LG G Watch review
The smartwatch has come a long way since Casio’s calculator watches of the 1980s. Back then, a monochrome screen and phalanx of buttons were the height of wrist-top cool; now, colour touchscreens and voice recognition are the order or the day – and the LG G Watch could well be the most important of the lot so far.
That’s not because the G Watch is the first smartwatch we’ve seen, but because it’s the first publicly available device to run Android Wear, Google’s dedicated smartwatch operating system. And what makes Wear so important is that it’s an open platform: unlike Samsung’s Tizen-based Gear 2, Gear Neo and Gear Fit, which work only with other Samsung smartphones, Android Wear watches will work with any smartphone that has Android 4.3 or above installed.
LG G Watch review: the hardware
With such a build-up, it’s disappointing that the watch itself isn’t more attractive. It’s a blocky, plain slab of plastic, regardless of whether you choose the black or white colour scheme. No buttons or ports punctuate the edges, and only a series of contacts on the base for charging and a small hole on the bottom edge for the microphone distract from the 1.65in touchscreen on the front.
That screen has a resolution of 280 x 280 and uses IPS technology; Samsung’s Gear devices, including the upcoming Android Wear-based Gear Live have slightly higher-resolution, 320 x 320 screens, and use AMOLED technology. The screen on the G Watch isn’t as luridly colourful as a result, but it’s sharp enough not to look pixellated, and it brightens enough to be readable in bright sunshine.
Our main complaint is that, with the watch face on permanently telling the time, the battery lasts only a day and a half. There is the option to have the display time out, which extends battery life by a day or so, but you then have to tap the face to wake the screen up. The G Watch is also supposed to wake up with a flick of the wrist, but it takes such a violent gesture to achieve this that you have to be careful not to punch the person next to you by accident – it routinely took several attempts to make this work.
Charging is achieved by dropping the G Watch onto a magnetised base that has a micro-USB port on it. The watch clips in solidly, but we’d rather have a simple micro-USB port on the watch itself; we can see the base getting lost all too easily.
On the more practical side, the watch is IP67-rated, so there’s no need to worry about getting caught out in a rain shower; it will shrug off the most biblical of soakings. And its core hardware is perfectly powerful: a dual-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 is all the watch needs to keep things running smoothly, and there’s 4GB of storage.
LG G Watch and Android Wear review: how it works
Getting the G Watch up and running is simplicity itself. Install the Android Wear app on your smartphone (fittingly, we used the LG G3 for our testing), run through the pairing routine on the G Watch, and the two will be linked together via Bluetooth. From this point on, the watch will buzz whenever notifications arrive on your phone. These appear on the watch in the form of Google Now-style cards: emails, text messages, calendar events, stock quotes, weather updates and sports scores, among others.
In fact, any app that can send a notification can send one to the G Watch, and those you don’t want to appear can be muted in the Android Wear phone app. You can scroll through open notifications by swiping up and down, dismiss them by swiping a finger across the watch face to the right, open them with a tap, and access further options by swiping a finger left.
The rest of the UI is pretty basic: a pull down from the top mutes the vibration and shows you the date and battery capacity. This is annoying, since you don’t always want to mute the watch when you want to see how much battery capacity is remaining. A long press lets you switch watch faces, and a single tap of the homescreen or speaking the key phrase “OK Google” brings up the Google Now voice mode.
This is where the G Watch really comes into its own, allowing you to send short text messages and emails, set reminders and alarms, kick off timers, start the stopwatch, launch apps on your smartphone and carry out a web search, simply by talking into your wrist. We found the voice recognition to be effective and accurate, but since it relies on an internet connection to work, there’s always a little lag between issuing the instruction and the action being carried out.
One of the most exciting applications for the G Watch is as an extension to Google Maps for getting directions to somewhere nearby. You can set your destination quickly via the “navigate to” key phrase, and once again Google’s voice recognition picks up most destinations and addresses seamlessly. Disappointingly, though, the watch doesn’t display a moving map that you can zoom into and pan around. Instead, next turn icons pop up on screen whenever you need to take a turn; we didn’t find this approach worked well at all.
It’s also worth pointing out that you can’t answer and carry out a phone conversation on your wrist as you can with the Samsung Gear 2 and Neo. Incoming phone calls can be rejected and picked up, and phone calls placed, but you then have to either pick up your phone or be wearing a Bluetooth headset to complete the circle.
LG G Watch and Android Wear review: apps
Part of the appeal of a smartwatch is the ability to extend its capabilities by installing apps. A small selection come preinstalled on the G Watch, including the Fit app, which allows you to see how many steps you’ve taken today and view a history of activity over the past week. Mostly, though, it’s left to you to decide what apps you want to run.
Right now, there isn’t a massive selection to play with, but we did find more than we’d expected to. A quick search on Google Play revealed a host of alternative watch face designs, a calculator, camera remote, flashlight, calendar, speedometer and a handful of very basic games, including the inevitable Flappy Bird clone. The most useful we found was the Find My Phone app – which sounds an alarm on a lost phone (as long as it’s within range), or alerts you with a haptic buzz and onscreen notification if you walk off without picking up your phone.
Accessing these apps, however, is one area of Android Wear that needs serious work. The default behaviour is to tap the screen once, scroll down a list of voice-instruction suggestions and then tap Start to bring up the list of Apps. We’d suggest you make the first app you install the Mini Launcher, which places shortcuts to your apps in a translucent drawer accessible with a swipe right from the top-left corner of the watch’s homescreen – it makes using Android Wear a far more pleasant, natural experience.
LG G Watch and Android Wear review: verdict
Other than that annoying niggle, it’s a promising start for Google’s fledgling wearables OS. It’s heartening to see that there’s already a decent selection of apps, some of which provide a tempting glimpse of what’s to come, and as Wear devices gain in number and popularity, we can really see the Wear platform taking off. Given the promise here, it won’t be long before more and more app developers jump on board.
We’re considerably less impressed with LG’s hardware: the design is bland, battery life is less than impressive, and it’s lacking in features. Currently, the only things going for it are the price, which is £10 lower than the upcoming Samsung Gear Live, and the fact that it’s available right now; with several much more promising Android Wear devices on their way, we’d suggest that you hold fire.