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LG has been teasing us with its Watch for a while, but it was finally announced and demonstrated during Google IO. We have been using one ever since we posted our first impressions and the goal for this review if to give you a good sense for how it feels to use one in the real-world for a couple of weeks. As you know, LG has chosen to align their watch strategy with Google and the G Watch will work with any Android 4.3+ handset . The LG Watch has also hit commercial availability and retails at $229 on the U.S Google Play store. So, how is it to use LG’s smartwatch?

Specifications

Name G Watch Gear Live
Brand LG Samsung
Product Size 1.49 x 1.83 x 0.39″ 1.49 x 2.22 x 0.35″
Product Weight 2.22 Oz 2.08 Oz
Price (Street) $229.99 $199.99
Display Type IPS LCD, touchscreen Super AMOLED, touchscreen
Resolution 280×280 320×320
Diagonal 1.65″ 1.63″
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
2-core
1.2 MHz
Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
2-core
1.2 MHz
OS Android Wear Android Wear
Internal Storage 4 GB 4 GB
RAM 0.5 GB 0.5 GB
Battery Capacity (mAh) 400 mAh 300 mAh

Display

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We use the watches with the brightness set to 2/6 or 1/6.

The LG G Watch is 1.65” big and uses an IPS LCD technology, along with a 280×280 resolution. During the launch in San Francisco, we had an opportunity to ask the LG hardware team why it used IPS LCD and not OLED since the company makes both types of displays. They had told us that this IPS display was consuming less power than other options they had on hand. That seems like a compelling reason, because “image quality” isn’t really something that is associated with watches anyway.

The screen is certainly bright enough during the day, and at no point in time, it was difficult to read, especially if you pick a high-contrast white on black default watch skin. I can certainly put it in a situation where it would be difficult to read – this is no e-ink display- (e-ink is a reflective display technology, so it *needs* the ambient light or requires an additional light at night ).

In practice, I can’t say that this was a problem. As Android Wear requires it, the watch is always on, and this is a great decision because it’s fairly annoying to have to push a button to know what time it is.

The upside of this display is that the LG watch lasts longer  than Samsung Gear Live nemesis (the larger battery helps too). The downside is that design-wise, the black OLED screen looks more slick.

Industrial design (good and comfortable)

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The design of the LG G Watch is clean but quite plain. It’s a black box with bracelets attached on either sides of it. I’ll let you judge it for yourself, but in some ways, simple isn’t a bad thing. The watch’s design is low-key enough to go with any kind of clothing styles and colors. I personally think that the white version looks better, but black is a classic, so it’s hard to go wrong with that.

Is it comfortable to wear?

Despite not looking very fancy, the band is comfortable to wear, and straps on very solidly with a classic buckle instead of a pressure-based system. The risk of loosing it by accident is low and that’s how I like it. Note also that this is a standard band, so you can order any 20mm band and replace it to fit your taste, style and comfort preference.

Is it sturdy / solid?

The watch has an IP67 rating, which means that it is impervious to dust, and can be submerged in 1m of water for 30mn or so. In theory, you could swim and shower with it, and it should easily survive most water encounter.

We have not tested any shock/drops because it is not marketed as being particularly “rugged”. However, the construction seems solid, and is relatively light, so unless it falls directly on the screen, we imagine that it should be OK.

Android Wear Software (very good)

lg g watch 23 640x426As we mentioned before, Android wear is quite different from other Watches software we’ve seen before. It requires the watch to work closely with the smartphone, which is effectively ”pushing” content, instead of having the watch “pulling” data from the phone, or directly from the Internet.

Although there is no app store dedicated to Android Wear compatible apps, you can find the list of apps that will get installed in the Start menu on the LG G Watch in the Android Wear application on the smartphone, in the section “Browse compatible apps”. The same apps are available for the LG G Watch and the Samsung Galaxy Gear Live since they both run Android Wear.

Notifications

The notifications are all presented as “Cards” that the user can glance at. They are relatively simple and offer the minimum amount of information to let the user decide if he/she needs to pull the phone. It is great in general, but in some situation, it’s not enough.

Take email or SMS for instance: it would be nice to be able to scroll through a message on the watch itself. It’s not possible with the current version of Android Wear, and you’ll need to get your phone for that. That’s also true for other app notifications such as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare etc…

The Android Wear app lets you discard notifications that may not be of interest. For example, Californians may not care that much about getting a weather report several times a day, and not everyone wants to know how many steps they have walked. Being able to narrow the selection is great. From the Android Wear application, it is possible to deselect the apps from which you do not want the notifications to appear on the watch.

