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Moto 360 (2015) Review: The Desire of My Wrist

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Moto 360 (2015) Review: The Desire of My Wrist

First generation products are very rarely much of a success. They are often experimental, somewhat unrefined, and even a little unsure of why they exist. However, like the very best of them, the original Moto 360 caught the attention of both the average consumer and the industry as a whole. It was too early in the smartwatch game for a product to look and feel this good.

Despite everything the original Moto 360 got right, it had it also had its fair share of problems—and not just quibbles either. It had terrible battery life, pretty terrible performance, and pretty limited functionality. But now in 2015, Motorola has updated its lineup with a brand new Moto 360 that tackles a lot of those problems head-on.

Does it solve all of the original Moto 360’s problems? Is it the best smartwatch ever made? Let’s begin to answer those questions by starting with the hardware.

Hardware

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The new Moto 360 is and has always been a beautiful smartwatch. As someone who has never been a watch-wearer or even much of a proponent of smartwatches, I remember spending time with the original model and really having my mind changed on it. Like the original, the new Moto 360 is a circular design, made of all stainless steel and glass. It has a single button on the side, which is used solely as a home button. It’s also got all the familiar sensors and bits of tech: Bluetooth 4.1, WiFi, a heart rate sensor, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400, and 4GB of internal storage.

In fact, in terms of the look, you’d have to look carefully to see the difference between the new Moto 360 and last year’s model. However, that’s not at all a bad thing. The main difference in the look of the Moto 360 is a slight change in the clasps where the straps connect. The clasps are now a bit more visible and make switching out the strap a bit easier than before. Other than that, the home button is been moved upward a bit and the device as a whole is 0.1mm thinner than before.

The big thing that sets the Moto 360 apart from last year’s model is the new sizing options. There are now three different Moto 360 models: two models for men and one for women. The two men’s models come in at the normal size (46mm) and a smaller size (42mm). Meanwhile, the women’s model is also 42mm, but with a smaller clasp and strap size. It’s a subtle difference, but I was really glad to see Motorola acknowledging the desire for different sizes when it comes to something as visible as a watch on your wrist. Personally, I prefer the smaller 42mm size (shown in our images) and I think for most people this is going to be preferable. As a guy with by no means dainty wrists, I found the 46mm model to just be slightly bigger than something I’d want to wear every day.

Speaking of customization, there are now more options than ever before in Motorola’s excellent Moto Maker service. You can go through and pick out your strap color and material, as well as the color of the watch itself. You can go for the nondescript, all-black leather that I did, or you can bling it out with a stainless steel band and a silver finish. Some options increase the price, but it’s a lot of fun to see all of the variations and decide which combination you want.

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With all that said, in my mind the Moto 360 looks and feels better than any smartwatch out there, including the Apple Watch. That certainly doesn’t make it the best all-around, but thanks to the new sizing option, ever-so-slight design change, and wide variety of customization, it just can’t be beaten aesthetically right now in my mind.

Another point in favor of the Moto 360 is the 1.37-inch display (for the 42mm model) display, which has got a decent little upgrade. It’s an LCD screen with 360 × 325 resolution, which comes in at a pixel density of 354 pixels per inch. It’s not mind-blowing, but it’s bright, colorful, and really responsive.

Before I move on to the software, I need to address the most important problem the new Moto 360 has made significant progress on: battery life. The original Moto 360 had really awful battery life. Before it got its update, the original Moto 360 would never make it through the day and if usage was up a bit, you were looking at around half a day. Motorola pushed out an update that helped the situation a bit, but it still had trouble getting through a full day a lot of times.

I am happy to report that I am really satisfied with the battery life of the new Moto 360. On light usage, it can make it through two full days, and I ended most days with around 50 percent of battery. I usually charge it every night, but if I don’t, it’s also not the end of the world.

One reason for that is the new black-and-white always-on mode that turns on quickly after the display is no longer in use. That means the Moto 360 can actually function as a watch now without completely killing your battery. Furthermore, if you don’t like the idea of having a glowing circle on your wrist at all times, you can quickly access Theater Mode from the pulldown menu, or just turn the feature off entirely for an extra boost in battery.

Software

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When I reviewed last year’s Moto 360, Android Wear was new and quite limited. In some ways, Google had the right idea about what a smartwatch should be—a stream of information to scroll through rather than a big grid of icons. However, the developers at Google were still stumbling through what the implementation looked like on a device like the Moto 360.

A year later, Android Wear feels a bit more fleshed out. On your main feed, you can still scroll through your cards of information—usually weather, your daily step tracker, upcoming calendar events, stocks you are tracking, and that sort of thing. If you are running Spotify or an app like Pocket Casts, you can pause, play, and skip to the next track. A swipe to the right gets rid of the card and swiping left gives you the ability to act on the notification. For example, if you get a Twitter notification such as a Reply to one of your tweets, you can swipe to the left to do things like Favorite the Tweet or Reply to it via voice recognition. It’s the same with something like a text message.

Overall, I really like the way Google has designed Android Wear. You’ll still run across plenty of notifications from apps that you can’t do anything with other than swipe away or open on your phone, but at least you get that notification like you would any other. I’m eagerly waiting for more small developers to give Android Wear access to abilities to act on certain notifications—but until then it doesn’t necessarily leave big holes in the experience.

All of that was possible and true with older versions of Android Wear, except for one big thing: performance. The performance issues that plagued the first Moto 360 were a big turn-off for me, especially considering how limited the functionality is. Scrolling through your feed is now quite responsive and snappy, as are the various animations and transition effects.

So what’s new in Android Wear? A few things stand out in particular. At the watch face screen, a swipe to the left will bring you do a list of apps so that you can go in and open them manually, which is really great. Swipe left of that and you’ll get to a big list of your recently used contacts so that you can start a text or phone call. I wish there were more options like send a Facebook Message or Tweet, but it’s better than nothing, which was what we had before. Another new menu is the swipe down from the home screen, which gives you access to a few quick menu settings such as notifications, a brightness boost, and the aforementioned theater mode.

The weird thing is that despite the improvements, Android Wear is still not as contextually relevant, surprisingly helpful, and versatile as a service like Google Now. I wish I’d get reminders and notifications based on my location and the time of the day. Where’s the package tracking and parking location and all of the other insanely great things Google Now does? I feel like Android Wear will get there eventually, but it’s clear to me that Google isn’t completely utilizing the fact that we have a tiny computer strapped to our wrist that has all of the same contextual information that our phones have.

Verdict

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The Moto 360 might not attempt to do as much as the similar offerings from Apple or Samsung, but it does just as many things well. Motorola has nailed the look and feel of the kind of smartwatch I want to have on my wrist, largely thanks to the amount of customization the company is giving its customers. Because of that, it’s my favorite smartwatch to actually have on my wrist so far that I’ve used. It’s easily the best Android Wear device out there and is on par with the Pebble Time and Apple Watch at pretty much every level.

Smartwatches will never be essential, no more than tablets will ever be essential. Laptops didn’t even become what I’d call “essential” until they completely replaced desktops altogether. Smartwatches aren’t going to probably ever completely replace your smartphone, but it is a market that certainly has a lot of potential for growth—and I’m convinced more than ever that growth will spark even more innovation for what companies like Google, Apple, Samsung, and Pebble can do. I might not feel like I need the Moto 360 on my wrist at all times, but I sure do want it there.