Fitness wearables are big business in 2014, and LG’s first attempt tries to blend activity tracker with smart watch. Does it work, or could you do better with something else?
A first for the brand, the LG wearable is about tracking your health and activities, while still giving you some control from your phone. That’s different to other bands, which are predominantly all about health and only health.
To help with this complete wearable picture, there’s a one line OLED single colour display, running a resolution of 128×32, and supporting touch gestures in the form of swipes from left to right, making it a wearable companion gadget you can control and look up independently from your smartphone.
A button can also be found next to the screen, used for changing the mode on the band, complete with a small colour changing LED ring around it, which will change to different colours depending on the mode you’re in or where you are in your goal.
Underneath the screen are similar sensors to other fitness wearables, including a three axis accelerometer and altimeter. No support for heart-rate tracking is built into LG’s Lifeband, but it is compatible with heart-rate monitoring earphones, none of which were available in Australia at the time of publishing the review.
Synchronisation of the band happens through Bluetooth 4.0 LE, with apps available on iOS for Apple iPhone and iPad, and Google Android for any Android smartphone or tablet.
Charging the band is handled through a proprietary charger, taking its power through the standard microUSB charge port used across smartphones, tablets, and Bluetooth headsets.
Two sizes of the LG Lifeband are available, with medium (M) and large (L) offered in store, but no way of changing the band to support different wrist sizes when you get home. The retail packages include a plastic wrist cut-out to help you work out which size you should purchase2.5
Another week, another fitness band, and this time, it’s LG in charge, with its Lifeband.
Pick up the LG Lifeband and you’ll be treated to a design a little different from the rest. It’s thick, large, and can’t be adjusted, pushed onto your wrist and barely holding on. Two sizes are made — M and L — and if you don’t fit any of these, you can’t tighten the band at all, or even loosen it.
Aesthetically, it’s an interesting looker, with a lot of black and a simple ovular line that makes it almost look like a bracelet from the future, but we’re a little hesitant with this one, as it can’t be tightened. There’s a basic one colour OLED touchscreen on the top, and a button next to it, with a colour changing LED ring which will change based on what’s happening at the time.
Charging the gadget is easy enough, with a proprietary lightweight dongle that takes its charge from a microUSB cable. The band fits into the dock easily enough, but because it’s so much lighter than the Lifeband, can be dislodged all too easily, so when charging it, try not to nudge it, otherwise it’s likely to fall out.
Setting up the Lifeband is a little hit and miss, like the dock, starting a trend with the Lifeband we hope goes away.
With iOS and Android support on the Lifeband, you’ll be looking for the wearable in setup over Bluetooth, but we’re a little surprised there’s no Near-Field Communication here. Sadly, you can’t rub one of LG’s Android phones (or any other Android phone) and the Lifeband together to get them working together, and you may find the setup stalls a bit as the two gadgets look for each other.
We found it worked after a few minutes of getting the app to look for the band, but it’s not always easy, and some smartphones may be faster than others to connect. Just make sure it’s a relatively up-to-date smartphone, otherwise it won’t work at all, thanks to the reliance on Bluetooth LE, a part of the Bluetooth 4.0 specification though not included on all devices.
Once the gadget is connected, you’ll need to sign in (or register) to an LG account, letting you track and store information about how many calories you’re burning through, footsteps taken, and distance travelled.
Using the Lifeband is relatively easy, and for the most part, it will do the work for you, with you merely pressing the one button on the device to scroll through modes. There are three modes specifically, and we’ll go through them individually.
First is the fitness mode, which is the obvious one. In this mode, you’ll see calories lost today, distance travelled, footsteps taken, and an option to start an activity, which when pressed, triggers a timer to track what you’re doing for blocks at a time, providing this information to the app later on.
Seeing all these modes happens by swiping, so when you’re in the fitness mode, you just swipe from left to right to jump through them.
LG’s take on the fitness band also tries to take the place of a smart watch, including some of the functionality you might want in this new category of wearables, which makes up the other two modes.