Voice commands (very good)

lg g watch 21 640x426Since the LG Watch is a button-less design, the interactions with it can happen with touch or voice. The touch gestures include the classic tap and swipes, and a new one: cover the screen and the watch will go into standby mode, which is effectively the “home page”. Voice commands are a great idea, but it can be challenging at time. For example if you are in a noisy place, even the “OK Google” command doesn’t always work. In fact, even in a quiet environment it doesn’t always work too, but your odds are much better. Any action can also be done with taps and swipes, so that’s your backup. Here are some commands that I have used:

“Call <Someone>”

It is possible to initiate a call from the watch, and if you can pronounce the contact’s name in a way that Google’s voice algorithm understands, then it’s pretty straightforward and works pretty well. Unfortunately, the LG G Watch does not support voice communications by talking to the watch.

“Take Note”

By default, you can dictate a note which will be saved in Google Keep, or sent as an email to yourself (via GMail). However, third party apps like Evernote have been quick to add support for Android Wear. If you choose to, Evernote can become the de-facto note repositories. Of course, only one app can be designed to have that role at any given time.

Sending SMS and Emails

lg g watch 25 640x426Sending messages through the watch can be pretty cool… when it works. The weak point for this is the voice recognition, and although Google has the best one out there, it can still be difficult for it to recognize names. Sure enough, I do have a foreign accent, but even my American friends bump into that on a regular basis. You luck may vary, and things work great if your friend is called “Joe”, but then you may have more than one. This is even harder if your contact has more than one email.

Once you have found the proper contact, the voice recognition engine will hopefully recognize the message and transcribe it properly… The idea is really neat, but there are many opportunities for friction. Being able to send voice messages may improve this somewhat – just saying.

“Agenda Today”

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I would be nice to see the Next Event, even if that’s for tomorrow

This command will tell you about the next event you have one the calendar “today”. It’s pretty handy if you run from meeting to meeting, and most of the meeting information can be looked at directly from the watch, which is great since the street number or the contact name is something that many people would want to glance at while going to the rendezvous point. Unfortunately, there’s no agenda for “tomorrow” if you want to check what’s on your plate tomorrow. This is something that I wouldn’t mind doing in the evening, or as a final check before going to bed.

“Set Alarms”

lg g watch 26 640x426The more you multi-task and the more alarms can become handy. For example, it’s easy to work on something and lose track of time, so I sometime set an alarm that rings 5mn before a conference call. The voice controls of Android (or iOS) have already made this much easier, but the watch makes it even more convenient. “OK Google, Set Alarm at…” is one of the most reliable command that I use on a daily basis.

“Start”

After waking up the phone, Start is the command that will take you to the location where third party functionality or extensions are accessed, such as Compass, (Google) Keep or World Clock.

Battery life (2 days – good with an always-on high quality color display)

As it stand, the LG Watch can last for a couple of days of moderate use, which is not extra-ordinary by smart watch standards, but it is not bad all for one that features a colorful screen which is ON at all times. In comparison the Samsung Gear Live only lasts 24 hours.

Alternatives include the Qualcomm Toq, which can stay on for 4-5 days before needing a charge (thanks to its Mirasol display technology), at the price of poor color rendering, or many other watches that feature a monochrome screen such as the Pebble Steel which lasts for 5 days.

If you have never owned one of those new-generation smart watch, my general advice is this: a single day of battery life is fair inconvenient. A couple of days is much better because it decreases the odds of running dry. Interestingly, the perceived difference between 2 days and 4 days wasn’t as big as I expected. The point is that you will charge these watches on a regular basis, and this is something that you do not do with a normal watch.

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What’s paramount is to have a watch that has the least amount of friction as possible when it comes to charging. The Toq has a wireless charging capability, which is very nice (but the charger is big). It is unfortunately not compatible with a standard Qi charger. LG uses a magnetic charger, which is much nicer than connecting/disconnecting a cable, so the odds that you will charge it are higher.

Finally, it charges fairly quickly and it’s possible to drop it in the dock for a bit more than one hour to get a good charge. I do that sometime when I need to leave for an evening event and realize that the watch needs juice.

Conclusion (very good)

In absolute term, the LG G Watch is an interesting smart watch which is worthy of your attention. It is comfortable to wear and if the functions that Android Wear provide are of interest, the G Watch will perform quite well. The main advantage that it has over its Samsung competitor is the extra battery life, and its band that is secured more tightly to the wrist. It also costs $20 more, but I’ll assume that you would not buy a smart watch if your budget was really tight.

The IPS LCD screen is not as good as the Gear Live’s Super-AMOLED display, but I’m not sure that this “critical” at the moment, and it certainly wasn’t for me. That said, design remains very important, and you’ll have to decide what you really want, but at the moment, the extra battery life and overall wear comfort is my personal priority.

Filed in Featured >Gadgets >Reviews. Read more about , smart watch and Wearable Tech.

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