Wearable tech has been hyped as the next big thing for what feels like forever, and amid the expectation it’s easy to forget that Sony, Samsung and several other companies have already had a crack at creating a more intelligent wristwatch.
LG G WATCH SPECS
OS: Android Wear (Compatible with Android 4.3+)
STRAP: 22mm (0.86inch) Changeable Watch Strap
SCREEN: 1.65in IPS LCD
DIMENSIONS: 37.9×46.5×9.95 mm
BATTERY: 400 mAh
PROCESSING: Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 400 processor with 1.2GHz CPU
WIRELESS: Bluetooth 4.0
MEMORY: 512 MB / 4 GB
PORTS & CONNECTORS: Micro USB on Charging Cradle
SENSORS: 9 Axis (Accelerometer/Compass/Gyro)
And yet, despite these ventures the general public still seems to be waiting for the first smartwatch which truly lives up to the promise of the concept, and it was almost obvious that this mythical product was going to come from either Google or Apple. As it happens, the former has gotten there first.
Android Wear is Google’s “wearable OS” and, as is the case with the main Android operating system, it will be deployed to various devices manufactured by third parties. That’s why the first wave of Android Wear watches come courtesy of LG, Samsung and Motorola.
Despite the aesthetic differences which exist between the LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live and Moto 360, they’re all running the same software and Google has already stated that it won’t be allowing tech makers to re-skin or alter its look.
Keeping that in mind, it’s quite sensible for a review of the LG G Watch, which launches in less than week’s time, to also be a review of the Android Wear OS experience as it stands now. Design changes and minor hardware embellishments aside, what we have here is Google’s ultimate vision for the smartwatch market, irrespective of the fact that it clearly says “LG” on the back of the device.
LG G Watch Review: Design
To the casual observer, the LG G Watch will look uncannily similar to the vast majority of smartwatches already available on the market. The need for a large touch screen means that such devices are bigger than most standard timepieces. In the case of the G Watch, it’s a quite a lot larger than pretty much any other watch I’ve ever owned, with the possible exception of a chunky Casio G-Shock.
A metal bezel surrounds the screen itself, while the main body of the watch is a combination of metal (for the sides) and plastic (for the rear). The strap is rubber and can be substituted for a standard watchstrap, if you so wish.
There’s not a single button on the entire unit; all user input has to go via the touchscreen, or via voice commands. To be honest, once you’re accustomed to the interface you won’t miss physical buttons, but it does mean that when the watch is totally shut down, the only way to turn it back on again is to plug in a charger, hardly an elegant solution if you happen to accidentally switch if off when you’re away from home and your wall charger.
Update To Fix Corrosion Issue
On the back of the LG G Watch there’s a charging connector, the five conductors you can see on the bottom left of the photo above. Some users have reported irritation whilst wearing the watch, and it turns out these connectors are always pumping out a little bit of electrical discharge even when the connector isn’t charging.
Whilst you’re wearing it obviously it gets sweaty, dirty and all round a little bit disgusting. And this is when corrosion begins to happen. LG has released an update for the G Watch that is designed to stop the issue by turning off these conductors when it’s not in charging mode.
While the G Watch is arguably the least attractive of the three Android Wear devices announced so far, it’s hardly an ugly product. The design is at worst a bit plain, but then you could argue that this allows the Android Wear OS to shine instead. The biggest criticism we can level – and this applies to pretty much 99 percent of the smartwatches on the market so far – is that the G Watch simply isn’t built for everyday use. A wristwatch is something which is going to get knocked, scratched and bumped accidentally several times a day, and despite the Gorilla Glass screen and metal casing, we can’t imagine that LG’s timepiece is going to remain pristine and scuff-free for very long. On the positive side, the unit is water and dust proof, so at least you can keep it on when you’re taking a dip in the bath.
LG G Watch Review: Screen
The G Watch boasts a 1.65-inch IPS LCD display which is bright and colourful, and has the required number of pixels to make most images look striking, even when viewed in postage stamp format. When the watch is idle the screen reverts to a black and white colour scheme, presumably to conserve power, but you can disable this in the options and have it totally switched off, if you so wish. This of course means that you’ll need to tap the watch face in order to see what time it is.
The rival Pebble smartwatch uses a monochrome screen, which offers excellent readability in direct sunlight. The G Watch’s full colour screen, however, means that on a bright day with the sun high in the sky, it can sometimes be hard to view the display.
Previous smartwatches – such as Sony’s Smartwatch 2 – have experienced issues with touch screen responsiveness. Thankfully the G Watch doesn’t suffer from such problems; every swipe and tap is recognized just as well as it is on your handset. We’d imagine this has something to do with the 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 CPU and 512MB of RAM.
