The LG G Watch is a decent first stab at an Android Wear device. The software is mostly capable, but this is still a “version one” product for the hardcore fans only.
Wearable technology has been around as a concept for several years now, so it’s somewhat interesting to hit a product that pretty much screams out “Version One” to you.
The LG G Watch is exactly that kind of product. It’s the first Android Wear smartwatch available in Australia, technically just beating the Samsung Gear Live by a short margin.
Android Wear, as the name implies, ties heavily into the Android ecosystem, but unlike, for example, Samsung’s previous “Gear” smartwatches, these aren’t limited by your choice of Android smartphone device. That’s because it’s a Google initiative, rather than an LG one. Indeed, there’s absolutely nothing at an LG software level on the LG G Watch. They’re effectively an OEM on this particular watch.
Android Wear hooks into just about any Android device and uses Google Now to deliver alerts to your Android Wear watch, whether it’s incoming email, texts, tweets or public transport information. The LG G Watch is an entirely button free affair that relies simply on taps, swipes and speed for its operation.
One nice factor here is that the LG G Watch uses a standard 22mm watch band and clamps, so you’re not stuck with the default black or white straps that you can order the LG G Watch with.
That just leaves the basic rectangular watch face, which includes a 1.65″ IPS LCD display measuring in at 37.9 x 46.5 x 9.95mm. It’s not chunky for a smartwatch, but it’s a larger style watch of the style more usually associated with being a “masculine” watch. I’m not defending that stereotype, by the way, but there’s a trend for ladies’ watches to be smaller. This isn’t a smaller watch by any stretch of the imagination.
There’s only 4GB of storage on board, but that’s pretty much an irrelevancy at this stage, because the LG G Watch is more or less just a landing platform for content that’s actually on your smartphone. Once you’ve paired it up with an Android device, notifications are sent to it from your associated accounts as well as Google Now.
Google Now is an essential part of the experience, which may slightly freak out privacy advocates. I don’t don the tinfoil hat that much, but it’s fascinating to see what information Google’s able to ascertain about you based on your search history. It’s also intermittently amusing, because Google Now very clearly has no idea where I work, and continually tries to guess with “helpful” alerts telling me what time I have to leave home in order to get to “work”. At this stage, I’m highly tempted to leave it confused purely for the comedy potential.
I’m a big fan of wearable technology, but at the asking price of $249, the LG G Watch has to actually solve a problem worth solving to justify its asking price. Here it falters in a couple of key areas.
Clearly, any kind of information-centric watch is only going to work for you if you want or need that kind of information on tap, so that’s not the issue. The issues are elsewhere.
Firstly, while it uses taps and swipes to dismiss Google Now cards, it also integrates Google’s Voice search to enable hands-free actions. This should be a boon in, for example a car, where it would (according to what I can ascertain legally: I am not a lawyer, etc) be legal to get the LG G Watch to send a text via voice.
Except that it rarely works. Even in quieter environments the LG G Watch intermittently struggles to pick up much beyond me saying “OK Google” to start voice commands. If there’s any kind of background noise, forget it.
Then there’s the value issue. If you just need notifications, the ordinary Pebble runs nearly $100 cheaper. If you spend $1 more, Samsung’s equivalent Gear Live scores you an Android Wear device with included heart rate monitor. I’m still waiting to test out the Gear Live — it could be either great or terrible, to be fair to the LG G Watch — but it still puts the LG G Watch in difficult pricing territory.
Still, the larger problem with the LG G Watch is one that’s dogged most smart watches, and that’s battery life. LG’s charging solution, which involves a charging cradle that you sit the LG G Watch into works quite well, but the included 400mAh battery is, at best, good for a day and a half’s usage. Given it uses a proprietary dock, that may as well be a single day because the likely scenario is that you’ll charge it overnight. Forget to do so, and your watch will go flat halfway through the day.
A single day’s charge isn’t enough (and, again, to be fair, the Samsung Gear Live appears to have a 300mAh battery, so it could be even worse) for a smartwatch. They’re devices designed to make your life easier, but they’re not going to do that if they’re sqwawking about battery life all the time.
Version one products are like that, however. If you look back at, say, the first iPhone, it appears astonishingly primitive, even though at the time it was a shot across the bows of industry giants such as Nokia and Blackberry. There’s an immense amount of scope for Android Wear and associated wearable technology products to transform our lives.
If LG can crack the battery life issue while Google continues to refine the underlying operating system, it could be something very compelling indeed. Right now, though, you’d have to be a particularly keen Android fan to buy one. At the moment, if you’re keen on a smartwatch, even though they’re only greyscale screen devices, I’d still suggest the Pebble as the brand to buy, simply because the battery life there can extend for up to a week.