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Fitness trackers, the Pebble, and Samsung’s myriad of Gear-branded smartwatches may have kickstarted the wrist-worn wearables trend, but the true test for this category is just beginning. While Apple recently put the watch world on notice with Apple Watch plans, that device isn’t coming until “early 2015.”

Motorola’s own stylish smartwatch, the Moto 360, however, is available today. With a round display, stainless steel casing, leather and stainless steel band options, and the promise of up to 24 hours of battery life with wireless charging, is the Moto 360 the ultimate Android Wear smartwatch? The answer is yes, and no. Read on for the full review to learn why.

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Context

Despite being an early adopter for many new technologies and devices, I haven’t committed to smartwatches yet. My smartphone is always on me, so there’s been no real need to get a smartwatch.

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of testing and reviewing everything from the e-ink screen Pebble to the metal Pebble Steel to the first Samsung Galaxy Gear to the latest LG G Watch. I’ve also tried a number of lesser powerful wrist-worn wearables including the Nike Fuelband and Fitbit.

That said, I haven’t joined the wearable generation. I love watches and wear a stainless steel Victorinox (dressier look) and a black Casio G-Shock (casual look). I’m obsessed with finding a vintage Omega Speedmaster at an affordable price and appreciate the exquisite craftmanship and movements that luxury timepieces have.

Specifications

Display: 1.56-inch (diameter) display Gorilla Glass 3
Resolution: 320 x 290 at 205 PPI
Processor: TI OMAP 3 processor
Storage: 4GB
RAM: 512MB RAM
Operating System: Android Wear
Sensors: Heart rate monitor, pedometer
Wireless: Bluetooth 4.0 LE / 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi
Battery: 320 mAh
Water resistance: IP67 water and dust resistant
Microphones: 2

Design (Beautiful)

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When it comes to wearables, fashion is incredibly important. Unlike a smartphone, a smartwatch is a device that you wear on your wrist. It’s almost always visible to you and to others. You don’t wear a watch to hide it in your pocket, and you wouldn’t do the same for a smartwatch.

The easiest way to build a smartwatch is to use a square or rectangular display (flat or curved, it doesn’t matter). When designing the Moto 360, Motorola wanted to get the very essence of what a watch is. When asked to draw a watch, most people, especially kids, draw a circle and a rectangular strap. At the most basic level, that is what most people think of when they recall the image of a wrist-worn watch.

Thus, despite the fact Motorola made numerous square-shaped Moto 360 prototypes, the company knew it had no choice but to go with a circular display; the road nobody took before.

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The pictures online don’t do the Moto 360 justice. The watch case is not as large as it looks. Casio G-Shock and diver watch owners won’t have any problem adjusting based on size. Women and children, however, may find the Moto 360 to be a little bulky.

The Moto 360 is IP67 certified water resistant, which means it can be submerged in 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes. I didn’t go swimming recently, but I tested it in the shower and water droplets didn’t harm it at all.

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Prospective Moto 360 buyers will have the choice of three models: light stainless steel + gray Horween leather band, dark (black) stainless steel + black Horween leather band, and light stainless steel +stone Horween leather band. An all metal, stainless steel band version will also be available sometime this fall for a $50 premium.

Display (Good)

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The Moto 360 is the first commercially-available smartwatch to have a round display. The diameter is 1.56-inches and the resolution is 320 x 290 with a 205 PPI. Almost immediately, you’ll notice pixels don’t fill the entire 360-degrees of the display.

There is a black portion on the bottom of the display; Motorola calls this the “slice.” The reason this black portion isn’t filled is because this is where the display connector and ambient light sensor is located. Had Motorola decided to go with filling the entire display, the bezel around the circular display would have been thicker, like the one on the LG G Watch R.

The display itself is good, but not particularly sharp. The 205 PPI isn’t high enough to render text and anti-aliasing at high res which means you can definitely see the pixels. And while the display is made from super strong Gorilla Glass 3, the perimeter is beveled and creates a prismatic effect when looking at it. I had hoped I would get over it after a few weeks of daily usage, but it bothers me every single time I look at the Moto 360.

