After a bit more than 48 hours with the Moto 360, Motorola’s new Android Wear smartwatch, I’m still wowed by the round display. With a 1.5-inch diameter, the 360 offers more screen real estate than the rectangular Wear contenders from Samsung and LG. And as Motorola bragged when the 360 was announced, its UI affords more white space around the snippets of text on Google’s cards. This allows for just a bit more breathing room on the necessarily cramped display.
Even better: I found that Motorola’s display is more legible in sunlight than other Android Wear watches. This is a major upside, as the displays of the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live are damn near unreadable outside (unless it’s a typically overcast summer day in San Francisco). Unlike the other watches, the Moto 360 comes with an ambient light sensor to auto-adjust brightness. I turned on auto-adjust, and found it performed quite well, saving me the battery drain of the maximum brightness setting.
But right when I thought I had found an Android Wear watch that has its display figured out, the Moto 360’s ambient mode let me down. It’s just far too dim, especially when viewing off axis. I was also surprised to discover that the black strip of useless pixels at the bottom of the display does in fact annoy me.
The Moto 360’s industrial design is novel but conflicted. Sure, it’s a round frickin’ smartwatch, so we have to give Motorola credit for releasing us from the drudgery of rectangular designs. But while Motorola wants this gadget to look like a traditional watch, it makes a few design decisions that tell a completely different story.
First off, I don’t like the way the straps connect to the very bottom of the case. It’s a disconnected look. The straps just appear out of nowhere, and there’s no gentle segue from strap to case; no visual bridge from one part to the other. There are no lugs. It’s not an elegant design, and it also makes the 360 look taller and bulkier than it actually is.
Second, I think there’s a big visual conflict between the rich organic leather of the straps, and the chiseled, high-tech vibe of the stainless steel case. It’s a poorly integrated look overall, but Motorola should be able to find a win-win solution when it begins shipping its watches with stainless steel bands.
Then there’s the specter of poor battery life. I’ve only spent a few days with the 360, but already I’m worried about how long these things will last on a single charge. The Gear Live and G Watch can make it through the day, leaving me about 20 to 30 percent juice by the time I’m ready to crash. But the 360 has been giving me battery warnings right around dinner time.
When it’s time for a recharge, you can rest the watch on it wireless cradle, which turns it into a table clock. It’s an elegant charging method, but it also makes it impossible to top off your battery at work—unless you bring the cradle with you.
I still want to spend a few days with the Moto 360 before rendering my final verdict. But even today, I’ll go on the record saying it’s the best Android Wear watch available, if only because the display is legible outdoors. But competitors should find solace in the fact that Motorola is falling well short of Android Wear perfection.