LG G Watch Review: Android Wear
When all is said and done, LG’s contribution to the G Watch is actually minor; all the manufacturer has had to do is create a platform for Google’s new software to operate on. Android Wear is arguably the more important element in this equation, and it’s encouraging to see that The Big G has thought long and hard about what a smartwatch should offer, and has tailored the experience accordingly.
Android Wear is without a shadow of a doubt the most intuitive and effective smartwatch operating system yet seen.
Everything from pairing the watch with your handset to navigating through the Google Now-style card system just feels simple and straightforward. The tutorial is breezy and welcoming, and it doesn’t take long to become used to the language of the OS itself – swipe up and down to move through notifications, left swipe for more options and right swipe to dismiss.
A single tap on the main home screen brings up the voice input option, but you can also activate this by uttering the now-immortal “OK Google” command whenever the watch’s screen is fully awake. In a neat touch, the G Watch uses its internal accelerometer to detect when you’ve turned your wrist and are looking at it, and it readies itself for a voice command accordingly.
Previous smartwatches made the mistake of trying to include too much functionality, and that isn’t a pitfall Google intends to fall into. Android Wear keeps things simple and is primarily a notifications platform. Pretty much every alert or message you could normally get in Android’s notification pane is instantly beamed to your wrist, allowing you to view emails, read tweets, acknowledge calendar appointments and digest eBay messages without having to remove your phone from your pocket.
There are no additional software installation requirements: the watch imitates the notifications on your phone, so if you mute Twitter or Gmail, notifications for these apps won’t appear on your wrist, either.
While you can reply to an email or message using your voice, it’s not really a workable solution; mistakes cannot be corrected, and it’s probably faster to just type out the text on your phone. However, certain apps do have functions, which can be accessed from the watch itself. For example, you can retweet a message from Twitter or retrieve an email in Gmail.
Because Android Wear ties in so neatly with the core Android OS, it is elegant in a way that its rivals could never hope to be.
There are other uses aside from just being a notifications hub. You can control your music through the watch too, which sounds like a simple feature but actually comes in very handy indeed, especially when you’re stuck on a packed bus and don’t want to constantly have to fish your handset from your pocket every time a duff song comes on.
There’s also a step counter included which will appeal to health-conscious folk, although the G Watch is missing the heart rate monitor which is included in Samsung’s Gear Live.
LG G Watch Review: Battery
Battery stamina has been a thorny problem for smartwatch makers since the concept came to market. The demands of maintaining a constant Bluetooth connection with your phone, combined with the greediness of a backlit colour screen, mean that most of these products need charging once every few days. When you consider that watches are the one piece of mobile tech we don’t normally have to worry about plugging into the mains on a daily basis, it’s quite an annoyance.
To its credit, LG has done as much as it can to make sure this process isn’t too irksome. The G Watch comes with a magnetic charging pad, which plugs into a standard micro USB wall charger (you get one of these in the box, but if you’re anything like us you’ll just plug it into your standard phone charger, which will no doubt be permanently secured to your wall socket). It’s not quite as elegant a charging method as the wireless chargers we’re seeing these days, but it works well regardless.
The only concern is that if you happen to misplace the charging pad, which is quite possible, given how dainty it is. If this happens, panic, because you have no means of topping up the watch unless you purchase a replacement.
While Google and its hardware partners have tried to talk-up the stamina of Android Wear devices, we found that around two days is the most we could expect from the G Watch’s 400mAh power cell before it started gasping for air. Realistically, you’re going to end up charging this watch on a daily basis, just to ensure it doesn’t run out of steam mid-way through the day when you’re away from a charging point.
LG G Watch Review: Conclusion
Given the amount of time it has taken for someone to really nail the smartwatch concept, it’s tempting to suggest that perhaps the idea of wearable tech isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. However, we’re inclined to believe that all the idea needed was the proper execution, and while rivals like the Pebble have had a fairly decent go of it, Google has gotten as close as we’ve ever seen to making the perfect smartwatch device.
On a physical level, the G Watch is functional rather than jaw-dropping; it lacks the visual appeal of Moto’s 360 forthcoming watch and won’t turn heads – until the screen lights up of course, at which point Android Wear becomes very much the focal point. The G Watch does an excellent job of showing off Google’s new wearable OS, so the lack of aesthetic bells and whistles isn’t an issue.
LG knows the software is the star here.
There are concerns about keeping the watch scratch-free and battery life isn’t fantastic, but those who get plenty of notifications on a daily basis will be prepared to overlook such niggles. Android Wear makes managing and responding to alerts a lot easier and more intuitive, and we’ll no doubt see the platform improve and mature over the next year.
Thanks to MobileFun.co.uk for supplying the unit used in this review.