Moto 360 (2014) review

Motorola's first smartwatch has looks, but lacks longevity

Moto 360 review

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Along with two new band colors - silver and the new champagne gold - Android Wear has been updated with Android 5.1 meaning the Moto 360 has some nifty new functions now.

Android 5.1 was first released with the LG Watch Urbane first and now it's on the Moto.

It can now connect via Wi-Fi so you're not stuck with your phone everywhere, scroll hands free with a flick of your wrist, access contacts quicker, doodle emojis and have the face always on. The interface has also been tweaked for a better Android watch experience.

The previous update focused on watch faces which you can download from the Google Play store. Designs are centered around PAC-MAN, Despicable Me, Plants vs Zombies (which you can check out below) and much, much more thanks to a new Watch Face API now available to developers.

The Android Wear app has also been updated to make browsing, downloading and switching watch faces simpler - plus you can now view your apps' battery usage and storage. You can also quickly bring a card back if you've accidentally dismissed it, quickly access various settings by swiping down from the top of the screen, easily block notifications from any app directly from your watch and recently used actions now appear at the top of the list when you tap the watch face.

New modes include Theater Mode which lets you keep the screen off and mute vibrations when you're in a dark room, and Sunlight Mode which temporarily boosts the screen to maximum brightness.

With the update, users can add and swap out Android Wear watch faces using the companion phone app.

Moto 360

Moto 360

Moto 360

Moto 360 runs the same Android Wear as every other Google-powered smartwatch. It has a familiar card-based interface lifted from Google Now and Google Glass, and it often slides contextual information onto the screen in addition to text messages and important email. This time, however, it's all done on a circular screen.

Moto 360 review

Moto 360 reminded me of an upcoming flight out during a baseball game

The round display doesn't really change swiping up and down between different notifications and flinging them to the right to clear them. Sliding your finger left still explores the pop-ups a little more, whether you want to transition from today's weather to a full five-day forecast or access messaging options like "reply with voice," "delete" or "open on your phone."

Most of information is actually "glanceable" with little touchscreen interaction needed. Android Wear is designed to predict what you want to know, meaning commute times to places you've searched, frequently visit and add to your calendar appointments should automatically slide into view. Same goes for friends' birthday reminders, stock data and tracking of packages. It all sits right under the current time without you needing to set anything up.

Moto 360 review

Ahead of the game! I knew about the incoming storm before the grounds crew

That came into play when I searched for the nearby Chicago Cubs' Wrigley Field after touring Motorola's headquarters. Sure enough, right before I left for the ballpark, it listed the commute time complete with traffic. When I got to the game, Moto 360 followed along in near real-time with score updates. Gray clouds gathered during the seventh inning and Moto 360 beamed me a timely severe weather alert about three minutes before rain suddenly whipped through the historic stadium. Everyone else, including the grounds crew, was caught by surprise.

Moto 360 review

Ahead of the game! I knew about the incoming storm before the grounds crew

That rain delay gave me an opportunity to test out Android Wear's voice recognition feature by saying the magic words "Okay Google" whenever the screen is active. Dictating texts messages to friends without retrieving my phone with my slippery hands made the 30 minute wait a little more Chicago bearable. When the game was officially canceled, saying "Okay Google, call a car" summoned Lyft. Uber is still missing out on the novelty of having its users summon a car sort of like Batman can do with his Batmobile.

Google's software picks up the right words most of the time, though it doesn't work well in noisy crowds or give you much time to think. A one-second pause transitions to the "sending" menu on its part and initiates frantic canceling on yours.

Apps and fitness

Moto 360 launches with a few more apps than early adopters who bought the Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch had access to on July 7. There are now 44 "featured" apps that are part of the Google Play Store's Android Wear section, up from the original 35 apps.

Eat24 makes sure that food delivery is within arm's reach, Wunderlist lets you organize a better to do list and Tinder lets you swipe left and right on potential dates that you'll never actually go on. These new Moto 360 apps join existing top names like Groupon, IFTTT, All the Cooks recipes, American Airlines and Glympse.

Moto 360 review

Beam your real-time location to friends you're supposed to meet while briskly walking

Glympse is particularly useful on a watch because it sends your location to contacts of your choosing. Meeting up with someone while you're busy walking or driving? Say "Okay Google, start Glympse" and send them your real-time GPS coordinates in an instant. They can follow you for a set period of time on their phone, taking the guessing game out of that meet-up time.

Google Maps is still one of the most useful Android Wear apps. Asking Moto 360 to "navigate to..." initiates turn-by-turn directions on the watch while starting the full route mapping on your phone. It beats having to deal with the normal phone interface that's dangerously complex and takes too many presses in order to get where you're going.

Moto 360 review

Google Maps on Moto 360 gives you turn-by-turn directions while your phone has more detailed navigation

Moto 360 doubles as an activity tracker, and it's a slightly better workouts companion than the Gear Live or LG G Watch. That's because Motorola goes a few pedometer steps further with a heart activity app that tracks how you're performing against daily and weekly benchmarks. My custom goals require 30 minutes of running and the watch counts down the minutes over the course of the day while also adding up all of my steps. Swiping to the left, I can then see a (hopefully) built-up streak Sunday through Saturday.

Google Fit is here too. It uses the watch's built-in pedometer and heart rate monitor whenever I ask "Ok Google, show my steps" or "Ok Google, show me my heart rate." It counts up the metrics on small-scale graphs and timelines, which isn't enough to compete with the Jawbone Up 24, Basis Carbon Steel Edition and Fitbit Force. There's also no way to see this data on a phone or tablet just yet. That may come with the Android L launch.

Motorola also promises more functionality in future software updates including the ability for the Moto 360 to recognize when your transition from running to cycling without your manual input. That's a rare feature among watches, and one we liked from the brainy-but-ugly Basis Carbon Steel fitness tracker.

Matt Swider