For the past week, I’ve been running around town and sitting in meetings, constantly looking at my watch. It’s not because I was perpetually late or calculating the minutes till the end of a PowerPoint presentation (okay, maybe that was part of it). It’s because I was receiving all sorts of notifications on my wrist.
New email — buzz. New Twitter conversation — buzz. Congrats, you’ve reached your daily step-count goal — buzz. All of these alerts were delivered to me via the new LG G Watch.
Available for preorder now from the Google Play Store for $229, and shipping on July 7, the G Watch is one of the first smartwatches to feature Google’s new platform for wearable devices, called Android Wear. It’s part of Google’s broader effort to expand Android beyond phones and tablets, and it aims to deliver more relevant and timely information than what’s being provided by the current array of smartwatches available.
I’d say that the Android Wear is a step in the right direction for smartwatches, but there’s nothing about it that makes it a must-have yet. It might be tempting for gadget enthusiasts, but even for them, the G Watch wouldn’t be my first pick. The Samsung Gear Live, which also runs Android Wear and ships on July 7, offers a sharper screen and a heart-rate sensor, and costs $30 less. Meanwhile, the upcoming Moto 360 has a much more stylish design.
But whether you’re an early adopter or just someone curious about smartwatches, my advice would be to wait. There are more devices on the way, including Apple’s much-anticipated smartwatch, and Android Wear is still very much in its early days, as evidenced by some of the limitations I experienced during my review week.
As part of the requirements set by Google and Android Wear, the G Watch is only compatible with smartphones running Android 4.3 or higher. I tested it with the Nexus 5, and after downloading the Android Wear app, I was able to connect the two devices via Bluetooth with no problem.
I wasn’t particularly fond of the G Watch’s design. I thought the rectangular body and black silicone watchband were plain and too sporty looking. But style is such a subjective thing (case in point, a colleague of mine really liked the look of it), so ultimately it will be up to you decide whether the G Watch is to your taste.
You can swap out the straps with any standard 22mm watchband, so there is an opportunity to jazz things up. LG also offers the G Watch in a white-gold model, and you can change the watch face by doing a long press on the screen and selecting from one of 24 different designs.
The watch was generally comfortable to wear, and it’s dust- and water-resistant. I took it into the shower, and it’s still working just fine. But the G Watch is quite large, and on occasion it would get caught on things like my purse straps.
The body of the watch measures 1.5 inches wide by 1.75 inches tall. LG said that it researched different sizes and found that this was the best size for both men and women. I generally like large watch faces, but this was a bit too much. I asked a couple of my girlfriends to try it on to make sure it wasn’t just me, and they also agreed that it was too big.
To a certain extent, I understand why it has to be that big. If you were to go too small, it would be difficult to read the contents of the screen, and as it is, you already have to scroll a bunch to read text on the 1.65-inch touchscreen.
The 280- x 280-pixel display is clear and bright, and it’s always on, meaning that you can still see the time even when the backlight isn’t completely on. The bad news is that the screen is difficult to read in bright sunlight. If I was walking on the street and received an alert, I would have to duck into the shadows or a building to see what was on the display.
With the Android Wear software, the G Watch can show you the weather, keep track of how many steps you taken, and alert you to different phone notifications. The G Watch vibrated on my wrist every time I received a new message, Facebook comment, Twitter reply, and more. All of this information is displayed on tiny cards, which you can then swipe to the left to take more action, or swipe to the right to dismiss.
You can also interact with the G Watch using voice commands, which is a feature built into Android Wear. Just say “Okay, Google,” and then rattle off a message, create reminders, and more.
While all of this worked just fine on the G Watch, it’s obvious that Android Wear needs a lot more work. Right now, there’s no way to reply to any notifications that come from a non-Google app or service, such as Facebook. Also, with Twitter notifications, I would get buzzed if my friends were talking about a particular topic, like the World Cup. The problem is that I don’t consider that particularly important, and would prefer not to see it on my smartwatch. Currently, there’s no way to customize this — it’s all or nothing.
With voice commands, I didn’t like that once you dictated a message, the G Watch immediately sent it, without giving you an opportunity to check for mistakes. As a stickler for correct spelling and punctuation, this gave me a lot of anxiety.
Where I do see Android Wear being valuable and more intelligent is in its ability to present you with information based on time, location and your interests, thanks to Google Now. That’s Google’s personal digital assistant that, with your permission, scans through your emails, calendar and Web searches to present you with more relevant information.
So, for example, the G Watch automatically alerted me to when I should leave for a meeting in downtown San Francisco, based on current traffic conditions. Or, if you often taken public transportation, the watch can display nearby stations, complete with timetables. Seeing information like this at a glance — stuff that I don’t necessarily think about but find very useful — is where I think wearables can provide a great value.
Performance-wise, the G Watch worked well, with little lag. But battery life could use improvement. On most days, I had to charge the watch every night. I already have enough devices that I need to plug in each day, so it would be nice not to worry about another one.
The LG G Watch and Android Wear provide a promising glimpse at what’s to come in smartwatches. But with more models and software improvements on the horizon, you’d be wise to wait and see before strapping one of these early devices on your wrist.