The screen is pretty bright. There are five brightness level settings, but I found I never needed to go above level 3 and on most days I got along fine with leaving it on level 1 (better battery life, too).

Performance (Usable, but sometimes slow)

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It’s not incredibly important to measure the “performance” of smartwatches because we’re not expecting them to be supercomputers. However, looking at the internal hardware does give us a look at why certain features are not up to snuff.

The Moto 360 uses a TI OMAP 3 processor and 512MB of RAM. Motorola refused to elaborate on the exact clockspeed, mainly because it wouldn’t stack up well against the LG G Watch or the Samsung Gear Live. The Texus Instrument processor is at least two-years old, which means it’s, well, outdated.

You don’t even need to know the processor to immediately feel that the Moto 360 is running on yesteryear’s hardware. While tapping and swiping works most of the time, the UI is sometimes sluggish, exhibiting lag. There were times when presses didn’t register and swipes refused to work. It also takes a while for the menu to pop up when pressing and holding the crown button (that’s the button the side).

Compared to the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live, the Moto 360 is incredibly slow. The Moto 360 is a first-generation product and it feels like it because it’s running on last-gen tech.

Software: Android Wear

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The Moto 360 runs on Android Wear and requires a smartphone running Android 4.3 Jelly Bean in order to tether to via Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy. To get things up and running you first need to download the Android Wear app. This app helps you pair your Moto 360 to your smartphone and lets you select which apps you want to correspond with a certain voice action. For example, Lyft is the only app that you can use to call up a car with your voice, but in the future hopefully Uber wil join it. You’ll also be able to control main settings such as turning the ambient screen on/off, muting notificatons, showing calendar event cards, etc.

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Speaking of voice recognition. You have to say “Ok Google…” to turn activate it, then wait a second, and then speak. I would say the voice recognition software is very accurate, even in somewhat noisy places. Here are some things you’ll be able to say to your Moto 360:

“Ok Google, what is the weather?”

“Ok Google, show my steps”
“Ok Google, show me my heart rate”

“Ok Google, navigate to …” will give you driving directions
“Ok Google, biking directions to …”
“Ok Google, walking directions to …”
“Ok Google, how do I get home?”

“Ok Google, send a text” or “Ok Google, send a message”

“Ok Google, what’s my next appointment?”
“Ok Google, take a note” (only works with Google Keep)
“Ok Google, remind me to …”
“Ok Google, how do you say … in …” (where … is a language)

“Ok Google, call a car”

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There are seven default watch faces pre-loaded onto the Moto 360, but you can download and install your own. Above, you can see I’ve installed the awesome Goldeneye 007 secret agent watch face via a third-party app.

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To customize the Motorola watch faces you’ll need to install another app on your smartphone called Motorola Connect. With the app, you can change the face color from white to black and select individual accent colors for digits, hour/second hands. You can also update your wellness data — your weight and height — as your body gets more fit (or unfit). Lastly, with the Motorola Connect app, you can locate exactly where your Moto 360 is on Google Maps in the event someone steals it or your lose it.

But back to the actual Android Wear software on the Moto 360. What exactly can you do with it? The best way to think of Android Wear is as a companion device. While the Moto 360 is a tiny computer with a screen, processor and storage of its own, it’s pretty useless as a computer without a Bluetooth connection to an Android smartphone.

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The main screen is your watch face, to show you the time; this is a watch after all. And as you wear it, notifications will pop up on the display, covering the lower half. They’re Google Now-esque “cards” that you can swipe to show more info. There are certain apps, like messages, that let you dictate replies, but for most actions, you’ll want to open the full app on your smartphone.

I like the idea of bite-sized notifications, but more often than not, I just felt like I couldn’t do as much with the Moto 360 as I would have liked. I absolutely hated tapping the “open on phone” because I couldn’t do everything with my voice or directly from the 360.

