LG's G Watch is water-resistant and runs Google's new smartwatch software: is it everything we hoped for? Here are our early impressions after using it.
How many smartwatches can the market sustain at one time? This year we're likely to find out. The latest to add to the list is LG's G Watch. Showcased at Google I/O 2014, the device is one of the first three smartwatches (alongside the Samsung Gear Live, and the Moto 360 from Motorola) to run on Google's wearable OS, Android Wear.
The G Watch is already available for online preorder at the Play Store for $229 in the US, £159 in the UK, and AU$249 in Australia, and will be available as soon as July 3.
We already have our hands on the LG G Watch, and have spent a good handful of hours with it so far. How does it feel in the wild? So far, both it and Android Wear don't seem utterly compelling, but it's also way too early to tell.
Forged out of a single, unibody piece of steel, the G Watch weighs a slight 0.13 pounds (63 grams) and measures 38mm long, 47mm wide, and just under 10mm thick. It has no physical buttons and comes in two color variants, white gold and black, but its band can be swapped for a number of standard watchbands. The device is equipped with a 1.65-inch LCD touchscreen display with a 280x280-pixel resolution.
It's also dust- and water-resistant, much like the recent Samsung Gear watches, and can be submerged in a meter of water for up to 30 minutes. Of course, we'll know more when we officially test this feature out for ourselves: we haven't showered with it yet.
The LG G Watch actually feels better than it looks. Hold the watch up from a distance, and it has a design that feels destined to blend into the back of the average electronics mega-trade show. But it has a comfy wristband, and a clean, wide display that's easy to read. The metal and glass give it a higher-end gloss. A magnetic charging base doubles as a little mini desk-rest for the watch, and works with a regular Micro-USB cable (included, along with an AC plug).
The watch is big though, even if it's on the smaller end of the spectrum for Android Wear watches: it can easily feel bulky for those who have smaller wrists. CNET's Lynn La noted that the G Watch covered her entire wrist altogether, and even when fastened to the last buckle loop, the device was still loose and moved around. On Scott Stein's bigger wrist, it felt fine.
The screen's responsive and sensitive to touch, and swiping through the screen feels easy and familiar, although full edge-to-edge screen swiping can sometimes get tough to pull off. The LCD IPS display looks crisp enough, but not quite as vibrant as the Samsung Gear family's OLED. It's a little unsettling that there's no home button at all: you can swipe or tap, or even use your voice, but a lack of other tactile buttons gives the G Watch too much of a drifty feel. In a critical moment, will the LG G Watch be a useful friend, or a finicky weird screen you're not much in control of?
Google's specialized Android Wear OS for wearables enables you to automatically sync your smartwatch to your Android phone. The G Watch is compatible with handsets running Android 4.3 or later, and can receive a number of app notifications. You can swipe notifications away with the watch, decline an incoming call, even reply with a preset SMS message.
Working with Google Now, the company's digital assistant service, the watch can estimate your route to work, let you know if your flight is on time, and display your boarding pass when you arrive at the airport.
Because it supports voice command, you can also record voice memos or activate commands. Simply say "OK, Google, set an alarm for 7 a.m.," and your watch's alarm will start blaring at the appropriate time the following day.
If the notifications get to be too much, there is a "do not disturb" mode you can activate. The function was easy enough to access when we did it -- just swipe down on the display, and a small dialogue appears telling you to shut off notifications and any incoming messages.
The Android Wear software, at this early date, feels early and unfinished. We had to install Android Wear preview software and a developer app in order to pair the watch at all: that'll be resolved very soon once the official Android Wear is available, of course.
But then there's the mystery of the Android Wear experience itself. Based on pop-up Google Now-like cards that can be swiped away with a finger or shuffled through with a vertical swipe, we found things got quickly flooded by random notification cards for everything from Twitter to Google-based work chats in Hangout. Maybe we needed to mute more notifications, or maybe apps need to develop better ways of displaying notifications on Android Wear.
Some notifications seem to glom everything together, like multiple Twitter mentions, to make an unreadable mess. Swipe, though, and you can open the related app on your Android phone. It's a clever way of digging back on your phone and reading more, but it's also reminiscent of our early Samsung Galaxy Gear experiences over a year ago: a watch experience that ends up sending you back to your phone, rather than standing on its own.
There are bunch of pre-installed watch faces: our favorites involved popping neon colors and a few abstract designs, while the classic watch faces sometimes looked a little corny on a sleek, square black face.
At this early moment, there aren't many standalone apps on Android Wear, just a minimal Google Voice-based interface that requires you to speak your wishes and hope it understands. We tried asking for directions, local restaurant suggestions by type of food, and taking notes. It's a little like using Siri or Google Now on your phone.
If you're not wild about using your voice, you won't make much headway at using the LG G Watch at anything more than a notification-reader. There's no on-screen keyboard, and the main menus are pretty bare by design. You need to double-tap to start speaking to Google and bring up other menu commands, or scroll down for other features, settings, and even a few preinstalled apps: Compass, Fit (a pedometer), and a world clock.
There aren't any other Android Wear-compatible apps yet, of course, so the experience of using the G Watch is largely card-based, and Google voice-based. Those used to using a more traditional app-based smartwatch might be confused. We were, but then again we didn't get to see any significant patterns start populating onto the LG G Watch yet after just a few meager hours of use. Android Wear has its moments of clarity, but it's clearly intended as a phone accessory, not a primary device.
The G Watch is powered by a Snapdragon 400 processor from Qualcomm, and a 400mAh battery, which has a reported stand by time of about 36 hours. To juice it up, the device comes with a square charging base that magnetically connected to the watch via five pins on the back.
It's equipped with Bluetooth 4.0, a built-in compass, an accelerometer, and a gyrometer as well. It has 512MB of RAM, and 4GB of eMMC storage.
Stay tuned for a full review soon, once we've had a chance to spend more time with the LG G Watch.