writing about tech

Month: September 2014 (page 1 of 2)

Goodbye Any.Do, Hello Wunderlist

I’ve been a happy user of Any.Do for a couple of years now – I use it every day in an attempt to at least pretend my life is somewhat organized.  One of my favorite aspects of it is that I can tie into the “note to self” command in Google Now and generate to-do items that way. In fact, it’s quickly become the most common way I add items to it.

Last week, The Verge did a “This Is My Next” on to-do apps and came to the conclusion that Wunderlist was the best.  I tried Wunderlist years ago during my initial search, but wasn’t impressed, and eventually ended up settling on Any.Do.

So why was I looking at switching in the first place?  Well, primarily because Any.Do doesn’t support “note to self” functionality on Android Wear.  This may sound trivial, but considering how much I’m using voice commands recently, I find it’s a pretty glaring omission.  Even worse, it appears as though Any.Do has no interest in adding Android Wear support any time soon:

A little bit of research (read: Google searches) quickly revealed that Wunderlist did support Android Wear, and as a bonus, even had a native OS X app. After using it as my only to-to do app for the last week, I’m definitely matching the switch.  Not only does it have the Android Wear support I wanted, but Wunderlist’s style of list organization seems to better match the way I want things organized – Any.Do’s choices of “Today”, “Tomorrow”, “Upcoming” and “Someday” weren’t quite cutting it, especially when I knew I wanted to do something later in the week on a specific day. As a bonus, its DashClock extension is a bit better, as it shows my total count for the day as well as multiple items, rather than just the single item of the Any.Do extension:

2014-09-27 22.42.18

Really, though, my choice comes down almost entirely to the Android Wear support. Many ideas often come to me only when I’m biking or running, and if I don’t immediately write them down in some way, they’re forgotten.  With Wunderlist, a quick “note to self” voice command ensures that the idea is safely tucked away in Wunderlist’s Inbox, ready to be assigned a due date and specific sub-list if needed.

Ideally, in the future, Wunderlist will have a full-fledged Android Wear app similar to the Google Keep app I use as a hands-free shopping list:

2014-09-22 18.01.25

For now, though, I’m thrilled that the functionality I’ve been looking for since I picked up the Moto 360 is available – it’s just a bonus that Wunderlist’s style of organization seems to better match my own than Any.Do’s did.

I still think Any.Do is a great service, and I’d still recommend it – but it’s no longer my first choice.  This just goes to show how there’s multiple “great services” in almost every mobile app category, and that even the smallest feature can be a differentiator for some people.

PSA: If you downloaded iOS 8.0.1, here’s a fix for your issues

In case you haven’t heard, you probably shouldn’t have download iOS 8.0.1.  Fortunately, it’s already been taken down, so you can’t download it now on accident – but if you already downloaded it, The Verge has a great guide to fixing your issues:

Apple’s already said it’s investigating the issue, but if you’re one of the unlucky souls who downloaded and installed it, there’s a simple trick (via iMore) for getting your phone back up and running, without wiping anything.

Unfortunately, it requires iTunes, but you gotta do watcha gotta do.

I’m starting to understand why Google rolls out updates to their Nexus phones over the course of a few days, that way, any major issues like this are immediately discovered and the damage is contained.

You know, as opposed to potentially breaking 10 million phones.

Wearables and voice commands are like peanut butter and chocolate

Ever since Google added “OK Google Everywhere“, I am constantly barking orders at my Nexus 5.  This rarely happens in public, but when I’m at home, my phone is generally resting on a Qi charger near the couch, or a Qi charger near my bed, so it’s always listening, even when the screen is off.  Some of my most common tasks are checking the weather, creating calendar events, creating to-do items, setting reminders, and sending text messages – all of which can be done through voice commands.  It’s not just become the lazy way of doing something, but often it’s actually the most efficient way –  Google’s voice recognition software has become good enough that I rarely have to correct it.

However, until I had an Android Wear watch, my use of voice commands in public was basically non-existent.  Now that I’ve had one for almost two weeks, I continue to be surprised by is just how comfortable I’m becoming whispering short commands to my wrist – I’m even reaching the point where there are times I’d rather dictate a quick text message through voice than on my phone’s keyboard.  I thought it would look silly and obvious, but for the most part, people aren’t even noticing when I do it.  It’s certainly more subtle than the act of taking my phone out of my pocket every time I want to perform even a trivial task.  Even when people do notice, it somehow feels less rude than taking out my phone, since they can tell what I’m doing – no, I’m not ignoring you to text my friend, I’m writing down what you said so I remember to look it up later.  It’s also proven to be invaluable when it comes to remembering things that only come to me on a bike ride or a run – ideas or tasks that, in the past, would have likely been forgotten by the time I got home.

