LG G Watch – an initial review

I have to admit that I entered into this foray with very low expectations. Reviews at the time when I ordered the watch, which was the first day it was made available for public release, was very thin to say the least. The devices that most reviewers were using had limited functionality as they were only set to demo mode during Google I/O 2014. I remember telling a friend that I ordered the watch which I thought I would hate the least with the mindset that I would likely replace it with a Motorola 360. For some context, I already own a Pebble watch which I acquired during their Kickstarter campaign which I liked a lot. My test for the LG G Watch to use it for my summer vacation in Europe. I wore the watch everyday. I was on the go a lot and I was in a mixed environment of having internet access and was rarely in a position where I could charge the watch.

Here are some of my photos on Google+

First off, let’s talk about the LG G Watch as a physical device. The watch is reminiscent of my Pebble watch. It’s a square device with a screen on it. The primary physical difference between the LG G Watch and the Pebble is that the LG G Watch is a colour touchscreen while the Pebble watch is an e-Ink device with 4 buttons. The LG G watch is a little taller then the Pebble and a little heavier. However, the LG G watch is less plasticky and feels more like a more solid device. However, I would still compare the LG G watch to the Pebble watch and not the Pebble Steel in terms of build and styling – both are meant to be the simplest implementation of the system. The LG G watch came packaged with a USB charger, Micro USB cable and a watch dock for charging. The docking station is magnetic and latches on to the the base of the watch when you charge it. This is a better implementation then the Pebble cable latch because this has a much larger surface area to grab the watch. I generally have to fiddle with the cable a little bit to charge the Pebble. I don’t find it annoying with the Pebble but this is a much nicer implementation. The one thing in common for both the watches is that the plastic bands make it uncomfortable after a few hours of use. I find myself removing the watch the first chance I get when I get home.

One of the more common questions asked is about the battery life of the LG G watch. I’ve never had the watch stopped working during my day of use. By the end of my day, I generally have about 40% left of battery life. Whether or not the phone the watch was connected to had internet access had little to no impact on the battery life. I had expected that more internet access meant more information pumping through meant more notifications and hence less battery life. This didn’t seem to be the case so far.

In terms of software, Google seemed to have extended Pebble’s paradigm. I believe that Pebble hit the nail on the head in terms of smart watch functionality – it’ll primarily be an extension of your smart phone that has a very small physical footprint. The Pebble is primarily a notification system. Android Wear extends it to be primarily a notification system with a voice interface to Google Now through the Android Play Services. By default, all notifications are passed through the phone to the watch. You can blacklist notifications of apps that you don’t want to be notified of through the Android Wear app on the phone. When you get a notification of an app that is not truly Android Wear ready, you typically only have the option to dismiss the notification or open the app on the phone. Apps that are Android Wear ready typically have a few more actions that you can take and that varies from app to app.

The Android Wear UI is an extension of the Google Now card system on your Android phone. You get notifications based on what Google thinks are relevant to you. You swipe up and down to navigate through notifications, left to right to dismiss cards and right to left to get access to more details for that particular notification followed by any actions that you might take. For instance, for an Gmail notification,  you’ll first get an excerpt for that notification followed by the full email if you swipe from right to left. If you swipe again in the same direction, you’ll get the option to reply to the email followed by the ability to archive it and so on.

The ability to interface with your watch using your voice through Google Now requires use of the internet. It does work relatively well. In a quiet place, Google Now works very well but not so much if there is a lot of ambient noise whether through wind or other sound sources. This is more of a hardware limitation rather than a software limitation as I suspect that the microphone on the watch is not built with any type of noise cancellation technologies. The primary use of the voice interface is meant for quick commands or one short sentence responses to messages. It really doesn’t support anything more then that.

There are a few surprises with my experience. The first is that while the watch is connected to the phone, it still is a separate device. This became glaringly apparent when I tried to use the watch to create a task on Todoist using Google Now. On my phone it creates it with Todoist while on my watch it creates it with Trello. This is because Todoist isn’t fully compatible with Android Wear yet. The second is that the watch stopped syncing with the phone. It only happened once. It took me a bit of time to figure out what was going on. It finally clicked in that the interface between the watch and phone was broken when I opened up the Android Wear app and found that there were no app services available on the phone. To fix it, I had to reset the watch. Once it came back up, it seemed to work fine. Another quirk is that I have no idea how to install apps. I have uninstalled Trello but it’s still associated as an app to my watch.

My overall impression of the device is that I really like the LG G Watch. When I first bought the watch, I was planning to swap it for the Moto 360 when it came out. After using the LG G Watch, I am really liking the simplicity of the design. The LG G Watch is probably the Nexus version of the Android Wear experience as it comes with the Android Wear framework and nothing else. I would liken Pebble to be like Android and the LG G Watch more like iOS. Android Wear just feels much more polished then the Pebble. The tie in to Google Play services create a richer applications quickly and richer apps. There have been some complains that the phone is too hyper focused but it’s also what you want in a watch.