16 Oct Motorola’s New Moto 360 – The Smartwatch that Delivers, Mostly

Motorola’s first generation Moto 360 was universally lauded as the best looking and functional smartwatch on the market, especially among the Android Wear watches. Even after Apple released the Apple Watch, many still believed the Moto 360 to be the truer to form watch on the market. But even being one of the best smart watches on the market wasn’t enough to get me to spring for one. The primary reason for this was because the first generation of the Moto 360, which came out around the same time last year, sported a Texas Instruments OMAP 3630 SoC. To someone like me, this was absolutely a deal breaker seeing as that chip was the same chip that was found in the Motorola Droid 2, a 4 year old phone. That made the SoC inside of the Moto 360 a 4 year old chip, and frankly, I criticized Motorola heavily for this decision as it unavoidably had to affect battery life and performance seeing as some smart watches already had Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 400 SoC which is 28nm quad core SoC versus the OMAP 3630 which is a 45nm single core. This caused many to complain about the Moto 360’s lagginess and issues with battery life and it simply wasn’t as successful as it could have been.

With Motorola’s second generation of the Moto 360, Motorola has fixed most of the complaints with the first generation and really elevated the quality of smartwatches as a whole. This may be in part due to the fact that a month after the original Moto 360 came out, Lenovo acquired Motorola from Google and potentially gave them more resources. Lenovo actually recently announced that they would be winding all of their mobile phone operations into the Motorola brand and cede control to Motorola.

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With Motorola’s second generation, they threw out the grandpa of an SoC and replaced it with the standard Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 SoC like most of the Android Wear smartwatches out there. Motorola also upgraded the watch design to add actual watch band lugs rather than a band that disappears into the watch case. The original Moto 360 also only came in one size and a few configurations while the second generation Moto 360 comes in three different models and two different sizes. The new models are 46mm (diameter), 42mm men’s and 42mm women’s. The new watch size helps Motorola address the issues with the 46mm size simply being too big for some people’s wrists and many womens’ wrists. This is a clear indication of Motorola doing a very good job of listening to the market and giving them what they want. In addition to having three models, Motorola also added the new Moto 360 to their online MotoMaker program which allows users to customize their watch with many different looks until they find the one they like.

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Ordering Experience and MotoMaker
For my Moto 360 I decided to use the MotoMaker website to customize my Moto 360 on launch day, September 2nd. I built my Moto 360 with a 46mm ($50 more than the 42mm) silver case and silver bezel, each comes in three potential colors (black, silver or gold) and the bezel also comes in a knurl option for $20 extra. I also opted for a black leather band rather than a cognac brown leather band or one of the metal bands which cost $50 extra and come in the same colors as the case.

Motorola first indicated signs of stumbling in the follow up to the MotoMaker. Upon ordering the new Moto 360 within the hour of the announcement, I put in my MotoMaker order for a 46mm and was given an estimated date of Sept 29th, about 4 weeks away. I figured this might be reasonable considering that Motorola was making a custom ordered watch and customization takes time. What I didn’t expect was that Motorola’s entire ordering system would be completely out of whack and that I wouldn’t receive the watch until October 2nd. Motorola’s communication throughout the entire process was extremely poor and they didn’t communicate there might be a delay until 2 business days before delivery and they didn’t give an updated date until 24 hours before the product was originally scheduled to arrive. While I can certainly chalk delays up to setting up MotoMaker for the first time on the Moto 360, it was well within Motorola’s ability to notify customers well in advance that they might experience delays and to possibly compensate them. The reality is that Motorola had almost four weeks to figure things out and they really didn’t notify their customers until almost the last day, and that isn’t going to help Motorola build any brand loyalty. The people who pre-ordered the Moto 360 on Sept 2nd, or at all, are some of their best customers and most loyal customers seeing as they are agreeing to buy the product sight unseen.

Design and Build Quality
Getting over that hump, I managed to procure one of the 42mm men’s watches anticipating this delay (due to Motorola’s inability to provide updates) and use it for a few a week prior to the 46mm arriving. The 42mm is certainly too small a watch for someone with my wrist size, but I could see it being a much more universally applicable smart watch than the 46mm which is fairly large. I’ve spent a little over a week with the Moto 360 and I have tested many facets of this watch.

