I love Apple gadgets, but I also love pretty much any type of new technology regardless of the brand. That's why a package arrived at my door last Monday from Motorola with a shiny new Moto 360 inside. Yep, the same Moto 360 that I tore apart after reviews made it clear that the watch wasn't delivering on its promise.
I've spent the last seven days with Motorola's smartwatch strapped to my wrist, recharging it every night at around 10PM and re-equipping it immediately upon crawling out of bed. I've had it synced with my HTC One (M8) the entire time.
My experience over the past week has taught me a lot about the future of smartwatches, the importance of intuitive software on a tiny device, and all the ways Apple could make just about every other smartwatch -- including my new Moto 360 -- look like a joke.
It starts with the software. Syncing the Moto 360 to Android Wear on my smartphone was needlessly complicated. At one point I was told via pop-up notification to uninstall Android Wear, update Google Search, then reinstall Android Wear, in order to get it to work properly. My phone was telling me I had to delete software that was built specifically for it, in order to get it to function as intended. I have to admit that I laughed.
If Apple can translate its "it just works" magic to the Apple watch and avoid potholes like this, it will already be ahead of the game. The fact that Apple makes the phone, the watch, and the software for both gives it a huge advantage here, whereas the Moto 360, Android Wear, and my HTC One try to do their best to play nice, but don't always get along as intended.
Android Wear is very clearly half-baked at this point, and it's difficult to even consider it an operating system in the way you do Android or iOS. There's no good way to see what apps are running on your watch, or what apps are actively using Android Wear to push notifications from your phone to your wrist. You can go into a menu on the Android Wear phone app to select apps you want to mute, but the list is absolutely filled with apps that I've never seen on my watch and certainly don't use on my phone.
One of Android Wear's key features is the ability to intelligently tell you information you need without you having to actually ask for it. Things like what the weather is outside and how to get home when you're out and about are supposed to just pop up magically. They definitely appear, but it's anything but magical.
For whatever reason, my watch seems to think I'm always 7 minutes from home, regardless of where I am, and almost always alerts me of this when I'm actually already at home. I have no idea how to turn this off, as I've already tried disabling Maps, which didn't help. To put it simply, Android Wear needs some work.
On the plus side, the majority of the third party apps I care about -- Twitter, Facebook Messenger, etc -- work surprisingly well on Android Wear, and I have to assume the same will be true for the Apple Watch. Glancing at my wrist to see if a mention on Twitter or Facebook requires a reply is really great, and tapping the screen and saying "Set an alarm for one hour" before dozing off for a Saturday nap is pretty fantastic. It's moments like this where you realize why a smartwatch makes sense, and why the Pebble won't stand a chance against this new crop of touchscreen powerhouses.
Android Wear has few bright spots so far and I'm confident that the first release of Apple's Watch OS will be noticeably better than the current state of Android Wear, simply because the bar is so low at this point. It's already clear just from what Apple has shown off that the app situation is far more transparent on the Apple Watch, and that it's a much more feature-rich experience, both of which will help it start off on the right foot.
On the hardware side of things, I've been extremely surprised by the Moto 360 -- in a good way, believe it or not. The build quality, display, and materials are all top notch, and the watch isn't nearly as large as I had feared. Anyone with particularly small wrists might find it awkward, but it's not as unwieldy as some have made it out to be.
The Apple Watch, of course, will come in two sizes, and while the shapes of the displays are different, the 1.56" display on the Moto 360 falls somewhere between the 1.5" and 1.7" displays of the Apple Watch twins. Yes, the 1.5" corner-to-corner display measurement is the same, but the fact that the Moto 360 is round means it has a bigger footprint, though not as big as that of the larger Apple Watch.
Battery life isn't amazing, but it's not bad, either. A post-launch update vastly improved the power usage of the device, which is great. Keeping the watch in Ambient mode -- where the screen is always lit, though dim -- burns through battery life very rapidly, but with that turned off, the watch gets an easy 18 to 24 hours of battery life. The screen turns on when you lift your wrist or with a tap, and both are fine for checking the time or looking at missed alerts.Apple has remained pretty quiet on the subject of battery life, making no promises yet. If the watch gets the same battery life as the Moto 360, it will be a bit disappointing, but not a deal breaker. The benefit of having a small battery is that it charges in a hurry, and even if you somehow forgot to charge your watch over night -- at least in the case of the Moto 360 -- you can bring it from dead to 100% in under 90 minutes. If the Apple Watch can match this, I'll consider it a bonus.
For me, the biggest takeaway from my week with the Moto 360 is that Apple will be entering the smartwatch fight next year against at least one competitor that has a pretty decent handle on how to make a solid product. Android Wear's growing pains aside, the Moto 360 gets a lot of things right.
The Apple Watch -- with its digital crown, dedicated "friend button" or whatever it's going to be called, and more intuitive interface -- is going to get a lot of buyers simply because it's coming from Apple. What will mark the success or failure of the product is whether Apple can make it appeal to people who don't care about it yet. For someone who loves gadgets, like myself, the Moto 360 is a pleasant surprise, but it's not the kind of gadget that "normals" will care about. The Apple Watch just might be.