Wearables are set to be the new “big thing” in technology, and while we’ve seen models from Pebble and Samsung in the past, it’s time for LG to get its mitts wet, bringing the first Android Wear device to Australia in the form of the G Watch.
LG’s first splash in the smartwatch category, the G Watch is a new example of second screen technology, sending notifications, music controls, and more to your wrist without you needing to take out and look at your phone, as pretty as it might be.
While it might be LG’s first smartwatch, it’s not a gadget LG has taken lightly on the specs, technically throwing in the technology from a recent smartphone or tablet into a gadget that goes on your wrist.
In fact, the chip alone is one such piece of technology that has appeared recently inside an LG tablet, found in both last year’s G Pad 8.3 and the upcoming G Pad 10.1.
That chip is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 400, clocked at 1.2GHz and paired with 512MB RAM and working with 4GB internal storage for apps and the Android Wear operating system.
The watch relies on Bluetooth 4.0 LE, also known as Bluetooth Smart or Bluetooth Low Energy (if you break down the initialism), and all of this sits under a 1.65 inch IPS LCD screen showing a resolution of 280×280. With that resolution employed, the screen will show a pixel clarity of 240 pixels per inch.
A microphone is included on the watch as well, as is a nine-axis sensor catering to accelerometer, compass, and a gyroscope. The watch itself takes the standard 22mm watch strap. The G Watch is also IP67 certified for water and dust resistance.
The battery is rated for 400mAh and is charged through a non-standard charge port at the bottom of the watch consisting of five small gold circles that connect to a magnetic charge base, with that part accepting charge through a microUSB port.
The next big thing is here, at least that’s what we’re being told, and while smartwatches have been around for a couple of years, Google plans to take the world by storm with its Android Wear platform.
In Australia, that starts with LG’s G Watch, one of the first products that Google has made its Android Wear work for, and which borrows technology from the devices you currently carry around with you — smartphones and tablets — and makes them work for a new breed of device you’ll want to carry around with you even more.
That’s the theory, anyway, and the result is the G Watch, a slightly rectangular screen attached to a rubber strap, weighing a little over 60 grams (63g to be precise) and built for your wrist.
We’ve already gone through the specs, so let’s take a look at the design and build, which is reasonably plain, but no more so than Pebble’s own regular smartwatch, which we checked out last year. It’s a relatively simple looking block, but at least it won’t show itself off from a design point of view, letting the watchface do that for you.
In the hands and on the wrist, LG’s G Watch is a little heavier than you might expect, with that plastic and glass box feeling hefty when you pop it on and it flops over your wrist, but once it’s on, it’s comfortable, and certainly as comfy as other smartwatches we’ve worn.
Usability of the G Watch is handled totally through the touchscreen, and like you’ve probably come to expect from modern phones and tablets, is pretty much gesture driven. Swipe up to bring up notifications, browsing through them as you move up and down the list, throwing these messages away with a swipe from left to right, which like in Google’s Now throws the card away.
That’s part of Android Wear, mind you, with the Now card system employed from Google Now also used here, and once you’re done with something, you simply swipe it away.
These cards are based on notifications, and you’re going to get a lot of these throughout the course of your day, and that’s really what Android Wear and the G Watch will help you stay on top of, with the information sent to a 1.65 inch screen on your wrist so you don’t have to take out your phone.
Facebook comments? They’re here. Emails and Gmails? Here, too. Music controls are here too if you’re listening to music, and any other notification that’ll come through on your phone at the time.
They load on the square display, coming to life in colour with a bit of text on your watch and some vibrating haptic feedback, alerting you to what’s happening.
You can usually swipe to the right to see more options, with one almost always being to open the app on the phone, which will happen immediately, showing you those notifications even bigger, much like if you were selecting the notifications from the menu yourself.
You can also talk to your watch, starting it up by either saying “OK Google” as if you owned Google Glass or tapping on the top right to start the process, telling the watch to take a note, remind you of something, show you your steps (which are counted by the sensors), send an email or a text, navigate somewhere, set a timer, start the stopwatch, or set an alarm up.
Most of the time, the translation is good, even with this journalist’s hybrid Australian American accent (he’s an Aussie who grew up in Texas), and we found emails and texts were transcribed pretty well, with only a few errors. That said, we’re still talking to our watch, which feels a little wrong, and is one of the things we’ve tried to avoid doing with other smartwatches as the entire experience in public can make you feel a little awkward.
And when you’re done, you merely need to hold your palm over the watch and feel the vibration motor nudge you, telling you it’ll go to standby, showing only the time and the last notification.