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The design, as stated earlier, is an upgraded, more watch-like design that brings the Moto 360 the closets of any smartwatch to this day to looking like a regular watch. The case looks and feels absolutely great and easily fools most people into thinking that it is a regular watch. Motorola also has a button on the side of the case, which they’ve moved from the 3 o’clock position on the original Moto 360 to the 2 o’clock position, which is a welcome move because it is much less likely to dig into my wrist at the new position. The glass on the Moto 360 is beveled like a watch, the bezel and case look like a regular watch and it has regular watch lugs for the standard sized 22mm band.

The places where that Moto 360 falters is that even in the second generation, the Moto 360 still has the unsightly ‘flat tire’ which is for an ambient light sensor so that it can adjust the brightness of the screen to adjust to the environment, which is a feature many other smart watches don’t have. Some people see this as unsightly, and I personally do as well, but the reality is that with many screens and watch faces being black, it’s harder to notice and not a complete deal breaker. If you want a watch with similar specs without a flat tire, you should look at Huawei’s smartwatch, as it has a slightly different design but no flat tire. I personally prefer the overall design aesthetics of the Moto 360 over the Huawei, which partly is the reason why I opted for the Moto 360.

Motorola also made another mistake with the Moto 360, and that was the quality of the leather band. They include a ‘Horween’ leather band, but the reality is that the overall look and feel of the band is not very high quality and I have actually ordered a few replacement bands for myself. This is where the Moto 360 is nice, you can essentially order any 22mm replacement band for it if you don’t like the one they’ve included, but I honestly believe Motorola should have used a slightly higher quality leather band with a better finish for $349. The leather on all but one of my Fossil watches feels like a much higher quality leather and those watches cost nowhere near as much as the Moto 360. The leather on those watches also didn’t bleed through to my skin like this one did, which may have been a cost savings on Motorola’s part. They did, however, upgrade the quality of the images by improving the display on the Moto 360 going from 320×290 in the original (205 ppi) to 360×330 (233 ppi) for the 46mm and 350×325 (263 ppi) on the 42mm men’s and women’s watch.

The one thing that the Moto 360 and many smartwatches lack, with the exception of the Samsung Electronics Galaxy Gear S2 and LG Watch Urbane, is the ability to run untethered from a smartphone via 3G/4G connectivity. This functionality is what some believe to be the biggest reason to get a smartwatch, so they can go on runs or the gym with their watch and still be able to listen to music and get phone calls and text messages. This functionality is still niche and somewhat limited by the costs of data plans imposed by the carriers.

Software and Usability
The new Moto 360 actually runs the exact same software as the original as the original has been updated to the latest version of Android Wear, which is version 1.30. Version 1.30 translates to Android 5.1.1, but what makes Android 1.3 so great is that it is interoperable with both Android and iOS devices, making all Android Wear devices accessible to iOS users as well as Android users. But do not be misled, there are still plenty of Android Wear features that will only work if you have an Android phone. But at least there is interoperability, Apple’s watch doesn’t work with anything other than an iPhone and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

The Moto 360 with Android wear has a very simple swiping navigation system which allows you to swipe up and down to see different notifications as well as sideways to get more info or to respond. The Moto 360 also has a unique wrist flick system that allows the user to flick their wrist up or down to scroll up or down through notifications. The phone is universally activated from almost any screen by the “Ok Google” hot word, which allows you to pull up a certain amount of watch functions that would likely be harder to navigate through swiping. These include sending someone a text message, calling someone, checking your heart rate, setting a calendar appointment and many other menial tasks. This feature is great for driving because your wrist is usually within arm’s length (literally) of you and is within a good audible range of your mouth, unlike your phone or other devices in the car. I have made countless phone calls with my watch, hands free, which I couldn’t say the same about my smartphone as I have to take it out to use the ‘Ok Google’ hot word functionality.

However, I have found that the OK Google function is not as reliable as it was initially and I found it difficult to send text messages via voice like I had in the past. Oddly enough, it recognized what I told the watch, but it then proceeded to act as though it didn’t hear me. Other things that didn’t quite work right was the heart rate monitor. It takes too long to get a reading and sometimes the reading is very far off, so using this for a fitness and health application might not necessarily be the best decision. If you’re looking for something more fitness focused perhaps you should consider Intel’s Basis Peak or Microsoft’s Band as those have been reported to be pretty accurate. Even though, part of the reason why I got this watch was to monitor my activity, the problem is that they doesn’t look anywhere as good as the Moto 360. Apple’s watch could be a sound competitor as well, but it only works on iOS while the others are cross platform.

