Moto 360 (2015) review:

A better (but pricer) Moto smartwatch.

The Moto 360 now comes in two sizes: a 42mm model with 20mm or 16mm strap, and a 46mm with a 22mm band (slightly larger than last year’s 45mm model). I wore the larger 46mm model, which starts at $350 in the US. There is also a special “women’s collection” that features a 42mm face and a slim 16mm strap.

Prices range depending on what model you pick, but they’re all more expensive. They start at $300 (US) for the 42mm model — a $50 premium over what last year’s original went for — and go up to $430. (International pricing and availability wasn’t confirmed, but the US price converts to £195/AU$430 and £280/AU$610, respectively.)

The Moto 360 is better, but it’s also less unique.

Hardware and design

The first thing you notice with the Moto 360 is that it has almost no bezel — it’s stunning. But then you notice the display isn’t a complete circle, like the Huawei Watch or LG Watch Urbane. There’s still a black bar at the bottom of the screen. Just like last year.

The black bar, which many jokingly refer to as the “flat tire,” is home to the ambient light sensor, which automatically sets display brightness. It’s convenient, but not at the cost of a cut-off screen.

Motorola claims most users don’t notice the bar. I did. I notice it when the circular watch face I have installed is cut off at the bottom, and I notice it with any background that isn’t black.

Motorola opted for an LCD display rather than AMOLED. To me it looks less crisp, more pixelated. The 42mm Moto 360 features a 1.37-inch display with a pixel resolution of 360×325, while the display on my reviewed 46mm model is 1.56 inches and 360×330 pixels (263 pixels-per-inch and 233 ppi, respectively). The Huawei Watch has a sharper a 1.4-inch 400×400-pixel resolution display. Not by much, but enough to matter.

The Moto 360 screen is also slightly raised up from its steel casing, with a slight angled bevel on the edge. It might make for easier swipes, but weirdly warps the edge of watch faces.

The new Moto 360 does look more like a real watch, though, largely because it now has traditional watch lugs. These look great, make it easier to swap out the strap for a new one, and make the watch more flexible and comfortable to wear. The crown button has also shifted to the top right, around two o’clock. But it’s still just a basic button, unlike the spinning digital crown on the Apple Watch. You can’t use it to scroll through apps: it only dims the display and accesses the app menu.

Some of the changes in the new Moto 360 are ones you can’t see. The processor has received a significant boost, which improves overall performance. But I still notice some lag when the watch screen “wakes up” to full brightness from the dim power-saving mode.

Inside is a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor, 512MB of RAM and 4GB of internal storage for apps and music, which is pretty standard for Android Wear watches. There’s also Wi-Fi on board, so you can use the watch even if your iPhone or Android smartphone is left behind. It’s just like what’s in other recent Android Wear watches from LG and Huawei.

An optical heart-rate sensor sits on the back of the watch and measures your heart rate automatically at different times throughout the day much like the Apple Watch. You can also manually check it on-demand. Its heart-rate functions are a step above many other Android Wear watches such as the Huawei Watch and LG Watch Urbane, which only spot-check heart rate.

Motorola even has a heart activity app that tries to estimate active exercise through the day. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than anything Google offers. The Moto 360 also tracks steps, like all these watches, but lacks GPS for pace and distance when running. A Sport model with GPS is coming later this year, in a more ruggedized design.

The watch has a water-resistant rating of IP67: you can wear it while washing the dishes or the occasional shower (sans the leather strap of course), but you shouldn’t wear it in the pool. This is true for all Android Wear watches.

Software: It’s Android Wear with some added features

The Moto 360 is powered by Google’s Android Wear operating system, which is its biggest downside. Android Wear has been around for over a year and is getting better over time — recent updates have added Wi-Fi support and limited functionality for iPhone users — but on the whole it’s a strange and limited operating system. Android Wear is a lot like Google Now or the Google Search app on iPhones and iPads, but on your wrist. You will see personalized Google Now cards with information on weather, transportation and sporting events as well as notifications for things like text messages, emails, calls and calendar alerts from your phone.

Notifications and alerts on Android Wear are very big. And some cards don’t always seem necessary. But Android Wear does allow some dictated message responses, and Google search does work well. There are also hundreds of compatible Android apps that will work with Android Wear. This isn’t yet an option for iPhone users.

Motorola bundles a handful of custom watch faces and an app for tracking health and fitness with the Moto 360 called Moto Body. It uses data collected by the heart-rate monitor and other sensors to deliver you detailed stats on your daily and weekly activities. It’s one of the better built-in fitness tracking apps for Android Wear, much better than Google’s own Fit app, but it’s not nearly as detailed as apps from Fitbit and Jawbone.

Motorola did as much as it could to make Android Wear appealing, but it still feels incomplete, and that’s Android Wear’s fault. Many pop-up cards still feel like a nuisance, and the feature set on all Android Wear watches remain limited. You can use Android Wear watches over Wi-Fi networks away from your phone, but only for some functions.

The Moto 360 also lacks NFC, and doesn’t support mobile payments. That’s because Android Wear doesn’t, either. The Apple Watch and eventually the Samsung Gear S2 will. We don’t know when Google will allow Android Wear to get payments support, but it’s yet another area where Android Wear is lagging.

Battery life

Battery life remains a problem with many smartwatches on the market, and the Moto 360 is no exception. The 46mm model has a 400mAh battery that lasted more than a day-and-a-half with the always-on screen feature enabled and using the “auto” brightness setting. The smaller 42mm Moto 360 has a smaller 300mAh battery. It’s similar to other Android Wear watches and the Apple Watch, but a lot worse than the Pebble Time Steel, which lasts a full week. I eked out two days of battery life with the always-on display setting turned off.

At least the Moto 360 comes with a great wireless charging cradle. Once it begins charging, the watch enters a bedside clock mode, too. Oddly enough, it doesn’t charge when placed on my Energizer Dual Inductive Charger, even though the old Moto 360 would.

Conclusion

The new Moto 360 is better than the original model in almost every way possible. It looks nicer, performs better, is more comfortable to wear, and has longer battery life. But it’s also more expensive, and the smartwatch market has changed since the original 360 debuted in September of 2014.

There are a lot of round smartwatches now, and a lot of good-looking ones, too. The Moto 360 may be better than many, but it doesn’t stand alone anymore.

AVERAGE PRICE: $299.99

Techdomes2015

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