It’s a first generation product, though, and as such, you can expect first generation problems — teething issues, really — because no first-gen product nails it out of the gate, and most don’t even get it perfect two or three times after that.
The LG G Watch is no different in this regard, feeling little more like a second screen for your phone that really doesn’t command much or offer great battery life, even if it is a taste of what technology will be like in the future.
We need to tackle this issue of what it does first, because while we’ve already told you what it does, the problem with the G Watch is also what it doesn’t do.
For instance, while you can speak to it, you can’t say much. You can tell it to take a note, send a message over SMS, tell you what your agenda is for the day, and send an email to a friend.
But even though you can tell it this through voice, you can’t ask it when the next 333 is leaving on Elizabeth St, even though it will automatically tell you this if you take this route.
Even asking it to go to the about section of the phone yields some problems, searching “about” rather than going to the phone’s “about” section, and that’s where you realise what Android Wear really is right now, and that is a second screen not really for your phone, but rather for your notifications menu on your phone.
Any notification that normally makes its way to your drop-down menu system will pop up there, extending that notification to another place, albeit a more convenient one located on your arm.
For instance, if a security program says a new program is a risk and that notification pops up on your phone, it too pops up on your watch.
If you’re listening to Pandora, you’ll see a screen of the album art with the track name and artist, and a pause button, with the next screen you swipe over will let you fast forward through it.
If you get a Facebook notification, it pops up with a picture from that person, and if it’s a few emails, it’s a small list of those.
That is the same set of things that your regular Android notification bar gets, and outside of as few apps for a compass, step monitoring, and a world clock, the G Watch is basically just that notification bar, with a bit of voice control thrown in for good measure.
Compatibility is another sour point, and while this is more a Google issue, it’s one that will have some people scratching their heads.
Unfortunately, iPhone and Windows Phone owners can’t see what the fuss is about, with the one software requirement for Google Android Wear watches being that the device it connects to has to be running Android, and a recent version at that, specifically 4.3 or higher, which means the most recent version of Jelly Bean (4.3), KitKat (4.4), or anything higher than that later on (Android L, etc).
That’s a similar issue to Samsung’s Gear watches, though not quite as restrictive, as while Samsung’s smartwatches require a Samsung phone with access to Samsung Apps, Android Wear only asks for Android phones in general.
In comparison, the Pebble smartwatches work across iOS and Android, with some Windows Phone also sort of working thanks to some neat programming by people not at Pebble.
As we said, however, this lack of cross-platform connectivity for LG’s G Watch isn’t technically an LG problem, but it’s still a tad frustrating all the same.
Also frustrating is the battery, and this is probably the really critically weak part of the package, which for us managed a little over a day, provided you’re totally fine with it cutting power near the end of the work day.
Use it less than we did — which would be hard, since we tried not to use it and still found the same amount of battery life — and you might get that full two days, but we’d recommend charging it nightly.
It’s a first generation product, that said, so we can’t say we’re terribly shocked, but when other smartwatches are netting at least two days, a total usage of one and a bit isn’t really what you want to be seeing. As a comparison, Samsung’s Tizen-powered Gear 2 Neo smartwatch pulls in around four days, and yet asks for the same price.
That said, Samsung’s Gear 2 Neo isn’t powered by Google’s Android Wear, and isn’t even compatible with it, so can’t technically be compared directly to LG’s G Watch, but it does show a staggering difference in the technology and software, and we’re not sure we appreciate this low battery life from LG. Not at all.
LG’s first watch is better built and more colourful than you might expect out of a company that only recently flirted with the idea of a wristband that did similar things, a product that came to be known as the LifeBand.
Compared against that product, the G Watch is a shining beacon of excellence, and thanks to a comfier fit, a better screen, more responsive touch, and the fact that the Android-powered watch does practically everything the LifeBand does — tells time, controls music, and tells you how many steps you’ve taken daily — we’d recommend this over the LifeBand if you had to choose between the two.
But as a smartwatch by itself?
As a smartwatch, it’s hard to recommend the LG G Watch to all but the early adopters who can’t live without the next thing from Google, and hey, if there are Apple fanboys, there surely are Google ones that fit into this category.
That said, with compatibility only extending into the Android camp — and the recent Android camp at that — we’d probably hold off until LG refines the formula and personalises the G Watch to be something more capable.
This could happen with firmware changes, and it could happen with a new version, but we’re hoping for a simple patch or two, because that could really bring this device to life.