Thinking about picking up a new smartwatch for the new year? iOS users have to wait a while before the Apple Watch hits store shelves, but owners of Android phones already have some compelling choices available.
Google's Android Wear platform has expanded considerably since its launch this past summer, in terms of both software functionality and the types of hardware you can find. Whether you want something fancy and elegant or casual and sporty, there's a Wear watch out there that fits the bill.
All Wear watches are not created equal, though -- and style aside, each has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. I've spent time using all the current devices. Here's a detailed real-world look at how they compare, presented in the order in which they were released.
(Note: The current Wear watches are all now fairly comparable in terms of performance and stamina -- good for a full day's use but generally requiring a charge every night -- so I won't be focusing on those areas here. I'm also not including the Samsung Gear Live or LG G Watch in this analysis, as those early devices pale in comparison to the newer models and are difficult to recommend at this point.)
Motorola Moto 360: The sleek and modern circular watch
If you want an eye-catching smartwatch that looks and feels like actual jewelry, Motorola's Moto 360 may be the Wear device for you. The Moto 360 is classy and elegant, with a large circular screen surrounded by a stainless steel frame (in a choice of silver, black or "champagne" gold). The screen is slightly raised and free of any bezels, which creates a face that's pure surface area and fitting with the watch's minimalist vibe.
The tradeoff of the bezel-free design is that a small bar at the bottom of the watch's screen is blacked out; since there's no real open space anywhere on the device, that's where Motorola stashed the circuitry to make the display work. It's not ideal, but you really don't notice it after a while -- and when you consider how the watch might have looked otherwise, it seems like a worthwhile compromise.
The 360 comes with a choice of several different leather or stainless steel bands, all of which have sturdy-feeling metal buckles. You can also install your own 22mm band if you like, though not all third-party bands will fit properly with the watch's unconventional spring setup.
Design aside, the 360 has a few noteworthy features: It's the only Android Wear device to use standard wireless charging, which means you can charge it simply by setting it on the included cradle or any Qi-compatible pad. The 360 also sports an ambient light sensor that allows it to automatically adjust the screen's brightness based on the environment, which goes a long way in making the display easy to see in all sorts of conditions.
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