The $250 Motorola Moto 360 – the Incredible Hulk of the Android Wear ecosystem – smashes its way into the wearable tech world with a circular screen and non-proprietary wireless Qi-charger, features unique among its peers. The smartwatch fuses beautiful and sleek design with functionality. But does it beat the $199 LG G Watch or the $199 Samsung Gear Live?
Another question that I pose toward our readership: Should you wait for the upcoming avalanche of Android Wear products this holiday season?
Feel and Aesthetic Design
The Moto 360 comes with two possible bands, depending on what you buy – although users can swap out the default wrist strap for another 22mm band. The default, Horween leather band comes into two colors: Stone grey and black. The leather feels more like a synthetic rubber – smooth, textured and like a second skin. After strapping it on several dozen times, the leather begins wrinkling. Also, it quickly picked up a permanent water stain. In the long-run, the band would not stand up to much abuse, water exposure or perspiration. The metal band seems a better bet for longevity.
Note: Reports emerged suggesting that while the Moto 360 physically supports 22mm bands, only the thinnest straps will actually work.
Regarding the watch’s body, its circular stainless steel metal shell crushes its square and blocky competition in design quality. It features clean lines, a brushed texture and a sloped bezel. A single button rests on the side, providing a faint hint of design from analog watches. Despite its primarily metal composition, it retains the light-weight of a plastic build (somewhere in the ballpark of 150 grams). The rear housing, where the sensors are located, possesses a plastic, high-gloss construction.
The Moto 360 offers a blend of archaic and cutting edge specs. Its TI OMAP 3 chipset, according to iFixit, yields good-enough performance at the cost of power efficiency. It’s believed that Motorola sat on older stock of TI’s chip and realized that wearable devices didn’t require the latest hardware to run smoothly. It also includes a heart-rate sensor and a custom designed wireless Qi charger, slimmed down to fit inside of a smartwatch.
- Texas Instruments OMAP 3 45nm manufacturing process (via iFixit)
- 320 x 290, 205 pixels-per-inch semi-circular LCD screen;
- Wireless Qi Charging Dock;
- The Leather Band with metal band upgrade for $79.99;
- Heart rate sensor;
- 300-310 mAh battery;
- Gorilla Glass 3.
The Moto 360’s hardware isn’t much different from the older LG G Watch (our review of the LG G Watch) and the Samsung Gear Live. Compared to the Gear Live, the only additional feature offered by the 360 is wireless charging and an ambient light sensor. Stacked next to the LG G Watch, the 360 offers wireless charging, a tiny battery, a weaker chipset and an ambient light sensor.
The aesthetic quality of the 360 eclipses those on comparable Android Wear devices – at present, only two other devices exist: The LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live. The Moto 360’s circular screen packs 320 x 290 pixels. Unlike on square screens, the 360’s corners are cut off. Users can simply scroll to view the cut-off portions of a screen. In comparison, the 360 screen doesn’t stack up to the Samsung Gear Live’s 279 PPI, 320 x 320 resolution OLED screen, except in daylight readability.
The 360 — like most Android Wear devices — offers a lot. However, its only display feature that distinguishes it from its competition: Ambient light sensor. Enabling the ambient light sensor allows the 360 to adjust brightness to environmental conditions. This improves daylight readability and battery life in low-light conditions.
Like all Android Wear devices, the centerpiece of the 360 is its access to Google Now. Activating Google Now just requires switching the screen on. Once activated, users can input the following voice commands:
- Take a note
- Remind me later
- Show me my steps
- Show me my heart rate
- Send a text
- Set a timer
- Start stopwatch
- Set an alarm
- Show alarms
These software features — with the exception of the heart-rate monitor — are standard on all Android Wear devices. My impression: Google Now is amazing. But the majority of these features already exist in the Android ecosystem. If you want perpetual access to Google Now, both the 2013 and 2014 editions of the Moto X offer touchless controls for it.
Customizable Watch Faces
The seven default watch faces range between analog and digital. Users can install alternative watch faces, but Google specifically recommends against this – these aren’t designed with the 360 in mind.