Even with those gripes, there are a multitude of very high quality applications that allow you to load virtually any watch face you could imagine onto the watch and use it for a lot of different functions. You could literally build your own watch face or simply customize any of the existing watch faces on apps like WatchMaker and Facer for free. The only problem with most of the current watch faces is that they’re designed for the original Moto 360 and not the current ones which are higher resolution. Even so, I have already found quite a few watch faces that are entertaining, useful or simply good looking. In fact, some people have already been fooled by some of the watch faces into thinking it’s a real watch.

Motorola also has a few apps that they bundle alongside Android Wear, which is mandatory in order to hook up an Android Wear smartwatch to your phone. They include Moto Connect and Moto Body which are designed to help with the customization and saving of settings of the Android Wear device on your phone. Moto Body is a little more than that, though, as it also logs your fitness and activity and actively monitors your behavior to suggest physical activity or to encourage you to exercise more throughout the day. Moto Body is a pretty good tracking application on the phone, but it only really tracks minutes of daily activity, steps and calorie burn, it doesn’t log your heart rate anywhere or how that might affect your fitness. The Moto Body app on your watch measures your heart rate, but the app on the phone doesn’t track or log that at all, even if you wanted it to.

Overall user experience
The overall user experience is a sum of all the things that make up the Moto 360, the ordering, the design, the hardware, the software and the ecosystem around it. The reality is that many original Moto 360 owners are extremely happy with their watches, especially those that paid $149 in these months leading up to the new Moto 360 announcement. The reality is that the new Moto 360 takes many of the gripes of the original and addresses them head on. The watch never feels sluggish, it always seems very responsive, the animations are smooth, and the battery life is fantastic. It isn’t as good as it was in my previous smartwatches like the Qualcomm Toq and various Pebble watches, but I do get more than a day of battery life out of it and I usually get an average of 15 hours of battery life from my experience. The reality is that it still runs an LCD display and it has an ‘always on’ lower resolution watch face which is designed to always give you the time when you need it and notifications when you need more.

I’ve used many smartwatches in the past, but this is my second with Android Wear after the original LG G Watch. The Moto 360 second generation is the antithesis of the LG G Watch, technically the first Android Wear watch. That watch was all about Android Wear and notifications while the Moto 360 is all about being a watch and looking like a watch while still having great smartwatch functionality. Going beyond the standard Google and Motorola applications, with the Moto 360 and Android Wear’s capabilities I can easily turn the lights on and off inside my house with a touch of my watch. This is thanks to Lifx and their bulbs supporting Android Wear. The same goes for my car, which includes the ability to connect to my watch via Hyundai Blue Link which has Android Wear capabilities. This means you could remotely start your car or unlock it well before you’re within remote range. These applications, I feel, are just scratching the surface of what could be possible once the watches get faster, thinner and more connected (beyond Bluetooth and Wi-Fi).

Charging

Moto 360 on its Qi Charging base

That gets me to another feature, you can sync with your phone over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, which ever you are in range of at the time. The problem with Wi-Fi syncing is that it does affect the smartwatch’s battery life and very likely won’t work any differently than over Bluetooth, you simply have more mobility to untether from the smartphone. Less wires is always better, which is also why Motorola’s decision to go with Qi wireless charging on the Moto 360 is the right one, because if you ever lose any of the proprietary charging cables for any wired charging smartwatch you are screwed (or out a lot of money). With the Moto 360, you can literally charge it on the same plate as any Qi wireless phone, which I have successfully done already when I wasn’t close to the Qi wireless charging base provided with the watch.

Final Thoughts
In the end, the second generation of the Moto 360 is a welcome addition to the smartwatch arena. Motorola may have stumbled a bit in delivering these watches in time to consumers, but they really have designed a watch that could fool a lot of people. Just today, my dentist was shocked to see notifications coming up on my watch, as she didn’t realize it was a smartwatch until I was getting notifications. A lot of loyal watch wearers that like watches for their look are very likely going to like the look of the Moto 360 while still appreciating the plethora of applications and functionality that Android Wear brings to the table. The Moto 360 isn’t perfect, and if you’re looking for perfection, I’m not sure you’ll find it with any smartwatch in this or the next generation. The reality is that wearables are an evolving category and the Moto 360 is a great illustration of how both technology and design can progress together to deliver a functional and beautiful product.

Disclosure: My firm, Moor Insights & Strategy, like all research and analyst firms, provides or had provided research, analysis, advising, and/or consulting to many high-tech companies in the industry, including Lenovo, Huawei and Samsung cited this article. No employees at the firm hold any equity positions with any companies cited in this column.