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Will circular smart watches win you over?

The just-announced Motorola Moto 360 and the LG G Watch R take a more traditional design approach

Published: September 05, 2014 03:45 PM
Photo: Motorola

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This morning, Motorola unveiled its entry into the smart-watch arena. Photos of the round-faced Moto 360, which runs on Google's new Android Wear operating system, have been circulating all summer, but as of today the company is selling the device for $249 on its own site, and through Google Play and Best Buy. The round face is a design departure from most smart watches, which look like mini smart phones on wristbands. (LG has also announced a round smart watch, the LG G Watch R, but it isn't yet available.) The new watch looks a lot less geeky than its competitors, and it feels more natural on the wrist. It's still large (the display is 1.5 inches), but so are many "normal" watches.

But will all that be enough to make consumers want to buy a smart watch?

Despite all the new models hitting the market over the past year, most people remain lukewarm or worse about the category. In June, the NPD Group reported that 20 percent of consumers said they were interested in purchasing a smart watch; that leaves 80 percent who, presumably, aren't.

In the same report, NPD said cost was the number-one barrier to smart watch adoption; these devices go for as much as $300. Other factors could be that smart watches are generally large and bulky, and that their battery life doesn't meet people's expectations of how long watches' batteries should last.

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But the best explanation for why the devices haven't really taken off could be the simplest one: Most consumers aren't convinced they need a smart watch. These gadgets give you alerts to incoming phone calls, texts, and e-mails—but so does your smart phone. Some smart watches, like the Samsung Gear Fit and including the Moto 360, offer activity tracking—but so do much sleeker devices meant specifically for fitness fans.

The Android Wear OS, introduced this year, adds capabilities to the new class of gadgets. It integrates Google Now—the company's Siri-like "intelligent personal assistant"—which serves up a continual stream information it deems relevent to you. And you can use voice commands to do Google searches, compose texts, and make requests of your watch (“Show me my steps” or “Set an alarm”). Android Wear is still a young system, but it has potential to make the category appeal to more consumers.

It's too soon to tell whether added features and more attractive designs will turn smart watches into mainstream consumer products. For now, they still seem to be early-adopters' latest novelty. Of course, at Consumer Reports we tend to be early adopters, and we like many of these gadgets. We have a press sample of the Moto 360 in (or on) our hands now and will report on our first impressions. We are also purchasing one for lab testing; check back soon.

—Carol Mangis

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