The Moto 360 fits better on those with larger wrists. Source: Drew Evans /The Wall Street Journal
Every watch I've ever owned has done just two things: quickly given me the time, and looked nice on my wrist.
That's turned out to be too tall an order for the first wave of smartwatches from Samsung, Pebble and the like. Sure, they do far more than the classy Tag Heuer and Michael Kors watches in my collection. But the minicomputers that collect fitness data and ping me with phone notifications are more apt for a spread in Maximum PC than Vogue. Simply put: They're ugly.
That's not the case for Motorola’s $US250 Moto 360, which was announced back in March and begins shipping today. Unlike the boxy black models that have flooded the market, it's the first smartwatch to look like an actual watch, with a round face and a leather band.
The Moto 360 is a big step in the right direction—but it still doesn't meet my criteria for a smartwatch due to hardware and software shortcomings.
One size does not fit all
A stainless-steel frame surrounding its 1.56-inch circular touch screen and a high-quality gray or black leather band from Chicago's revered Horween tannery make Motorola's timepiece look and feel like something you'd find at Tourneau rather than Best Buy.
And while the water-resistant watch has the specs of a sports watch—an optical heart-rate sensor and pedometer—it really is more for the everyday. The soft leather strap uncomfortably stuck to my sweaty wrist during a spinning class. Motorola plans to sell metal bands later this year for $79 and is exploring plastic-band options.
But the beauty of the 360 isn't just its classic round screen, it's that you aren't stuck with the same face forever. Motorola offers an eclectic selection of eight faces, including a chronograph layout, a black face with a bold red second hand and, my personal favorite, a clean, white Tissot-like design with the date. Even better, unlike LG or Samsung's models, those vibrant faces are easy to read outdoors.
However, the round display isn't perfect. The bottom of the circle is frustratingly chopped off. Motorola explains that it's where the engineers had to put the display driver and ambient light sensor. All I know is every time I looked at it I was reminded of making construction-paper squircles in kindergarten.
And the problem for women like me, with thin wrists, is that the watch may sound small—1.8 inches in diameter and just a half-inch thick—but it almost looks like I grabbed a clock off the wall and strapped it to my arm.
Of course, size wasn't an issue for everyone who tried it on. It looked decent on my father's medium-size wrist, and just right on my co-worker's extra-large one.
Motorola says it is working on smaller versions, but that makes me concerned about battery life: Even this big, honking model had to be charged twice a day. Most days, after charging it overnight, I had to put it back on its wireless charging cradle by 4 p.m. If only the large black circle could also work as a sundial so I could still tell the time when the battery dies.
Software still undercooked
When I wasn't looking for the time or matching my watch face to my outfit, I glanced at my wrist to see what notifications were awaiting me on my Bluetooth-paired Moto X Android phone.
As I wrote earlier this summer, the best thing about Android Wear is Google Now—Google's timely and relevant alerts, which are pieced together based on information from my Gmail, calendar, web searches and other Google interactions. Over the past week, my watch told me to leave for my dinner reservation early because of traffic, informed me my important package had shipped and reminded me about the Yankees-Red Sox game.
As crazy as it seems, I've also gotten quite used to speaking to my watch. It's now second nature for me to say into my wrist "Is it going to rain today?" or "Remind me to move the car in the morning."
But while those short spurts of information are useful, the constant vibrating notifications about new emails, tweets or Facebook friend requests aren't. If I wanted to see every notification on my phone, I'd just hold my phone in my hand all day. Google's director of Android engineering, David Singleton, says his team is working on improvements that will allow for more control over notifications. Bonus: Fewer notifications would mean better battery life.
The platform's infancy also means a lack of really useful apps. While support for some have been added in the past few weeks, including being able to track a run with Runkeeper or call a cab with Uber, there is still a dearth of what I believe are the killer apps for this platform: health and fitness. There is the built-in Android Wear Fit tracker but it's no match for Jawbone or Fitbit's broad cross-platform fitness-tracking capabilities. Apps from Nike and Adidas are on the way, Google says.
More Android Wear apps are arriving by the day. Source: Drew Evans /The Wall Street Journal
The company says the platform is a work in progress. New apps are arriving by the day and, unlike on Android phones, Google is pushing improvements straight to watches. During my first days of testing, an update arrived on the Moto 360 that improved voice recognition and navigation.
The Moto 360 tells the time better—and looks better—than any other smartwatch. But right now it's telling me that it's not the time to buy one. Smartwatches still need improvements, both in hardware and software.
Apple is expected to unveil wrist wearables in two sizes next Tuesday, while Google is promising a slew of Android Wear updates before the end of the year. And the companies that make Android Wear hardware are rapidly releasing new designs as they, too, start to realise that one size doesn't fit all.
Eventually a smartwatch will be added to my collection, making the others look like ancient Egyptian relics. But for the time being, I'm sticking with a phone in my hand, and an old-fashioned analog watch on my wrist.