Of course, there are still large functionality gaps – common tasks that I still can’t do through voice commands.  I can’t change my Nest’s temperature.  I can’t arm or disarm the alarm system in my house. I can’t start a particular podcast.  I can’t start a Hangout or Facebook Messenger conversation, only an SMS conversation.  Some of this will come if and when Google opens up voice commands to third-parties, the rest will come as Google Now becomes more and more aware of context – both in regard to where I am and what I’m doing, as well as the last few commands I’ve given it.

We are tantalizing close to being able to do almost anything with our voice, though – and as we get closer and closer, I think wearables are going to be come more and more important.  I don’t necessarily want microphones and speakers all over my house, but that becomes entirely unnecessary when I have a microphone strapped to my wrist. Android Wear still has a lot of kinks to work out, especially in the voice command area, but the foundation continues to be incredibly solid, and when it does work flawlessly, it feels like I’m in the future.

Moto 360 Review

“I think smartwatches are dumb.”

Well, I understand why you might feel that way, but I disagree.  I think smartwatches are the kind of thing you only understand after you’ve used one because, unlike with smartphones, there’s no single phrase you can say that sells people on a smartwatch.

Smartphone: “You have the internet in your pocket.”  Boom, done. Here’s all my money. Society is changed forever.

Smartwatches?

  • “You can have notifications on your wrist.”  Okay, great. I don’t care.
  • “It’s also a fitness tracker.” I own a fitness tracker already/my phone does that/I’m lazy and don’t care to be less lazy.
  • “I can issue voice commands and respond to text messages and IMs with my voice.” Okay, that’s kind-of cool, but not life-changing, internet-in-your-pocket cool.

Smartwatches are difficult to sell people on because they are more than the sum of their parts.  It’s not just that you can see and respond to notifications on your wrist, or navigate without taking your phone out, or set a quick reminder, or take a quick note, or monitor your current run or bike ride.  It’s all of those things and how moment by moment, they make your life a bit better in small ways – ways you don’t notice until you stop wearing a smartwatch and suddenly feel a bit crippled.

I think even Apple, with all of their marketing prowess, is going to have their hands full convincing people they need one at first.  This might be why we’ve seen them take the uncharacteristic “put every feature in here and see what sticks” approach to the Apple Watch – it’s quite possible they’re just hoping something will click with the average consumer and become a reason to spend $350+, whether it’s tapping messages to neighbors or staring at tiny family photos on your wrist, or something we haven’t actually seen yet.  Apple’s secret weapon may end-up being peer pressure; if enough people buy into the concept of the Apple Watch, then suddenly a large chunk of your social circle could be communicating in a unique way that doesn’t include you.  It’s like the iMessage effect, except with even more hardware buy-in required to participate.  Of course, that depends on enough people buying into the Apple Watch concept out of the gate, which I think is still a big question mark.

 

Well, that was a lot of rambling…but I still think smartwatches are dumb.

That’s fine.  I don’t think smartwatches are for everyone, but I think the people who love them will really love them.  If smartphones are our surrogate brains, then I’ll gladly use a device that helps make that surrogate brain a bit more useful and efficient.

 

Okay, let’s say I want a smartwatch – should I buy a Moto 360?

No, probably not.

 

Wait, what?  Why not?

I don’t think most people should buy any smartwatch at this point, because as much as I love the concept, the implementation still isn’t particularly mass-market friendly.  The 360 also has its own unique quirks that make it even less mass-market friendly.

 

So are you going to return yours?

Oh, no no no.  Dear God, no. I really like this thing.

 

That makes no sense.

I’m completely sold on smartwatches, and I can’t imagine going back to my Pebble now.  Also, the 360 has a couple of features that no other existing-or-announced Android Wear device has that I think are so vital to the experience that I won’t buy any other smartwatch without them.

 

What features?  You mean the round display?

