Review by Sunetra Chakravati,8/14/2014 11:06:25 AM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Sharp and clear display | Easy to use software | Permanently displays the time |
Long messages cannot be fully read | Multiple messages cannot be read | Battery life is one day | Lack of auto screen brightness
Despite Samsung’s best efforts with its Gear range, the smartwatch hasn’t leapt onto the wrists of mainstream consumers quite the way everyone thought it would. Now it’s Google’s turn, with the Android Wear operating system and manufacturing partnerships with LG, Motorola and Samsung.
The first offspring from this fledgling relationship includes the Samsung Gear Live and this, the £159 LG G Watch. We’ve spent a few days using the G Watch to find out if the smartwatch is finally a reality, and if it can replace a conventional timepiece.
First impressions aren’t great. It’s a great big slab of square plastic; gloss on the front, matte on the sides, and with a black rubber strap identical to that of the Sony SmartWatch 2.
It’s not an offensive design, but it’s just...dull. There’s no flair at all and to be honest it looks like a mockup of a smartwatch that you might see in a low-rent television advert which doesn’t want to pay to show a real, branded product. All other smartwatches to date have had square screens too (and so does the Samsung Gear Live), but as Motorola proved with the upcoming Moto 360, Android Wear works equally well on a round screen. I’ve heard LG is working on a round watch too, but I wish it had focused on that instead of the square G Watch.
Moving beyond aesthetics, the G Watch is light and comfortable - I wear a variety of watches and this one felt identical to every other, which is a good thing. With Samsung’s Gear 2 I was always conscious of the sci-fi gadget on my wrist, but with the LG that feeling never caused me to shamefully hide the watch beneath my shirt sleeve. I think the screen permanently (and discreetly) showing the time, and not lighting up with every movement, as the Gear 2 does, makes all the difference.
But this is still a huge watch. The case measures 37.9 x 46.5 x 9.95mm, and while I don’t mind the thickness (it’s about the same as my other watches), the case is on the large size and could well put some customers off, especially those who don’t normally wear a watch. However, as with smartphone screen sizes, you should soon get used to a larger watch like the LG, it just takes a few days and some patience.
The strap is available in black or white, but can be changed for any 22mm alternative - a good thing, as I’d rather have seen leather than rubber as standard.
Charging the G Watch involves resting it on the included dock (shown above), which is then plugged into the mains or your computer via a microUSB cable. There’s a magnetic connection to keep the watch in place. but poor battery life (one day) means you might need to carry the charger around everywhere you go.
The G Watch’s display measures 1.65 inches from corner to corner and has a resolution of 280 x 280. This is, of course, tiny compared to any smartphone, but I still found everything to be sharp, clear and easy to read. There are six brightness levels to choose from but I usually left it at level four. Even at six the screen outdoors and, as with the Samsung Gear 2, there is no ambient light sensor to boost brightness on a sunny day - a glaring omission, we’re sure you’ll agree...
The Android Wear operating system will be familiar to anyone who’s used Google Now on their Android phone. Information is delivered on a series of cards; these include the weather forecast, new text messages, Twitter mentions, upcoming calendar events and anything else Google (or installed apps) thinks you should know about.
The name of the app (or contact) wanting your attention is shown on the virtual watch face (there are more than 20 to choose from, plus more on the Play store). Tap the screen to wake, swipe up to view the notification, or swipe it to the right to delete it. I love getting notifications to my wrist and it’s great to quickly check if a new text needs my immediate attention, but there’s a major problem - only short texts or Facebook messages can be seen in full. For anything longer than a few words, the message ends with a ‘...’ and the option to open it on your phone.
I get that Google doesn’t want me to read War and Peace on a smartwatch, but why can’t I see a long text or Facebook message in full? More often than not, I’d open the message on my watch, read as much as it would let me, then head to my phone to see the rest, completely negating the need for the watch. Also, if you receieve several Facebook messages, they cannot each be read - you get a tiny two-or-three-word preview at most.
Away from notifications, Android Wear can run a number of apps in partnership with their fully-featured equivalents on your smartphone. Think of them as applets. Gaming is possible, but only very simple titles like Birdie Wear, an imitation of the hugely popular Flappy Bird game, work on the tiny screen.
One of the most interesting apps I tried was AllTheCooks, a social food app which encourages users to upload and share recipes with each other. Once you pick a recipe on your phone and and tell the app you have all the ingredients, you can fire up the G Watch and get to work. Each instruction is easy to read despite the small screen and when cooking times are mentioned you simply tap the number to start a countdown timer in the watch’s own clock app. It’s experiences like this when a wrist-worn display comes into its own.
Finally, the make-or-break issue of battery life. LG claims a full day is possible, and it’s right. But, where a smartphone can often stretch to two if you’re careful, the G Watch cannot. It really is a single full day of light to average use and no more. I doubt I could work through a complex recipe and still get a full day of text/Twitter/Facebook notifications. This (and aesthetics) is where smartwatches must improve most of all.
Google and Android Wear has done much to move the smartwatch market forward. It has taken a leaner and more intelligent approach than Samsung’s throw-everything-at-the-wall, hope-some-sticks philosophy. No one needs to make calls with their watch and we don’t need to take photos either - Google knows this. Instead, the LG G Watch is a device for delivery, not creation.
It is your universal inbox and one which discreetly keeps you in check with what’s going on in your social network. There are times when checking your wrist is more convenient than reaching for your phone; along with convenience it brings fitness tracking and, of course, the time - something the Samsung Gear 2 often fails to deliver.
The lack of an ambient light sensor to automatically adjust screen brightness is disappointing, but I fear a screen lit brightly all day would decimate the already marginal battery life.
To sum up, the LG G Watch is an improvement over anything Samsung has done to date (although I’m yet to see the Android Wear-powered Gear Live) and it does so at a lower price. But it isn’t yet the smartwatch for everyone, there are just too many frustrations and shortcomings for now.
However, the product category as a whole is making steady progress. Early adopters will be happy, for sure, but those looking for a smartwatch to replace a watch they already own, they may want to hold off for one more generation.