Wearables

moto 360 Review

A while ago I wrote about my somewhat disappointing experience with the original Galaxy Gear, Fitbit, and Google Glass in an article "The (Broken) Promise of Wearables". It seems that I may have to revise my opinion a bit based on the new moto 360 smart watch:


First of all, I will admit that I'm a huge watch aficionado and have a collection of several beautiful mechanical timepieces and complications, as well as functional sport watches. So the Galaxy Gear  just hurts from a design perspective - both in its original form as well as the Gear 2 and the new Gear S. I have also been less than impressed by the new Apple Watch. Despite all the claims by others that it is beautiful, in my eyes it has the same flaw as the Galaxy Gear: the watch is square. Most display screens are rectangular, so they just built a watch around a square or rectangular screen.

However, there is a reason that the majority of watches have evolved with a circular dial. It is the most comfortable to wear, because it doesn't limit the movement of your wrist. And it has a timeless elegance to it.

So I was actually quite excited to receive my moto 360 this week and give it a spin. It has all the cool features we're obviously expecting from a smart watch nowadays: step counter, heart-rate monitor, Bluetooth connection to your cell phone, showing notifications from your phone on your wrist, navigation, voice commands, etc.

Compared to the original Galaxy Gear I tested a year ago, however, the notifications are actually meaningful on the watch now. You get a preview of important emails, text messages, WhatsApp, FB Messenger, and any other app that properly uses the notification API in Android.



If you want to see more of the notification, you just swipe up and get to see the whole message:



Ah, much clearer now. The question was about a college course, not a reptilian issue. The new Android Wear platform also allows you to tap such a notification on your watch, and the corresponding app on your phone gets launched. So if you need to respond to an email, just tap your watch as you take your phone out of your pocket, and you're right where you need to be.

If you need to do a quick Google search, you can now do that from your wrist with voice input and also see the top three results right on your wrist - or tap them to open them on your phone, if you need more details. For example, a search for "XML Editor" produced this:



On the hardware side, the moto 360 gets a lot right, that other smart watches got wrong. The charging cradle provides wireless charging and turns the watch into a nice bedside table alarm clock. There is only one button on the watch, and it is exactly where the crown used to be on mechanical watches. All other user interaction is done via the touch screen with intuitive swipe operations. The wrist strap is available in leather now and a metal version is coming later this year. The watch body is stainless steel with the glass surface being Corning Gorilla glass.

Last, but not least, you obviously get a choice of 6 different built-in watch faces, including a nice retrograde display, and you can download and install additional watch faces from the app store - some of which are nicely customizable.


What I need now is for some clever app developer to create a really beautiful watch face that includes some of the classic complications: equation of time, moon phase, sunrise and sunset times, sidereal time, etc.

The (Broken) Promise Of Wearables

This week the Moto 360 became available and sold out in record time. Next week Apple is rumored to introduce their iWatch along with the next generation iPhone. And Samsung just announced their next generation Gear watch last week that is expected to ship at the same time as the Galaxy Note Edge.

It is clear that Wearables hold a lot of excitement and a lot of promise, and obviously capture people’s imagination. But let’s pause for a moment first, and talk about past experiences with Wearables:

Wearables on a table

Among the many tech gadgets that I’ve acquired in recent years, I also purchased the first Samsung Gear watch when it came out last year, I bought the Google Glass Explorer Edition, and I bought the Fitbit fitness tracker.

Each device held a unique promise that it would make life easier and would add useful functionality. And each device ended up breaking that promise in subtly different ways.

My experiment with the Galaxy Gear smartwatch was very short-lived. The essential promise was to show important information about incoming emails or messages without the need to have to reach into your pocket and get out your phone. However, it wasn’t ubiquitous. Apps on your phone had to be written to be compatible with the watch. And for the most important communications medium – email – all the watch would tell me is that a message had arrived from somebody. No subject line. No relevant content summary. It was essentially useless.

The Fitbit fitness tracker held a simpler promise: wear it all day and all night and track your health. Except that it is so small that I lost it about 3-4 times during travels and only rediscovered it again when I emptied the suitcase after the end of the trip. Here it was the need to go to your computer and sync it there that broke the promise of ease of use. And the tracking information was primitive at best – a simple step counter. I gained no useful benefit from the device that would really help with my weight loss efforts.

Google Glass was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the three. The promise of having an augmented reality experience sounded great. But all it really did was provide notifications about messages, news, and occasional information from other Glass apps about restaurants, sightseeing spots, and other trivia. And after a short while any person wearing Google Glass was labeled a Glasshole and privacy concerns soon resulted in sings being posted everywhere that Glass was not welcome.

In the end, all three devices suffered from a lack of really useful and unique features that actually provided a real-world benefit combined with the need to be constantly charged using various different charging devices and having a fairly short battery life. The day came when I forgot to charge them and then left them at home. Then the day came when I forgot where I put the charger. And now they’re all sitting in a drawer somewhere…

So I look towards the new generation of Wearables coming out this fall with a bit of cynical skepticism: how long until they, too, end up in a drawer somewhere?

In the end, there are only two devices that I carry with me all the time and every day:

  • My watch is a Seiko Astron Kintaro Hattori Limited Edition. It is a solar-powered watch that has a built-in GPS receiver and synchronizes time with the atomic clocks aboard the GPS satellites. And it also automatically adjusts your time-zone when you have landed – based on the GPS position. It never needs to be charged and it does one thing extremely well that I care about: tell accurate time.
  • My phone is a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (soon to be replaced by the Note Edge). I’ve gone through many smartphones over the years, and it is my favorite so far. I hate its battery life. I hate that I have to charge it. But it does so many things so well in just one device, that it’s worth the hassle. And I use it all the time.

That last point is, perhaps, the biggest question about Wearables that we should ask ourselves: if we already have our phones in our hands all day anyway, what is the additional benefit of a wearable device?