Motorola 360 – best looking smartwatch to date?

Moto-360-Dynamic-Black-resized

With Apple confirming that it will be releasing a smartwatch, the battle is well and truly on to see who can produce the most popular timepiece. While functionality isn’t a problem for Android devices, one area in which Apple hopes to get one up on the competition is a familiar one – aesthetics. One of the biggest problems with these devices currently is that they are too large, unwieldy or just plain ugly, so producing something that your average Joe would wear with pride seems to be of the utmost importance.

This rather laboured introduction to the Motorola 360 is there for a reason – it’s one of the best looking smartwatches we’ve seen yet and importantly (and unlike Apple’s entry), it’s round. This makes it far more “watch like” and therefore, in theory, far more likely to replace an actual watch.

Motorola sets the 360 up as an accessory – it’s doesn’t offer 3G, for example, or even wireless – it’s more similar to the Apple Watch in that it’s really intended as an accompaniment to a Smartphone via a Bluetooth tether. There’s a 1.5” (320×290, 205ppi) display here with Gorilla Glass 3, 4GB of internal storage and wireless charging with purported “all day” use, plus the usual bells and whistles when it comes to tracking your exercise routines.

The big question is – has the 360 just gone for looks or does it have enough under the hood to deliver?

TechRadar rates it at four out of five and confirms that it is in fact a bit of a head turner, and something you could wear all the time: “Its stainless steel housing and genuine leather default wristband make it appropriate for almost any occasion.” This could be partly down to the range of attractive fascias – it notes that while there aren’t many, those that do exist contribute nicely to the overall impression.

“In fact, Motorola’s enterprising circular screen is so attractive it instantly became the antithesis of the “smartwatches look like a miniaturized cell phone worn on your wrist” argument when Google first announced Android Wear in March.”

Other nice touches here include being the first watch to have an ambient light sensor that can help adjust for sunny or darker conditions, attractive leather or stainless steel bands that aren’t much bigger than you’d use with a regular watch and a range of effective activity trackers. Unfortunately there’s an elephant in the room here and that’s the battery life – quoting “all day” use did leave us a little concerned initially, and it seems as though you may struggle to even achieve that in the real world.

Considering the importance of battery there’s obviously a lot else to like about the 360 because reviews do seem fairly good across the board. Engadget awards it 76% and while it does criticise the battery (specifically it says “terrible battery life”) is similarly enamoured by the beautiful design, comfortable and lightweight build and useful light sensor. Looking at the display it discusses the reason why the 360 isn’t a “truly round” watch – there’s a black slice at the bottom you see, which houses the display drivers and light sensor to help cut back on the thickness of the body and bezel.

“If that is indeed the trade-off, I agree that the edge-to-edge chamfered glass is a better option. But if you’re even the slightest bit of a perfectionist, that tiny, little black slice might be difficult to un-see.”

It also asks how well Android Wear is suited to round faces – text occasionally gets cut off at corners and the circular border can look a touch jagged at times, so Motorola will be hoping Google gets busy optimising the software for round faces. It finishes by claiming that:

“The Moto 360 is the most attractive Android Wear device you can buy right now, with a design that’s more reminiscent of a regular watch. Even so, it suffers from poor battery life, just like other early smartwatches, and it has a higher price, too.”

Let’s finish up with Gizmodo and a take on what it’s actually like to use the 360. Of course it’s capable of all the things you’d expect of a smartwatch – raising your arm to wake the screen, using “Ok Google” to activate voice commands and swiping around to access functions and dismiss notifications. There are some interesting additions here though. The aforementioned ambient light sensor seems to work quite well, with a fluid operation that should really become more standard.

“It’s also the first smartwatch that charges wirelessly. The watch comes with a cool little curved dock you simply drop it into, without having to futz with lining anything up. It just falls into place and starts charging.”

And another unique feature is that it’s the first smartwatch that has a sensor to continuously monitor your heart rate, along with feedback on how you’ve been doing and (if you want them) motivational messages to help get your recommended daily amount of “active time”. Unfortunately it has the same issues with battery life and notes that the rather ancient Texas Instruments OMAP 3 processor was a strange choice – though this didn’t appear to affect operation it’s relatively poor efficiency won’t be doing that battery any good.

