LG G Watch Review: This Early Android Wear Watch Could Use A Bit More Time To Bake

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LG G Watch Review: This Early Android Wear Watch Could Use A Bit More Time To Bake

LG is one of the first to market with an Android Wear smartwatch. Their hardware runs on Google’s smartwatch platform, which is pretty locked down in terms of what kind of customizations Google allows OEM to make. But there’s still plenty of room to shine – and fall short – when it comes to hardware design. LG’s watch seems to have missed the mark in some key areas, possibly by virtue of being rushed, but in others it leaps ahead of the competition.

Video Review

Basics

  • 1.65-inch IPS 280×280 display
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.2GHz processor
  • 512 MB RAM, 4GB storage
  • Available in Black and Gold
  • MSRP: $229
  • Product info page

Pros

  • Longer battery life
  • Easier to personalize

Cons

  • Screen has banding issues
  • Harder to read in direct sun

Design

LG’s G Watch is my favorite Android Wear device in terms of design thus far. Of course, there are only two commercially available, so that’s not necessarily saying much, but LG really has done a good job here. The basic rectangle offers little in the way of flair, but it’s the perfect vehicle for an operating system that is likewise designed around offering up the bare essentials, instead of reaching for unnecessary extras.

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The screen is the star in the design, which means that Android Wear is front and center. That’s exactly the scaffolding that Google’s new smartwatch OS needs to show off its potential benefit to consumers – the entire concept of the OS is to provide users with something that feels organic, and that recedes out of mind when not needed or in use. The G Watch translates that experience into hardware, especially with the black version I tested. It takes things almost too far by leaving off a physical button, however – I had to read the paper instruction manual to figure out how to power it on (plug it into its charging cradle).

The industrial design is spare but not devoid of care or attention. It’s comfortable, and constructed out of a durable stainless steel body that’s light on the wrist. And the 22 mm rubber strap it ships with is comfortable and easy to fasten and size, but easily swappable with a standard strap of your choosing, allowing owners to put their own stamp on the overall look and feel of the device.

Software

Android Wear is Android Wear, regardless of where it appears, and in testing the G Watch side-by-side with the Samsung Gear Live over the past week, it’s clear that Google has provided little to no wiggle room for OEMs using the platform. As such, what I have to say about the software experience on the G Watch mostly applies to the Gear Live and vice versa, and likely to any and all Android Wear watches to come for the foreseeable future.

With that caveat out of the way, Android Wear is actually mostly a joy to use, and the closest anyone’s come yet to getting the smartwatch experience right. Google has focused on the essentials, delivering all notifications from your Android smartphone or tablet through the watch without any change required on behalf of developers. You can also launch any app from which you receive notifications right from the watch. With some added work, you can reply to messages from various apps, launch on-watch navigation from nav apps and do much more, as Google has demonstrated with its own software first.

For the bulk of my time with Android Wear, that’s about all I could do, and that was surprisingly enough. It allowed me to keep abreast of what was going on in my digital world without dipping in to the point of distraction, and made the act of browsing and keeping current with notifications much easier and less intrusive.

Over the past day or so, third-party apps like Duolingo, Glympse and Allthecooks have introduced Android Wear support, and these add a lot of value when used correctly. Duolingo’s flashcards are arguably only a bit more convenient than using your phone, but Allthecooks’ recipe directions, which proceed step-by-step on the wrist, feel like a natural implementation for use in the kitchen.

Finally, LG has done the best work in terms of creating original watchfaces for Android Wear, which is significant as that’s what you’ll be looking at on your wrist most of the time.

Display

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The LG G Watch uses an IPS display for its screen, which LG says was a choice made to help with battery life. And the display works well and looks good, especially indoors and out of direct light, but unfortunately after many days of use I noticed a banding issue on the screen which is especially evident in dark settings when the device is in its dimmed, passive mode. Two large rectangles are clearly visible as ghosted impressions along the top.

The display is also less brilliant than that of the Samsung Gear Live, which might be a good thing to some, since it’s probably actually truer to real life colors than is Samsung’s device. LG’s is, in my opinion, the weaker of the two overall when it comes to the screen, however, partly due to the banding issues, partly due to it being slightly harder to read in direct sunlight, and in my opinion Samsung’s exaggerated colors work better to make pictures and graphics pop on the smaller screen.

Battery

LG’s watch is the Android Wear device to get if battery is your main concern. The Gear Live lasts around a day under normal usage circumstances, while the LG can often manage to extend most of the way through a second. Both devices are best served by being put in their charging docks overnight, however, so this isn’t as much of a concern if you’re making a decision between the two.

The charger for the G Watch uses a magnetic connection to keep it in place, and has a replaceable sticky pad on the bottom to allow you to stick it anywhere. Of the two Android Wear watches, this charger is the better design in terms of easy use.

Bottom Line

As a first crack, the LG G Watch brings a lot to the table for Android Wear, including staid design that lets the platform shine. Overall, though, it also suffers from a number of issues likely related to it being first out the gate (Samsung has the advantage of having built multiple devices using almost exactly the same hardware before the Gear Live). The LG G Watch will serve Android Wear fans well enough, but prospective buyers should think long and hard about whether the design choices LG has made warrant paying $30 over what the competition charges and potentially running into the issues described above.