No, not exactly.  The LG G Watch R also has a round display, and looks pretty nice.  I still think the 360 looks better, but obviously that will vary greatly from person to person.  I’m talking about the ambient light sensor, and wireless charging.

The ambient light sensor seems like the sort of feature that every smart-device should have by default, but somehow, the only other Android Wear watch announced that has one is the Sony Smartwatch 3.  Call me high-maintenance, but the instant I have to dig into the brightness settings of my watch just because I had the gall to step outdoors, I am out.  The Arizona sun is way too bright to even consider owning a watch that can’t adapt to it. The best thing I can say about the 360’s brightness is that I’ve never had to think about it.

As with phones, I’ve found it hard to break away from wireless charging now that I’ve grown accustomed to it.  I have Qi chargers at work, at home, and in the car, and now I have a phone, tablet, and watch that can charge on any of them.  It’s the sort of convenience that’s pretty hard to give up, especially with a wearable that has to be charged every night.  As a bonus, the 360 looks pretty damn good, even when it’s charging:

2014-09-17 18.00.53

Wait, I have to charge this thing every night?

Yup.  Sorry about that.  Battery life isn’t quite as bad as initially reported (pro-tip: don’t trust what a reviewer tells you about a device’s battery life unless they’ve used it for at least a week), but it’s…still kind-of bad.  I thought, at first, that it was unacceptably bad, but after a couple of days of settling in, it’s reached levels that I consider acceptable to me.  Barely.  I worry for how its battery capacity will fare going forward, given that batteries tend to lose a chunk of their capacity over time, but then, such are the risks of being an early adopter.

My rule going into this was simple: if I only had to charge the 360’s battery at times when the watch would naturally be off my wrist anyway, then I could live with the battery life.  Those times are:

  1. When I’m sleeping.
  2. When I get home from work.

Fortunately, #2 has proven to be unnecessary, though I still generally take my watch off when I’m at home, especially if I’m going to be using the computer.  The good news is that this thing charges crazy fast compared to something like a phone – expect close to 2% every minute or so – so if you’re expecting a late night, you can toss in on the charger for 20-30 minutes and be good to go.

There are, of course, going to be times when it will probably die on my wrist – if I go out for a late night without stopping by my house, for example.  I consider those edge cases, though, and honestly, my phone will probably die before my watch either way –  using a Nexus 5 means learning to tolerate kind-of crappy battery life.  At first, I was annoyed at having another device whose battery life I was constantly aware of, but after a few days, I started treating it like my Pebble – ignoring battery life and just letting it be – and it’s been fine.

Inevitably, there will be many who consider this unacceptable, especially considering this is in the default mode, meaning the watch face only lights up when you manually activate it with a wrist motion or a tap, or when a notification comes in.  If you want to have an “always on” watch face similar to the Pebble, or even the Gear Live or the LG G Watch…you won’t make it through the day.  Period.

For me, it works – I accept the sub-par battery life, because it gives me three things no other smartwatch currently does: an ambient light sensor, wireless charging, and a fantastic design I’m not embarrassed to be seen in public with.

 

Is the design really that good?

Obviously, that’s up to you. Personally, I think it’s gorgeous – to me, it’s the first proof that a smartwatch can look great, and a reminder that wearables are going to be as much about form as they are function.  The Pebble may offer 5-6 times the battery life of the 360, and most of the features, but seriously, look at these two and tell me which one you would rather wear:

2014-09-17 17.59.21

Of course, like all other smartwatches, it’s also big.  If you don’t want a big watch, this isn’t the watch for you.

 

How’s that display? What about that ugly black bar at the bottom?

The IPS display doesn’t quite reach the insane pixel density of modern smartphones, or even modern laptops and tablets, so you will definitely notice pixels if you look for them.  Of course it’s a huge upgrade from my Pebble, and it’s great in other ways – most notable its viewing angles and outdoor visibility.  Also, some notifications – especially full-screen album art – are gorgeous on it.  Pictures don’t really do them justice, but I tried anyway.

2014-09-17 20.08.44 2014-09-17 20.09.16 2014-09-17 20.09.42

As for the black bar, I barely notice it, and even when I notice it, I don’t care. If the choice is between a tiny bezel and a black bar, or a big bezel and no black bar, I’ll take the tiny bezel every time.

 

How about that ancient processor?

