconds to view a notification — which can add up, slowly diminishing your smartphone’s battery life — you can briefly check your watch instead. If something needs addressing, you can perform quick actions like a voice reply, delete, or “open on phone” and quickly get back to whatever it was you were doing.

Android Wear voice reply action

This also applies to apps that run on Android Wear, which are meant to have low attention costs and, in most cases, are installed simply by downloading its full Android counterpart from the Google Play Store. There aren’t too many Android Wear apps at the moment, but the list is definitely growing. As the platform continues to grow and evolve, expect these mini apps to become more helpful in the future (our favorite is Google Maps which shows turn-by-turn directions on your watch). For those worried about the here and now, outside of quick notifications, Android Wear’s usefulness is limited.

There are some that feel like Android Wear isn’t quite ready for prime time and in some ways, we’d have to agree. The UI isn’t all that intuitive (we like Google Glass’ timeline UI much better) and it’s clear Google still has their work cut out for them. But in terms of overall philosophy, Google is definitely on the right track by using Android Wear as a way to alleviate the heavy attention costs associated with using a smartphone OS (a stark contrast to Apple’s approach with their smartwatch).

Setup

Android Wear app

Setting up the Moto 360 is a snap and involves downloading the Android Wear companion app from the Google Play Store. After that, you simply pair up your watch upon first boot with your smartphone and you’re ready to go. Because, chances are, you have a few apps on your phone that have the same general function — multiple note apps for instance — you can specify which apps you’d like to launch by default when feeding your watch with voice commands.

If fiddling around in your watches settings is too difficult, you can also adjust these inside the Android Wear app by pressing the cog icon at the top.

Motorola apps and watch faces

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It’s true Google forbids Android Wear manufacturers from adding their own UI skins, but that doesn’t mean they can’t add their own specialty apps. In the case of the Moto 360, Motorola has added their own apps, watch faces, and even a bedside clock mode that displays while the watch is charging.

Motorola Connect

Using the Motorola Connect app (yes, you’ll need to download another app), you can customize the look of the Moto 360’s round watch faces, update your wellness profile, or view the last known location of the connected device (in this case, our Moto 360). The app actually works for a variety of Motorola’s Bluetooth connected devices like the Power Pack Micro and we’re guessing the Moto Hint will soon be added as well.

Although the app is now available for a variety of Android devices, the Motorola Connect PC Extension (which allows you to send receive/send SMS from your computer) is still a Moto-only affair.

The Moto 360’s Heart Activity app monitors your heart rate throughout the day, letting you know once you’ve hit 30 minutes of light exercise. Of course, fitness buffs likely wont bother with this and that’s fine. The app is more or less geared to couch potatoes like myself who want to live a little healthier, but need something to help track it.

Verdict

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After its initial unveiling, most everyone was ready to declare the 360 the undisputed king of Android Wear based purely on design. Turns out, there’s more to a device that just its looks. By now you know the the Moto 360 isn’t the “perfect smartwatch” and as a first generation device, we never really expected it to be.

Thankfully, reports of dismal battery life weren’t as terrible as some made it out to be, the the Moto 360 has proven it has the chops to be a successful contender in the smartwatch device segment. Now we have round watch faced competition from LG and Samsung looming around the corner, there’s no question Motorola’s window of opportunity is closing fast.

There’s all these other little things that make up a pleasant experience in consumers devices, hardware features you don’t really think about at first. The convenience of wireless charging, a simple power button — sure the Moto 360 has its share of short comings, but in life and tech you always make a trade off. The Moto 360 is no different, but whether it was for the better or worse is ultimately up to you to decide.

The Moto 360 nails it in the looks and comfort department, while offering premium build materials and hardware features like ambient light sensor and heart rate monitor the other guys aren’t offering. Add this to the fact it supports wireless charging — a common standard amongst Android devices — and you have all the makings of a winner.

At $250 for the leather strapped models, we can’t help but feel the Moto 360 is offered at a reasonable price. With features and a design that bests other Android Wear offerings, it’s not a bad deal. Especially when you consider the Apple Watch is retailing for $350 just for the base model in contrast to the Moto 360 which, we feel, has superior design and functionality. You can buy the Motorola Moto 360 from Best Buy, Google Play Store, or direct from Motorola.

Looking ahead

We have a feeling the mad push for Android Wear devices aren’t about to slow down, with bigger and badder smartwatches are just around the corner. Now that the Apple Watch has a general launch date, expect sequels for all these watches to arrive around then (or earlier) with more features and better internals than today’s models.

While we won’t fault anyone for passing up the current crop of wearables, tech addicts like myself have grown accustomed to the growing pains associated with first generation devices. Nobody ever said living on the bleeding edge of tech was easy, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Pros:

  • Looks and feels great
  • Wireless charging
  • Auto dim display
  • Power button
  • Leather out of the box

Cons:

  • Small battery
  • Underpowered, non-energy efficient processor
  • There’s an ambient mode, but you don’t wanna use it
  • Most expensive Android Wear smartwatch

Final Score: 4 out of 5

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