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Moto 360 (2015) review: A better (but pricier) Moto smartwatch

The new Moto 360 has improved performance, a more comfortable fit and has longer battery life, but it's also more expensive than the original.

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Dan Graziano
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Dan Graziano

Associate Editor / How To

Dan Graziano is an associate editor for CNET. His work has appeared on BGR, Fox News, Fox Business, and Yahoo News, among other publications. When he isn't tinkering with the latest gadgets and gizmos, he can be found enjoying the sights and sounds of New York City.

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A watch is a personal device. Some people have a specific watch to go with a certain outfit, while others may swap out straps to match how they are feeling on a given day. Many of the smartwatches available today let you swap bands, and some are even offered in different colors and sizes -- but no device has felt as personal as my Moto 360.

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7.1

Moto 360 (2015)

The Good

The Moto 360 is stylish and comfortable to wear. It's offered in two sizes, can be personalized through Motorola's Moto Maker website, and is one of the few smartwatches to include an ambient light sensor for automatically adjusting brightness.

The Bad

Battery life is short for a watch. Android Wear software feels awkward. The round display isn't a complete circle -- there's a black bar at the bottom.

The Bottom Line

Improved performance and unique customization options make the Moto 360 a worthy successor to last year's smartwatch, but it has the same limitations as other Android Wear watches on the market.

Motorola's watch can be customized to your liking using the company's Moto Maker website. You can choose the color of the bezel, the bezel treatment, case color and band type. Want a two-tone watch? No problem. Maybe one with a textured bezel? Why not? All of this is possible with the new Moto 360. According to Motorola, there are more than 300 options to choose from.

But here's the problem: while the new Moto 360 is better than last year's, it does little to stand out in the growing Android Wear watch world. There aren't any cool added features like NFC for mobile payments (Android Wear doesn't allow that yet) or GPS (for that, you have to wait for the Moto 360 Sport model). And some competing smartwatches even have better-looking screens, like the sapphire crystal display in the Huawei Watch.

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The Moto 360 now comes in two sizes: a 42mm model with 20mm or 16mm strap, and a 46mm with a 22mm band (slightly larger than last year's 45mm model). I wore the larger 46mm model, which starts at $350 in the US. There is also a special "women's collection" that features a 42mm face and a slim 16mm strap.

Prices range depending on what model you pick, but they're all more expensive. They start at $300 for the 42mm model -- a $50 premium over what last year's original went for -- and go up to $430. In the UK the 42mm for men costs £229, for women it's £259, and the men's 46mm is £269. Motorola has confirmed that the watches are heading to Australia, but hasn't supplied even a ballpark date yet. The UK prices convert to AU$480, AU$540 and AU$560, respectively.

The Moto 360 is better, but it's also less distinctive.

Close up with the new and improved Moto 360 (pictures)

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Hardware and design

The first thing you notice with the Moto 360 is that it has almost no bezel -- it's stunning. But then you notice the display isn't a complete circle, like the Huawei Watch or LG Watch Urbane . There's still a black bar at the bottom of the screen. Just like last year.

The black bar, which many jokingly refer to as the "flat tire," is home to the ambient light sensor, which automatically sets display brightness. It's convenient, but not at the cost of a cut-off screen.

Motorola claims most users don't notice the bar. I did. I notice it when the circular watch face I have installed is cut off at the bottom, and I notice it with any background that isn't black.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Motorola opted for an LCD display rather than AMOLED. To me it looks less crisp, more pixelated. The 42mm Moto 360 features a 1.37-inch display with a pixel resolution of 360x325, while the display on my reviewed 46mm model is 1.56 inches and 360x330 pixels (263 pixels per inch and 233 ppi, respectively). The Huawei Watch has a sharper a 1.4-inch 400x400-pixel resolution display. Not by much, but enough to matter.

The Moto 360 screen is also slightly raised up from its steel casing, with a slight angled bevel on the edge. It might make for easier swipes, but weirdly warps the edge of watch faces.

The new Moto 360 does look more like a real watch, though, largely because it now has traditional watch lugs. These look great, make it easier to swap out the strap for a new one, and make the watch more flexible and comfortable to wear. The crown button has also shifted to the top right, around 2 o'clock. But it's still just a basic button, unlike the spinning digital crown on the Apple Watch . You can't use it to scroll through apps: it only dims the display and accesses the app menu.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Some of the changes in the new Moto 360 are ones you can't see. The processor has received a significant boost, which improves overall performance. But I still notice some lag when the watch screen "wakes up" to full brightness from the dim power-saving mode.