If you haven’t heard, the Moto 360 runs a processor from 2010 – the TI OMAP3630, which was used in the Droid X and the MotoACTV.  Why?  I don’t know, but if I had to guess, it was to cut costs – Motorola probably still has plenty of those lying around, and Android Wear runs good enough on them that they figured they may as well use them.  If that was what it took to get the cost down to $250…I think they made the right choice, as I don’t think I’d spend much more on a smartwatch at this point.

That said, the difference between it and the Snapdragon 400 that other Android Wear watches have is noticeable, if only just.  If having the latest and the greatest processor is important to you, then it’s quite possible the 360 isn’t for you.  Personally, when it comes to wearables, I’m not interested in staring at the spec sheet, and I’ll choose the lifestyle benefits of a light sensor and wireless charging over a more modern processor any day of the week – even if it means the occasional hitch and stutter, and overall poorer battery life.

That isn’t to say I don’t dream of a Moto 360 running a better processor – I just don’t get too hung up over it.

 

Anything else about the hardware?

The vibration motor is pretty weak if you’re used to a Pebble; I think I prefer it to the over-enthusiastic Pebble, but if you’re used to the Pebble, it’s worth noting, and you may miss the occasional buzz here and there.  Every now and then, the device will ignore my first attempt to wake it, whether it’s through motion or a direct tap on the screen.  Not sure if that’s a hardware or software thing, though.  I’ve occasionally had it disconnect from my Nexus 5, but not any more frequently than my Pebble seemed to.  Like any touchscreen, the Moto 360’s screen will inevitably end up covered in fingerprints – which is an unfortunate state for something you’re always looking at – but I’ll take temporary fingerprints to my Pebble’s infinitely-scratched screen any day of the week.  The leather strap it comes with is fine, but I look forward to replacing it with a metal strap at some point.

 

That’s a lot about hardware.  What about software?

It’s running Android Wear, which I haven’t talked about before because I haven’t had all that much experience with.  Think of it as Google Now on your wrist, plus notifications, and you have a large idea of what it can (and can’t) do.  I’ve often heard it called a 1.0 product, and it’s hard to disagree.  When it works, especially on a device like the Moto 360, it feels like the future.  When it doesn’t, it can be an exercise in frustration and failure.

Dictation from my watch is as great as I was hoping for, with one major exception – unlike Google Now in Android, it doesn’t display the dictation as you’re speaking.   Often I find myself talking to the watch and hoping it hears me right.  It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it’s a noticeable step back if you’re used to Android’s dictation.  The good news is that the microphone on the 360 is pretty sensitive, so I can whisper commands to it and it registers them perfectly, which is great for setting a quick reminder or saving a quick note.  This is a lot quicker, and more subtle, than taking my phone out for the same action.

Other frustrating quirks: you can start a text message directly with your voice, but not a Hangout message.  Dumb.  Media controls could use some rethinking, as right now you can only play/pause music if the media is already playing on your phone and active in the notification shade.  Considering how easy it is to dismiss notifications on accident, a notification history area would be nice.  Finding and launching an app without using voice commands is a pain, as it’s hidden away behind a couple of menus.  Android Wear inherits some of Google Now’s more annoying quirks, too.  Accidentally swipe away that weather card? Well, it’ll come back.  Eventually.  Probably.

While Android Wear still suffers from a frustrating lack of officially-supported custom watch faces, Motorola has a pretty solid selection.  My personal favorite is Classic, which displays the current day of the month, and subtly shades areas of the watch to indicate when I have calendar appointments.  There’s also a red “countdown” ticker in the upper left that counts down from ten to one when I have an upcoming appointment.  In the following photo, the day of the month is the 17th, I have an event starting in eight minutes, as well as calendar entries from 8:20-10 and 11-12.

2014-09-17 20.14.11

This is a remarkable amount of useful information provided in a subtle package, and shows how even smartwatch without notifications can be useful.  I can’t wait to see what people do with full-fledged custom watch faces – I already have some ideas of my own.

 

How does it compare to Pebble’s software?

Let’s make one thing clear: even in this early stage, I think Android Wear is leaps and bounds over what the Pebble offers.  The Pebble isn’t bad, it’s just basic, and I think there are some aspects of Android Wear you won’t appreciate until you’ve used a Pebble.  For example, clearing a notification on my wrist clears it on my phone, which is awesome, as having to manage notifications in two places degrades a lot of what makes notification triage useful.

