Like the serfs on the anarcho-syndicalist commune in Monty Python And The Holy Grail, fans of Android Wear and the $249 Moto 360 have been moaning under the oppressive noise regarding the yet-to-be-released Apple Watch. “You’re biased,” they scream as they swipe desperately at their Google Now cards. “You never cover the real winners.” Well here I am, covering the real winner (for now). I’ve had an opportunity to wear their pet product for a few weeks now and, with all of our Disrupt frippery out of the way, I wanted to address the good and the bad of Motorola’s latest addition to the smartwatch parade.
The Moto 360 is a very simple thing. The device is the first round of Android Wear watch, and it looks, when not active, like a big black disk. It has a 1.56-inch display and leather straps and features a powder-coated steel case and Gorilla Glass screen. At its core the watch does very little any other smartwatch on the market can’t do. It is focused on notifications. You can see new calls, messages and a brief selection of email subjects. It brings in weather and stock quotes through Google Now as well as directions. It has a small haptic motor inside for silent feedback, and it can listen to your voice and return directions, information or even send messages and texts.
Does it work? Yes. When it works well it’s a quiet partner in crime, notifying you of messages and important information and, most importantly, offering walking and biking directions like a trusty AAA Road Atlas. While there is some jitter thanks to an older processor, the watch responds quite quickly to spoken requests in a quiet room but has to churn a bit to figure things out at a party or in a noisy area. However, when it works it works as expected: like a little bit of magic.
And when it fails? That’s a different story. The watch is only as smart as the phone it’s paired with and many times the watch would disconnect from the Moto X I was using it with and go into “No Cloud” mode. This essentially turned the watch into a glorified Basis Band, measuring heart rate using a small LED sensor and steps using an internal accelerometer. You access the speech-recognition features by tapping on the screen or the button on the side and, when the watch disconnected, this resulted in a bit of spinning and then a half-hearted recommendation to try a few things that didn’t require Internet connectivity. Sadly I saw the “No Cloud” icon more than I’d have liked and was often stuck while demoing the watch to people because it just wouldn’t work. This didn’t happen all the time nor was it normal behavior, but it was just annoying enough to be maddening.
To be fair, my complaint is a bit Louis CK-esque: “Why isn’t this tiny thing on my wrist constantly helping me navigate both the Internet and the real world?” But this is the world in which we live. It’s a place where a tiny disk of metal can be considered a boon companion or sworn enemy, depending on the vagaries of Bluetooth.
The Moto 360 lasted for a full day on one charge even with my hectic notification schedule. Whether this is because my watch had a tendency to shut down in the middle of tasks fairly regularly or is a testament to the power handling inherent in the four-year-old TI OMAP 3 processor inside, I’m not certain. But I definitely did not see the eight-to-twelve hour battery life many others saw. You can easily charge this watch overnight and have it work until the wee hours but, as always, your results may vary.
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with this piece for most of my time with it. I loved using it as a bike navigator while riding through New York and San Francisco, and it’s been helpful when I received emails. The Google Now weather cards are fun and it’s also a hoot to see the faces of close friends appear on my watch. It’s a fun experience in general and it’s great to see it in the comforting and familiar round watch experience.
My biggest peeve was the watch face. When you tapped the watch the face would appear with the time it was last tapped. This means you see the time from a few minutes ago for a brief second and then the face snicks into the current time. It’s a difficult thing to explain, but this showcased the 360’s slowness more than anything else. A smartwatch that can’t tell the time immediately isn’t a watch nor is it smart.
But aside from that issue, I experience no deal breakers. It is a balanced device from a company that knows materials and hardware, and it is far more wearable than any of the Samsung devices and far more attractive than the Pebble.
Fans of the Apple Watch will probably gloat that their horse will run far faster than this little metal disk (even though it’s not officially available). And they will be right.
The primary problem with smartwatches thus far has been a lack of ambition. The watches have improved immensely over the years, to be sure, with Pebble being a sort of Platonic ideal of last generation’s smartwatch systems and the Moto 360 being the current generation’s prime avatar. The Apple Watch, if all is to believed, will kick both of those to the curb.
Does that mean this isn’t worth buying? Absolutely not. If you’re Android through-and-through and want a watch that works with your phone, this is the one. If you’re someone who needs a helpful navigation assistant while walking through the city, this is the one for you (for now). And if you’re looking to experience one of the best smartwatches I’ve used thus far, this is the one to try.