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Life with the Moto 360: has Motorola's smartwatch turned a corner?

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When the Moto 360 first hit the scene, its reception was... mixed. That round display was eye-catching, but it couldn't make up for the smartwatch's all-too-short battery life and undercooked software. Times have changed, though. Motorola trotted out updates that addressed the 360's early problems, and the Lollipop upgrade gave Android Wear a new lease on life through custom watch faces and a few other useful tweaks. But does that mean it deserves a second chance, especially now that rivals like LG's G Watch R are vying for your wrist?

Gallery: Moto 360 IRL | 8 Photos

I'll tackle the big question up-front: battery life wasn't an issue. I could wear the Moto 360 throughout a typical day and still have a significant charge left when I was ready to go to bed. That was no mean feat for me, since I usually have to deal with a steady stream of Hangouts messages and work email. Having said this, I was very, very thankful for the 360's wireless charging dock. Smartwatches needing clip-on cradles or cables are often a hassle, but Motorola's wristwear was so easy to top up that I hardly even thought about it.

I'm also a fan of the design, for the most part. I never completely forgot about the black strip at the bottom of the display that creates a "flat tire" look, but it also wasn't distracting (at least not on my all-black model). The leather strap makes the 360 extra comfortable, and the circular design is subtle enough that I didn't feel conspicuously geeky most of the time. However, there's no question that it could stand to be smaller. That 46mm-diameter case is enormous, at least on my moderately sized adult male arm. That's true of a lot of smartwatches (the ASUS ZenWatch is particularly huge), but there's something to be said for the discreetness of a smaller device like the 38mm Apple Watch.

The software is a tougher call, even if it's mostly a positive experience. Android Wear is supremely handy for the basic information I like to see over the course of a day, like weather or sports scores. And in a chilly Ottawa winter, it was more than a little helpful to respond to Hangouts messages or check in to Swarm without reaching for my phone and freezing my hands in the process. The Lollipop update also added quite a few features and overall polish that were missing the first time around. It was nice to have a wide choice of watch faces, for example, and I could tune out most alerts if I set the 360 to only give me priority notifications. I didn't have to use that last mode very often, but I was happy to know I could avoid information overload when necessary.

Wear for Swarm on a Moto 360

However, it's all too apparent that Android Wear still needs more time in the oven. For one thing, its approach to apps is backward -- unless I was launching something I had recently used, I had to go to the very bottom of a long menu just to start browsing the app list.

The interface isn't that great at surfacing the information I need at the time I need it, for that matter. Spotify's Android Wear card always showed up on cue, but Sonos' controls appeared inconsistently even when there was music playing. And the watch frequently defaulted to showing apps that weren't really relevant to the situation at hand; no, I don't need to check out my fitness goals in the middle of the workday. Google may be right that watches are primarily about receiving passive streams of information, but that doesn't excuse doing a poor job when I want to be more active.

Even with those quirks in mind, it's pretty clear the Moto 360 has turned a corner in half a year's time. It's no longer the underdeveloped novelty that it was on launch, and it's now my pick of the current Android Wear crop. True, it doesn't have the G Watch R's true circular display, the ZenWatch's custom software or the Sony Smartwatch 3's GPS, but I'd say of the three, it strikes the best balance between looks, functionality and price. About the only thing holding back the 360 is the software, but it's already apparent from the Lollipop update that Google is determined to quickly improve Android Wear. If you're happy with the current feature set, the 360 is a great buy -- and I'm glad I can say that given its rough start.

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