There’s little doubt in my mind that smart watches have really exploded this year; we’ve gone from an environment where there were a couple of watches that paired via Bluetooth and didn’t do a great deal beyond vibrating occasionally, to the era of the Pebble about this time (or a bit earlier) last year, through to this year’s Android Wear devices. Of course, Android Wear isn’t the only platform out there — Sony’s had its own smartwatch platform for a couple of years now, and Samsung tried it their way with their Galaxy Gear line of watches.
For me though, every single one of those options was a bit lacking.
The Pebble Steel, while it felt nice, wasn’t particularly well featured, and it was buggy and unreliable. I didn’t really like it all that much, and looking back, I still don’t.
I tried the LG G Watch, and while I liked the features, the watch itself wasn’t to my taste. Square watches just don’t work for me, and to my mind, they don’t look too good either. I wanted something round like my favourite old Tissot watch… but there wasn’t an option.
That is, until the Moto 360 landed on my desk. I haven’t taken it off since.
There’s not much to say about Android Wear that we haven’t already said. The platform hasn’t charged remarkably since it launched earlier this year, and while it has seen a few updates pushed out, these really haven’t changed functionality remarkably, and by and large, what we had when the LG G Watch was released is what we still have now on the Moto 360.
There are a few obvious changes, and one is that the screen here is round. The Moto 360 has been criticised for having the ‘flat tyre’ look, with a small section at the bottom of the display not actually being able to display anything, as its where the light and other sensors are located. Honestly though, having used the Moto 360 constantly since it arrived a couple of weeks ago, there’s not a day that I’ve actually noticed this, or had an issue with it.
Android Wear loves to be on a round watchface, and while some things just don’t work too well, on the whole the experience is a positive one. Round watchfaces look good, and notifications on the round screen look as if they were designed to be there; it doesn’t feel like a square watchface operating system jammed into a round watchface and just made to work.
There are some Android Wear apps that don’t like this too much, though. Android Wear Mini Launcher is one — it offers a swipe-in drawer of Android Wear apps, and swiping a further time allows you to change some quick settings (e.g. enabling wireless hotspot on your phone). Due to the way it works, swiping in from the left is a bit unreliable on the round watchface of the Moto 360, and requires some getting used to in order to use it reliably. There are, of course, some settings you can change to get this to work a bit more easily, but it requires fiddling — square Android Wear watches don’t have this hiccup.
Voice recognition on Android Wear is still hit and miss. Quite often, unless you put on a false American accent, the platform just can’t understand what you’re saying, and so instead of sending a text message to your wife, you’ll end up with Google search results for something that looks and sounds completely different. Other times, it will remember which of a person’s two phone numbers you like to use for SMS, and sometimes it won’t, prompting you to select a mobile number. There’s no rhyme or reason to this, it’s just seemingly random.
As for dictating responses to Hangouts, Emails or SMS, it’s still very hit and miss. In a perfectly quiet room with no background noise, you’ll mostly get there. In any other environment, e.g. while driving, at the shops, walking, at the gym, or frankly anywhere else on Earth, voice recognition is likely to be about 70% accurate at best. Friends and family have gotten used to receiving somewhat confusing messages from me, and I blame it squarely on Android Wear (and not wanting to, or not being able to get my phone out and text normally).
The rumoured update to Android Wear
We know that Google have been working on a fairly significant update to the Android Wear platform, which is likely to bring in a few new features, such as :
- Offline music playback using just Android Wear — take your Bluetooth headphones and your watch for a run, and leave your phone at home.
- Direct Bluetooth pairing, which goes hand-in-hand with the above feature.
- GPS support, so you can track your speed and distance run without having to have your phone with you.
- Downloadable watchfaces so you can really customise your Android Wear device.
Sadly, though, the Moto 360 doesn’t actually have a GPS sensor on board, so that feature won’t work too well. However, the ability to put a few of your favourite tunes on your watch and take it for a run without needing to take your phone with you? That’s a pretty cool feature if you ask me, and one I’m looking forward to.
Moto 360 Hardware
The hardware is simply brilliant. There’s no clumsy charging cradles that mean you can’t charge your watch when you’re on the go because you left the adaptor at home. There’s no pogo pins on the back to corrode, and there’s no cheap plastic (or rubber) watch-band here.
Rather, the Moto 360 charges wirelessly from a Qi-compatible charging cradle. If you forget it, you can charge the 360 on any other Qi charger and it’ll work just fine. Better yet, you can have a night out and come home late in the morning and still have a functioning watch — with a recent software update, the Moto 360 easily lasts two days on a charge, and sometimes more, depending on how many notifications you receive.
The watch is completely bereft of any interface besides the round watchface of course, and a single button on the right hand side that looks like the crown on any other watch. There’s no ports, no pins, no reset hole (which is a bit of a problem, actually). The button on the right has one function, and one only — to turn the screen on, and off. Of course, you can turn the screen on by tapping it, and turn it off by covering it with your hand, but the button makes it a bit more accessible.
The supplied leather band is quite comfortable and fits large wrists and small wrists alike — comfortably — but frankly, it’s not the best quality leather. If you’re familiar with the nice soft, yet polished, leather of the Pebble Steel, you won’t find that here. Rather, it’s soft and more akin to suede than leather, and the quality (to me) just isn’t as high. Fortunately, like any other watch band, it’s completely replaceable and you can put on whatever band you like (though the band clip is a little recessed, making changing it out a bit fiddly).
On the rear of the Moto 360 there’s what looks like a little pattern of seven small holes. These are used by the Moto 360’s optical heart rate sensor which integrates with the upcoming Google Fit features. The heart rate sensor is quite accurate and quick to find your pulse, so for those fitness nuts out there, you’ll be able to find a measurement in no time.
The Moto 360 is the launch device that Android Wear should have had. It gets the platform right, and matches it with good, traditional design and excellent usability.
The platform isn’t without its issues, and voice recognition quality is a huge one, but that to one side, this watch shows what Android Wear can actually do, and how well it can integrate. I’ve been stuck in an environment for the last two weeks where I’ve not been able to use my phone, but I’ve still kept up to date with emails, messages and been able to see calls all without having to touch my phone even once. That, and I’ve only needed to charge the Moto 360 every couple of days, making it a real no-brainer.
While the Moto 360 isn’t officially on sale in Australia yet (that’s rumoured to be coming very soon), our review unit was supplied by Expansys Australia, and I, personally, am very grateful for their offer of a review unit. I wanted to try out the Moto 360 myself before laying down some coin, and I wanted to be able to share my thoughts with you all, and fortunately, I’ve been able to do that.
Expansys have the Moto 360 in stock at the moment, and you can order online for just shy of $390. Motorola MAY have the Moto 360 available for less than this when it eventually launches in Australia, but until that happens, you don’t have much choice if you want to get your hands on it today.
I can only imagine that there’s fairly limited supply, and exceedingly high demand for what is — in my assessment — a superior product. My brother who lives stateside has confirmed that finding the Moto 360 in stores is equally difficult, even a month or so after the launch there.
If a product can’t be bought, and can’t be found in stores, that tells you one of two things — people are silly and will buy anything (which is probably true), or that Motorola has made an incredibly popular and well designed product, and it’s running off the shelves faster than it can be stocked (which is definitely true).
So there you go. The Moto 360. An excellent Android Wear device, and one that you’ll need to pry from my cold, dead hands.