Hands on with the Moto 360 Android smartwatch

Moto 360

My old watch

This is my old watch. I have had it for around 15 years. As I recall, it cost around £30.

I love it. It has never failed me. It is perfectly functional, and it looks good enough for me.

Perhaps what I like about it the most is the fact that it doesn’t need a battery. It is powered purely by kinetic energy generated from my regular day-to-day wrist movement (stop sniggering at the back).

So why would I stop using it? Because deep down, I have always expected a watch to do more.

When I was a child I owned the Casio TS-100. Guilelessly, I was convinced that it was the greatest watch in the world. It could tell the temperature, display time zones, and display the temperature in all those time zones.

How my watch received all this data, I couldn’t get my head around. Only later did I realise that the worldwide temperatures were all pre-programmed averages. (Still, the live thermometer remained pretty impressive.)

Enter smartwatches

Fast forward 20 years and the dream is coming true. Smartwatches have been around for a few years, but have met with limited interest so far. But with Apple having announced their watch, 2015 looks like it could be the year the smartwatch finds its market.

I was going to hold out for another year or so before buying a smartwatch. I felt that smartwatches are still going through a period of maturity, and that it would be best to wait until they have had a bit more time to improve.

I was considering buying a Fitbit or similar fitness tracking device, because I appear to have reached an age where fitness is an issue. But you can expect to pay around £100 for a decent fitness tracker. The price of some of the lower-end smartwatches are similar. Google Play were selling an LG watch for £79 during December.

So eventually I relented. Why buy a fitness tracker when for a bit more money I could buy a fitness tracker plus much more?

I opted for the Moto 360, because it has had some good reviews, its circular shape looks much more appealing than the square devices that currently make up the majority of watches on the market. It also contains some of the fitness tracking features I was keen on.

I have now been using my Moto 360 for a month. So how have I found it?

Battery life

Moto 360 battery saver

One of the most common questions I get asked about my watch is about its battery life. This is the aspect of owning a smartwatch that vexes me the most. Moving from a kinetic watch that is essentially powered for free to a device that needs to be charged regularly does feel rather wasteful.

Much like your smartphone, you can expect to get a good day’s worth of use on one charge. But you really do have to be diligent to save your usage to squeeze out that full day.

As I began writing this article at 8.30pm, my watch was already in battery saving mode, having fallen below 15% charge. At 11pm it is down to 3%. I put my watch on at around 7.30am, so a full day’s worth of use has stretched it almost to its limit.

Battery life does vary a fair amount depending on how much you use the watch. I tracked a run today, and that does seem to take a lot out of the watch.

To charge it, you need to use the special charging dock. You cannot simply plug in a USB cable. That is understandable given the physically small size of the device, but it is an inconvenience.

On the plus side, it charges surprisingly quickly. So if you’re prepared to carry your charging dock around with you, it is easy to quickly top up the charge a bit.

Not so smart: it needs your phone to work

It would be a mistake to think of a smartwatch as an independent device. I quickly learned to treat the watch as essentially a second screen to my phone. It needs to be connected to your phone via bluetooth to work. Even being in the room next door is enough to render the watch incapable of going online.

This is one key area where smartwatches still need time to mature. I’m not sure wearable devices will truly take off until they are actually capable of replacing your other devices, even if it’s just for a short trip out.

Surprisingly difficult to use

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Moto 360 is that it simply isn’t yet a “pick up and play” device. Granted, every device does by necessity have some form of learning curve. But the learning curve is particularly steep for this device.

With such a small screen, getting the user interface of a smartwatch right is probably one of the toughest challenges in design today. So I am not too annoyed about it. But until the design is cracked, smartwatches may remain a niche product.

The Android Wear software is still a bit buggy, which leads to further frustration.

Visually, it is stunning. But the tiny size makes fat finger trouble a common occurrence. If you find using an iPhone keyboard annoying, a smartwatch is not likely to lower your blood pressure.

Unfortunately it is just too easy to accidentally swipe the wrong way or dismiss a notification. Opening an app is far from a trivial matter, requiring you to prod the screen, scroll right down to the bottom of quite a long list, hit a menu item called ‘Start’ before being able to select your app.

The alternative is to speak to your watch. Which brings us on to…

Voice recognition: impressive until you take it for granted

Here is how voice recognition works. You are in a room showing off your new device. Your interested friends are silent. You say “OK Google” for your first ever time. In your very best received pronunciation you politely ask for the weather. It tells you the weather. You’re impressed. Your friends are impressed.

The next day you’re in the street and you want to set a reminder. Now do you want to speak to your watch? No, because you don’t want people to think you’re a lunatic.

Later on you’re in the car and you need to get directions. You speak to your watch, but it struggles to understand you above the noise of the car.

If you’ve ever used Google voice search, check out your voice search history. Items marked “transcript not available” are particularly entertaining to listen to.

I genuinely have four clips of me in my car, becoming increasingly frustrated, failing to get Google to understand my request for directions.

Essentially, I have turned into this guy:

No sound

This surprised me, and it surprises most people I demonstrate the watch to: there is no speaker.

