Review: Moto 360 (2nd-gen)

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Gizmag reviews the 2nd-gen Moto 360, a big improvement over the original(Credit: Will Shanklin/Gizmag)

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The first Moto 360 was arguably the best of the first wave of Android Wear watches, but it also wasn't without its flaws (battery life being the biggest). Let's see if Motorola improved on the 2nd-gen Moto 360 in enough ways to make it a smart buy.

The first Moto 360 not only had sketchy battery life, but it also had a few other issues:

  • its "ambient display" wasn't an always-on display (it was more like a half-the-time-on display, if not a bit less)
  • it looked pretty damn big on men's wrists, and looked ridiculously oversized for most women
  • its display wasn't completely round, with a cut-off point at the bottom that became lovingly (or something like that) known as the "flat tire"

This 2nd-gen Moto 360 fixes all but one of those issues. It has much better battery life, a display that can stay on all the time (while still lasting all day long) and you can also now buy it in a smaller size.

... Motorola must still be waiting for AAA to arrive, though, as the flat tire still hasn't been fixed.

At this point, it looks like the flat bottom of its display was a deliberate design choice all along, rather than an engineering compromise, since other smartwatch manufacturers (like LG, Samsung and Huawei) have had no problem making smartwatches with fully round displays.

It doesn't bother us too much, and in a way it's a good fit for Android Wear, which slides "cards" up from the bottom of the screen. The display's horizontal bottom matches the horizontal tops on those cards. Though it looks a bit strange having clock faces cut off at the bottom (especially ones with light-colored clocks), we did get used to the ... unique look and don't think it's a deal-breaker.

There is one functional advantage tied to the flat tire display: Motorola put an ambient light sensor in that little black void below the screen, which opens the door to an auto-brightness setting – something we haven't seen much of on other Android Wear watches. Given the choice, we'd prefer the Huawei Watch's fully round display over the Moto's auto-brightness, but it does become a key point of differentiation between two watches that are otherwise pretty close to being identical.

By the way, we reviewed the smaller of the two 2nd-gen Moto 360s: this is the 42 mm model you see, and there's also a 46 mm one (the same diameter as the 1st-gen Moto). Having two sizes gives customers more choice, but we think they're a bit off.

This 42 mm model looks what I'd call "just right" on my (male) wrist. Unfortunately this size is also what you get in the women's models, where it's going to look pretty big. We would have preferred this 42 mm model to be the larger one, sitting alongside a smaller model (maybe around 38 mm, like the smaller Apple Watch).

As it stands now, the 2nd-gen Moto 360 is still much more of a men's watch (in "regular" and "large" options) than it is a unisex watch (for many women's wrists, the two sizes are more like "big" and "obscenely huge").

Despite having an IPS display, the new Moto 360 has good battery life – not far off the best Android Wear offers – even with its always-on clock setting turned on. Before getting our hands on the review unit, we were a little worried about this, since AMOLED screens make more sense in wearables (black parts of the screen don't fire any pixels on AMOLED; so dark clock faces don't drain much juice). But, alas, nothing to worry about here.

Using the Moto 360 every day (with its always-on display setting turned on, brightness set to 80 percent, regular notifications coming in and using the occasional voice control), it dropped, on average, 4-5 percent per hour. That's only a little behind the (AMOLED) Huawei Watch, which dropped between 3 and 4 percent per hour under the same conditions.

Now once we turned auto-brightness on, the Moto's results were closer to the Huawei Watch's. But auto-brightness does have one annoying flaw: when wearing long sleeves, the Moto 360 is naturally going to slip at least partially under the sleeve. At that point, auto-brightness thinks you're in a dark room and dims its display accordingly. That doesn't matter while your arm is hanging at your side, but once you actually want to read something on the watch, it takes a few seconds to brighten up.

... hardly the end of the world, we know, but just annoying enough to make auto-brightness – presumably the main reason Motorola stuck with this strange flat tire design in the first place – not worth bothering with.

Because of this, we prefer to just leave the brightness set to 60 or 80 percent, both of which work well under most lighting conditions.

Apart from the new smaller size options, the Moto 360's design hasn't changed dramatically from last year's model. It does add those prominent lugs you see above, which give it a slightly different look (on the original the casing met the band directly, with no lugs in between).

It's also a hair thinner than the 1st-gen Moto. At 11.4 mm (0.45-inch) thick, the new model isn't alarmingly beefy, but it's also noticeably thicker than many regular timekeeping watches.

As you can see, we reviewed the leather band model, and the band has two nifty features: you can easily remove both sides of the band by pulling on a couple of little sliders, and its holes are pretty close together. Who cares about the holes? Well, on other leather-band smartwatches we've reviewed, the leather stretches out a bit over time, and the farther apart the holes are, the harder it is to find just the right fit. If you wear the watch too loosely, you might not feel vibrations when notifications come in. Wear it too tightly, and, well, you probably like having blood circulating to your hand.

Speaking of vibrations, the new Moto 360 falls on the lighter end of the scale. We often miss incoming alerts, despite wearing the watch fairly snugly. It's a tough balancing act with this: if the vibrations are too powerful, customers will complain that they're annoying them. But we think Motorola could have afforded to add just a bit more oomph to its alerts (or, better yet, Google could let users choose between light and heavy vibration modes in Android Wear's settings).

The new Moto 360 sits next to the Huawei Watch as your two best options on the Android Wear side of the fence. We do prefer the Huawei Watch's fully round screen, less lug-tastic design and slightly better battery life, but it does also cost a bit more (Huawei's wearable starts at US$349, compared to $299 for the same-sized Moto).

Both are nice-looking pieces, with virtually identical software experiences (Motorola threw in a few of its own apps for heart rate and fitness tracking, but those aren't significant enough to dictate your decision). If you really want to save that $50, you'll be happy with the Moto. But if the extra cash isn't a huge deal, then we do think the Huawei Watch is the slightly better overall product.

The 2nd-gen Moto 360 is available now, starting at $299 for this 42 mm model and starting at $349 for the (huge) 46 mm one. For more on its most obvious rival, you can hit up Gizmag's Huawei Watch review.

Product page: Motorola

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