LG Lifeband Touch and Heart Rate Earphones coming mid-2014: Hands-on with LG's vision of smart fitness gear

January 6, 2014 8:25 AM PST / Updated: January 6, 2014 6:38 PM PST

LAS VEGAS -- Sleek, black, wraparound, OLED display. Sounds like a lot of other wearable devices here at CES 2014, but LG's first entry into wearable tech -- the Lifeband Touch -- seems okay with the familiar. Instead of going into the Samsung-style deep end of feature-studded wearables like the Galaxy Gear , the Lifeband feels practical…and very health-oriented. I got to play with it for a brief bit, and at least came away impressed at its build quality. But, what's also cool about the Lifeband Touch is its focus on working in phone notifications and even two-way phone controls, an idea that most fitness bands so far haven't explored.

The Lifeband Touch has one open end, and flexes around your wrist, like an open-ended Nike+ FuelBand . It works with both iOS and Android, and is an accelerometer-based fitness tracker with altimeter (which, incidentally, means the Lifeband is "water-resistant" but not shower-friendly). The Lifeband Touch lights up when you lift your hand to look at the display. The swipe-and-tap menu interface, and its icons, look a lot like what you'll see on other fitness devices like the Withings Pulse and Fitbit Force , but the extra features it has are unique: music controls, call notifications, volume control, and call silencing.

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LG's forthcoming app looks simple enough to use, and will work on incorporating popular fitness apps like RunKeeper and MyFitnessPal. That's the idea: be open, as opposed to creating a specialized fitness ecosystem. The band does not track sleep -- although it technically could, since it has the same accelerometer as other fitness bands -- but it does connect with external heart rate monitors, like Polar's.

Or, you could use LG's own Heart Rate Earphones.

Sarah Tew/CNET

That's right. Heart Rate Earphones. The idea sounds insane, but it actually makes sense if you understand that the earphones actually have a sensor ("PerformTek") in each earbud, making continuous contact and sending heart rate and oxygen consumption data via Bluetooth -- they have an attached module with a clip. The Lifeband theoretically could have had its own heart rate monitor, a trend that's increasing at CES, but it doesn't.

Sarah Tew/CNET

As Jim Clayton, executive vice president of LG's New Business Division, said during my briefing with both products, the Lifeband's designed to be used "the other 23 hours" you're not engaging in fitness. The added call-notification and phone-extension functions are there to extend the Lifeband's usefulness. But they're not elaborate app functions like those on the Samsung Galaxy Gear: this is like if a Pebble and a Fitbit got married, an idea I wondered about not too long ago .

Could just-a-little-smarter wearable fitness devices be the bridge between smartwatches and fitness bands? LG's banking on it. The Lifeband Touch and Heart Rate Earphones don't have prices yet, but they're targeted for release in the first half of this year, starting in the US and then moving worldwide.

The Lifeband Touch is one more drop in the wearable-tech bucket at CES and across the tech world, but it indicates that fitness tech is starting to evolve to higher expectations, too.

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About The Author

Scott Stein is a senior editor covering iOS and laptop reviews, mobile computing, video games, and tech culture. He has previously written for both mainstream and technology enthusiast publications including Wired, Esquire.com, Men's Journal, and Maxim, and regularly appears on TV and radio talking tech trends.