Inside is a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor, 512MB of RAM and 4GB of internal storage for apps and music, which is pretty standard for Android Wear watches. There's also Wi-Fi on board, so you can use the watch even if your iPhone or Android smartphone is left behind. It's just like what's in other recent Android Wear watches from LG and Huawei.

Sarah Tew/CNET

An optical heart-rate sensor sits on the back of the watch and measures your heart rate automatically at different times throughout the day, much like the Apple Watch. You can also manually check it on-demand. Its heart-rate functions are a step above many other Android Wear watches such as the Huawei Watch and LG Watch Urbane, which only spot-check heart rate.

Motorola even has a heart activity app that tries to estimate active exercise through the day. It's not perfect, but it's better than anything Google offers. The Moto 360 also tracks steps, like all these watches, but lacks GPS for pace and distance when running. A Sport model with GPS is coming later this year, in a more ruggedized design.

The watch has a water-resistant rating of IP67: you can wear it while washing the dishes or the occasional shower (sans the leather strap of course), but you shouldn't wear it in the pool. This is true for all Android Wear watches.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Software: It's Android Wear with some added features

The Moto 360 is powered by Google's Android Wear operating system, which is its biggest downside. Android Wear has been around for over a year and is getting better over time -- recent updates have added Wi-Fi support and limited functionality for iPhone users -- but on the whole it's a strange and limited operating system. Android Wear is a lot like Google Now or the Google Search app on iPhones and iPads, but on your wrist. You will see personalized Google Now cards with information on weather, transportation and sporting events as well as notifications for things like text messages, emails, calls and calendar alerts from your phone.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Notifications and alerts on Android Wear are very big. And some cards don't always seem necessary. But Android Wear does allow some dictated message responses, and Google search does work well. There are also hundreds of compatible Android apps that will work with Android Wear. This isn't yet an option for iPhone users.

Motorola bundles a handful of custom watch faces and an app for tracking health and fitness with the Moto 360 called Moto Body. It uses data collected by the heart-rate monitor and other sensors to deliver you detailed stats on your daily and weekly activities. It's one of the better built-in fitness tracking apps for Android Wear, much better than Google's own Fit app, but it's not nearly as detailed as apps from Fitbit and Jawbone.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Motorola did as much as it could to make Android Wear appealing, but it still feels incomplete, and that's Android Wear's fault. Many pop-up cards still feel like a nuisance, and the feature set on all Android Wear watches remain limited. You can use Android Wear watches over Wi-Fi networks away from your phone, but only for some functions.

The Moto 360 also lacks NFC, and doesn't support mobile payments. That's because Android Wear doesn't, either. The Apple Watch and eventually the Samsung Gear S2 will. We don't know when Google will enable Android Wear to pay for a cup of coffee, but it's yet another area where Android Wear is lagging.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Battery life

Battery life remains a problem with many smartwatches on the market, and the Moto 360 is no exception. The 46mm model has a 400mAh battery that lasted more than a day and a half with the always-on screen feature enabled and using the "auto" brightness setting. The smaller 42mm Moto 360 has a smaller 300mAh battery. It's similar to other Android Wear watches and the Apple Watch, but a lot worse than the Pebble Time Steel , which lasts a full week. I eked out two days of battery life with the always-on display setting turned off.

Sarah Tew/CNET

At least the Moto 360 comes with a great wireless charging cradle. Once it begins charging, the watch enters a bedside clock mode, too. Oddly enough, it doesn't charge when placed on my Energizer Dual Inductive Charger , even though the old Moto 360 would.

Conclusion

Sarah Tew/CNET

The new Moto 360 is better than the original model in almost every way possible. It looks nicer, performs better, is more comfortable to wear, and has longer battery life. But it's also more expensive, and the smartwatch market has changed since the original 360 debuted in September of 2014.

There are a lot of round smartwatches now, and a lot of good-looking ones, too. The Moto 360 may be better than many, but it doesn't stand alone anymore.

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7.1

Moto 360 (2015)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Battery 6Performance 7Software 6Features 7