Now that the Apple Watch is here, what's Google going to do for Android Wear, Act 2? We may get a more detailed roadmap at Google's big I/O developer conference later this month, but in the meantime, the LG Watch Urbane just might be the raising of the curtains.
Android Wear smartwatches have been around for almost a year. Google's own software platform for watches has birthed over half a dozen different types already; from Sony, Asus, LG, Motorola and Samsung. The LG Watch Urbane is LG's third Android Wear watch. Its first, the, was square. The sequel, the , was fully round, with a sporty design that made it look like a regular watch.
The Urbane is like the G Watch R, but dipped in chrome. It's also the launch of the latest version of Android Wear: this is the first device to support new features such as Wi-Fi, and new parts of Android Wear's software interface, like the ability to draw emoji to friends.
Is Android Wear better? And does LG's newest Urbane watch raise the bar on Google's smartwatches? Yes, and yes. But this newest Android Wear watch is also really just a slightly better version of what's already been out there. And it's significantly more expensive.
Design: A dressy smartwatch
I put one of the LG Watch Urbane's many round analog watchfaces on, buckled the stitched leather strap around my wrist, and wore it during my daily routine. It seemed like a regular, fancy watch. That's the coolest part of the Urbane: it looks utterly normal.
Unlike the sleek but weirdly wide Moto 360, which never felt like a "regular" watch, the Urbane's proportions are pretty perfect. Like the G Watch R, it has a fully round 1.3-inch OLED display at the expense of a bit more chassis and bezel. It's a fantastic-looking display, big and bright and crisp; just high-res enough to not look pixelated. The Urbane is a few grams heavier than the G Watch R, but the real difference is that it looks a little more compactly designed.
That doesn't mean it's a perfect fit for a smartwatch. Unlike theor , the displays of which float at the top of the watch for easy access, the Urbane's circular screen is inset a bit. It makes some edge swipes feel a little awkward to pull off, but it protects the screen a bit from incidental scratch damage.
The extra chrome -- actually, stainless steel -- on the Urbane's body design means it's also going to be big for some wrists. My wife tried it on, and she said it felt absurdly large. On my wrist it looked fine, although the lugs on the top and bottom lie flat rather than curving around the wrist, the way I would have preferred. The previous G Watch R also had a stainless steel top, but in black.
The Urbane comes in either gold- or silver-colored designs, with stitched leather straps. The straps look and feel fine, if a bit stiff. You can swap in any 22mm watch band, too.
A side button that looks like a crown acts as an Android Wear home button. Click it once to turn on the display or activate Google Now voice commands, or press and hold to reach apps and settings. Beyond that, the Urbane has a microphone and vibration feedback, but no speaker. None of the Android Wear watches do.
The Urbane is 11mm thick, about the same thickness as the Apple Watch, but it's wider, and larger. It cuts a nice profile, but only on a man's wrist.
The included watchfaces LG has designed all look pretty sharp, for the most part, but they feel like variations on a familiar throwback analog watch theme. A few are digital, but most riff on the "you're wearing a fancy dress watch" concept. They look good, and because Android Wear allows an always-on ambient mode to keep the watch display on, they're easy to glance at all day long. (You can always add funkier faces via Google Play's app store.)
I love round smartwatches. But, I just wish Android Wear had more apps designed for round displays. Beyond watch faces, most other apps still tend to feel awkwardly married to the round-watch look.
The Watch Urbane is water resistant (IP67), which means you can wash your hands with it or even submerge it in 1 meter of still water for up to 30 minutes. I wouldn't shower with it -- the leather band isn't water resistant, anyway -- and you can't wear it while swimming. And like all Android Wear watches, it'll pair with Android phones running Android 4.3 or later.
Wi-Fi anywhere...almost...sort of
One of Android Wear's greatest new tricks is its ability to use Wi-Fi to connect to your phone remotely, even when you're not in the same house (or state). But, keep in mind: the LG Watch Urbane needs your Android phone to be on in order to receive notifications, calls, or run Internet-connected apps. It can't connect to Wi-Fi on its own to get messages, unless your phone is turned on somewhere and is also receiving data. Got it?
Apple Watch also has Wi-Fi, for similar purposes, but it only works when it's connected to the same Wi-Fi network as your iPhone. It works across a house or office, but not across town. Android Wear's newest version works over these greater distances, and the LG Watch Urbane is the first Android Wear watch to work in this trick.
It's pretty cool -- I looked up local restaurants from my wrist even with my phone in another part of the office, on another Wi-Fi network. But then I tried going to Starbucks across the street, where I saved the Wi-Fi network on my watch, and had no luck. No surprise, right? Starbucks requires a pop-up log-in before getting online (aka a "captive portal"), something a watch can't accomplish. But that also means the Urbane (or any Android Wear Wi-Fi enabled watch) wouldn't be all that great for logging in on the go without a phone -- at your trusted Wi-Fi location -- if you were even inclined to be that sort of person anyway.
I was able to get the Urbane to magically work at home even when thephone I had it paired to was in another house over a mile away. It worked great, until I tried getting directions to somewhere, and Google Maps asked me to complete the action on my phone, which was a five minute drive from me. For Android Wear to magically work with Wi-Fi, it'll need to do more, and do it more independently from the phone.
To be honest, after all the hassle of trying to connect the Urbane to my off-site phone, it just made wish I was using a phone.