(Pocket-lint) - The LG G Watch is one of the first Android Wear devices, and the most affordable at the time of writing, making it the first step in a the brave new world of Google's Android platform.
Following in the footsteps of the Sony Smartwatch, various Samsung Gear and Pebble devices, LG relies on Android Wear to bring a new generation of wearable to your wrist; extending your smartphone's reach beyond your pocket and keeping you in touch without the need to constantly check your handset.
But is there anything that really shines about the LG G Watch with Android Wear or does the Google system fall into as many pitfalls as some of its competitors? Is this - finally - the smartwatch experience we've all been waiting for?
Priced at £159 it's the asking price that puts the LG G Watch within reach of many. For those fans of technology, and fans of Android, this is a great entry point to a new world of Android Wear smartwatches.
But is this the smartwatch experience we've been waiting for? Not quite. It feels like the first step, and as much as we love the simple interaction with Android Wear, it's too dependant on voice for our needs. We're still waiting for something to really leap out to define it as that much better than the competition because, as it is right now, it feels as though we've already been here before with other platforms.
The G Watch has some hardware issues too. The screen's visibility in daylight is poor and, unlike Pebble, the battery life is irksome. Those are two challenges that need to be overcome before these types of smartwatches will really have wider appeal.
So it comes down to this: buy the LG G Watch if you can't wait to get involved in Android Wear and trust better things to come over the next 12 months (because they will). Or hold onto your cash until a more inspirational Android Wear device arrives with all the battery and screen nuts and bolts that truly set it apart from the competition.
LG G Watch
There's nothing offensive about the LG G Watch design, but one glance raises a question in our mind: where's the LG input? The G Watch has been spared the company’s branding. There's none on the face, the sides or the outside of the strap. In fact, on the black finish model that we had, there's nothing at all: no patterning, no detailing, just smooth rubber and plastic
That gives the G Watch something of a white label feel. Perhaps we're wrong - maybe this is about keeping the design simple, so that it acts solely as a showcase for Android Wear, but to us it feels more like commissioned hardware.
That said, the LG G Watch has a decent weight to it and is comfortable to wear. There are soft curves on the back edges, so it doesn't dig in and it all feels solid. The G Watch weighs 63g and measures 37.9 x 46.5 x 9.95mm all in all.
The rubber strap feels nice enough, although on warm days it gets a little sweaty underneath, so we suspect the first question for many will be about swapping it for something more personal. As the G Watch uses conventional 22mm spring pins that shouldn't pose too much of a problem, if you can find something that will clear the bodywork.
The G Watch is also IP67 certified, meaning you don't have to worry about getting it wet. As a result, there are no exposed ports - so you'll find pogo pins on the rear for charging. LG has opted for a magnetic charging plate that the watch sits on, keeping that clean aesthetic in check whether on the wrist or off.
It's simple enough to use and the charger connects to microUSB, however, it really does need a flat surface to sit on, as it doesn't clip to the watch in any way like the Samsung Gear 2 charger. If you're thinking of charging the watch hanging out of the USB port of your laptop on the train, then you need to think again.
Overall the design is rather safe. If being unkind, you could say that there's nothing really distinctive about it: it's a generic-looking smartwatch. But at the same time it's not ugly and is comfortable to wear.
On the front is the 1.65-inch IPS LCD display. It has a 280 x 280 pixel resolution, toting up a 240ppi density - so there's enough detail to do the job, although we can see how a higher resolution would have given it a little more pop.
The face size is well considered, though, as a larger display would inevitably lead to a larger device overall and that's not desirable in a watch.
Viewing angles are great, but the problem it faces is the glossy finish counteracting that. It's long been a problem for smartphones, but on this new run of devices it looks like we have to tackle the same problem of daylight visibility once again. When the sun comes out, it's nigh-on impossible to make out what's on the display.
This is the area that feels like something could be done, because visibility is vital on a wearable device. That would surely have some cost implications - as would increasing the resolution - so we'd expect a lot of work on visibility to take place on future devices.