Overall the 360 seems to be a bit of a hit – in fact most are saying that it’s the best (or their favourite) smartwatch to date. After a bit of an iffy start it’s nice to see more companies getting involved with more interesting designs, even if there are still clearly some issues to resolve.

Moto-360-Front-Gray-resized

Having said that we’re still waiting for a true game-changer. Android effectively has six months to sort out its Wear software and Motorola et.al have the same amount of time to dream up a design to end all designs before you know who arrives, so it should be interesting to see what develops.

The Motorola 360 will set you back a fairly reasonable £199 in the UK and is available now.

 

Motorola Moto E: review roundup 

moto-e-images

Not since the iconic RAZR of 2004 has the thought of owning a Motorola been something to set your pulse racing. Whilst the Moto E isn’t likely to catch the imagination in the same way, the first new handset to appear since Google sold its struggling Motorola smartphone business to Lenovo in January will be key to reviving the fortunes of the brand.

It’s never going to take on the iPhone or the Galaxy S5, but at £89.99 in the UK ($129.99 in the US) the Moto E is set to take smartphone ownership into a whole new marketplace. Indeed the company is aiming at customers who are switching from older conventional handsets.

But at that price can it be any good or is it merely a way of getting people to see what a smartphone can do before they throw it away and buy something better?

What do you get for your money?

First impressions are good, Forbes notes that, “The back is rubber with a tasteful matt finish that is both easy to grip and hides fingerprints while the front is Corning Gorilla Glass, the same stuff used in iPhones, the HTC One M8, Nexus 5 and Galaxy S5. Motorola has also matched these handsets by giving the Moto E an oleophobic coating to reduce finger prints.”

The Moto E’s screen is a 4.3-inch unit with 960 x 540 pixels delivering 256 pixels per inch. This is no Apple Retina Display but it’s way better than the 3.5-inch screens typically found on cheaper phones. CNET comments, “We did notice, in our brief hands-on time, that the Moto E’s viewing angle wasn’t great – tilting the phone away from our line of sight resulted in some colour distortion.”

The Register though was more impressed, “For a budget touchscreen there is surprisingly little chromatic shift when viewed from obtuse angles – it can be seen, but it’s nothing to get bent out of shape over. It’s impressively colourful, bright and sharp with the individual pixels being invisible to the naked eye. In short, it’s an order of magnitude better than you have any right to expect for the money.”

Moto E comes with a dual-core 1.2GHz CPU, 1GB of RAM and runs the latest Android KitKat, plus The Register notes, “Motorola guarantee at least one update to the operating system. So despite the cheap as chips asking price, you won’t be left out in the cold when the next incarnation of Android comes into view.”

As you might expect at this price there are compromises. There’s no 4G and no front-facing camera – so no selfies or video calls. Also the Wi-Fi is only 802.11n rather than the newer, faster 802.11ac. The rear camera is 5MP, which is okay but not exceptional, and it doesn’t have a flash. There’s only 4GB of internal storage too but Motorola has provided a microSD slot which can take cards of up to 32GB.

Here’s a quick promo video of the Moto E:

Will I be ashamed to be seen with it?

The problem of buying a budget phone of course is the feeling of inadequacy when your mates whip out their premium models in the pub. The Moto E should allow you to hold your head high, CNET says, “Physically, it’s easy to see the family resemblance to the Moto G and much pricier Moto X. Although smaller, the E has the same rounded corners, along with the gently curving back panel.”

That back panel can be swapped too so you can give your phone a makeover with a different colour or simply swap a scratched or battered panel for a new one.

TechRadar says, “It appears that Motorola has done it again. It’s created a desirable smartphone with an impressively low price tag and a decent set of specs.”

The Moto E was launched alongside a 4G version of the Moto G, selling for £149. That extra £60 gets you not just 4G but also a better screen, a front-facing camera and a rather sleeker design. Serious users will want to spend the extra, but for first time smartphone owners the Moto E has a lot to commend it. As TechRadar says in its verdict, “You won’t find a better offering at this price point, and even with a few limitations the Moto E could be the perfect first-time or festival smartphone.”

Motorola Moto X review round-up

moto01

Under Google’s brief stewardship of Motorola (May 2012 to January 2014), two handsets reached the market: the budget Moto G and the more premium Moto X. The Moto X is the second one to arrive in Britain (in the US, confusingly, the order was reversed) and now reviewers from this side of the Atlantic have also been able to put the mobile through its paces.

