Review: Moto 360, Android Wear

The hardware

The Moto 360 is beautiful. In fact, it’s so beautiful it’s not just beautiful for a smartwatch, but simply, a beautiful watch, period. Compared to its square competitors – Samsung’s stuff, the Apple Watch – it’s just so much prettier and better looking, you have to wonder if Samsung, Apple, and others making those bulky square smartwatches have any idea whatsoever about what makes a beautiful watch.

I know some people argue that a square watch looks better than a round watch, but those people are simply wrong. Okay, that’s not entirely fair – there’s no accounting for tastes – but I do maintain that an analogue clock is easier to read when round than when square. Considering I prefer analogue clocks over digital ones, and considering timekeeping is still my number one function even in a smartwatch, round is both aesthetically and functionally preferable.

Yet others argue that a square smartwatch makes more sense because it offers more screen real estate and thus is a better fit for the smart aspect of the smartwatch. To me, this illustrates exactly the problem with square smartwatches: they put the smart part above the watch part.

Too much computer, too little watch.

The response from my friends, relatives, and beyond was unanimous: they all loved the design of the Moto 360. The thing is a major crowd pleaser, and be prepared to take it off and have it passed around the room if you’re out with friends or visiting family. The most common response is telling – “wait, is that a smartwatch? I thought those were square, bulky, and ugly!” The more technologically savvy will often add “…like those Samsung things or the Apple Watch”.

The Moto 360 strikes a very decent balance between modern watch design and classic watch design (leaning a little more towards modern), and the choice of materials is mostly (more on that later) spot-on. It’s not decidedly masculine or feminine, and it does a relatively good job of being nondescript enough that it appeals to both men and women, both old and young. Its minimalist design means that it often tends to blend in nicely with whatever style of clothing the wearer is wearing.

Back when the Moto 360 was announced, many people feared it would be too big and too masculine, but that turns out to not be the case. The Moto 360 sits in the middle of the spectrum of male watches, so much so that it easily fits on female wrists as well, without looking comically huge. Most of my female friends are quite thin, with narrow wrists, and the 360 looked just fine while they were wearing it. My own wrists, too, are quite narrow, so this is no surprise to me.

I think the misunderstanding about the size of the 360 stems form the fact that most technology reporters and bloggers have little to no experience with wearing watches, and thus misjudge the size. The roundness and almost bezel-less design of the 360 makes it appear even smaller than its dimensions suggest. In fact, it’s as thin as the Apple Watch (11.5mm), but it is wider (46mm vs. 36.2mm) and a little taller (46mm vs. 42.1). However, this is a little misleading as you’re comparing a rectangle to a circle. In surface area, the Moto 360 is a little larger still, but not by a huge margin (1661.9mm² vs. 1524.0mm²).

To put these numbers into perspective, some of my other watches’ diameters are 48mm, 46mm, 42mm, and 41mm. These are more or less the standard watch sizes for men, which generally run from 34mm to 50mm, while female watch sizes run from 22mm to 44mm, which explains why the Moto 360 doesn’t look out of place on a thin, female wrist. On top of that – size isn’t everything. Much of a watch’ sense of size (and presence) stems not from the actual size itself, but from its design. A 46mm watch with a thick, raised, and/or dark bezel will appear larger than a 46mm watch with a very thin, lowered, or chamfered bezel (like the 360). Compare this Panerai to this one – the same size (47mm), yet the first one appears larger and has a lot more presence.

Moving on from design to wearability, and the Moto 360 is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s light and mostly comfortable, but it has the annoying habit of ripping out arm hair. Sorry for the visual, but arm hairs tend to get stuck… Somewhere on the back (I’m not sure where), so when you take it off, it can hurt like hell. This is a pretty big design oversight, and one that made me not want to wear the 360. If you have little to no arm hair on your wrist area, you’ll be fine, but if you have a bit more hair over there, you may want to think twice about wearing the 360.

The problems do not end there, sadly. The plastic back of the Moto 360 is pretty much a disaster. It tends to crack because of how the back curves into the band. This is a huge design flaw that should have never, ever, escaped the attention of quality control. The back on my Moto 360 cracked within just a few weeks, probably because my narrow wrist increased the stress on the back (see the linked video). For a €249 device, this is unforgivable, and reason enough to not recommend the 360 to anyone.

Battery life

I never quite know where to put battery life – hardware or software? – so I’ll just cover it now. Battery life on the Moto 360 is hard to put into context. At the end of an entire day, I’ll have about 40-45% battery left, meaning that I could, with some effort, squeeze out two days of use. While some may think this is acceptable, my other watches measure battery life in… Uh, years, I think? Decades?

However, to get to those two days, you have to make a lot of sacrifices compared to a regular watch. First, the display is essentially always turned off – so all you have on your wrist is a black circle, which is not particularly informative. To turn on the display, you either either press the crown, or raise your wrist to have the motion sensor turn it on. This sounds reasonable in theory, but in practice, it’s a nightmare.

First and foremost, I rarely raise my arm to look at my watch. If you’re sitting, lying down, riding a bike, driving a car, all you need to do to read the time on a regular watch is slightly tilt your wrist, and most of the time, even that is not necessary. The Moto 360’s motion sensor is far too insensitive to register that kind of slight tilt, forcing you to raise your arm in a comical fashion, even when you can see the watch just fine without raising it.

In what is surely going to be the red thread of this article, the problem does not end there. It takes 1-2 seconds for the display to actually turn on once the motion has been registered, so the entire process of reading time takes 5-10 seconds. This may seem like a trivial amount of time, but the whole point of wearing a watch is that reading time takes a second, at best. If you’re used to reading time in a second, 5-10 seconds feels like a lifetime.

And the problems get worse from here. The motion sensor often will not register movement at all, so you end up wailing your arm like a lunatic just to get the display to turn on. When the display finally does turn on, it will often be darkened (no idea why – the ambient light sensor, perhaps?), so you have to wait until the brightness is increased before you can actually read the time. By this point, I could have just taken my smartphone out of my pocket, read the time, beat Flappy Bird, solve worlds hunger, and put it back in my pocket. I.e., the entire idea behind the smartwatch for most non-watch wearing people vanishes.

But wait, there’s more! Sometimes, the motion sensor has a bad day, and will just turn the display on at the slightest of movements – opening up the device for all kinds of input. I lost count of how many times I pulled back my sleeve to find I had done some Google Search or accidentally launched something because the motion sensor had turned the device on while walking, typing, or just lying down.

There’s a way to mitigate these problems, and that’s to turn on a feature called ambient display. This will keep the display turned on in a darkened state, but as you may expect, this kills battery life and leaves the devices open to input at all times. It’s not really a solution at all. So, in the end, I just turned off the motion sensor altogether, and relied solely on pressing the crown to turn it on, but by that point I just didn’t want to bother any more – that’s even more cumbersome.

Again – too much computer, too little watch.


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