Hardware and performance
Under the skin the G Watch opts for a 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor, 512MB of RAM and there’s 4GB of internal storage.
With little context, those numbers don't really mean much. The processor, however, is the sort of thing you would find in a budget smartphone and, technically, the G Watch doesn't have to do nearly as much.
We found the touch response to be nice and slick. You can smoothly flick through the different elements of Android Wear and navigate around the watch with no sign of lag. But this is a smartwatch interface and it has been designed to be simple, so that's what we'd expect.
The internal storage isn't something that you have access too. Perhaps that will change in the future, with options to move content to your watch for offline use, but primarily that storage is there to look after the watch platform, additions that any apps need, and store the data the watch gathers.
Some of that data will come from the 9-axis sensor that gives you gyro, accelerometer and compass functions - in other words this acts as a step counter. This is one of the (currently) standalone functions of the Android Wear, as it saves this data in the Fit app and this is restricted to the watch only - there's no crossover into wider access on your Android device. At least not yet.
The accelerometer is also responsible for waking the display when you move the watch to look at it. The LG G Watch display has an "always on" state, meaning you can read the details all the time, although it does dim to save battery.
Physically moving the watch will restore brightness to the face, so the flick of a wrist will make it easier to read - although it's a little slow to react sometimes. That's a double-edged sword: as we found with the Samsung Gear 2, if it's too quick to react, so it flashes the screen on all the time like a wrist beacon. But if it's too slow, it seems like it's not ready when you want it. Right now the G Watch feels like it needs to speed up a bit and develop a more accurate response.
For power there’s a 400mAh battery, which battery doesn't last a long time. You'll get about two days of light use from it and at the weekend we've made it from fully charged on Saturday morning through to flat on Sunday night. On busier days, such as in the working week, it drains faster - but obviously it depends on what you do with it and the more screen time, the quicker it drains.
The smartwatch endurance award still goes to Pebble in this regard, which will give you double the useful life of the G Watch, although there are compromises in other areas to ensure that happens.
READ: Pebble Steel review
Connecting to your Android device
The connection with your Android smartphone is via Bluetooth and it will support any device running Android 4.3 or above. That means that the LG G Watch will work with a huge number of devices in exactly the same way. Unlike Samsung’s initial bid with its Gear devices, it’s not locked to LG by any means, although we have been using it with the LG G3 in this instance.
READ: LG G3 review
You'll have to download the Android Wear app from Google Play, which then works as the interface between to two in a similar way to Samsung’s Gear Manager or the Pebble app for those respective devices.
It's through the Android Wear app that you'll be able to manage your connection, as well as define what apps react to which voice commands. At the time of writing you don't really have a choice in this regard, although we can see the potential to have other apps slip in alongside to offer alternative default actions.
The Android Wear app also lets you manage which app notifications will be displayed. For example, you can block eBay, so that auction for Nana the Monkey won't flash up while you're at the boardroom table.
Living with Android Wear
With the hardware falling into the background, the G Watch is all about Android Wear. Again, there's no branding for LG, there's no LG apps or services, it's just straight-down-the-line Google.
Android Wear doesn't fill your watch with apps from the off, instead it acts as a companion, giving you basic functions such as the time, stopwatch, alarms and the step counter. It pulls across notifications from your Android device and this is elevated beyond just the core apps - it will include third-party applications too - but the level of interaction available varies.
For example, paired with the LG G3, an incoming text message on the G Watch will alert you to the message when using LG's app. You can only see the sender: you can't read the message or reply to it, only open it on your phone. Switch to Hangouts - Google's own app capable of SMS messaging - and you'll get options for a lot more, like replies and viewing message history, which is a lot more useful. If, that is, you use Hangouts - and not everyone does.
Having a stream of notifications on your wrist means you're always in the picture: when something happens, you know about it thanks to a soft vibration alert. In many ways it reminds us of the Pebble experience, although Android Wear has a slight advantage in offering a colour display and touch interface, despite things sometimes feeling a bit random. You can't just dive in and view your emails willy-nilly, you're more dependent on there being a notification on your phone. There's parity with Google Now in that sense, as we find that service can also be a little random at times.