Featuring upper-end rather than top-end specs and several unique customisations, the Moto X finds Google and Motorola in experimental mood. While not quite in the same league in terms of power and display as Google’s own Nexus 5, the Moto X is nevertheless likely to turn a few heads. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with the do-it-yourself Moto Maker case design options available to US customers.

It’s certainly smaller than the Nexus 5, which may or may not appeal to you depending on the size of your hands. One of the headline features mentioned in most reviews is the always-listening voice control service that enables you to run searches, launch apps and access other features without touching the device: “The voice recognition software seems more accurate and responsive than that found on the Samsung Galaxy S4,” reports Carly Page in The Inquirer, “and we found that we seldom had to repeat ourselves, with the handset having no problem adjusting to a British accent.” The rumour is that the Moto X’s delayed arrival in the UK was due to Motorola being busy tweaking its accent recognition capabilities.

Page found the biggest problem with the Moto X was not the device itself but rather its competition:

“The Moto X definitely has some good things going for it, with its up-to-date Android 4.4 KitKat mobile operating system, smooth performance and vibrant screen, but we’d still find it hard to recommend the handset over alternative Android handsets available.”

TechRadar’s Alex Roth was more enthusiastic, describing the Moto X as “a truly standout Android phone” despite reservations about the camera:

“The Moto X is a good, good phone. In fact it’s a great phone. Is it one of the best Android phones out there? Well that depends. Yes, if you value a reasonable size and useful services over raw power, a massive HD screen and microSD support.”

Again, it’s only in comparison with other top-end Android smartphones such as the Nexus 5 and the Sony Xperia Z1 that the Moto X’s star begins to dim a little. Taken on its own, reviewers have found very little to complain about: it has the clean, uncluttered stock Android 4.4 installed, decent battery life and an appealingly designed shell.

moto04

“The Motorola Moto X’s slightly disappointing internal specifications are by and large balanced out by its close-to-untouched Android 4.4 KitKat operating system and useful software additions,” writes Alistair Stevenson at V3. “However, you can still get better value for money elsewhere.”

Praising the phone’s build quality, software and performance levels, Stevenson concludes by lamenting the delay in the Moto X’s launch in the UK, which has ultimately left it lagging behind the Nexus 5 in terms of specs and value for money. While it’s certainly a more powerful beast than the Moto G, the Moto X’s position has been weakened by the arrival of Google’s LG-manufactured flagship phone.

Finally, Samuel Gibbs in the Guardian has a lot of time for the active display notifications unique to the Moto X that appear even while the device is locked or in standby:

“When a notification comes in, only a small section of the screen lights up displaying an icon for what has just happened. A tap and hold gesture shows more at-a-glance information, allowing the user to assess whether it is worth turning unlocking the phone to access whatever just happened, be it a call, a text, an email or any other alert.”

This helps slow down battery drain and dismiss notifications more easily, without necessarily having to even open them up. Ultimately, Gibbs concludes that while the Moto X is “a terrific smartphone… the Nexus 5 is cheaper, and offers all the same features; it’s better value.”

The Moto X is available now SIM-free for £380 with 16GB of on-board storage. It offers a 4.7-inch 720p HD display (1,280 x 720 pixels), 10-megapixel and 2-megapixel cameras back and front, and 4G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. The device is powered by a 1.7GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU and 2GB of RAM.

New smartphones unveiled at CES 2011

This year you weren’t anyone if you didn’t announce a new smart phone, the majority of which are now powered (or based upon) the Android operating system. Being “Latest Gadgets” rather than “Latest Phones” meant that we only focused on the phones that caught our eye, rather than trying to provide a complete list of all the phones launched at this year’s show. So, without further ado, here are the ones that made us sit up and take notice (and not always for the right reason!).

Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc Smartphone

 

First up is the ‘visually brilliant’ Xperia arc. This is the firm’s first phone to feature a mobile version of the Bravia engine and comes with the latest version of Android. The phone comes complete with a HDMI output to view your videos and photos on your TV as well as ‘Sony Exmor R’ for mobile which helps with low-light photography. Being in a brightly lit exhibition hall didn’t give us much opportunity to test this particular feature, but we did have a quick play with the rest of the phone.  Unfortunately our first impression wasn’t overly positive, we found the interface to be rather slow and the design of the phone (as seen in our candid snapshots above – click to enlarge) wasn’t anything to write home about.

