My Moto 360, which I’ve been wearing for about a month now (thanks, Sarah Hunt), just reminded me to post this review. Unlike prior product reviews, I opted not to share my initial reactions a day or two in; smartwatches are a new category, and I really wanted to get a feel not just for the device, but also for how I’d use it. But, it’s time, so here goes.
I’ll start with the look and feel of the watch itself. The Moto 360 really does look good, the round shape and curves are clean, the bezel barely noticeable, and the single button unobtrusive and comfortable. The strap is leather, which I don’t care for but have gotten used to. I don’t like heavy watches, the other watches I own weigh just a few ounces each and are a few millimeters thick. The Moto 360 is very lightweight, the first time you pick it up it feels lighter than it should be, but it’s anything but thin (if you wear long shirt sleeves it will get caught on the cuffs), that still bugs me.
The screen is clear and very readable, both indoors and out, and even in bright sunlight. Much has been said about the missing black bar at the bottom, but I have honestly never thought about it when using the watch, so it’s a non-issue for me.
There have been lots of discussions about battery life, and honestly, I have no complaints in this department. Aside from the very first day I wore the watch (when I was playing with it endlessly), it has never run out of juice. Even when I put it on at 6am East Coast time and then flew to the West Coast and took it off after midnight local time, it still had 20% battery left. And there have been two firmware updates in the last month, both of which made changes to improve battery life. Bottom line, battery life has been fine for me.
Charging the Moto 360, on the other hand, is a real pain. The watch charges inductively, sitting in a nice charging station, which in turn is powered by a standard mini USB port. Charging is really quick, and when in the charger the watch becomes a desktop clock of sorts with an outer ring showing charge status. It’s all wonderful, until you travel and have to bring along the charging station with you. It’s big, bulky, and one more thing to drag around (and remember to do). As much as I like the inductive charging station, they should have included a mini USB port for charging, too.
Setup and pairing are a breeze, although it’s silly to have to download and install two apps, one general Android Wear app and another Motorola app for Moto 360 specific options. The Android Wear app should allow plug-in vendor modules and hide vendor specificity from users.
Which brings us to actually using the Moto 360. Moving your wrist to view the watch brings the screen to life. Or rather, it should. In practice this doesn’t often work, so a touch of the glass or button is necessary. Not a big deal, more of a minor annoyance.
The Moto 360 has a built-in pedometer and heart beat sensor (which lacks the ability to send your heartbeat to a 3rd party, oh the horror!). They work well enough, but getting them to display when you want them is irritating. Occasionally the watch will show you steps walked or your daily activity progress (good luck figuring out when it decides to do so), other times it waits until you ask verbally or via menu selection.
The Moto 360 comes with several built-in watch faces, some nice looking, others very cheesy, and all switchable on-the-fly. They are all configurable to varying degrees using one of the previously mentioned apps, and there are lots of downloadable third-party faces too, (none of which I’ve been that impressed with yet).
And this leads me to the most important, and most misunderstood, aspect of the Moto 360. Unlike the Apple Watch (as demoed recently by Kevin Lynch), the Moto 360 doesn’t really run apps as you might expect, at least not primarily. For the most part, the Moto 360 is an extension of the Android notification interface (you know, those alerts that pop up at the top of your phone, the ones that iOS is now implementing). On your Android phone those notifications can be actionable, they can be dismissed, some (SMS and email notifications, for example) can be deleted or responded to, others (Facebook alerts and travel app notices) prompt you to open their respective apps, and so on. The Moto 360 plugs into the Android notification system, so all of those pop up on the phone. And ones that are actionable become so on the phone, too. When you get an email or SMS notification (or card) you can read the message on the watch, you can swipe to delete, and you can even reply (using voice dictation or by selecting from a few canned text responses).
I know what you’re thinking. Texts and email on a 1.5″ diameter circular screen? Seriously? The truth is that for the most part it works really well. I do read text messages on it, and occasionally reply from it, too. Those of you who know me know that I can be a little obsessive when it comes to staying on top of email. (I try to have empty work and personal inboxes at the end of every day). The Moto 360 really helps, I do read and scan emails on it (I delete read emails too, but don’t use Moto 360 to reply).
As you’d expect, exactly what you can do with cards varies by app. Those that have Android Wear specific support tend to offer actual interaction (delete, reply, display boarding card, etc.) whereas the rest probably only allow you to open the related app on the phone. Until more apps have Android Wear support, this does create a very disjointed experience. Fortunately, the major Android apps are being updated.
Cards are really important in Android Wear. And this is also where things start to break. My biggest irritation with the Moto 360 was just this, the interaction between cards and their apps. Here’s an example. Delta’s app supports Android Wear. The first time I used it I checked in for a flight and the boarding card showed up on the phone, pretty cool. But I didn’t want the boarding card image or the notification sitting on the screen for the next 24 hours, so I dismissed it. But then there was no way to get it back, because there was no way to retrieve the dismissed notification (just like on the Android phone itself). There is also no app screen (like the one Kevin showed on the Apple Watch) so it isn’t easy to open a specific app other than verbally. Without a way to reopen dismissed cards, or easily open specific apps on the watch, use is greatly restricted. Fortunately, Google released Android Wear 4.4W.2 this week, and it does now allow you to hide notification cards (via swipe down) and then recall them (swipe up), so now I can hide the card (rather than dismiss it) and then recall it. It’s not perfect, there really has to be a better way to control when cards and apps appear, but it’s much better, so long as you remember to hide and not dismiss, and so long as you don’t mind seeing the same card over and over each time new cards pop up. As I said, not perfect.
There are lots of 3rd party apps available for Android Wear and the Moto 360, and I have found most useless and have thus quickly uninstalled them. The notable exception is IFTTT which is just too darned geeky to ignore.
So, all this said, what’s the verdict? Honestly, I will confess that I am addicted to this smartwatch. I recently went back to my regular non smart (but elegant and classy) watch for three consecutive days, and I found myself missing the cards and notifications. On the road, be it on the floor at MAX or walking down Broadway in Manhattan or between meetings in San Francisco, I do find myself more and more looking at my watch rather than taking out my phone. Despite its shortcomings, the Moto 360 has quickly became an important part of my workflow, and to me that makes it a winner. It also tells me that when Apple finally releases the Apple Watch (and assuming that Apple, as they usually do, will do a better job on user experience consistency), it’s going to do very well.
Bottom line, the Moto 360 is worth every penny, and is highly recommended.