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We don't need the entire world on our wrists. But that hasn't stopped some companies from trying.
The ongoing dream of the do-it-all megasmartwatch continues with the LG Watch Sport, an LTE-equipped, GPS-enabled smartwatch running Google's Android Wear 2.0. It's one of two LG watches that will get Google's new version of its watch software first. In that sense, the Watch Sport (and the far more pared-down LG Watch Style) are flagship watches, made by LG but "designed with our friends at Google."
The Sport, at $350, £350 (equivalent to AU$568, with Australian pricing and availability yet to be announced), is the same price as the LTE and GPS-enabled Samsung Gear S3, and has about as many features. The Gear S3 runs on Samsung's own separate app store for its watch, though, while LG's watch runs on Android Wear 2.0 and uses Google Play apps.
We've worn the LG Watch Sport for a couple of weeks, paired with a Google Pixel XL, and frequently on its own with AT&T service on its included LTE SIM card and antenna. Like the Samsung Gear S3 and LG's previous Watch Urbane LTE, it's one of the few rare smartwatches that's also a stand-alone phone. (Yes, you'll need to add another device to your monthly bill; in the US, AT&T charges $10 a month, T-Mobile $5 a month.) The Sport aims to be a better fitness watch, too, largely with its onboard GPS.
But who, really, is it for? That's the problem. It's not great as a fitness watch, or as a super-standalone cell phone watch. And it's not the type of hardware that Android Wear 2.0 desperately needs.
The Watch Sport is big. Really, really big. Its chunky design is bigger than the Samsung Gear S3, which seems slim in comparison -- and that's not a small watch. Its fixed rubberized wristband is designed in a permacurve, and feels like a gauntlet on almost any wrist. Seen head-on, it's clean-looking and industrial. But it really feels too large for most people to consider. The rubber wristband isn't swappable, either, so you're stuck with what you get. The Sport comes in blue or titanium gray. Our review model was the gray one.
|LG Watch Style||LG Watch Sport|
|Display||1.2-inch full circle POLED||1.38-inch full cricle POLED|
|Resolution||360x360 (299 ppi)||480x480 (348 ppi)|
|Protection||Gorilla Glass 3||Gorilla Glass 3|
|Strap size||18mm standard||Integrated|
|Build||Stainless steel, plastic back||Stainless steel|
|Processor||Snapdragon Wear 2100||Snapdragon Wear 2100|
|Operating system||Android Wear 2.0||Android Wear 2.0|
|Ambient light sensor||Yes||Yes|
To be sure, the Sport is designed for runners and for those who want a stand-alone watch for outdoor use. But the Sport seems big and clunky compared to the Apple Watch Series 2. Is it worth the size compromise to add the LTE phone functions?
The Sport tracks fitness and loads apps just like any other Android Wear 2.0 device, using Google Fit and other third-party apps. Many apps will download directly to the watch now, but during our time with Android Wear 2.0 we haven't found many great apps to try. Google Fit can be launched from one of three buttons on the Watch Sport: starting a walk, run or one of several other activities (biking, treadmill running, stationary biking, aerobics, stair climbing, strength training and "sit-up challenge" and "push-up challenge") is easy.
Google Fit shows three bits of data during a workout, which can be customized (heart rate, distance or elapsed time). But the interface seems clunky, and Google's daily goal metrics are basic: 10,000 steps, or another user-set goal, but nothing like Apple's three-ring motivational system.
The Sport has automatic activity tracking via Google Fit, but not on-watch, nor does it provide healthy reminders like the Samsung Gear S3 does with S-Health, or even like Apple Watch does with reminders to stand or breathe or meditate. It would be nice to get more awareness when going on a long walk or a brisk walk, and maybe some on-watch feedback. The added coaching challenges for sit-ups, push-ups or crunches are a nice plus, though, and stair-climbing recognition is onboard.
LG has said the watch is "designed for those who enjoy dynamic, athletic lifestyles." But what does that actually mean? One of us doesn't run much, but the other (Graziano) is an avid runner, cyclist and frequent hiker. Neither of us would buy the LG Watch Sport.
On paper, it would appear more than adequate. The watch is equipped with a wide-range of sensors for measuring movement, altitude and heart rate. This includes an accelerometer, gyroscope, barometric altimeter, GPS and optical heart-rate sensor.
It can show real-time data for a variety of workouts, but customization options are limited. Why not have pace, distance, elapsed time and heart rate data visible on a single page when running? This wasn't possible with the Fit Workout app or any of the third-party apps we tested, like Strava and Runkeeper.
To make matters worse, the Watch Sport isn't swim-proof like the Apple Watch Series 2. The battery life is also a major concern. A 30-minute run with GPS took it down to 80 percent and after an hour there was only half remaining. It was even worse when streaming music over LTE.
The basic fitness feature may be fine for the occasional runner or biker, but a multisport watch from Garmin would deliver a much more enjoyable experience.
Using GPS, Bluetooth for playing stored music on the watch, and built-in LTE takes its toll on battery life in a hurry. On most days, even in casual use, we burned through the Sport's battery in less than a day. I tweaked settings to get rid of always-on display mode and LTE, but even then, it's hard to get to two days of use.
The Sport also allows some nice stand-alone features, not just for runners but for anyone who wants to use a watch instead of a phone. Android Pay is enabled, and clicking the bottom button on the Sport lets anyone pay at any tap-to-pay Android Pay-enabled spot. It works well.
Phone mode worked decently, but Bluetooth connections on the Sport didn't seem fantastic. Conversations and streamed music broke up and got stuttery whenever my arms were lowered, which doesn't happen as much on the Apple Watch or Samsung Gear S3.
The Sport's middle crown button spins like the Apple Watch's digital crown, making for easy navigation of apps or scrolling messages (Android Wear now supports spinning crowns). It's a useful addition, but pressing in on the crown also activates Google Assistant, Google's new spin on voice-powered AI. Assistant is better by far than Samsung's hobbled S-Voice on the Gear S3, but it only responds via text on the watch face. It's too easy to press the Assistant button accidentally during workouts.
Android Wear is less pushy about Google Now-style reminders, which is great. No more weird commute time cards, or other predictive suggestions. Android Wear 2.0 can access info faster, and launch apps better. But there are still bugs that need to be worked out. Apps that wouldn't launch and interfaces that were unresponsive were a common occurrence during our time with the watch. Even checking the time seemed to sometimes have a bit of lag.
Having a Google-connected smartwatch, for Android phone owners, is probably better than using something like the Gear S3 (which uses Samsung's proprietary Tizen operating system) in the long run. But the Gear S3 is a better product right now, with better hardware and a more polished experience. It just lacks the deeper Android functions and apps. In the end, that's a tough compromise.
As for the LG Watch Sport, it's not the all-in-one watch we were hoping it would be. It's not for hardcore runners, or those looking for the best watch-phone. It's way too big. And its battery isn't good enough.
Android Wear needs better heroes than this.