Hands-on with the Moto 360 and Moto X

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Watches and smartphones and Android, oh my, and this week, we’ve seen all three, as we take a look at Motorola’s circular smartwatch and its new flagship, two products that aim to really grab your attention.

It’s been an interesting year for Motorola, with the company returning to Australia after so long away, back with smartphones that surprise with simplicity and compete on price.

But ease of use and value driven aren’t the only areas Motorola wants to play in, with a new flagship model poised to take on some of the big boys on the way, and a smartwatch that looks more like a traditional watch.

First, the phone: Motorola’s new X, the 2014 model.

It seems like it has only been a few months since we saw the Moto X, and it has, but that was technically the old X, with Motorola bringing it to Australia later because of Motorola’s late return to our humble country.

In that model, we saw the start of Motorola’s revival, with a completely different approach than its previous attempts in the RAZR Android phones. While those models were about keeping it thin, the new generation of handsets cater more to hands with a soft plastic back that is easy to pick-up and keep in the hand, the shape arching into the palm. The screens are vibrant, the display always capable of providing notifications, and the microphone always listening, waiting for you to talk to it, because phones in the future apparently do this.

The new model is slicker than before, with still the right amount of grip. In front of us were a few variants, with black leather and wood finish both possible for the back, both eliciting feelings that made them feel just as comfortable as some of the metal finish phones we’ve seen in recent months, but much more unique.

Motorola’s metal frame helps to reinforce this strength, however, and the 5 inch screen is not just an improved size, but also an improved display altogether, boasting an increase to Full HD.

Of particular note for us was the camera, which now features a ring flash with two LEDs. Technically, it’s not a ring flash, but it’s a close approximation, delivering what should be an evenly lit subject for the 13 megapixel camera on the back.

Motorola’s special sauce screen is also included, providing detailed touchscreen notifications when the display is off and on standby, while the microphone is always listening, waiting for your “Ok Google” command, which can in this model be changed to a greeting of your own design. You’ll apparently even be able to speak to it for more than just the regular Google commands, asking it to open other applications, which could prove very interesting.

All up, we’re intrigued, except for the lack of upgradeable storage, which like the previous Moto X is fixed to a mediocre 16GB.

We asked Motorola why this was the case, and were told it had to do with design and how it the Moto X’s didn’t accommodate this feature, a fact which surprises us given how upgradeable storage using microSD cards is available now on pretty much every other Motorola handset, models which cost far less.

Still, we’re keen to see what this model is like, especially since it will always be listening, and the whole notion of a touch-less phone grabs our attention because it feels like the future.

Also feeling like a page from time — future time, anyway — is the idea of a smartwatch.

Currently, we switch between the LG G Watch and the Pebble Smartwatch only because we have them on-hand, and right now, the Android Wear and Pebble platforms appear the most stable and likely to jump across devices, with Samsung’s Tizen on its Gear smartwatches requiring Samsung devices to work.

But all three of these smartwatches look like rectangles, and are unlike the circular watches we’ve grown up with.

It’s one of the things you learn from a young age: a clock is circular, and so the smartwatch probably shouldn’t be any different. We can deal with rectangles and squares, and a triangle could be interesting too, but clocks are primarily circular, so a smartwatch should have the option of coming in this shape.

That is precisely what Motorola’s 360 will do, arriving later this year with a 1.56 inch circular LCD touchscreen and a body made from stainless steel. Android Wear is the operating system here, ideal for notifications and some of the apps you can overlay, and Motorola is providing quite a few clock faces, as well as a heart rate monitor for when you need that checked.

Water resistance is also included, but mostly, Motorola wants this to look and feel like a watch, and we’re delighted to say that from a brief hands-on, that is precisely what it feels like.

Paired with a leather strap, the metal body feels like a real watch, and is lighter than you’ll expect.

Even though there’s a touchscreen, Motorola has included a royal crown with a button, which even has its own details up close, elements that make the Moto 360 feel more like a watch than just a second screen on your wrist.

Spot the difference: the rectangular LG G Watch on the left, the circular Motorola 360, both of which run on Google's Android Wear.

We’ll be curious to see if it advances the whole smartwatch thing forward, because while we love the idea, Android Wear still has limitations, and doesn’t really do much more than provide notifications and a small amount of interactivity on your arm, stopping you from pulling out your phone and checking the screen some of the time.

At least Motorola is doing the charger right, relying on induction charging and letting the watch rest in place on a special charger that — when charging — turns the watch into a small desk clock.

We’re told the battery doesn’t take long to charge, roughly an hour, and should provide a good day or so of battery life, at least. Not bad, but we’re more keen to give it a proper flogging when it comes out.

Unfortunately, there’s no pricing or concrete local release date for either the Motorola X or Motorola 360 devices yet, but from the sound of things, those details should be along shortly, as Motorola looks keen to release both some time in October, so we should have more for you shortly. Stay tuned.