Moto 360 Reflections: Virtues, Successor, Competition
I have used Android Wear for 10 months now, but I have never been so happy with the platform until my purchase of the Moto 360 a month ago. In light of a rather likely upcoming revision of this watch, I will try and explain why I personally think that the Moto 360 was, in concept, the most influential smartwatch of 2014 (and why it remains one of them), and why the successor could very well be Wear’s flagship for 2015 as well.
The Gear Live I had before this watch introduced me to the platform with a very disappointing first impression. Out of the box and with the now 10 month old firmware, the Gear Live was laggy in ways that no smartwatch should be. Google’s aim for Wear was to reduce the time you spend checking notifications in your phone, as well as taking it out of your pocket. With this in mind, a laggy smartwatch directly transgresses upon the original mission of Wear. This problem was solved once the Moto 360 came out and a software update was pushed to improve all Wear watches’ performance and battery life, but the one thing that could never fix (literally) was the Gear Live’s other bad first impression:
It simply looked like a techie gadget. The novelty of being one of the first on the platform, plus the discount I bought it with, pushed me towards the purchase. But despite my enthusiasm to explore a new territory of my favorite platform, the external carcass of the device didn’t appeal to me at all. The metal frame was overly shiny in an eye-catchy way, but you want subtlety when your watch looks as gadgety as this one does. The bezels that separate the screen and the frame are very large, giving the device a further mini-tv appearance. Finally, the stock band was sporty and comfortable (and rather easy to put on!), but very plain and boring, and it caught fingerprints and oil like it was its job.
A month ago, I purchased a Moto 360 on a trip I described in the second episode of the Apple Appeal editorial series. From the moment I opened it, I knew that I would not go back to the Gear Live ever again. The design looked great in the box, better in the wrist and a month later it is still worth a long stare every now and then. And I want to elaborate more on this point, because it is ultimately what set it apart from the competition:
The Moto 360 was the first round Wear watch (flat tire aside) and it took its job seriously by approaching its design brilliantly: it is the ultimate abstraction of the classical and contemporary timepiece. It is a minimal conception of the very archetype of analogue watches, stop watches, and even pocket watches. The Moto 360’s minimal bezels, raised screen and simple button make it isomorphic to every round watch, even if in the most infinitesimal degree. And this is why I believe the Moto 360’s watchfaces look amazing, even with the black bar at the bottom. The device is almost pure screen, pure canvas for the watchface to take a central role in the watch. On the Gear Live, for example, black bezels and the metal frame take away from the screen. The LG G Watch R has a dial with numbers that also clashes with manu watchfaces. The Moto 360, however, is elegantly simple and the subtle raised glass gives the markers displayed on the edges of the screen a stylish depth.
Successor and Competition
The design of the Moto 360 is, however, constrained by the designs its display is capable of: first, you’ve got the flat tire. While I stopped noticing the flat tire altogether after a week of use, I still have to be mindful of it when selecting or designing brand-new watchfaces, as many are simply worthless due to this (I do not use any white background watchfaces for this reason). The screen is also of lower resolution, and of significantly lower pixel density than the Gear Live… and it really shows. Its LCD panel also doesn’t match it in colors and contrast, as they pale in comparison to those of the Gear Live’s AMOLED screen. And finally, the lack of Always On (something the G Watch also had despite its LCD screen) is rather bothersome when it comes to showing your watchface (and a hint of your personality with it) to the world. We discussed this in a feature where we looked into ways of solving the very issue of dimmed states to make Wear more fashionable for mass consumers.
I want to make some things clear: the Moto 360’s screen is worse than the Gear Live’s. Performance is also a bit worse, as is battery life (the Gear Live can go for two days on a charge with dimmed mode, while the Moto 360 can’t last 30 hours without it). But despite all of this, I still prefer the Moto 360. Even without the Always On mode, the device looks great on one’s wrist. In fact, having the screen off at all times does have its charm in making the watch more subtle. We’ve debated the two sides of smartwaches in a reflection of their designs and practical uses and on this I have to say that fashion is an intricate part of smartwatches at this point. If consumers care so much about the designs of phones that mostly sit inside their pockets, it is natural their smartwatches would have to be good-looking and compete with other watch designs. And when it comes to capabilities, both of my watches have the same functions and the (not very differen) performance and battery life of the Moto 360 do not affect my use-cases (I charge it every night). There are newer watches with newer features now, however, but nothing truly revolutionary yet.
The Moto 360 sequel could very well be announced at I/O. We already recapped what we know of and our wishes, and with I/O around the corner and the new Moto 360 having allegedly stopped at Bluetooth SIG we can expect it to show its face soon, if not next week. Motorola already nailed most of a brilliant design with the Moto 360 2014, and the sequel seems to be getting rid of the flat tire and improve the screen. If it managed to add a solid dim mode, the device would already be killer as far as design goes. And with a rumored emphasis on customization, we can’t see Motorola dropping the ball on this aspect.
The competition, however, is also scaling up. The recent LG Watch Urbane upped the build quality once more (although many reviewers call it tacky) and the Huawei Watch is also bringing luxury to the game. Moreover, a TAG Heuer watch is hitting stores too, and with the brand name alone it could eat up a large percentage of the market. However, I think that Motorola has something no one else is offering, and that is versatility in design. Due to its minimal look, the Moto 360 can match pretty much anything, especially when you factor in alternative watchbands. It is so nondescript that it doesn’t even look out of place in fitness wear (when you run, it looks akin to a stopwatch on your wrist). That minimalist abstraction is what I think extends its appeal universally.
Despite my love for the Moto 360, I would have never bought one if it wasn’t for the insane discounts I amassed to reduce its price by close to 80% (student discount, temporary price discount and smartphone purchase promotion – I returned the smartphone). If a casual user friend came up to me and asked me if he should buy a Moto 360 for over $200, I would not recommend it; in fact, I would never recommend any Wear watches over $100 to a casual user. The value of smartwaches now is not enough to guarantee a smooth transition into mass adoption. Even Duarte admits this! And that’s OK, because to people who are into Android, people who depend on notifications for their job, people who work on the go, or the intersection of those 3 sets (I am in there) it is still a valuable device… And despite its lesser battery life and performance, I still believe the Moto 360 is the Wear flagship.
There is a lot that I didn’t mention that I also love, such as Moto Connect, Moto Body and the nightstand wireless charger (I rely on this more than I should). The Moto 360 successor could very well be an amazing smartwatch, as it will most likely correct all of the flaws that the 360 has while retaining the design philosophy that makes it so appealing. I don’t believe wearables will absolutely take off until battery life improves and more sensors make it in. I do fine with my 28 hour battery life on the 360 and its bare-bones fitness sensors, but more can be done and in some ways, more is being done I am glad I had those discounts, and I will probably not buy the new Moto 360 unless it is everything I want it to be and more. I don’t think Wear watches (or any smartwatches for that matter) are quite worth the full $250+ that they are settling at, but I believe that the new Moto 360 will Wear a lot closer to that kind of value.
How do you think the Moto 360 compares to other watches as far as design goes? Tell us below!