The ‘Nexus S’ by Samsung/Google

Next up is the latest phone from Google, featuring Android 2.3, full integration (as you’d expect) with Google Mobiles Services and a Super AMOLED display. The phone’s design was perfectly acceptable and comfortable to hold. The feedback vibration when using the screen was reassuring rather than annoying. In terms of usability and speed – we initially found the phone to be extremely laggy and attempting to view a sample video resulted in a black screen. However, all of this was rectified by a Samsung employee who performed the classic ‘turn it off and on again’ routine. Having done this, we found the Nexus to be much quicker and more responsive than the ‘arc’. The Nexus S will also come with support for Flash 10.1 and HTML 5 to enable ‘full use’ of web sites.

Motorola ‘Atrix’

Motorola, ever so modestly, introduced their new Atrix phone as the “World’s most powerful smartphone”. The Atrix comes with a dual core processor which promises faster, smoother graphics and web browsing. It also comes with the World’s first qHD display and a web browser that supports Flash – something which, unsurprisingly, all manufacturers are shouting from the roof tops in order to try and get one over on Steve Jobs and Co.
The unusual and somewhat intriguing (in our opinion at least!) part of the Atrix offering is what the firm calls a ‘revolutionary webtop application’. This is basically a latop/docking station for your Atrix which gives you a bigger screen and full-size QWERTY keyboard. The idea is that you have one of these “I can’t believe it’s not a laptop” devices at home and work and then carry all your files on your phone. Unfortunately the design of the laptop appeared to be very basic and it had a distinctly plasticky feel to it. Motorola aren’t known for their laptops (as far as we know!) and we’re not sure that venturing in to this field is the way to go. However, stranger things have happened – so we’re prepared to eat our hat if this turns out to be the future of mobile computing!

‘Revolution’ by LG

Like most firms, LG announced a whole range of new smart phones at this year’s CES, but again we’ve just focused on the one that caught our eye. In this case it was the ‘Revolution’ which will initially be available on the Verizon network in the US. However we imagine that we’ll see it at some point in the future in the UK but perhaps under a different guise or product name.

The main headline offering from the Revolution is its support for full HD streaming, playback and recording. This means you can wirelessly stream content from your phone to any compatible TV – and we were told this doesn’t just include LG sets. In addition to HD support, the Revolution comes with all the features you’ve come to expect, such as dual cameras for video calling, a 5M AF camera with LED flash, WiFi, Bluetooth, etc. A nice additional touch is that the Revolution comes with a wireless charger which we didn’t see in action but imagine will become more common place in the year to come.

Motorola Droid (aka Milestone) reaches UK

The uninformed remain disappointed as Google Android’s latest champion, the Verizon Droid, has yet to make its way to the UK. At least, not under its usual guise.

The latest phone to show off Google Android’s features, the Droid is currently making waves in the UK as the rebranded Motorola Milestone; as the Milestone and Droid are technically the same phone, the change of name is extremely confusing. This is a lost opportunity to cash in on the original’s success.

Sold exclusively in the UK through eXpansys, the sales outlet reported that all stocks of the Milestone were sold out within 3 hours of launch, on December 10th. This draws parallels with the US, where the Droid is estimated to have sold over one-million units in the two months since launch.

Whilst no single phone will be able to challenge the dominance of the iPhone, Google Android as a platform is gaining more and more supporters. The number of Android handsets has ballooned from the poorly executed G1 to over 20 different mobile phones.

The Milestone is leading the charge for the second generation of phones, utilising Motorola’s MOTONAV in place of the US version’s Google Maps. The phone condenses a huge list of features into its slim-line frame, most impressively a full sized qwerty keyboard which slides down from behind the high resolution 3.7 inch screen. Featuring a  5MP, 5 times digital zoom camera and impressive turn by turn GPS, the Milestone makes a formidable claim for the iPhone’s crown.

A £35 18 month T-mobile 18 contract will secure you the phone, but for those looking to choose another carrier, a wallet breaking £400 can buy an unlocked version of the handset.

The future of the Milestone is uncertain. However, as long as the phone remains with such a low visibility distributor, it’s chances of widespread adoption look slim. If the reviews are true, the Droid is a fantastic phone that is waiting for industry approval. We hope the UK realises this, and soon.