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Moto 360 vs Apple Watch vs Samsung Gear S - which is best?

Tom Morgan
19 Sep 2014
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Can the upcoming Apple Watch beat the Android competition - Apple Watch vs Moto 360 vs Samsung Gear S

The Apple Watch has been a long time coming. Rumoured for years and kept a tightly guarded secret right up to launch, Apple finally pulled back the curtain on its first wearable at its recent launch event. But how does it compare to the best Android has to offer to date? To find out, we've put the Apple Watch up against Motorola's Moto 360 and the Samsung Gear S in a three-way head to head. This is purely a specification comparison, which will only ever tell a part of the whole story, but gives us a good idea how the Apple Watch will stack up. Until the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear S actually goes on sale it's impossible to judge things like battery life. In the meantime, though, you can decide whether Apple has burst onto the wearable scene, or whether the Apple Watch is more of a damp squib.

DESIGN

Apple surprised the world when it didn't reveal a smartwatch with a circular display, but that doesn't mean the Apple Watch  isn't visually stunning in its own way. Unlike other smartwatches, the Apple Watch will be available in two sizes and three distinct versions, which will make it more suited to fashionistas or fitness addicts as well as general fans of wearable tech.

The standard Apple Watch is made from stainless steel, with rounded edges, a glass screen with curved sides and a range of different straps to create a unique look. The Apple Watch Sport uses a tougher metal alloy, which should prevent scratches and scrapes, and uses different tempered glass which is less prone to shattering on impact. There's even a premium Apple Watch Edition model made from 18-karat gold, although all three models are obviously smartwatches - there's no hiding the fact with a fancy watchface like you can with circular smartwatches.

Motorola's Moto 360 has easily been the most desirable Android Wear smartwatch since it was first revealed. The circular display, metal finish and leather strap give it premium looks, and with the right custom watchface it looks just like a regular analogue watch. Built from stainless steel, it weighs 49g and is no larger than the average fashion watch, and uses the standard 22mm strap fitting so you can swap the leather band out for your own if you prefer.

Samsung has made the Gear S stand out for different reasons. With the biggest screen of any smartwatch so far and an absurdly chunky strap, it dominates larger wrists and looks ridiculous on smaller ones. The former is necessary in order to squeeze a full QWERTY keyboard onto your wrist, as the watch is able to function as a standalone device as well as pair with a smartphone, but it certainly won't be to everyone's tastes.

The straps are available in seven colour choices, while the watch itself has metal effect trim, but underneath it's all plastic and you'll only be able to fit Gear S-specific straps, limiting your customisation choices.

DISPLAY

Little is known about the Apple Watch screen, other than the fact it has a "retina" display and is protected by either sapphire glass or ion-strengthened glass depending on the model you choose. Apple has never used OLED displays in its products, instead preferring LCD, so it seems likely the Apple Watch will follow suit, although nothing has been confirmed yet.

Although the display is a touchscreen, Apple has added a Digital Crown for interacting with the watch. It can zoom in and out or scroll up and down in compatible apps, plus acts as as home button to jump straight back to the main homescreen. Apple says this is to stop your fingers obscuring the display, but it remains to be seen whether it's enough to make the Apple Watch easy to use.

The Moto 360 has a 1.5in diameter, 320x290 resolution circular LCD touchscreen display that is supposed to mimic the appearance of a traditional watch with its round shape. Because Motorola has fitted an ambient light sensor, the screen isn't entirely circular; a small black bar at the bottom of the screen means the LG G Watch R will be the first fully circular smartwatch, but in reality it's small enough not to ruin the look - especially with a black watchface. The bevelled stainless steel chassis also has a very thin display bezel, so all you see is screen. 

Samsung's Gear S has a larger touchscreen display than both the Apple Watch and the Moto 360, which curves to match the contour of your wrist. It has a sharp 360x480 resolution and OLED panel, which should use less power than an LCD screen when displaying pure black. Chunky screen bezels on all four sides of the screen are a little off-putting, but there's no denying the display is bright, sharp and big enough to fit plenty of information onscreen at once.

BATTERY LIFE & CHARGING

Battery life is crucial for smartwatches, as few people want to be charging their devices every single night. It's also the single biggest mystery surrounding the Apple Watch. It is believed to be able to last most of the day, but require charging every night. Apple has yet to confirm exact battery capacity, but has at least revealed how you'll charge the watch; an inductive charging system that borrows the magnetic attachment seem on the company's MacBook MagSafe cables. 

