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LG G Watch review

Tom Morgan
19 Sep 2014
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
159
inc. VAT

Android Wear makes its debut appearance on LG's first smartwatch, but it's a long way from perfect

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Specifications

Screen size: 1.65in, Screen resolution: 280x280, Processor: Dual-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400, Storage: 4GB, Size: 38x45x10mm, Weight: 63g, Operating system: Android Wear, Warranty: One-year RTB, Details: http://www.lg.com/, Part code: LG_G_Watch_Black_Titan

LG's first smartwatch is by no means the first of its kind; Samsung is already on its second generation of Gear wearables, and smaller upstarts, such as Pebble, have been around for some time, but the G Watch is arguably one of the most important wearables available to buy today: it marks the public debut of the Google Android Wear operating system, and has the potential to make smartwatches a must-have gadget for the masses.

LG G Watch Design

Starting with the watch itself, it's difficult to get excited based on looks alone. With Motorola's Moto 360 stealing a lot of the limelight thanks to its circular screen and stunningly minimal design, the G Watch's boxy appearance looks rather dull in comparison; it's reasonably thin considering the electronics inside, and won't draw too much attention to your wrist when worn out in public, but it's also black, square and all in all rather plain.On the plus side it's IP67 dust and water resistant, so you won't have to cover it up if you get caught in a rain shower. It's small enough that it doesn't look ridiculous on smaller wrists, too. The G Watch ships with a basic strap made from either black or white rubberised plastic depending on the model, which certainly can't be described as stylish, but it at least uses standard watch strap fittings. That means you can swap it out for a more attractive strap.The charging terminals on the back of the watch line up with the proprietary dock, which connects to a mains socket via microUSB. Magnets help lock the watch in place when charging, so you can be sure it's making contact with the dock. There's also a sticky pad on the bottom for affixing the charger in one place, but considering you'll need to take it with you when travelling this seems like an odd design choice.Fortunately, LG has fixed an issue with the charging terminals, where a small charge ran through them at all times. While not enough to be felt, it could react with skin to cause corrosion on the terminals and, in some people, skin irritation or blistering. With a software update to the watch LG has made sure that power is turned off to the terminals.

LG G Watch Display

There are no buttons anywhere on the watch; everything is controlled using the 1.65in touchscreen or your voice. With that in mind, the screen is easily the most important aspect of the device, so it's a real shame it's also one of its weakest points. The 280x280 resolution is fairly sharp, but not quite as precise as the 320x320 panel found on the Samsung's Samsung Gear 2. Colours are fairly vibrant at higher brightness levels, but the LCD panel lacks the vivid punch of the OLED screens Samsung uses in its wearables. There are chunky black bezels on all four sides of the watch face, which is a shame seeing as LG knows how to make devices with thin bezels - just look at the gorgeous LG G3.You have to push brightness up to the maximum level to clearly read the screen in direct sunlight, which has an obvious negative effect on battery life, and even then you have to twist and turn your wrist to avoid glare and reflections. By default, the display never fully switches off, which has a big impact on longevity. Digging into the settings lets you lower the brightness further, or set the screen to automatically turn off when not in use to help extend battery life. A flick of the wrist will activate the screen, saving you the need to tap it and wake it. When you're done, holding your palm over the screen switches the screen off again.

LG G Watch Hardware

Inside, the hardware specifications read like a mid-range smartphone: a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor running at 1.2GHz, paired with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of  on-board storage. It looks like this will quickly become the standard hardware for Android Wear devices, as it is able to run the operating system smoothly without being too demanding on battery life. The 4GB of storage is entirely dedicated to Android Wear apps, so there's no way to load on music and connect a Bluetooth headset to bypass a paired smartphone.At the standard brightness setting, we barely lasted a day and a half of use before having to charge up the G Watch, which is disappointing. If wearables are going to become a must-have gadget for the masses, they need to last at least several days between top ups. Obviously battery life depends heavily on how much you're using the watch, so if you're constantly getting notifications you'll need to charge it up more frequently.Unlike the Tizen-powered Gear 2, which is only compatible with select Samsung smartphones, the G Watch will work with any Android handset with Android 4.3 or higher. That opens it up to a huge number of users, which gives it an immediate edge over Samsung's wearable range. 1405693570972The G Watch is a by-the-numbers smartwatch then, but perhaps that's to be expected for a first generation device - especially when Android Wear is the real star of the show. Google's wearable-centric operating system is a very simplified version of Android that focuses on notifications rather than dedicated apps or features like Samsung's Gear 2. 

