Motorola's watch is great, but it could be so much more
Motorola's first Android Wear device is great. I mean really, really great. Visually it is by far the most attractive of the smartwatches we have seen so far, including LG's perfect circle G Watch R, in my opinion. I like the screen. I like the way the watch sits on my wrist. And I like that it didn't break last night when my wrist glanced off the door to the gas station hard enough to make the guy behind the counter visibly cringe. Seriously, not a scratch.
My point is, Motorola has nailed the design and build materials for this watch as far as I am concerned. That said, there are several other parts of this watch that I wish had gotten the kind of love that likely would have resulted in a price increase.
Yes, I want a more expensive Moto 360.
It's probably worth prefacing everything you are about to read with a couple of fairly obvious disclaimers. I am not an engineer. I am not a product designer. I only possess a loose comprehension of the research and testing that went into the Moto 360. I have a basic understanding of the process, and I have spoken to several people involved at various levels of this process both at Motorola and other companies, but in no way am I speaking with any sort of authority. This is purely my opinion, based on my experiences with what is otherwise a fantastic smartwatch. After using it for a little while, it feels an awful lot like the only thing holding this watch back are decisions that were made for cost reasons. It's clear $250 is a price point someone at Motorola felt (or was told) the 360 needed to hit, and while I wouldn't say that sacrifices were made it seems like there are different decisions that could have been made in order to release a superior product.
My first issue is a relatively minor one. I don't know a single person who was legitimately happy with the the rubbery watch bands that came with the LG G Watch or the Samsung Gear Live. No big deal, really, since those bands are easy to change and these are meant to be relatively cheap watches. You expect a cheap band with a plastic watch, no matter what magic is going on under the hood.
Motorola, on the other hand, made a big deal out of the quality of their materials, and that included the watch bands. Everyone cheered and celebrated when Motorola announced leather as the default band for its watch. Not just any leather mind you, and not leather like the back of a Galaxy Note 3, but Horween Leather with actual stitching and everything. Now, I have owned a watch strap from Horween before. I know firsthand (sorry) what a quality product they make. This watch band doesn't feel like a nice leather strap. It's certainly more comfortable than the rubber straps when you first put it on, but walk around in the heat for 20 minutes and you'll soon come to the realization that this strap feels almost exactly like it is made of rubber. It's the kind of thing that wouldn't have bothered me at all if Motorola hadn't pointed it out and made a big deal out of it, because like many people I have a preferred strap anyway, but especially now that we know you have to be careful with what watch band you replace the default with this is something that could have been done better.
This next bit is complicated. I take issue with the processor being used in the Moto 360. It's not because I feel like Motorola went dumpster diving for a cheap processor to put in the watch, and it's not because I am unhappy with the speed or general performance of the watch when asking it to perform tasks. After pushing this watch, the only time I ever felt a noticeable lag behind its Android Wear brothers was in the boot animation, where you can actually see it stutter in the boot animation compared to the others. That's kind of a bummer, but unless you're going to play Flappy Bird on your watch it is unlikely you'll ever notice. I take issue with the chip being used in the Moto 360 because it suffers from the same flaw that the last watch this chip was put in suffered from, and if Motorola can actually fix the issue at this point it would be surprising.
I owned a MotoACTV. Fascinated by the notion that I could have Android on my wrist, I rushed to my Verizon Wireless store and grabbed one on the first day. I didn't have a Motorola phone at the time, but I figured Android was Android and it didn't matter as long as I had the most recent version of the OS. Having been in the mobile device industry since quite literally the beginning, Motorola had their own ideas regarding how Bluetooth should function. Motorola's Bluetooth stack didn't always play by the same rules as everyone else, and that caused a lot of problems for accessories, unless your accessories were also made by Motorola. This was a problem for Motorola right until they started using Qualcomm in their smartphones with the Droid Razr line, and even since then things have been great.
The OMAP 3630 processor in the Moto 360 isn't exactly the same as the one in the MotoACTV, but it's very close. Motorola has updated its firmware and taught this processor some new tricks, but curiously a more stable Bluetooth connection wasn't one of them. When connected to some devices, a Moto X for example, the watch behaves just fine. Connect it to something like an LG G2 or a Samsung Galaxy S5, and you will find intermittent Bluetooth connectivity issues. It's kind of difficult to even tell that this is happening on the watch, because neither the Moto 360 nor the Android Wear app keeps a record of connections that you can look at. The best way I found to track it though the day was to install the Find My Phone app on the watch, and when the Bluetooth would drop the watch would tell me the phone had dropped out of range. On average, when connected to my G2, the watch lost its connection to my phone 19 times over a 14 hour period. I know it's not the phone misbehaving, because this doesn't happen on the other Android Wear watches or the Google Glass I have had connected to the phone in these same conditions.
There's no way we were getting through this without talking about battery life. Currently, my Moto 360 is set to the default conditions. This means that the auto brightness is on, the ambient mode is off, and my watch gets every single notification that shows up on my phone. I personally don't care about the ambient mode on Android Wear, because the watch wakes up just fine when I lift my wrist to check a notification, but I understand why the feature exists and why people would want it around. In my current usage, I can put the watch on at 6:30 a.m. and still have 20 percent remaining when I slide it on the charger at 10pm. That's with little to no voice interaction, no GPS navigation, and no Flappy Bird on my wrist. In my opinion, this is unacceptable. I think table stakes for a smartwatch should be 24 hours with everything on while being used by someone who is considered downright abusive in the way they operate technology. LG and Samsung accomplished this by leaving out the brightness sensor and using a screen that doesn't get bright enough to enjoy in the sun, which is equally unacceptable in my opinion. If these are just connected toys, that's one thing. If this is going to take the place of an actual watch on my wrist, I need to never worry about this device getting through an entire work day and a night on the town.
I want a $350 Moto 360, by which I mean a version of this amazing hardware with more capable parts. Much in the same way that there's a market for higher-quality watches that just tell time, there has to be a market for higher quality smartwatches. The Moto 360 looks and feels like it should cost a lot more that the other Android Wear devices that are out there today, but I can't shake the feeling that the $250 price point is a weight pulling the overall capabilities of this watch down. A better battery, a more capable processor, and a higher quality default strap are all things Motorola is clearly capable of, and it's those kinds of changes that would make it so very easy to recommend spending just a little bit more to get a smartwatch that is actually deserving of the name.