I was given the opportunity to review the new LG G Watch from MobileFun a few days before it officially released in the UK. After a few days with the device, I have had time to take in what Android Wear is all about and the general direction I can personally see this new platform heading in the near future as well as how LG sees the Android Wear platform in it's infancy. Does this new smartwatch live up to expectations?
|Item||LG G Watch|
|Operating system||Android Wear|
280x280 IPS LCD
|Dimensions||37.9 x 46.5 x 9.95 mm|
|Wireless||Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy (LE)|
|Memory||4GB internal storage
|Ports and connectors||USB (pogo pin) on G Watch
microUSB on charging cradle
- Water-resistant up to 1m for up to 30 min
Android Wear is Google's new portable operating system designed to bring a new lease of life to wearable devices. The new OS offers a direct connection between phone and wearable by allowing app developers to utilize the new system, so that features can be sent directly to those devices for user interaction; eliminating the need to pull out the phone.
So how does this differ to smartwatches not running Android Wear? Wear allows existing apps to directly send notifications and other information to the wearable device. Those of you who often walk, ride or use public transport especially in busy cities will know that taking out your phone isn't always convenient when you just want to see what that notification buzz was in your pocket.
This is where Android Wear comes into it's own because those notifications are mirrored on to the wearable and when you swipe them away from the watch they are also removed from your phone's notification tray, spelling an end to cluttered notification bars by the time you reach your destination.
That is not all though! You can initiate voice commands from apps like Google Now/Search, start Wear aware applications installed on your phone and respond to messages using your voice. For the most part, it works really well since it uses your Android phone's Google Voice recognition to do most the work, the Wear part just acts like a middle-man in this instance.
By default, Wear comes out of the box with a few apps like a step counter, compass, stopwatch, alarm, Google Keep integration and a world clock. Everything else will be received as a notification or action based on what is going on from a connected Android smartphone. How usable these are depend on how much an app developer makes use of the features available to him or her. Other apps on your phone that tie into the system to send intents and metadata, such as media players, appeared to work well without being Wear enabled. In the above photo, you can see my music is displayed on the G Watch (I use PowerAmp) in the car, so I can now control music in the car without having to reach down to the phone which is at the same time paired to my car stereo over bluetooth.
For the UI, Android Wear employs a simple to understand system. Swipe left to remove an active notification or intent/page, swipe right to view more of it, where applicable. Swiping up and down cycles through active applications, notifications and acts much in the same was you can swipe up and down the Android recent tasks screen on a smartphone.
I won't go over the included power charger or USB cable, as these are items we've all seen many times with portable devices. The G Watch also ships with the magnetic base station, pictured above. This station has a MicroUSB port so any of your other cables will work with it, and you simply place the G Watch on it and let it charge. There is no synchronisation feature when connected to a computer, it only allows charging.
One unique feature of the base station is that it has a sticky back surface that sticks on to almost any flat surface; attaching it to the wall by your bed or on an angled surface is a breeze. The base itself has a magnet inside which holds the G Watch in place, allowing for some creative mounting opportunities.
The strap on the LG G Watch is rubber, and I felt the quality was very high; it has that butttery finish to it that's so soft like silicone. It has plenty of adjustment holes and the buckle hardware is of a high quality finish and solid in feel. Wearing this strap for long periods is very comfortable. The watch itself is made of a mixture of plastic and metal. The middle section running around the G Watch is metal and the case back is polycarbonate plastic. Holding it to the metal chasis are 4 screws. The top is glass with a glossy bezel that looks like metal but feels more like the material used on Samsung galaxy phones.
The LG G Watch is rectangular in shape and only curved at the corners. In practice, this is fine for those with larger wrists, but I have slim wrists and found that because of the flat shape at the bottom, that the watch made surface contact with my wrist mostly on the central area of the case back, as pictured above. This did get uncomfortable a few times but with repeated wear, I did get somewhat used to it. If the lugs extended and curved downward to hug the wrist, then that would have been a big ergonomics plus.
There are no buttons on the watch itself, only a single port hole for the microphone, and on the back the cradle contacts.
To wake up the smartwatch, you either tap the screen once, or raise your wrist up as if to look at the watch and the screen wakes up. If there are new notifications to tend to, then they will activate and come into the foreground at that moment.