Getting Started

After downloading the Android Wear smartphone app from the Play Store, it walks you through turning on Bluetooth and pairing the G Watch with your phone. Once connected, a brief tutorial explains how to swipe between pages, dismiss notifications and get more details, and that's really all you need to get started. From then on, all notifications sent to your phone will also appear on your wrist as Google Now-style cards. Each one has a unique background, with Google apps having colourful drawn images and contact photos displayed behind text messages or incoming calls.The default screen shows the time, as you would expect from any watch. Although Google has restricted manufacturers from customising Android Wear, users are able to swap out the default watch face for an alternative design: tapping and holding on the main watch face will give you a choice of around ten different looks, and more can be downloaded through the Google Play store to give the watch a more personal feel.Swiping up from the bottom of the screen will scroll through all the available notifications and cards, with defaults including weather, number of steps taken and any Google Now cards you have open on your phone, including flight information and parcel tracking. Almost everything is context sensitive, so if you accidentally swipe it away from the watch you'll have to go back to your phone and re-open the app. This is particularly frustrating when listening to music; there's no way to start playback from the watch, as the music controls only appear once music is already playing on the phone. We prefer the shortcut key on Samsung's Gear 2, which lets you quickly stop and start tracks while on the move.

LG G Watch Voice control

Voice is heavily integrated throughout the operating system, and is basically a requirement to use some of Android Wear's more advanced features. The microphone is always active when the screen is on, listening out for the "OK Google" key phrase. There are plenty of specific phrases that will open particular cards, apps or notifications, with everything else bringing up a page of Google search results instead. It's smart enough not to activate voice search on phone and watch simultaneously, with the watch taking priority when paired, but anyone saying the key phrase in close proximity will activate it.Google's voice recognition is excellent, even when we spoke quickly, so we rarely had to repeat ourselves, although anyone with a thicker accent than our generic British voice might need to correct the watch with a "No I said..." prompt. When dictating text messages, there's unfortunately no way to add punctuation, which can leave your texts sounding a little blunt, and it occasionally failed to pick up our messages at all, forcing us to repeat them.The downside to a reliance on voice commands is that it's impossible to talk into your wrist in public without looking a little foolish. Unfortunately this might be something we're forced to adjust to, as the likes of Google, Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana seem determined to make us chat to our devices.

LG G Watch Apps

There's currently only a small selection of apps that support Android Wear natively, although everything that pushes notifications to your phone will also display on your watch in some basic form. There are a few dedicated apps which add more functionality to an Android Wear watch, but they are hidden deep within its menu system.You have to tap the screen to open up a voice prompt then swipe down through a long list of suggested voice actions to find the Start... menu that will actually let you open them. Thankfully there's a third party app called Wear Mini Launcher that puts those apps within easy reach with a swipe from the top left of the screen, but this really should be default behaviour.Some Android Wear apps miss the point, as they try to replicate the actions of their smartphone counterparts. Dating app Tinder is essentially identical on phone and watch, with just a few visual differences, but others are much more useful. Google's own Keep notes app lets you quickly check a shopping list when walking around the supermarket, and the pre-installed Fit app keeps a track of your daily step totals using the integrated accelerometer.

LG G Watch Conclusion

LG's first attempt at a smart watch manages to tick most of the right boxes, but it isn't the leap forward for wearables we were hoping for. This is partly due to Android Wear being in its infancy, with many apps and features still waiting to make an appearance, although Google's commitment to Android means firmware updates and software tweaks are practically guaranteed to arrive sooner or later.The bigger problem is that the G Watch itself simply isn't that exciting. The bland design, average screen and limited battery life all hold it back, particularly when Samsung's Gear Live has the same operating system but a higher resolution, more energy efficient OLD display, heart rate sensor and arguably better looks. At £159 it's currently the cheapest Android Wear device, but even if you're an early adopter we think the £10 more expensive Samsung is probably the better choice.

Hardware
PedometerNo
Heart-rate monitorNo
GPSNo
WaterproofYes
Other featuresNone
Display
Display size1.65in
Resolution280x280
Display technologyLCD
Smartphone connection
OS supportAndroid 4.3+
WirelessBluetooth 4.0
Battery
Battery size400mAh
Battery life1.5 days
Buying information
Price including VAT£160
WarrantyOne-year RTB
Supplierhttp://play.google.com
Detailswww.lg.com/uk
Part codeLG_G_Watch_Black_Titan


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