More importantly, Android Wear treats Android notifications more intelligently than Pebble.  With Pebble, you have two options – you either get the small subset of notifications that Pebble supports natively, like e-mails and text messages, or you install a third-party apps that sends everything to your wrist until you tell it otherwise.  This is especially annoying the first time you upload a photo to Facebook and your wrist decides to buzz every time the notification is updated with a new percentage.  Sure, you can manually ignore certain types of notifications, depending on the functionality of the third-party app, but that only solves some problems.  For example, Pebble will send you every Google Now weather update as a new “notification”, even if it’s just the weather card being updated.  You can disable Google Now, but then you’ll get miss other notifications from the app, like reminders. Android Wear is just naturally more intelligent in that regard – I rarely find myself wondering “Why is it sending me this?”

It’s also a small thing, but muting the watch to prevent notifications is much simpler on Android Wear – just swipe down from the top.  I find myself using this frequently for meetings or lunches.  This stands in stark contrast to the Pebble, where you have to dig through a couple of menus to find the right toggle.  It was enough of a hassle that I never bothered to do it unless I was really sick of notifications.

In general, I find myself more tolerant of notifications on the Moto 360 than the Pebble.  Maybe it’s just that “new device afterglow”, but I think it’s also the fact the vibration isn’t nearly as strong, combined with the fact I can delete and archive e-mails, reply to messages, and dismiss notifications directly from the watch.  This make me feel like I’m being productive, rather than just being informed of things that I’ll have to be productive about later.

 

What about that Apple Watch?

Comparing it in any meaningful way to the software on the Apple Watch would be silly, as I haven’t tried it and neither have many others.  I will say that, when comparing Google and Apple’s approach to watch software, I prefer Google’s.  We now live in a bizarro-world where Apple’s approach and UI appears unfocused and busy, while Google’s approach and UI is focused and minimalistic. I honestly think there’s way too much going on in the Apple Watch UI – I’d rather swipe and tap giant buttons then try to aim for tiny touch buttons and constantly miss.  In my mind, a smartwatch is for things that either take 10-15 seconds at most, or for constant information I don’t want to drag my phone out for (pace/distance while running, directions while navigating). If I’m digging around a smartwatch interface for longer than a minute, something’s gone wrong.

 

How is it for fitness?

I’ve already written a great deal about the Moto 360 as a fitness device, but the tl;dr is that the 360 is surprisingly great at collecting step and heart rate data, it just needs to send it somewhere. Hopefully that “somewhere” is Google Fit, coming in the Android L release.

 

So…where does that leave things?

My general rule for recommending something without hesitation is that it needs to blend in seamlessly with your life; technology should enhance your life with as little conscious thought as possible.  The Moto 360, and Android Wear, aren’t quite there yet.

That’s not to say there isn’t an audience for this device – if you own an Android phone, really want a smartwatch, and can tolerate the less-than-ideal battery life, this is the one to get.  Period.  Just understand that you are essentially helping Google beta test Android Wear, albeit in a pretty fantastic chassis. I’m never one to count on a software update to fix problems – hardware is purchased as-is and any updates are just a bonus – but I think we can be pretty certain that Android Wear is going to get a whole lot better in the next 6-12 months.  If these updates come with better battery life and performance, all the better – but don’t buy the watch expecting that to be the case.

In the tech world there’s never any harm in waiting, and that goes double for smartwatches.  This market is just getting started, and I think what we see in the next couple of years will blow away what we’re seeing today, the same way innovation in the smartphone market exploded after the original iPhone.

I said in my Pebble review that my ideal smartwatch would be a Pebble, plus a microphone, plus a FitBit – and the Moto 360 is basically that, with a few unfortunate hardware and software quirks thrown in the mix.  If you can’t wait, go for it – I don’t think you’ll regret it, and this is absolutely the smartwatch to buy if you have an Android phone and dig the design as much as I do. Just go in knowing its limitations, and with the knowledge that the second or third generation of these devices is going to be killer.

 

This is why Apple’s customer service is second-to-none

9-to-5 Mac writes:

Apple’s big week starts with the arrival of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus inventory “as early as Wednesday, September 17th.” Retail inventory specialists (Back of House) have been instructed to “hold back 4% of overall inventory by SKU (minimum 1 device/SKU) for DOA holdbacks.” This ensures that customers will not be let down if their new iPhone has an issue right out of the box. Devices that were preordered for in-store pickup will be set aside so they are not accidentally sold to walk-in customers.