There’s the time, date, and battery level that you can swipe through in the second set of modes, and then there’s music controls, which will take over for whatever you’re listening to at the time, whether that includes Pandora, Google Play, or your regular music player.
The information doesn’t offer up a playback listing in text, but you will find basic controls for changing volume, skipping tracks, and pausing and hitting play.
And hey, there’s even a little bit of phone functionality thrown in, for those curious as to what’s happening in the world of wearables.
For instance, when there’s a phone call, the phone number pops up on your wrist with a vibration. When you receive a message, a mail icon pops up with info on who has sent you the message and a bit of the subject. And you can swipe left and right to see more, but that’s it, with basically just a hint of information, which could help you to avoid checking the phone randomly when the phantom ring occurs.
But while the smart wearable stuff is a nice addition, LG’s Lifeband has quite a few concerns going for it, not least of which includes design.
While other fitness bands are thin, light, and take on the design of something you’ll hopefully never notice, LG’s Lifeband, is different, and is thick, chunky, and weighs more than it probably should. In fact, at around 50 grams, it’s 30 or so grams heavier than most of the competition, resembling more a thick bracelet than a thin fitness band.
Not everyone will find this comfortable to wear, and you can count us in this mix. We looked forward to taking ours off daily just to how noticeable it was. It even felt off when we put on some jackets.
It’s also very small around the wrist, and this is even on the largest size, which is also known as large. Testing it around the office, the largest LG Lifeband size couldn’t fit on some of the arms in the GadgetGuy offices, with the “L” band pinching the muscle on the GadgetGuy’s own arms, as well as one of our designers. If you have large wrists, LG’s Lifeband is certainly not accommodating, with a focus on smaller wrists.
The functionality of the Lifeband also feels a little lacklustre, especially in comparison to the other bands out there.
For starters, there’s no sleep tracking, a fact which is probably a good thing given how heavy and clunky the wristband feels, but it’s a feature that every other fitness band supports in some capacity.
But not LG, as the band misses out on what some would say is a necessary part of the fitness wearable revolution. You can track your footsteps, and you can track activities, but when you’re down for the night, you’ll be taking the Lifeband off, as it cannot deal with your sleeping patterns.
That might change, but right now, it’s a daylight only band.
In daylight, the LG required app — which runs on iOS and Android — can tell you how many footsteps you’ve walked, how many calories you’ve burned through, and the distance traveled, but it won’t do much else.
You can change your goal, and the fitness band will give you alerts when you’re a quarter of the way, but there’s not a lot more the app is doing, with small graphs.
We’re sure LG will update this in time, too, but right now, it’s pretty barebone.
Moisture is also a concern for this band, and if you wash your hands with the Lifeband or get caught in the rain, you’ll find some water on the inside of the band. It won’t go away for a few days either, no matter what you do, so get used to it, and keep the Lifeband out of contact from water.
We feel compelled to note something else, and that’s durability. We’re used to getting pre-production and prototype gadgets, but the Lifeband wasn’t one of these, which is something we confirmed with LG’s PR.
The reason we’re citing this, however, is that our review unit was the second Lifeband we went through, after the first one met an untimely death not because of water or dropping it, but rather a failed update from LG’s software.
We tried everything we could to revive it, but the LG update application failed at one point and left the first Lifeband speaking only a gibberish made from a combination of text and images that are unrecognisable to anyone.
Our second unit was fine, but the first, well, that’s occupying a drawer somewhere ready to be sent back to LG to be fixed. Our point, though, is that the Lifeband does appear to have some problems, so if you end up with a borked band, call LG, as that’s the only way to fix it.
As a first attempt, we can’t say we’re totally impressed by LG’s Lifeband, and it’s easily our least favourite of the wearables out there that we’ve tested, the bunch of bands as we’ve been calling it.
It does some interesting things, mind you, and we’re sure LG will make the software better over time, but it’s not terribly comfy to wear and just doesn’t do as much as other bands, so unless you desperately need a half measure of a smart watch, you could do much better looking at other wearable choices.