Pairing With Your Smartphone
Connecting the Moto 360 to your smartphone — like all Wear devices — doesn’t require much effort. Just install the Andoid Wear app on your Android device, switch on Bluetooth, and initiate the pairing process. The Android Wear app will walk users through its set up and configuration. A major advantage of the 360 is its physical button, which can switch the 360 on, or off, depending on your needs.
Android Wear requires the following:
- Android 4.3+;
- You must accept the pair on both the Moto 360 and the smartphone/tablet;
Making Use of the Moto 360
As a reviewer, I focus on the practical applications of smartwatches. I tried all of the Moto 360’s features – of those not provided by Google Now, none justified the $250 price tag. While the 360 drips in design quality and beauty, its real-world value gives only scant improvement over the LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live – both watches which I’ve come to dislike for their frail battery life. That said, like its competitors, the 360’s most practical features: Navigation, notifications, app-access and heart-rate monitoring.
The navigation feature of the 360 embeds itself within Google Now. It functions similar to navigation using Google Now on a smartphone. Simply use the command word “navigate to” and add your destination. The watch syncs with your smartphone, vibrating as each turn arrives.
Most users will love the ability to change destinations on the fly while driving — and not even touching their smartphone. While the most useful feature, touchless navigation just doesn’t justify its price-tag by itself.
Notifications and Apps
Your paired smartphone will push notifications out to the smartwatch. Pushed notifications cause the watch to vibrate. There’s a lot of flexibility in the Wear platform. Users can whitelist which apps push out notifications. Notifications can be turned off. Users can even manage which apps run in the background on the 360. Even so, I’ve yet to see an app for the Wear platform that justified a purchase. Why?
Because most smartphones can handle the same, or similar, functions as a smartwatch.
Heart rate sensor
The heart rate sensor is housed on rear portion of the Moto 360. It suffers from serious problems. First, the sensor won’t work while in motion. Second, rather than reading your data all day long, you must periodically activate the sensor. Overall, the vast majority of users won’t get much value from the heart-rate sensor. It’s gimmicky, and bordering useless.
There’s a lot of other devices that offer better health metrics than the Moto 360. My favorite: The Basis B1 Health Tracker (our review of the Basis).
I tested the Moto 360’s battery longevity and found several factors that drain battery life. In particular, ambient screen, navigation, idle-state battery performance and Google Now activations were tested. While these numbers lack a rigorous methodology, they do give an idea of how much up-time the 360 offers.
I found that the screen itself drains — by far — the most amount of battery. With ambient light turned on, in a well-lit room, the Moto 360 drains about 48% per hour (estimated, based on 10 minutes of screen-on-time). The next most drainy feature: Navigation. Turn-by-turn directions consume about 10% per hour, or more. Idling consumes around 3% per hour, which connected via Bluetooth. And 10 Google Now activations use about 3-4% battery.
- Ambient screen idle: 8% drain per hour;
- Ambient screen + navigation: 13% drain per hour;
- Navigation: 10% drain per hour;
- Idle: Roughly 3% drain per hour;
- 10 Google Now activations: around 3-4% battery drain;
- Screen-on time: 48% drain per hour.
There’s likely a number of factors that drain battery. For example, I can’t explain why having the ambient screen on while navigating only drains 5% more than ambient screen alone. Or why navigation drains 10% per hour, while using the ambient screen while navigating takes only 3% more.
Over a 24 hour period, assuming the device isn’t used for eight hours (approximately 24% drain), expect around 3 hours of navigation (30% drain), forty Google Now activations (12-16% drain) and around 30 minutes (24% drain) of screen-on-time. If you use the always-on screen, expect a lot less of everything.
Moto 360 Battery Life Tips
- Don’t use the ambient screen feature. It leaves the 360’s screen on, which magnifies its battery life issues.
- Using auto-brightness will increase drain when in direct sunlight.
- The lowest brightness setting is still visible while inside of a car and even while outdoors — although users may need to squint to see the screen.