There is no obvious way to turn the G Watch on once it's powered down or even out of the box, you may wonder how to turn the thing on. The easiest way, is to just place it on the base station whether it's connected to a power charger or not. The not so easy way is to poke the tiny silver dot with a pin by the connection points on the back of the watch. On the opposite end, to turn it off, you must go through the Google Search menu under Settings then scroll down to Power Off. I feel a simple two finger or long press action to choose to restart/power off would have been a more efficient choice. I guess LG's ambition here is that this wearable is always on; the only quick toggle available that I could discover was mute, a long swipe down on the screen and you will initiate smartwatch silence.
The G Watch is IP67 certified meaning it is protected against dust and will withstand submersion in water up to 1 meter in depth. I didn't test to that depth but in an every day situations, rain or spilling coffee will likely be the most common scenario for getting a device wet.
I was able to see notifications as they came on to my phone, as well as receive calls and other actions.
Google Maps Navigation works out of the box, as Maps for Android was updated just over a week ago with Android Wear support. I found this to work really well. Each turn direction was displayed on time and with a quick swipe right. you can see the ETA to destination and other minor information.
Once you have reached your destination, or you no longer need navigation, there's no need to pull out your phone to exit the app and save battery; simply swipe left on the smartwatch screen until you get to the Exit Navigation button. This will then close the app on your phone and remove the Wear part of Maps from the watch.
Battery life will be a big question for these types of devices. Even the biggest battery capacity on a smartphone can't get a full day of heavy use, so how does a smartwatch that's constantly paired via bluetooth stack up when it has a battery that's only 400mAh? In testing, I found that on average after a full work day, I came home with 51% battery remaining on the LG G Watch. This was after 15 hours of it being paired up and regularly used.
So let's round this off at a full day with one charge. Is that considered good from this kind of device? I've done some research by reading comments on various forums, and the result is a mixture of opinion. Many don't mind because they charge their phones every night anyway so charging a watch is not a big deal. Other people, on the other hand, want 2-3 days at the minimum from a single charge because not everybody wants to take the base station around with them when traveling; I can fully appreciate that as I hate having to carry extra items on my person when I know I'm going to be away for 2-3 days. The G Watch does not have a MicroUSB port on the watch itself so the base station is the only way to charge it.
Aside from battery life, I found the G Watch performed very smoothly in use. Menu transitions were slick and fast with no signs of stuttering and there was no waiting around for apps to load. The screen was perfectly legible, but in direct sunlight, you do have to turn the brightness up to get the most out of it. There is no light sensor, so brightness adjustment must be done manually and just like turning the watch off, must be done via the Google Search Settings screen.
A viable replacement for traditional watches?
I've seen this question asked a few times, and the answer to that is: it really depends on personal preference. I saw no benefit in owning a smartwatch, because I'm usually looking at my phone every other moment anyway, so my initial impression was "why would I want to look at a trimmed view of what's going on with my phone in a pocket when I could simply pull it out and have a proper look?" It was only once I started using the G Watch daily that I realized how convenient it is to get bite sized info at any time without having to pull out my phone, whether it was in a meeting, at lunch or on a packed ferry commute to work.
Personally, I've grown quite fond of this new found freedom to access necessary information easily without the inconvenience involved with pulling out a phone (or in my case, a phablet). I'll always have a mechanical watch on my wrist of course but once Android Wear matures and smartwatches running this OS get more ergonomic thinner and more feature packed, I'll certainly look at the options available.
The LG G Watch is one of the first smartwatches to hit the market, and be available for $229/£159 at the time of writing; through retailers like MobileFun and directly via Google Play Store. It's an affordable piece of modern technology designed to make life easier and information more accessible wherever and whenever. It's certainly a step in the right direction and I can see Wear enabled devices playing a big role in the near future from being able to control appliances around the home to managing daily activities through voice commands and simple gesture actions.
In reference to the battery life I achieved, as we have seen with what Android L brings to Android with increased battery life, perhaps we could see something similar in time with future Android Wear updates. As of now, the review unit I have has received 1 system update. There was no changelog for this and it happened automatically with only a user prompt required to accept or deny the install.
I believe Android Wear could be a big hit in the near future especially once it has had time to mature and app developers start putting in cool features into the Wear sections of their apps. From my own usage point of view, I can see myself wanting to wear a smartwatch running Wear daily, even if it's for the commute to and from work, simply because I can keep my phone in the bag or pocket
If this is an indicator to our mobile future, then in more ways than one, I'm all for it.
I'd like to thank MobileFun for sending me the LG G Watch for review, it has been a pleasure to get to know this new system and get a feel for the potential on offer and it's certainly changed my perspective on smartwatches.