Android Wear has so far been a middling story of wearable devices. The best iterations have been sold on a brand's strengths - like Polar's integration into its M600 giving you a great Polar Flow experience, or Tag's premium reworking on the Tag Heuer Connected - leaving rivals like Apple and Samsung to do a lot more on the user experience at a core level.
That's all set to change with the launch of Android Wear 2.0 and its hero device, the LG Watch Sport. This is looking like the best designed Android Wear device we've seen from LG so far, ushering in a new Android Wear experience that's more mature, more engaging and more fully featured.
We had the chance to spend some time with the new Android Wear watch prior to launch, but we're still confirming some of the technical details.
LG Watch Sport: Design
- 45.4 x 51.21 x 14.2mm
- 316L stainless steel case
- Titanium or blue colours
- IP68 water protection
Design hasn't been the strong point of LG's previous watches, but the LG Watch Sport takes things in a new direction, one that feels more considered and more serious than before. Landing with the Sport name, this is a watch that's designed to carry sporty looks, with aesthetics closer to popular diver's watches than LG's previous efforts.
This is a big watch, but not the biggest Android Wear watch out there. Some might baulk at the 14.2mm thickness, but it actually wears comfortably and if you're used to wearing a watch with substance, that won't be a concern - in fact you might say the display could be a little bigger than the 1.38-inches it offers.
The body is cool stainless steel, anodised and finished in a dark blue or titanium colour. The back is plastic, but unlike the flimsy feels of the LG Watch Urbane, this feels solid.
There are three buttons on the LG Watch Sport, the centre of which is a digital crown that rotates as well as pushes. This lets you interact with Android Wear 2.0's most exciting new feature - rotational control. That's been showcased by Samsung and Apple on their respective devices and it's a welcome addition to Android, helping mature the platform with new interaction.
The other two buttons are given over to Google Fit and Android Pay, a new feature in Android Wear 2.0, supporting the NFC function.
The rear of the LG Watch Sport is interesting. It has a pronounced section that houses the optical heart rate sensor which sits securely against your skin to ensure a good connection - we're yet to test that out, but we've experienced great results from the TomTom Spark which employs a similar technique - and doesn't lead to any discomfort when wearing it.
That whole back section can be removed to put the nano SIM card inside to power the LTE connection - another interesting addition to the wearable space. The antenna for this is integrated into the strap, so there's no switching straps here. That might bring a fashion limitation to some, but hopefully means you're connected wherever you are. We found the strap be comfortable and feel like good quality in our brief time wearing it.
LG Watch Sport carries an IP68 water protection rating, which should protect it from sweat, rain and showers, but we were told that it's not designed for submersion like swimming. That's going to be left to other devices like the Nixon Mission (also on the list to get Android Wear 2.0), which is proofed to 5ATM.
LG Watch Sport: Hardware and specs
- 1.38in 480 x 480 pixel POLED display (348ppi)
- Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100, 768MB RAM, 4GB storage
- 430mAh battery
- Heart rate monitor and GPS
- NFC, LTE
The LG Watch Sport has a 1.38-inch POLED display with a 480 x 480 pixel display, giving it a cracking 348ppi. The display itself is fully round - there's no flat tyre here like the Moto 360 Sport and this watch looks a lot better as a result.
In the brief time we had with the watch the display looked good, but on first impressions it lacks those deep blacks and punchy colours of the Apple Watch - but that could be down to brightness settings or pre-release hardware, or just the screens that we were looking at.
Certainly, once you dive into the details, like scrolling through apps in the menu, you'll notice lots of details in the visuals, a benefit that comes from the higher resolution.
We didn't have the chance to test the HRM, GPS, NFC or LTE, but in our first-hand briefing we were told that there have been no problems using those functions.
The inclusion of NFC unlocks contactless payment via Android Pay and accessed via the bottom hardware button - but that advantage this offers to runners is that you can leave the house with a fully connected device - you can stream music and you can pay for the bus home when you get lost.
The LG Watch Sport is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 chipset, hardware designed specifically for wearables, with a boosted 768MB RAM. The 4GB storage is standard, providing some local space for storage of your music.
The 430mAh battery is said to last "all day" with the LTE modem active, but we'll be sure to thoroughly test the endurance, both with LTE on and off, when we get the chance.
LG Watch Sport: The latest software
- Android Wear 2.0
- Rotational apps menu using digital crown
Launched along with the announcement of Android Wear 2.0, the LG Watch Sport has been designed partly to show off the new features of this updated wearable mobile platform. Where Android Wear was gawky and slightly cartoonish, the updates in AW2.0 bring maturity, practicality and a refinement of the most-used tasks.
Watch faces are now more customisable with the facility to add complications. This means that rather than using a default watch face that comes from Google, LG or an app, you'll be able to open a template and add the elements to the face that you want to see. This is also open to developers, with those elements pulled in to fit the style of the watch face you're using.
You can now switch faces with a swipe - as you can on Apple Watch - there's a new quick settings shade for instant actions, as well as deeper focus on fitness. The top hardware button takes you straight to Google Fit's activity tracking mode, where you can fire up a run or other sport and track your progress.
Included in the fitness app are things like challenges, so that you can set yourself sit-up or squat challenges, with your watch monitoring your progress. There's also some clever self-calibration for runners. The stride length will be calculated when running outside using the GPS and the accelerometer and this will then give you a more accurate result then running indoors on a treadmill.
This all ties into Google Fit and it's good to see this fitness focus, although the elephant in the room is that generic fitness apps aren't always hugely popular. Google Fit has been around for a number of years but has never really been very exciting. Take the Polar M600 for example: that's a great sports watch not because of the Android functions, but because of the Polar Flow platform that it offers. We suspect that Android Wear apps from other platforms, like Strava or Endomondo, might emerge as the more popular options.
The final thing worth talking about is the rotational control. Pressing the button will open the app menu, presented with round icons around the display. The crown will scroll through these apps (you can favourite apps to keep them at the top of the list), to make it easy to get to things – it's much more dynamic than the old flat list.
We've see the crown out to good use by Apple and we've experienced the bezel rotation control offered by Samsung on the Gear watches too, and we think it's a natural and great addition to the skills of Android Wear.
Our time with the LG Watch Sport has only been brief, but in that short time, we're left with the impression that the hardware is well designed. This looks like an attractive Android Wear watch, much more appealing that previous watches from LG, Huawei or Asus.
What really underpins this new device, however, is the new software. That will be coming to a wide range of devices (from 15 February), but this is one of the few devices that will offer that rotational control. The software is more mature, more useful and better designed than the previous Android Wear experience and that should help this platform grow.
With LTE and Android Pay also in the mix, this is a completely connected device that opens up new opportunities for smartwatch wearers. We've not been this excited about an Android Wear device for some time.
The LG Watch Sport will be available from 10 February in the US, priced at $349. It will be available from AT&T, Verizon, Best Buy and on Google Store.
The LG Watch Sport will be coming to Canada, Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Taiwan, UAE and the UK in the coming weeks.