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Moto 360 (2015) review

Once the expected smartwatch saviour, the original Moto 360 brought circular screens and endless disappointment to the wearables space last year. Twelve months on, the second-gen device (also called the Moto 360) has touched down. But despite making a number of improvements, it’s still plagued by many of the same problems as its predecessor.

Like a petulant child that just won’t listen, the 2015 edition of Motorola’s round smartwatch still suffers from the same screen-impairing “flat tyre” base as the original. But sadly, an inability to fix visual problems isn’t the watch’s only issue – oh no. A less than impressive battery life and all too familiar UI do it no favours either.

True, despite its problems, this is Motorola’s best wearable to date. However, it’s anything but an out-and-out rival to the Apple Watch andSamsung Gear S2.

The Good

  • Smaller size was needed
  • Improved build quality
  • Design improvements

The Bad

  • Flat tyre screen ruins the look
  • Android Wear still restrictive
  • Poor battery life

Moto 360 Design: Traditional styling makes this a visual hit

Overall, this is not a bad-looking device. The new Moto 360 – which comes in silver, black and gold bodies and countless metal and leather strap options – has enjoyed few subtle design improvements that have gone a long way to creating a good-looking bit of kit. Most notably, it now comes in two sizes – with a smaller 42mm model (£229) joining the giant 48mm (£269) offering. It’s this addition of a smaller size, and an improvement in build quality, that really makes a difference.

The wearable simply looks – and more importantly feels – better. It’s comfortable to wear, and the smaller 42mm model doesn’t dwarf the appendages of even fat-wristed men like its larger sibling. At 11.4mm thick, the cool-to-the-touch metal body feels sizeable, but not overly so. Importantly, unlike the Apple Watch, it looks and feels like a traditional watch.

There are small visual changes too. The physical button – shaped like a watch crown, just without Apple’s twisting interface – has moved from 3 to 2 o’clock on the watch face. This does little to improve performance or usability, but it does look just that little bit cooler. Customisation options are a breeze too, and not just because you can pop the strap off in favour of any standard 20mm replacement.

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Like the Moto X Play and Moto X Style smartphones, the new 360 plays nice with the manufacturer’s Moto Maker customisation tool. Here you can tinker with the wearable’s set-up, mixing and matching bodies with straps (there are dedicated straps for women) and even add a textured bezel to the mix. For a price, of course. Get the right combination of body and strap – I’m liking the black body, brown leather strap – and the device looks great.

At a distance, this is a bit of kit I’m happy to wear. It’s when you look closely, though, that things fall apart. Because this device’s design is far from perfect. So close to being a stunning device, it’s the 360’s avoidable shortcomings that are so infuriating. These seemingly lazy oversights start when you look past its top-line good looks and focus on its screen.

Moto 360 Screen: Motorola’s flat tyre leaves us deflated

Visually, the Moto 360’s screen isn’t that bad. It’s still our least favourite display on any of the leading smartwatches, but that’s got nothing to do with the device’s ample-but-far-from-ground-breaking 360 x 325 pixel resolution. Sure, colours feel a little diluted and lack pop, but for the most part the screen is bright and sharp.

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A display this small doesn’t need to be ridiculously hi-res, but it’s the screen’s uneven resolution that betrays its main weakness – it’s not actually fully round. There’s a big bit missing from the bottom. It’s like a wheel with a puncture; it’s got a flat, depressing sole that’s an infuriating eyesore.

A distraction from otherwise decent visuals, the cut-out hosts the watch’s ambient light sensor that enables automated screen dimming. It’s not worth the trade though. Motorola knew how much people hated this on the first model, so why it’s continued with it for round two is beyond us. It makes the device feel rushed and lazy. It’s an issue that instantly undoes all the wearable’s previous good work.

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Sadly, this isn’t where the 2015 360’s screen-based woes end, either. The glass at the edge of the screen tapers down, quite severely. This gives the 360-degree display a heavily distorted look at the edges, and the screen the effect of being viewed through a fish tank. It’s distracting and another frustratingly unnecessary addition. Seriously, Motorola, what were you thinking?

Moto 360 Features: Lack of innovation leaves it in a rut

Screen-based shortcomings are the 360’s main problem, but far from its only issue. Sorry, folks – the grumbling’s about to continue. With Android Wear running the show – a decent but flawed OS – the platform’s lack of manufacturer-based customisation options means there’s little to separate this user experience from that of the Huawei Watch, Asus ZenWatch, or even last year’s Moto 360.

True, Android Wear is relatively simple to navigate – once you’ve suffered through a couple of weeks of lost, confusing swipes, that is. But it’s also uninspiring. Technology is all about innovation, progression and uniqueness, and Android Wear-powered devices are currently missing out on all three fronts. Sure, the platform recently added limited iOS support, but there remains no variety in devices beyond hardware design.

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