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Remember, the point of a smartwatch is not to look at it so much. You’re trusting it to provide information when it thinks it’s important for you to look at. You shouldn’t expect to use your Moto 360 or any smartwatch the way you would a smartphone; that is, the point is to not tap at it when you’re bored.

There are over 1,000 Wear-enhanced apps in the Google Play store. That may seem like a lot, but it’s not. Most of the apps are either half-baked or absolute junk (right now). Things should improve as Android Wear wearables become more common, but right now, there’s simply not a whole lot you can do with the Moto 360, or any Android Wear device for that matter.

Battery (“All day” is sufficient)

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The battery life of the Moto 360 has been a huge topic of discussion. Motorola officially advertises the Moto 360’s 320 mAh battery life as “all day (mixed use).” At Motorola’s headquarters earlier this month, Motorola reps were more specific, saying the battery life was “up to 24 hours”.

Early reviews have blasted the Moto 360 battery for lasting only 12 hours. That’s misinformed at best. Assuming you wake up and put the Moto 360 on in the morning, work 8-9 hours a day and come home, the Moto 360 is more than sufficient.

Now, of course, there are days when you spend more hours outside, like on weekends. With the ambient light sensor turned off and brightness set on level 1 or level 2, I’ve been able to go out on many days for 16-18 hours and come back with around 10-14% battery left.

Of course, battery life will differ for everyone. Users who constantly get notifications and constantly use get directions with the Moto 360 will get less battery life. Anything more demanding is going to suck more power, but that’s the same for any mobile device.

Charging the Moto 360 is also a breeze. Every Moto 360 comes with its own Qi-powered wireless charging cradle. To charge the Moto 360, just place it on the cradle and a charging screen will show up showing the battery percentage and time. It makes a great bedside clock and it charges up fast; no surprise since the battery is so small.

So yeah, you’re going to need to recharge the Moto 360 most likely every night, but at least it’s really easy to do so.

Heart Rate + Pedometer (Good)

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It should be known that I am not a fitness person. While I take long walks on a daily basis (it helps me think), I would never choose to wear a fitness tracker, not because I think it’s stupid, but because I don’t need or want to know how many steps I’ve taken. I know how many I’ve taken: a lot, because I walk a lot. Perhaps I’m the exception. Although I’m not overweight (I’m on the skinny side), I would say I’m far from super active, even with the long walks.

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There’s a movement towards getting people to embrace healthier living through fitness trackers. People who are in need of daily exercise (or data junkies) will absolutely appreciate the pedometer which tracks your overall steps.

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I will admit I like seeing my daily steps afterwards, and I liked how the Moto 360 was able to show me my daily and weekly steps so I could see them all at glance, but I’m not going to lie when I say they’re numbers that mean very little to me, but may mean a lot to you.

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There’s also a built-in heart rate monitor, but it takes forever to get your bpm. On average, it took around 7-8 seconds to display my bpm. There is another caveat: your wrist needs to be really steady. The slightest shakiness will cause it to throw up a “still working” message or ask you to rescan it after you’ve steadied your arm. It’s hardly as efficient as I’d like.

Conclusion (Fashionable, but not functional)

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As a fashion/status symbol, the Moto 360 is king of Android Wear. It’s the best looking smartwatch available for purchase. That’s an easy victory for Motorola considering the competition. Unfortunately, beauty is only skin deep. Motorola’s decision to use an extremely dated processor results in the Moto 360 running slower than competing Android Wear smartwatches such as the Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch. The slow hardware also makes it even more evident how limited Android Wear is right now.

The Moto 360 is pricier than the Samsung Gear Live ($199) and the LG G Watch ($179) but neither comes close to being as stylish. The Moto 360 retails for $249.99 and is available in three models I mentioned above that I’ll re-list here: light stainless steel + gray Horween leather band, dark (black) stainless steel + black Horween leather band, and light stainless steel +stone Horween leather band. An all metal, stainless steel version will go on sale this fall for $299.99. You can pick from two different kinds of Horween leather straps: a dark gray or a black. Additional leather bands will cost $29.99 and metal bands will be sold for $79.99.

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