We review the LG G Watch, the first smartwatch to hit the UK rocking Google’s new Android Wear OS.
Although Sony, Samsung and a host of other manufacturers have been churning out their own smartwatches for months now, it’s the arrival of Google’s Android Wear that’s set to really change the game.
LG’s G Watch is the first smartwatch to sport Google’s new mini-OS, and it’s one of the best I’ve slapped on my wrist to date, boasting an intuitive interface and strong smartphone compatibility. Sadly it isn’t quite perfect, and we’re still waiting for a comprehensive selection of compatible apps…
LG G Watch design: Deja vu
The G Watch doesn’t look too dissimilar to the Sony Smartwatch 2 – in other words, it’s a square-ish slab of black plastic, attached to a wrist strap. At 62.5g and 10mm thick, it’s a very light and slender wrist accessory. I certainly didn’t feel any discomfort while wearing it, although I do wish the G Watch had a more premium look and feel, like the latest Pebble.
One of the first things you’ll probably notice is the complete lack of buttons. To wake the G Watch you simply tap the screen, and every action is performed with swipes and other gestures. More on this later.
Okay, hands up, the lack of buttons thing isn’t strictly true. There is a single button hidden away on the back of the watch, one of those fiddly ones you have to push in with a pin. And the reason it’s so fiddly is that you should rarely have to use it. Pushing it in brings up a settings menu, which allows you to disable the always-on screen, adjust the brightness, restart the watch and reset it completely. I only used it once, to reset the watch, and that was it.
But what about charging? Well, there’s no microUSB port on the G Watch, but there’s no wireless charging either. Instead, you need to clip the watch onto a bundled mini-dock, which then connects via microUSB to the mains to charge. It’s the same thing we saw on the Samsung Gear 2 family, and I can’t bloody stand it, as it means you need to remember to drag that dock around to charge the device. Still, if it helps to keep the watch slim and light…
As for the strap, my G Watch came with a bog-standard black rubbery affair, but you can swap it out by awkwardly fiddling with the spring bars. It’s a standard 22mm effort, so feel free to shove on a more plush metallic band instead – although I’m guessing that’ll clash with the plasticky face.
LG G Watch interface and ease of use: Android Wear
Setting up the G Watch is as simple as downloading the Android Wear app onto your mobile (any Android phone running 4.3 Jelly Bean or higher is supported), then pairing the two devices through the app via Bluetooth. As soon as that’s done, you’re given a brief tutorial on how to use Android Wear. But to be honest, I just skipped it and started swishing my way through the menus – after all, this smartwatch OS is supposed to be awesomely intuitive.
The G Watch is always on, meaning the time is always visible on the screen. That’s a huge relief compared with some previous smartwatches such as the Samsung Gear 2, where the only way to check the time was perform some wanky overly-dramatic raise of the arm to turn on the screen. Not only did that barely ever work when you wanted, I was always accidentally turning on my watch by reaching for my mug of coffee.
Well, forget all that. The G Watch’s low-power hibernation screen shows you the time constantly, and also displays the last important notification, be it text message, appointment reminder, or whatever.
Tap the screen and you’re taken into the main menu, which is basically a series of Google Now-style cards. You flick up and down to cycle through the cards, with each one representing a notification – waiting emails, unread text messages, sports updates, weather reports, birthday reminders, and whatever else you manually select through the Android Wear app.
Long-press on the screen and you can change the clock face, to all manner of funky alternatives – including a photo slideshow.
You can do quite a lot on the watch itself, although not quite as much as the Samsung Gear watches. Emails and texts can be read in full, archived, and even replied to using voice recognition (you can’t type on the 1.65-inch display, for obvious reasons). And it worked a charm for me, even with my Northern accent handicap.
You can also speak out Google Now commands, which proves really useful for sending quick texts to people when you’re rushing about. However, while you can answer or reject calls on the G Watch, you can’t talk/listen through it – not a major loss to be fair. LG hasn’t bothered to add a pointless low-res camera either.
One issue worth mentioning is that I tried disconnecting and reconnecting my G Watch in the Android Wear app, and the two devices failed to sync up again despite multiple attempts. I had to reboot my phone before they successfully synced again.
LG G Watch features: Well fit
You can expand the G Watch’s features by downloading new apps, and it’s easy to find compatible ones – just go into the Android Wear app and tap the link at the bottom. So far it’s slim pickings, with just over 30 available to download. Still, we’re expecting this to expand massively now that Android Wear watches are hitting stores.
And at the moment there are still quite a few handy compatible apps, such as Maps (you can get turn-by-turn directions on your watch), Runtastic (the usual fitness tracking), Hue Control (for fiddling with your Phillips Hue lights), Onefootball Brasil (all the big World Cup news, straight to your wrist – Brazil fans might wish to opt out) and Glympse.
LG G Watch screen: Tiny hero
The G Watch’s 1.65-inch IP display does the job admirably, proving just big enough to comfortably read messages and other notifications. It’s bright enough to use outdoors, and while colours don’t exactly pop off the screen, the OS backdrops are quite attractive.
Viewing angles are decent too, so you don’t need to worry about twisting your arm so the watch is facing you head-on. You can comfortably glance at the screen while typing if a message pops up.
LG G Watch performance and battery life: Dead by dawn
Inside the dinky body, LG’s packed a 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor – something commonly found on budget smartphones – plus a 400mAh battery.
There are certainly no issues with performance, although the G Watch’s battery doesn’t last as long as we’d hoped. We’ve only spent a little time with the watch so far, but even with minimal use – the occasional check of waiting messages – we found that the G Watch needed charging every day. And that’s simply on screen brightness level 2 of 6, so the battery didn’t melt down every time we used the watch.
As there’s no easy way of turning the watch off, you can’t simply knock it off at night to save charge. The best you can do is turn off the always-on hibernation screen, which tells you the time when the watch is in stand-by, but that would just make the G Watch more irritating to use as a full-time watch.
LG G Watch verdict
The fact that you can connect the LG G Watch to any modern Android smartphone, combined with that slick and intuitive Android Wear OS, makes it one of the best smartwatches to date. Once the app collection grows, Android Wear will be a brilliant smartwatch OS and the LG G Watch will be an excellent device to showcase it – although the less-than-stellar battery life and irritating charging dock are a bit of a shame.