As much as I enjoy using Android, and am now even more heavily invested in it thanks to my purchase of an Android Wear smartwatch, one of the things I miss most about owning an iPhone is the ridiculously high quality of service provided by Apple Stores. Buying an Apple product means never having to question whether or not I’ll receive proper support, while buying an Android device is still a crapshoot, depending on both the OEM and the carrier you bought it from.

Little tidbits, like holding back 4% of every SKU in case of customer issues, shows that they really think about the end-to-end customer experience, rather than just how to make the sale.  In an ideal world, Apple’s level of support would be the rule, rather than the exception.

The Moto 360 and Fitness – Finale

I’ve already covered the Moto 360’s fitness tracking and RunKeeper integration in two previous posts, so I thought I’d finish up with  my notes on how the 360 performed over the weekend and some final thoughts:

  • Day 3: Outdoor run with RunKeeper running on my phone, but not actively using the Android Wear app, so the screen would turn off unless I explicitly turned it on.  Harder to get to my current stats that way, but better battery life, in-theory.  My findings:
    • I was able to start the run without even looking at my phone, just by saying “OK Google, start a run”.  Pretty great.
    • I had somewhat better battery life – down to 75% when I got home.  Lower than I expected, but not terrible.  Probably would’ve been closer to 80% if I hadn’t fiddled with it so much during the first half of the run.  So, I’d guess 4-5 hours on a run/ride if the screen is off and you only bring up the RunKeeper stats on-demand.
    • Discovered I can bring up the RunKeeper stats without any hand controls.  Lift watch to wake, say “OK Google, start RunKeeper”, see stats.  Still need a hand control to manually shut screen off, though.
  • Day 4: No RunKeeper, stationary bike indoors
    • No step tracking (expected) or heart rate info (strange and disappointing).  Hopefully the lack of heart rate info was just a fluke.
  • Day 5: No RunKeeper, treadmill indoors
    • Step tracking and heart rate info functioned as-expected
    • Battery dropped 6-7% during a one-hour run.  I’m beginning to suspect any accelerometer use, like walking/running/cycling, drains the 360’s battery a bit faster than being completely idle.  Still far better drain than seen during outdoor runs with RunKeeper, likely due to the lowered brightness of the screen indoors.

Overall, I’d say I’m more impressed with the Moto 360 as a fitness tracker than I expected to be.  I thought the pedometer and heart rate sensor would be nothing but gimmicks, but they seem to function quite well.  I’m especially impressed that the pedometer on the watch tracked my outdoor bike ride.  RunKeeper integration is about what I expected, especially coming from a Pebble, but I think the battery trade-off is worth it for the manual run controls available in Android Wear. I might still dig out my Pebble for, say, a half-marathon, but for my morning workouts, it’s more-than adequate. If RunKeeper can eventually tie into the data from the heart rate sensor, that’d be even better.

Is it enough to leave my FitBit at home?  Well…almost.  It’s so damn close it’s actually a little painful.  If the data from my watch could be made available to other services, like MyFitnessPal, then I’d say yes, definitely.  In fact, when my FitBit dies (or, more likely, I lose it), I may not bother to replace it, at least as long as I have the 360.  For now, though, there’s simply too much value in FitBit’s data ecosystem to give it up. A fitness device where the data can’t be shared is pretty useless to me, unfortunately.

As with the 360 itself, I have a ton of hope for the near future.  Android L should bring Google Fit, which should tie into Android Wear and give me a lot more to do with the data my 360 is already gathering.

Are small smartphones dead?

After today, all indications are that the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus are both going to be record-selling smartphones, which leaves us with an important question:

Are the days of the small smartphone dead?

Previously, friends of mine who wanted a smaller smartphone would typically go with the iPhone or the Moto X, regardless of whether or not they preferred iOS or Android.  They were, if nothing else, reliable and perfect for one-handed use for most people.  I only own a Nexus 5 because my friend sold it to me, saying she couldn’t stand the size and, despite having few issues with Android itself, opted to replace it with a 5S.  Unfortunately for her and others like her, the flagship iPhones are now 4.7 and 5.5 inches, Moto X is 5.2 inches and even its cheaper cousin, the Moto G, is 5 inches. Obviously, customers have spoken, and the majority prefer larger phones – according to Android Central, Motorola specifically cited this as their reason for bumping the Moto X up a full .5 inches in size:

We can grumble about that all we want (and we will), but Motorola says it has data showing that 75 percent of folks upgrading phones wanted to go with something bigger. So, Motorola went bigger, too.

