LG Watch Urbane review: Android Wear’s new champion
I have a love-hate relationship with smartwatches. I love that they deliver notifications on my wrist, and let me change watch face at a momentary whim; but I hate – with a passion – having to charge them every day. This is why the most important factor in a smartwatch, for me, is battery life, and that’s why the LG Watch Urbane has a head start on most of Android Wear smartwatches I’ve seen.
The LG Watch Urbane’s battery is equal in size to the largest we’ve seen on any smartwatch so far (410mAh), and it matches its stablemate, the LG G Watch R, for longevity, delivering three-day battery life with Android Wear’s Always-on screen mode set to off.
Activate the Always-on screen option and the G Watch Urbane doesn’t last nearly so long, but it will comfortably get you through a full day of constant notification-checking before you have to pop it back on its magnetic charging base.
LG Watch Urbane review: Android Wear 5.1.1
The other notable thing about the LG G Watch Urbane is that it’s the first Android Wear device to come with Android Wear 5.1.1 out of the box, an update that quietly ushers in the most radical update to Google’s wearables platform so far.
The central premise that notifications are delivered via Google Now-style cards remains, as does the ability to perform actions via voice recognition, but the look has been refined, and it’s far cleaner and more pleasing to the eye than before. There’s finally an official app launcher, which makes accessing installed apps easier. You can send a text or dial your favourite contacts from the Favourites screen, too.
Other features include the ability to scroll through your notifications with a quick flick of the wrist – away from you to scroll down, and towards you to scroll back up – a feature I found came in handy when I was holding a cup of coffee or a bag of shopping in my other hand.
Cloud Sync enables the watch to receive notifications via Wi-Fi and over the internet – so even when you leave your phone at home, your watch will be able to keep you in touch. Enable Screen Lock and the LG G Watch Urbane will automatically lock when you remove it from your wrist. And Google is also opening up the Always-on screen mode to third-party apps in Android Wear 5.1.1, enabling apps such as the Stopwatch to carry on displaying useful information even when the screen dims.
To this smorgasbord of new features, LG also adds a couple of its own preinstalled apps: LG Pulse and LG Call. The former enables continuous heart-rate monitoring. The latter gives you a touchscreen-based phone dialler, plus access to your recent calls list and favourite contacts – a rather unnecessary addition, since you can carry out the same task by simply saying “OK Google … Dial [whoever]”.
LG Watch Urbane review: Specifications and features
Sadly, the apps are a lacklustre attempt at setting the Urbane apart from the crowd. Given that Google currently offers no other avenue for customisation from a software perspective, LG could, and arguably should, have done much more. And the trouble is, the hardware isn’t very distinctive either.
Just like the G Watch R, the G Watch Urbane has a 1.3in P-OLED display, with a resolution of 320 x 320 pixels and a pixel density of 246ppi. In bright sunlight it’s readable, even if it’s not quite as good as the transflective display on the Sony SmartWatch 3. The LG’s display does look much more vivid and colourful the rest of the time, though.
Inside, the Urbane is powered by the same processor as most Android Wear watches we’ve seen so far – a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 running at 1.2GHz – and it has 512MB of RAM and 4GB of eMMC flash storage.
It also has an IP67 rating for water and dust resistance, but it’s not up to a few laps at the local swimming baths – it’s designed to survive in up to a metre of water for 30 minutes, no more.
Finally, there’s an optical heart-rate sensor in the centre of the watch’s rather nasty plastic rear, and a barometer. Just like the G Watch R, however, there’s no ambient light sensor, so you’ll need to remember to turn the brightness down manually when you go to bed.
LG Watch Urbane review: Design
The homogeneity of current Android Wear hardware is what makes design all the more important. Alas, this is where the LG G Watch Urbane gets things all wrong.
On the one hand, LG is keen to promote the Urbane as a premium, luxury item. It costs more than most current Android Wear smartwatches, at £250, and its chunky, polished-steel body (which is also available in a slightly tacky-looking rose gold finish) exudes an air of seriousness only matched thus far by the Asus ZenWatch.
But it’s far from pretty. Its curves are bulbous rather than elegant, the lugs embracing the standard-width 22mm leather strap are awkwardly oversized, and the positioning of the pin holes holding the strap – right at the bottom of those lugs – just seems to emphasise the Urbane’s thickness and bulk.
Even details such as the stitching on the Genuine Leather strap seem coarse and over-obvious; in fact, the only design elements I really like are the brushed-finish screen bezel and the prominent, ridged button on the watch’s right-hand side.
LG Watch Urbane review: Verdict
Still, it’s just possible that the style of the LG Watch Urbane will appeal to you, and if that’s the case it now represents a much better deal than it did when it first launched. The price has recently dropped to £187 inc VAT, which is more representative of its value than the initial price of over £200, and now that Android Wear has an iOS app, it should be even more appealling.
And, practically speaking, the Urbane’s battery life does make a big difference. I still prefer the styling of the LG G Watch R, but now that there’s not the same price differential between the two, the choice is no longer quite so obvious. Just go and buy the one you prefer the look of – they’re both very good Android Wear devices.