Someone recently told me that my watch was a “babe magnet”. That’s just as well, because if you’re single you will find using your smartwatch a lonely experience. You speak to your watch to interact with it, but it doesn’t speak back.

Solutions looking for problems

Demonstrating the Moto 360 remote camera

This is me demonstrating the remote shutter button, which appears on my watch when I open the Camera app on my phone. It means you can place your phone anywhere, and take the photo remotely.

In this instance, I was in a coffee shop. I placed the phone in the bowl of sugar packets so that it would stand up.

Fun the first time, but will I use the feature again? I doubt it. I can’t imagine this is easier than simply setting the self timer.

For glancing at, not using

I thought the watch would be great for using in the car. Unfortunately, given the usability issues, it is clearly just as unsafe as using your smartphone while driving. While it will no doubt come in handy for getting directions in an emergency — if I can get the voice activation to work — it is still not advisable to do anything more than glance at your watch while driving.

I also thought the watch would be great for going shopping. I keep my grocery shopping list in a Google Keep note, which then syncs to my phone where I can check items off as I put them into my shopping trolley.

I thought the watch would be great for this as I would no longer have to mess around with my phone. What I hadn’t factored in was the fact that a smartwatch essentially requires the use of both your hands at once — one to hold up your wrist, and the other to scroll and tap. You can’t push a trolley along with no hands unless you want to dry hump it (in which case, good luck controlling it).

It turned out that the phone was far more convenient for using my shopping list. I’m back to pushing along my trolley while ticking items off.

Glancing at it isn’t always easy either

To preserve battery life, the display is normally off. To wake the screen, simply look at it. Well, that’s the theory.

It does work. But really it is going by the tilt of your wrist. There is a knack to it, but it took me a while to get used to having to conspicuously tilt my wrist just to tell the time.

Yet I still like the Moto 360

Despite all these grumbles, I am not going to go back to using my old kinetic watch. I have used my Moto 360 for a month, and having got used to it I don’t think I would go back.

Before buying the watch I found it easy to worry about the black ‘slice’ at the bottom of the screen, preventing the display from being a full circle. However, this has been a complete non issue for me since I bought it.

Where the watch excels is at giving you at-a-glance information. It’s a mistake to think of the watch as a device to use. You cannot do stuff with it. Instead, the smartwatch is for giving you small, timely snippets of information.

The time, your next calendar appointment, reminders, the weather, how long it will take you to get home, how close to your fitness goal you are, a selection of Google Now cards. If I get a text message or email, I don’t need to rummage my pocket to get my phone out — I can glance at my watch to see if it’s worth my immediate attention.

Best of all, it gives me updates about beer from the BrewDog app I have on my phone.

Best thing about owning a smartwatch: instant updates about beer.

A photo posted by Duncan Stephen (@duncanstephen) on

The watch also does have the ability to wow while being genuinely useful. Alex was impressed when I switched off her family’s Sonos using my watch as we walked out the front door.

So, yes, there are flaws with the Moto 360. My initial instinct was probably right — smartwatches still have some way to go before they can be considered truly ready for prime time.

I also wonder how much of a market there really can be for such devices. Its tricky shape and size mean that inevitably it is limited in terms of functionality. And young people largely don’t wear watches. They are used to checking the time on their phone.

Until smartwatches and other wearables can become a realistic replacement to phones, they are likely to remain a niche product.

2 comments

  1. I’ve had the LG G Watch R for over 3 months now, and find that I can’t really recommend it to anyone. I still wear it everyday and the battery life will easily get me through to bedtime with 40% left, but voice recognition is far off what I get directly from my Nexus 6. I had the annoying “must make a note of that” whilst driving through a small village, so I told my watch to “remind me when I get home to do X”. It struggled and struggled, several retries later it finally brought up on the screen what I had said (well close enough that I would know what it was on about when I got home), only for the phone to reject the command because it couldn’t set the reminder in the cloud right then.
    I had the fun with Google Keep and the shopping list, finding that as I moved down the aisle the watch had defaulted to dim mode and to get the app back up required multiple stabs and strokes. Here I would be happy to lose some battery life over getting the functionality I needed.
    The remote control of other streams is nice, turning up the music whilst walking to work this morning, pausing Netflix whilst I have to change the baby, but I could easily do without them.
    At £200 it’s a nice toy, any higher and I think you’d be mad, which is why I’m surprised at Apples £299 for the sport and £479 for the “watch” when you could get a 64gb iPad Air 2 for the same price.

    ps, if you haven’t already Watchmaker Premium is a great app for watchfaces, with a huge community behind it, plus it’s pretty easy to build your own with some basic assets created in photoshop.

  2. Thanks for the comment Ryan. That very much chimes with my experience.

    There is a big problem with relying on the cloud. It probably seems like a fantastic idea if you’re in San Francisco and there is a Wi-Fi point embedded in every drain cover. But in most rural parts of Britain, the future still feels a very long time away.

    Absolutely agree on the shopping list front. Having to re-open the app over and over again wears thin very quickly.

    Thanks for the tip on Watchmaker Premium — I’ll check it out!

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