When Motorola first teased the Moto 360 back in June, it made us swoon. It was so damn pretty, even stalwart smartwatch refuseniks couldn’t help but want one. That was just a demo mode though. Today, I’ve finally set one up and spent some real time with it. Good news: We’re still just as excited about it.
This is easily the most comfortable Android Wear watch yet. That’s partially due to its leather strap, which feels great on the skin, and also because the watch’s back is totally smooth — slightly rounded, even. That’s thanks to the absence of exposed metal dots for charging that cause some discomfort in other models. Instead, the 360 feels like a small, flat river stone.
Likewise, the display feels like a solid hunk of glass. Whereas the displays on the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live sound thin and flimsy when you tap them, here you get a high-end solidness. In fact, you can tell it’s thick because there’s just a tiny bit of prism-effect at the very edge if you look at the watch from an angle. The bezel around the screen is stainless steel (you can get it in black or silver) and it’s nice and thin, so looking head-on almost everything you see is display.
Yes, there’s still that distracting blank space at the bottom of display. I asked Motorola’s CVP of Product Management Lior Ron about it. His explanation is that that’s where the display drivers live. At this point in the development, they either had to put it there are make the bezel thicker. The good news is that after an hour or so I pretty much completely forgot about it — like you would letterboxing in a movie on your TV — but your annoyance may vary. LG’s forthcoming G Watch R is round too, and took shots at Moto for the flat tire look, but since that’s not out yet we’ll have to wait to see how they compare in real life.
That blank space serves another purpose too: This is the first Android Wear watch with an ambient light sensor, which is very good news. With the You have to dip into the settings of the G Watch and Gear Live if you want to adjust the brightness. The 360 fine-tune automatically, so you don’t get blasted in the eyeballs while you’re watching a movie with the lights off, and can see well enough in daylight. Should help save battery too.
The other big first (aside from it being the first round smartwatch you can actually buy) is the way its heart rate sensor works. Samsung’s Gear Live has one too, but if you want to check your heart rate you have actively tap for a reading. The Moto 360, on the other hand, monitors your heart rate constantly. Motorola added its own special app for this, so not only do you have your daily goal for steps being logged taken Google Fit, but the 360 tells you how many minutes you’ve spent in different heart rate zone. There’s Inactive (40-92 bpm), Active (92 – 129) and Vigorous (129-185), and it recommends you spend at least 30 minutes a day in the Active zone. Right now it seems you have to call up the app to get that reminder, though, which is kind of dumb. Hopefully they will fix that in an update and make it a little more persistent.
This is ultimately a munch better way of monitoring health than merely counting steps. The Basis Band — which is one of our favourite fitness trackers — works similarly. It’s just a much more holistic picture of your health and activity levels. No other smartwatch would be able to tell you’re exercising if you were on a bike, for instance, or doing some hard aerobics or weightlifting. This is the first smartwatch to do this, and it’s a major advantage for anyone remotely interested in health-tracking. Motorola says we can expect updates and added functionality in this area soon. I wonder how that band will feel after it absorbs the sweat from a few dozen jogs on hot days.
Left to right: Samsung Gear Live, Moto 360, LG G Watch
Android Wear is built from the ground up to work with both square and round screens, which means that every single app that works with Android Wear (and there are thousands now) will work with the Moto X. Almost. The one exception is some third-party watch faces that were made specifically for square faces will look really bad on a round watch. That said, developers can make watch faces specifically for round watches too, so it should all even out.
If there’s one thing we’re pretty concerned about here it’s battery life. Unlike the other two Android Wear watches, the Moto 360’s default mode is to have the screen off, only waking up when you raise your wrist to look at it. That’s fine if that’s what you like, but Motorola says that one charge will get you through will get you through the day in screen off mode, and leaving it in ambient mode will reduce its longevity, though they wouldn’t say how much. Considering both the G Watch and the Gear Live will typically get you over 24 hours with ambient mode on, this could be a real problem. We won’t know for sure until we do more testing though.
When you do run out of juice, the Moto 360’s charger is there for you, and it’s easily the slickest one yet. It’s a little cradle, and you just drop the watch into it. It’s the first smartwatch to use inductive charging (the coils are wrapped around the heart rate sensor inside, which is pretty smart). When it’s in the charger the screen dims and it becomes a little bedside clock that displays the time. I’ve had a ton of trouble with Samsung’s Gear Live charger (which clips awkwardly), and LG’s isn’t bad, but it isn’t anywhere near as good as this.
The Moto 360 looks at a glance like it has the biggest display of any current Android Wear watch, but it’s actually ever so slightly smaller in diameter than the rest so far; the round display just makes it feel bigger. It’s a little thicker than the other two, but not obnoxiously so. It just looks a bit like a bigger analogue watch. It’s also just a bit lighter than the other guys, coming in at 49g (vs 59g for the Gear Live and 62g for the G Watch). Its display is backlit LCD, which is a bummer for the black-levels and battery life, but it’s easily much brighter and easier to read in daylight than either of the other two watches. Seems like it’s worth the trade-off.
The Moto 360 will be going on sale in the US today over at the Google Play Store, Motorola.com and BestBuy.com and it will run you $US250. You can choose from the black bezel with black leather band or the silver bezel with a limited edition dark grey band. Once supplies run out of that, it will be replaced with a lighter grey band. I prefer the dark grey band, so you might wanna go for that, but keep in mind that you’ll be able to replace the bands with whatever you like. Motorola will be rolling out a couple matching stainless steel bands soon, too, but they didn’t have dates or prices for them yet.
So is this absolutely 100 per cent the one to buy? Maybe. Definitely maybe! There are some things we just won’t know until we’ve spent a week or two with it (especially with the battery life question), but once we’ve done that we’ll have a full review coming your way. In the meantime, I’ll just say it looks pretty damn good.