For many, screens much greater than 4 inches are far from ideal for a variety of reasons – the 4.7-inch Moto X was about as large as a phone could get while still being considered a “one-handed” phone.  Despite the fact that, on paper, the Moto X and the iPhone 6 are 4.7 inches, the small bezel size of the Moto X means it’s noticeably smaller than the iPhone 6  – you can see a great comparison of that here.

So, the iPhone is no longer the go-to device when friends ask me what small phone they should buy.  On the Android side, the only small smartphones are either lower-end or phones that don’t seem to get US releases, like the Xperia Z Compact series.  Honestly, I don’t know what to tell those friends anymore, except maybe to get the 5S which, despite being a year old, and is still a great phone.

At this point, the only real hope is that Android OEMs will release flagships along the lines of the Xperia Z Compact, in order to fill the niche being abandoned by Apple – which seems unlikely – or that, next year, there will be enough consumer feedback that we’ll see 4-inch, 4.7-inch, and 5-5inch versions of the iPhone 6S.

What do you all think?  Am I missing an obvious choice, or has it now become substantially more difficult to find a small flagship smartphone to recommend to others?  Do people who prefer small smartphones just have to adapt to a smartphone landscape that’s no longer interested in serving their needs?

The Moto 360 and RunKeeper – Cycling Addendum

I won’t bore you with reiterating my initial impressions of the Moto 360 as a fitness device, but I learned enough new things during a bike ride this morning that I thought it was worth sharing in a second post.

  1. Battery drain was about the same the second day, so it’s pretty consistent in that regard.
  2. I really wish there was a way to set the 360 so that pressing the physical button would wake the watch to whatever app you were using, rather than to the watch face, as I think a huge amount of battery life could be saved that way.  Considering I already have to tap the screen to make the RunKeeper UI readable in bright light anyway, this wouldn’t be any more trouble. I can, of course, still manually sleep/wake the device – and may try that on my next run to geta better feel for battery life when used that way – but then it requires more swipes to get back into the RunKeeper UI.
  3. The Moto 360 has outdone my FitBit in an important way – it surprisingly managed to count steps while bike riding, something I’ve only ever convinced my FitBit to do when it’s clipped to the very bottom of my bike shorts, near my knee.  I’ve never used a wrist-worn FitBit, but I’ve heard those aren’t very good at tracking bike rides, either.  I’ve been looking forever for a fitness device that would properly track my rides, and I may have finally found it.  Here’s an example of how they compared, with my FitBit worn as-described above:2014-09-11 08.31.17
  4. It seems as though the 360 once again passively recorded my heart rate, although there are two included apps used for heart rate monitoring, and they gave me conflicting info.  One, “Heart Activity”, seemed to think I’d done 30 minutes of exercise:2014-09-11 08.33.07 2014-09-11 08.33.18The other, Heart Rate, seems to think I’ve been Inactive the entire morning:2014-09-11 08.32.21
  5. This leads into my one major issue with the 360 as a fitness tracker, which is that it seems pretty great at collecting data, but not very good at aggregating it.  I’m hopeful this will change with the release of Google Fit in Android L, but right now, it’s confined to the watch and, apparently, Motorola’s servers, at least after I adopted in to the Wellness Profile section of the Motorola Connect app.  Until that data is used elsewhere, though, my FitBit will stay in my pocket, as I use it not just for the data, but for how that data interacts with services my MyFitnessPal.

Overall, I’m pretty optimistic about the possibilities of the Moto 360 as a fitness device.  I don’t think it will replace true dedicated all-fitness devices like an expensive GPS watch, but I can certainly see it replacing the need to carry both a smartwatch and an ambient fitness tracker.

I still have a few things I want to test – I want to see how the Moto 360 responds to my workouts on a treadmill and stationary bike, and I want to see how battery life performs for rides/runs if I manually toggle the display off.  My theory is that it will accurately record the treadmill and not the stationary bike, but I’ve already been pleasantly surprised, so who knows?  After all of that testing, I’ll make a final post with my findings – probably sometime early next week.

