I first mentioned my curiosity in smart watches (https://jakehennett.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/2016-03-09-the-smartwatch-conundrum/) back in early 2016. My sentiment from then remains the same. The cost of a new smart watch is high for what you get. Most of them run something north of $200, which would get a pretty nice analog watch that would last far longer than a smart watch. However, picking up a gently used one for a discounted price (like I did) puts them at a much more reasonable value.
Two of my conditions for purchasing a smart watch were that their usable life span needed to be at least 3 years, and their price needed to drop below $150. At $100, I got in the price range that I wanted, but I’m still not certain about life span. It seems pretty resilient, and Android Wear updates seem less consequential than full on Android updates to a phone’s OS. We’ll see how it does with moderate use over time.
I’ll get the bad stuff out of the way first. This isn’t a productivity device. When I first started looking into smart watches, I thought how much more efficient they would make me. With notifications on my wrist, I wouldn’t have to interrupt my current task to take my phone out of my pocket. At the same time, I would be able to more quickly respond to urgent notifications. A smart watch would make be a better user of my mobile device, I thought. I was wrong. It’s nice to get notifications on my wrist, but it doesn’t make me any more efficient at responding to them, and I still let several of them pile up before I actually do anything about it.
The functionality is extremely limited. In much the same way that I would rather do more complicated tasks on my laptop instead of a phone or tablet, there are many things that I would rather do on my phone or tablet than on the watch. The screen is very small, the apps are very pared down, and typing on it is… tolerable at best. I’ll use it to maintain tasks that I have already started, but I still do most of my heavy use on my phone.
Somewhat related to the limited functionality is the learning curve. With such a small screen, there are fewer dedicated buttons for functions. More of the watch’s controls are based on gestures. The problem with gestures is that you have to know them already. When setting up the watch for the first time, you get a crash course in the main gestures. I think you can also go through the training again from the settings menu. And admittedly, they aren’t terribly unintuitive. Swiping down from the top of the watch loads the settings menu. Swiping up from the bottom loads your notifications. Swiping left or right on the home screen changes watch faces. Swiping from left to right steps out of your current location, much like the back button in Android. They make decent sense, but I still occasionally find myself using the wrong gesture for what I want to do, or forgetting how to do something entirely.
Possibly the most frustrating thing is less about the watch specifically or Android Wear in general, and more about apps available on the platform. Some of the apps, most notably the first party Google apps in my experience, are designed pretty well. The rest of them are hit or miss. Specifically, I was tremendously disappointed in the Facebook Messenger app. Hangouts will allow you to look through your existing conversations and respond to them. You can’t start a new conversation with someone, but that is a limitation that I’m fine with on a watch. Facebook Messenger won’t even let you open existing conversations or respond via keyboard to new incoming messages. You can respond with emoji, or by voice to text, but that’s it. As someone who never uses emoji and rarely uses any form of voice to text, what’s the point? Is it so much to ask that I be able to look through my existing conversations? Again, I can’t really blame that on the watch or on Android Wear. That is a problem with Facebook, one of many, but it does affect my satisfaction with the device. Something to consider, for sure.
A slight inconvenience is that you can’t add wifi networks directly from the watch. You have to add them from the connect phone first, before you can access them from the watch when out of bluetooth range. Obviously, this isn’t going to be something that will affect most people. I only discovered it because my phone was unavailable, and I was going to try to get onto my wife’s mobile hotspot with the watch to access my messages. Since I had never signed into her mobile hotspot before, I was unable to get online just through the watch interface. Not a problem many people will encounter, but it would have been nice to know beforehand.
As much as the Moto 360 isn’t a productivity device, it is a very cool gadget. Many people aren’t, but I am one who is fine with technology for the sake of technology. Tech devices do not have to be a means to an end. I’m genuinely cool with having a gadget just for its entertainment value. Being able to respond to messages, change my music, and navigate to a destination, all from my wrist? That kinda makes me feel like a secret agent. And I’m good with that.
The biggest benefit of the Moto 360 for me personally is the ability to get notifications and some basic features when my kids are watching cartoons or playing games on my phone. I realize that not everyone fits into this scenario, but for someone who does, it is absolutely invaluable. Usually, I get my phone back after a road trip and I have a notification bar full of messages. Ok, so maybe that’s the case even when my kids don’t have my phone, but I can at least see urgent stuff immediately. When they have my phone, I don’t get to see anything until well after the fact. If I do need to use my phone to make a call or send an important message, I have to pry it from their unrelenting grip, and deal with them screaming until I return it. With the watch, that is no longer the case.
In addition to messages, an even more valuable tool in certain cases is navigation. With Google Maps on the Moto 360, I get next step instructions, as well as a smaller image of the map on my wrist. When I admittedly don’t really need a lot of details, that’s great. I can start navigation to a place, give my phone to the kids, and I get updates on my watch. Having recently taken a vacation to Pigeon Forge, that was a great boon. I don’t need any sort of crazy depth, I just need to know how far to my next turn, and which direction I’ll be going.
More of the same vein of technology use when my phone is unavailable, I can control my music playback from the watch. This one isn’t quite as important when the kids have my phone, since they’re usually doing something with audio anyway. Moreso, this is when I have my phone playing music from a bluetooth speaker or Chromecast, but it isn’t on my person. We were putting together a bunk bed on Christmas eve, and it was so nice to be able to just tap the next button on my wrist to skip through songs. I didn’t know where my phone was for most of the process anyway, but I didn’t have to look for it just to access my music controls.
The modular watch faces are neat. I like that you aren’t limited to just official Google faces. There are tons of faces available on the Play store, and many of those can be customized with exactly what information you want to include. The one I use most just has the time in 24 hour format, and the date. If I wanted to change that up, there are so many options available. That sort of customizability is nice.
In my experience so far, the fitness tracking with Google Fit seems to work pretty well, at least for treadmill running. It isn’t perfect, but it was surprisingly close to my pace considering there is literally no input from moving around. I’m not sure if it uses the movement of my arms to estimate a pace given my height or something, but it gets close enough to give me an idea. I’m sure that actual runs with GPS logging would give more accurate tracking data, but I haven’t yet tried it out to see for sure.
So who would make use of a smart watch, and who wouldn’t? Parents are obviously a prime candidate. If you frequently let your kids use your phone for entertainment, it’s nice to still have access to some functionality without dealing with the headache and bargaining with them to let you have it for just a second. Call me a bad parent, but I pick my battles with my kids. If I don’t have to deal with them pitching a fit, and just send a quick text from my watch, it’s worth the preservation of my sanity.
Another great use case is people who keep their phone in a purse, backpack, or somewhere else not easily accessible. I keep my phone in my shirt pocket most of the time, so it really isn’t that much more of a pain to pull it out, than it is to look at my wrist. Someone who doesn’t have shirt pockets for their phone would benefit more from getting notifications without having to actually pull their phone out. I’ve noticed that if I’m wearing a polo or t-shirt, and don’t have my phone in my shirt pocket, I use the watch more for notifications and such.
People who like playing with gadgets are obviously going to be inclined to get a smart watch. Even beyond the practical uses, it’s fun to play with. The novelty wears off after a while, and I’m sure I will eventually start wearing my analog watch here and there again, but it’s still neat to use for simple tasks.
All in all, I’m happy with the purchase. If you fit into one of these categories, I would definitely recommend trying one out. It may not be a productivity tool, but it is a fun gadget.