NateHarris, Guest Writer
Oct. 15 is a big day for fans of the Android operating system and phone lineage. Android L, the newest version of the operating system that was unveiled at Google I/O in June, was officially named “Android 5.0 Lollipop,” sticking to the theme of naming each successive operating system after a confection in alphabetical order. The operating system is set to be pushed out on Friday to the Nexus line of devices first, with other Android devices following over the upcoming months.
Oct. 15 also marks a week after I finally received my Android Wear device, and in that time I have learned a thing or two. Android Wear, for those who do not know, is an extension of the Android operating system running on watches resembling small smartphones, therefore dubbed “smartwatches.” Though Pebble watches have been out for a while, and Apple announced over the summer plans to launch a smartwatch in 2015, Android Wear was the first to take on the concept of a watch being more than a watch in full force. The first smartwatch hit the market last year with the Samsung Gear, though it did not run Android Wear software, and its marketability, though eye-catching, did not fare too well. Since then, a few more iterations of the smartwatch have come out, with “the Big Three” consisting of the LG G Watch and the Samsung Galaxy Gear Live (both square faced), and the Moto 360 by Motorola, which has a round face. I, like a lot of people looking at this technology, decided to go all out and combine fashion with form and went with the Moto 360. This added about two weeks to my wait, as, while I could walk into any Best Buy and pick up one of the other watches off the shelf, the Moto 360 was sold out everywhere, including at stores, on Google Play and on Motorola’s website.
So let me start with the design. Motorola designers and engineers attest to their idea that when designing the watch, that it look like a watch first and foremost. There is nothing necessarily wrong with a square face, but in my opinion, if clocks are round, a watch should be round. Motorola also teamed up with a Chicago leather manufacturer, offering black and grey leather straps for the watch out of the box (Motorola recently began offering metal linked straps as well). The leather feels great and adds to the style. It feels integrated with the product, as opposed to just serving a purpose like the plastic and rubber straps on the other two watches. The device itself is only 1.7 inches in diameter, but while some other reviewers argue that it is too big or too small, with my wrist, the size is just right. Some complain that it is too thick, but in comparison to the other smartwatches, it is only two millimeters thicker, and compared to a regular round watch, the difference is basically inconsequential.
The device has only one button on it, placed on the right side where a dial would be on a wind-up watch, and this button serves no other purpose than to turn the screen and device on and off. The Moto 360 does not have a speaker (unlike the other two), so there is a drawback when making phone calls (yes, you can make phone calls using the watch), but, as one main selling point of these smartwatches seems to be a new-found dedication to fitness, all the watches feature some sort of heart rate monitor and pedometer. As far as I’ve used it, it works quite nicely, though finding my heart rate does seem to take a bit of time (perhaps it is just me). The Moto 360 is not completely round; a small cutout at the bottom of the screen is black, but this is to make room for the ambient light sensor and display driver, a feature special to the Moto 360 that allows the screen to adjust its brightness according to the amount of available light around it. The screen also goes dim after a timeout period, and turns back on by the push of the button or by moving the watch in a sweeping motion that simulates raising your wrist up to your face. The Moto 360 seems to have only two major negative criticisms by reviewers, and those are its battery life and its processor. As far as battery life, it depends on what you use it for. Once I stopped touching it every two minutes, the battery lasted me an entire workday (8 a.m. to 6 p.m.). An update to the operating system significantly rectified this issue, though. And while the battery does drain a little faster than one might prefer, the device charges (through an inductive charger, no external ports or USB) from dead to one hundred percent in a little over an hour and a half. The other issue is the processor. Motorola put so much effort into the design, yet copped out for three-year old processor chips. I do not see any real side-effects from this decision, though it does seem to lag a bit if put under more than an average amount of stress.
Now to how the device actually works. These smartwatches are not phones. They are accessories that connect to an Android phone through Bluetooth. The first function of the watch is, of course, telling the time. All the watches come with pre-installed watch faces that can be switched out at will, and many developers are releasing more watch faces that can easily be used on the device. The watch syncs with the phone, and any app downloaded on the phone that works on Android Wear appears on the watch (though it is stored on the phone). Android Wear displays all notifications from the phone on its screen, as well as any cards in Google Now. Many of these notifications can be interacted with on the watch, though all of them will open on the phone. However, one app I have right now is a Wear browser, which allows someone to share a URL from the browser on their phone and view it on the watch (a miniature version of the websites’s mobile view). The watch is mostly a Google Now watch. Saying “OK Google” or just tapping on the screen will bring up Google. There is a keyboard on the phone (at least on the browser, there is), but for Google, it is all voice. Yeah, you look like weird walking down the street talking to your wrist, but those people around you are just behind the times. As for accuracy, unless there is really loud ambient noise, Google will understand what you said virtually every time. This is helpful, because the texting function (yes, you can text from your watch) is also voice-operated.
From the Google screen, a swipe up will allow access to setting and apps. Since Android Wear is fairly new, there is not too much out there, but it is really interesting to see the ingenuity that developers are having with this new technology. The Moto 360 was the last of the big three to come out, so a lot of apps are optimized for square screens, but many developers are working hard to bring full function to the round screen. I have some games (2048 and a Rubik’s Cube), some functionality apps (Calculator, a third-party Twitter beta app, a flashlight) and some accessibility apps (remotely control the volume or music playback on my phone, remotely control my camera, record audio). The app market is increasing exponentially daily, and it should not be long before big-name apps are available in some function on Wear (iHeartRadio, Tinder and FlyDelta have already taken advantage of the device).
Overall, the device is a nifty little thing. The interface is clean and easy to use, and the round design of the Moto 360 specifically makes it feel like it is a watch. I have had more than a few people give me a weird look as I respond to a text in public, but many of those people end up gawking over it when I show them that I am not crazy, but instead “embracing the future.” The functionality of the watch is a little underdone, but this is a brand new thing and so the full power and extent of its use is still being delved into right now.
Now comes the ultimate question: Is it worth it? I guess I did not say the price in the intro, my bad. The LG G Watch is $229, but Best Buy has been slashing its price to $159. The Samsung Gear Live is $199. The Moto 360 is $249. Now is it worth it? Well, if you are an iPhone person, you can leave now. You too Windows Phone people. Now the non-smartphone people. Now anyone with an Android device older than a year and a half. Okay, first off, you need Android 4.3 and above. Then you need to use Google a lot (as in multiple times a day. Multiple times an hour, even better). Now you need money, and lots of it. Now you need to be able to deal with imperfection, but at the same time experiment, try things out, be a beta tester and respond back to developers with constructive criticism and advice. This is not an everyday user device, not yet. In a few months it may be. The way I see it, as many see it, it is a niche product, for now. Right now, not many people know about it, and even fewer have it, so it is “weird.” The word “smartwatch” keeps showing up as misspelled, that is how unknown it is. Soon more people will know about it, but still few people will have it, and it will be “hipster.” Eventually, everyone will know about it, and everyone will have it, and it will be “mainstream.” Personally, I love being at the forefront rather than in the middle of the pack, being a leader rather than a follower.
So is it worth it? As soon as you have it, as soon as you strap it to your wrist, you will find worth in it somewhere. So is it worth it? Better question is, what is it worth to you?
(Cover photo courtesy Nate Harris)