Moto 360: The things we do for beauty

There is a future where instead of a computer in your pocket, it’s the one on your wrist that you use most. Instead of your finger, you use voice to control it.

It’s the device for keeping updated on your digital life. When someone messages you — text or photo — your first preference will be to read it on your watch and reply with your voice. When someone invites you to an event, you accept or decline from your wrist while your smartphone stays in your pocket.

The smartphone is only for when voice is inconvenient, for consuming content and for bigger tasks like taking and editing photos. For everything else, especially the frequent, small interactions we have with friends, the smartwatch is our gateway.

This is the potential future of the smartwatch. Or my interpretation of it anyway.

Enter the Moto 360, powered by Android Wear. How does it deliver on that vision?

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Only a glimpse.

With the Moto 360, I took out my phone far less often. I was surprised by how useful it is to reply to messages with voice — dictation was good enough for quick conversations. Your mileage may vary if you speak with an accent that Google has not programmed for.

The watch also did a good job showing you notifications from your phone throughout the day. I often miss calls and messages because my phone is usually on vibrate; with a connected watch that is no longer a problem.

Motorola’s six watch faces are gorgeous, and even customizable. Quickly switch by long-pressing a watch face. You can also download other third party watch faces from the Google Play store, but most of these aren’t as attractive or don’t work well in Moto 360’s circular format. Still, what you do get out of the box is already great, and it’s easy to see how there can be more in the pipeline.

These three functions — telling the time, scanning notifications and replying to messages with voice — are the three things you’ll do most often with the Moto 360, and it does those well enough.

The rest, however, is still underdeveloped. While voice dictation is good, voice commands are complex, unreliable and sometimes unusable. Navigation is a suboptimal mix of voice and finger. There are obvious limitations in the software that you know will eventually get fixed, like the inability to view images from a chat message.

I downloaded a bunch of third party apps but didn’t end up using any on a repeatable basis. The ecosystem is still immature.

For a deeper analysis of the software, i.e. Android Wear, please check back tomorrow on The Cornerplay. In the meantime, onto the hardware.

The Moto 360 is beautiful. I read the reviews, I knew its flaws. But I didn’t care: the Moto 360 looks sexy and I was willing to plonk $250 for sex alone (no double meaning intended). That the watch did other things was gravy.

Let’s start with those flaws.

The watch has a chin which houses some electronics. It was either that or a big fat bezel, and Motorola chose wisely in this case.

The glass face isn’t flush with the bezel and casts a refractive light around the edges, which you can see in the photo above. This can be distracting, especially when viewing white or brightly colored backgrounds.

Sometimes the watch lags or even hangs temporarily; apparently, this is because the Moto 360 uses a lousy, inefficient chipset from 2010. Battery life is also worse as a result. Ars Technica estimates that the LG G Watch has twice the battery life, and that’s entirely due to the chipset.

Wrong move Motorola. This is probably the most galling flaw. With the Moto 360, you trade off performance with looks. Motorola should have just charged more and made the Moto 360 clearly best-in-class.

Fortunately, the Moto 360’s battery easily lasts the whole day for me. That’s good enough; for now. We’ll see if that’s still true next year when there are more apps for the watch that I actually want to use.

Unfortunately, in a bid to preserve battery life, Motorola programmed the watch face go to sleep too quickly. The screen is off by default, and when you raise your arm to look at the time, the screen automatically turns on for about six seconds before turning off again. That’s too fast for me; I wish it would stay on longer.

Update (September 29, 2014): A software update that started rolling out yesterday dramatically improves battery life, by as much as 50% for some people. With Ambient Mode on, 16 hours later I still have more than 20% battery left.

Certain apps — like navigation on Google Maps — often crash. You wonder whether it’s a software or hardware issue.

So those are the flaws. What about its strengths?

It’s a gorgeous looking watch, and really that’s about it. That may sound inconsequential, but watches are at heart fashion accessories — how the watch makes the wearer feel is the single most important factor, and in this the Moto 360 does well.

One day, it won’t just be about looks but about what the watch can do. Until then, aesthetics remain the first criterion, just as the ability to make phone calls is the first consideration for a smartphone. The watch has to look good enough for you to want to wear it; once you crossed that threshold, functionality can be added over time to make more indispensable.

OK, so there is another major plus aside from its good looks: charging. The watch charges very quickly — it went from 25% to 85% in less than an hour. The charging dock is also attractive and easy to use: simply place the watch on top and charging happens seamlessly and automatically.

The Moto 360 provides a glimpse of the future, and only that. It gets a qualified recommendation — a gadget for the early adopter. You can’t shake the feeling that the sequel will be a quantum leap better, useful enough for the average person to buy and enjoy using.

I’m glad I bought the Moto 360 and it’s going to be on my wrist for some time to come, but you may feel differently.

Note: To use the Moto 360, you must have a phone with Android 4.3 and up and which connects to the watch via Bluetooth.

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