Once you leave the house there are regular reminders about how to get home. You can, of course, save yourself from these by changing the settings in Google Now, but when those notifications are delivered to your wrist they feel a little more intrusive than when restricted to, and ignored, on your phone.
You're also sometimes served up cards for weather, for example, but at other times not. It sort of raises that question: why? Why this information now, apparently randomly?
However, there are good control elements. For example you can play music on your phone and you'll get controls on your watch. That might be through Play Music, Spotify or Amazon MP3 (the apps we tested) and all are controllable via the G Watch during playback.
Then you have the extension of apps onto the G Watch. Apps like Keep, Google's note taking app, work really well, as you can browse your shopping list and check items off. It’s the end of pen and paper as we know it.
You also get navigation extended to the watch. This is really handy, because you can glance to get walking directions, rather than having to hoist your phone out of your pocket. Even better, if you're wearing headphones, you'll still be able to hear the directions, which is great for walking to meetings in a strange part of town. The display is a little small, though, and although we found it ok for walking, there's not really enough information for other situations. When driving there's little wider context to the directions so it's easy to take a wrong turn - not that we would advise looking at a non-fixed screen in the car.
Talking to the watch
There's a mic on the G Watch, but no speaker. That might kill Dick Tracy fantasies dead, as you can't take calls on your watch, but we don't really mind: that isn't really practical, or something we want to do, as we found with the Samsung Gear 2 Neo.
We're also not entirely sold on the level of voice command that Android Wear needs to make it really useful, because it’s built around Google Now. Although you can manually get to some elements, there are lots of things you can't do without talking. Voice recognition, and the understanding, is refined - but you probably already know that from using the "Ok Google" command on your smartphone.
A good thing is the LG G Watch has no problem hearing what you're saying, as long as there isn't too much background noise. We found that useful in the car, as you can just shout at the watch and get things happening, like triggering navigation, sending messages and so on - and when getting the G Watch to adjust the sat nav on your smartphone’s display it’s a useful tool.
Equally, you can ask Android Wear to play music and it will fire that up from Play Music, but unfortunately you can't, yet, change that default to a different music service. We're sure these options will come in the future.
Where it gets really useful is those times when you can't dig into your pocket to retrieve your phone. Both hands full of shopping bags, we were able to tell the watch to send a message, then we could read the reply, which really proved its worth.
As always with “Ok Google" there's a wide range of things you can ask. You can make calls, send messages, launch apps on your phone, as well as ask general questions, like “what’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?”. Results are returned in card form, which Google Search users will be familiar with.
However, Android Wear is quick to react and that lead us to a number of messaging misfires. We've sent garbled messages to people, we've spoken replies to emails that have sent before we've had the chance to stop them, we've found it reacting to things we didn't want.
There are occasions when it's possible to speak, have Android Wear recognise what you're saying and take action, seemingly with no need for any sort of confirmation. That's something you get used to: speak too soon and you can easily send whatever you might have muttered when you don't want to.
We can't help feeling that there needs to be some sort of verification before sending messages out - or at least the option to ask for confirmation if, like us, you find it a little quick to pop out those replies.
Baby steps for Android Wear apps
It's important to remember that these are early days for Android Wear. This is a first generation device, with the first public version of the Android Wear platform. Anyone who has followed the development of Android will know what to expect.
Even during the week that we've been using Android Wear it's already changed. Not because of anything that Google has done, but because of the developers adapting apps and introducing creative solutions. Give it weeks, months and years and it could flourish into far more.
One of the simplest is Wear Mini Launcher. This allows access to your compatible apps with a swipe, rather than having to scroll to the bottom of a given menu. Something so simple changes the immediacy of interaction and makes Android Wear much more approachable.
Other apps, like IFTTT (If This Then That) also bring some quick and fun, solutions, like being able to instantly post your location to Facebook.
The app support is a little on the low side at the moment. In some cases you don't get many options on the watch before you're prompted to open the app on your phone. But that will change, over time, as developers embrace this fledgling platform.