My morning with the Moto 360 and RunKeeper

I’m a strong believer in the union between technology and fitness; one of the things that sold me on the original Pebble was its RunKeeper integration.  It’s actually a little distressing how easy it is to convince me to buy a new gadget if I can somehow convince myself it’ll help me.  So, logically, one of the first things I did after I acquired my Moto 360 yesterday afternoon was take it out out on this morning’s run to compare it with Pebble’s performance in that same area.  Unfortunately, I can’t compare it to other Android Wear watches, as I haven’t used them.

My result?  Surprisingly good!  I’ll share my experiences in pro/con style:

Pros:

  • Unlike the Pebble RunKeeper app, I can start, pause, and end my run without taking my phone out of my pocket.  This is actually pretty important, considering I run with my dog, and she stops to…do her business a bit more often than I’d like.  Fumbling with a phone and a leash, while trying to pause my run, is not fun.
  • The Moto 360 tracks both steps and heart rate – the step count seems pretty comparable to my FitBit.  I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the heart rate, but it’s nice to know it’s being done.  I’m hopeful that, in the future, RunKeeper can actually incorporate that heart rate data into my run and display it as part of the graph, as it currently does with standalone heart rate monitors.  It was a nice surprise that it passively monitored my heart rate in the first place.

2014-09-10 08.33.49 2014-09-10 08.36.16 2014-09-10 08.36.54

  • Incoming notifications don’t interrupt my RunKeeper display, unlike they do with the Pebble.  My wrist still vibrates to let me know something knew has come in, but the RunKeeper display remains on top.
  • Battery life held up better than expected after the nightmare stories I’ve heard; it was down to about 65% when I got home, meaning it should last for about the length of a 3 hour bike ride or run – far longer than I usually do, though I have to wonder how well it’ll do during my upcoming half-marathon in January.  I’ll get a better sense for that once I start training in mid October.

 

Cons:

  • Although the 360’s display is always on when RunKeeper is active, it is also too dim to see in the morning Arizona sun.  Tapping the display is necessary if I want to view my elapsed time and pace.  On the Pebble, this isn’t an issue as the display is always active and has the same ambient brightness.  Since tapping the watch is necessary to view the display anyway, it’d be nice if there was an option to have the screen off until I tapped to view my current status.  I’m sure that’d save a lot of battery life.
  • The Pebble relies on a rarely-updating display to maintain good battery life, which is why watch faces with something as simple as an active second hand will noticeably reduce battery life.  So, while battery can drain on the Pebble can be pretty heavy during “live” activities like RunKeeper, I can be confident that the watch will still make it at least the rest of the day after my run or ride.  I’m not sure I can say the same thing about the 360.
  • The 360’s touchscreen gets pretty gross after even light interaction during an hour long run; an unavoidable reality of a watch with a touchscreen, but no less obnoxious.

 

Bonus battery info:

I’ll elaborate more on this in my upcoming review, but my rule with the 360 is that – thanks to the convenience of wireless charging – I’m fine charging it whenever my Pebble would naturally be off my wrist anyway.  This includes:

  1. When I’m sleeping.
  2. Sometimes, when I get home from work.
  3. When I shower in the morning.

#3 is notable, as that’s what I did this morning – dropped the 360 onto its charger right after my run, so it could get a boost while I was getting ready for work.  During the 20 minutes this took, the 360 charged up 27%.  That was far better than I’d expected:

2014-09-10 08.38.06 2014-09-10 08.58.57

Overall, I came away more impressed with the 360-as-a-fitness-device than I expected to be.  I’ve long said my ideal wearable would be a Pebble with a microphone combined with the functionality of a FitBit.  While the 360 isn’t quite enough for me to leave the house without my FitBit, it’s damn close – and if MyFitnessPal incorporates Android Wear data the same way it incorporates FitBit data, then the time may finally come where the FitBit can stay at home.

The only real question is how the 360 performs while biking, since I imagine I’ll be less comfortable tapping the display to wake it when I’m biking than when I’m running.  Of course, that’s a post for tomorrow.

Moto 360 in the house!

Impressions coming in a day or so.

2014-09-09 15.31.23 2014-09-09 15.31.47 2014-09-09 15.58.01-1

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