- Some apps will increase battery drain on your 360. It seems that Android Wear is going through the same difficulties as Android. Unoptimized apps may increase drain. Be careful what you install.
Battery Life: With light (to moderate) use, I can get a maximum of two days of battery life out of the LG G Watch – which offered a slightly larger (400 mAh) battery compared to the Moto 360’s 310 mAh. Unfortunately, the Moto 360 barely squeezes in a full 24-hours of battery time. During testing, I hit full charge around 4:22 PM and the battery began to fail at around 5:30 PM the following day. I used the watch for 2-hours of navigation, a heart-rate check, over 20 Google Now activations and about 15-minutes of screen use. When I tested each function by itself, unfortunately, I received different battery life measurements.
This might be because I received a firmware update in the middle of my tests.
Always-on Touchscreen: Motorola doesn’t allow users to disable the always-on touchscreen. This exacerbates the 360’s drain problems. Also, the touchscreen makes accidental screen activations all too easy. A light brush against one’s skin turns the screen on. While users can alter the setting for screen-on time, even a few seconds will cost the user precious battery life. A dozen accidental activations leaves the user with less up-time – perhaps causing the user to miss a crucial text message or navigation turn.
Android Wear: While Android Wear offers the most visually pleasing interface out of all wearable operating systems, it suffers from numerous shortcomings – first and foremost, battery life. Prior to the advent of Wear, smartwatches featured embedded operating systems and more efficient internal hardware. With Wear, devices went from 3-7 days of battery life to 1-2 (if you’re lucky).
Aside from battery life, Android Wear isn’t really open-source, as Google maintains control over the heart and soul of the operating system: Android Wear. Users expecting a fully open source system will suffer disappointment.
Chopped-off Screen: Many reviewers don’t mind the chopped off bottom of the Moto 360’s otherwise circular screen. I suspect this design choice emerged from tight deadlines to capture the early adopter market. I believe it is a sign that the device has other production flaws.
Overall, the chopped-off screen won’t bother users too much — most Wear apps don’t rely on having a full screen. Also, the screen often is completely black, which blends in with the chopped off portion of the screen.
Cheap Internal Components: Think about it. The Moto 360’s $250 retail price, in a smartphone package, would cost tens of dollars. The chipset and weak internal components — by Internet standards – look like a budget smartphone from two years ago. It uses an open-source operating system, without (not entirely sure) licensing fees. While manufacturers absorb start-up costs in releasing a new product, I doubt it justifies the $250 price of the 360. Crowdfunded wearables tend to cost about the same with smaller production runs. It is with poisonous vitriol that I reject early adoption.
Android Wear as a platform isn’t ready for mainstream use. Early adopters may love the constant access to Google Now – but a day of battery life crushes Android Wear smartwatches as daily-drivers. Had the Wear platform made room for lower-powered chipsets, such as Cortex M, MIPS or other low-drain chipsets, users could get days of battery life. If manufacturers included reflective or daylight readable technologies – such as the sublime Mirasol or Pixel Qi technologies, week-long battery lives could emerge. As it stands, the platform will require constant recharging. Combined with a non-user replaceable battery, the 360’s longevity remains in question.
If battery life and daylight readability fall among your chief concerns, check out our Pebble Watch Steel review. It may not offer the 360’s myriad features, but it does offer notifications.
Before buying, everyone should ask themselves: Do they really need a smartwatch? If you do, then the Moto 360 might satisfy, since it’s currently the best Android Wear device. But don’t let that fool you — better devices will drop this holiday season.
So while the Moto 360 offers beautiful design and solid performance it fails in two key areas:
- The platform’s poor daylight readability.
- Android Wear fails to offer more than a day or two of battery life.
Unfortunately, the Moto 360 – as highly polished as it is – just doesn’t cut it. However, I must applaud Motorola for working wireless Qi-charging into the 360. By using a non-proprietary technology, Motorola pushes us toward a future in which wire-free charging is the standard, rather than the exception.
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