Although Motorola suggested the Moto 360 would ship with a 320mAh battery, an iFixit teardown revealed a 300mAh cell instead. That's enough for it to last over 24 hours on a single charge with light use, and when it comes to adding more juice an inductive charging cradle will top it up overnight. As the charging coil is hidden underneath the chassis, there are no breaks in the shape for charging pins.

Samsung expects the Gear S to last between one and two days on a full charge, but it has yet to reveal exact battery capacity. Although you need to plug it in to a dedicated charging cradle, aligning charging pins rather than using inductive charging, the cradle also doubles as an external battery pack. You'll be able to charge the watch overnight, then strap it on and pocket the cradle for emergencies. In a pinch, it can provide up to 50% of a full charge without needing to be plugged in to the mains.

COMPATIBILITY

Apple has only confirmed so far that you'll need an iPhone to use the Apple Watch. Naturally the recently-announced iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are compatible, but iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c and iPhone 5 customers will be able to get connected too.

Samsung is equally limiting with the Gear S. Because it runs the Tizen operating system and relies on a specific Android app for pairing, you'll only be able to use it with specific Samsung smartphones. That list includes flagships like the Galaxy S5 and recently-launched Galaxy Note 4, and goes as far back as 2012's Galaxy S3, but older handsets and more entry-level devices might not work.

Motorola comes out on top in terms of compatibility, as the Moto 360 will work with any Android smartphone from any manufacturer, as long as it is running Android 4.2 Jelly Bean or above. That's literally hundreds of different handsets, meaning more people should be able to get connected.

FEATURES

Out of the box, the Moto 360 is the least capable of all three watches. Android Wear is designed primarily for notifications, putting text messages, emails and social network notifications on your wrist but forcing you to your phone to respond to them. You can control music playback, but only if you've already pressed play on your phone, and it can only count your steps, not track exercise. Once you start downloading third party apps, however, it's possible to add plenty of extra features.

Samsung's smartwatch has more features from the get-go, primarily because it functions as a standalone device as well as a smartphone accessory. The Gear S has a nano-SIM slot for making 3G voice calls, sending texts and receiving emails, plus GPS for real-time location reporting - meaning turn-by-turn walking directions and route mapping when running. It also supports widgets and third party apps, but developers have been slow to pick up Tizen so it remains to be seen whether there will be enough support after launch.

All three watches have heart rate sensors and accelerometers to count steps and track exercise, although the Apple Watch goes one further if you also buy an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus. The barometer inside the phone can measure altitude, and be used to calculate gradients - ideal for cyclists looking to measure their performance.

The Apple Watch is still something of an unknown entity; we don't know whether the operating system is entirely separate from iOS, or whether developers will be able to make a few adjustments to get their existing apps running on the watch hardware. However, based on the popularity of iOS, we would expect fantastic developer support.

Even without third party apps, the Apple Watch can send and receive messages (via a paired smartphone), show notifications, display maps for walking directions, remotely control an Apple TV, act as a remote viewfinder for a paired iPhone camera, or pay for goods at participating stores with Apple Pay. Naturally it has completely customisable watch faces, and can even share your heartbeat with other Apple Watch owners, for some reason.

CONCLUSION

Based on what we know so far, the Apple Watch looks like a well thought out smartwatch designed purely as a companion to your smartphone. The different sizes, different material choices and high-end gold option will surely appeal to people who would previously have scoffed at a wearable, and fitness integration with Apple's Health app looks promising too. We can't wait to get our hands on one.

If you're hoping to replace your phone with a watch Samsung's Gear S could be your only choice, although you'll have to put up with its bulky shape and get a dedicated SIM card. Tizen has yet to gain any serious momentum among developers, so you may be stuck with Samsung's initial apps for some time.

For everyone else, Motorola's Moto 360 is still the most desirable smartwatch. It's gorgeous, but doesn't try to be too clever; it's primarily for notifications and works with a huge number of devices, meaning you aren't tied to one manufacturer or costly high-end handsets. Android Wear is still finding its feet, but by the time the Apple Watch launches next year it may have evolved with more built-in features, and best of all it's the cheapest of the three.

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