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Hands-on with the retail Moto 360 smartwatch, coming this fall for $279

It’s official: round is the new square. Motorola has officially launched its first wearable device, the Moto 360, featuring a round face that is both refreshing yet classic at the same time. The circular smartwatch feels so natural on your wrist one may never look at blocky, square alternatives the same again.

The key to the Moto 360’s success is the fact that, unlike other smartwatches on the market today, the device looks like a traditional wristwatch. In fact, celebrating the basic design of a classic watch is so core to Motorola’s mission for the 360 that they don’t even refer to it as a smartwatch: it is a “modern day timepiece” that “tells you so much more than just the time”.

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Of course at the centre of this throwback is the round display that, when it was announced, sent everyone into a tizzy. As most of our displays, such as TVs, smartphones and tablets, are square or rectangular, it is pretty exciting to see a digital screen take on a new shape. And, admittedly, when you see the backlit LCD screen in action for the very first time, it is pretty memorable.

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The Moto 360’s display isn’t the sharpest of the smartwatches currently for sale, but it makes up for it with an edge-to-edge viewing experience. In fact, with the right watchface, the 360 could almost be mistaken for an everyday timepiece if it weren’t for the small black horizon line at the bottom needed to house the ambient light sensor.

The ambient light sensor is a welcome addition to an Android Wear watch, and is unique — at least for now — to the Moto 360. The display automatically adjusts the screen brightness for different lighting conditions. For those worried about battery life, you can toggle this feature off on and manually adjust the brightness. This will, however, cause the watchface to completely disappear when the device goes to sleep, so turning it off does mean that the 360 loses its classic charm.

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The Moto 360 is also the first of the Android Wear family to use a wireless charging system rather than pogo pins. Not only does this mean that charging your watch is as simple as resting it on the cradle, but it also allows the casing around the 360 to be completely smooth and uninterrupted. A bonus is that when the Moto is in its charging cradle, it displays the time, making it a pretty sweet beside clock.

To make the watch double as a fitness tracker, Motorola has added a heart rate monitor in the form of an optical light sensor on the back of the watch. Users can take their heart rate either by selecting this function using the watch menu or by saying “Ok Google, show me my heart rate”. Motorola worked hand-in-hand with their partner on the technology behind this feature of the watch, and it shows. From my initial tests I was easily and very consistently able to get my heart rate, not something easily achieved on some of the other devices out there with similar capabilities.

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As Moto 360 uses Android Wear as its operating system, it shares the same user interface, navigation, features and apps that we are already familiar with on the LG G Watch and the Gear Live. I have noticed that some of the apps that I used on my LG G Watch weren’t working on my 360 despite resyncing the apps to the device, but I’m pretty sure that this may be because the developers have not yet optimized their apps for the round form factor.

One perk for Motorola smartphone users is the ability to customize watchfaces using the Motorola Connect app, something third party apps will be needed for on other Android wearables.

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Motorola has confirmed that the Moto 360 will be sold this fall at participating Best Buy, Future Shop and Telus stores for a suggested retail price of $279 CDN. Shoppers will have the option to get the black leather or grey leather strap.

Motorola did tease us with two stainless steel models of the Moto 360 including a matte black and silver version, but were unable to confirm when these premium options would be available. In the U.S., the stainless steel models fetched an extra $50, so expect the same bump in price here.

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