While Android Wear hasn’t seen much success, Google is quietly pushing forward. And this week, you can buy the first Android Wear 2.0 devices, including the LG Watch Style, which Google co-designed.
I’ve actually owned a number of Android Wear devices over the past few years, but this is the first one since the second generation Moto 360 I picked up in late 2015. That Motorola has declined to even bother with Android Wear 2.0 is perhaps telling, and they’re not alone: Several device makers are suddenly taking a wait-and-see approach with Google’s poorly-performing wearable platform.
The thing is, I’ve long thought that Google was onto something. Sure, all smart watch-style wearables share the same issues, poor battery life and bulkiness being the big ones. But once you accept that and honestly compare Android Wear to, say, Apple Watch, the simplicity—and, dare I say, intuitiveness—of the Android Wear user experience becomes all the more obvious.
Not that it matters. There is no such thing as a successful Android Wear device. Just the promise.
So Google took its time with Android Wear 2.0. And like newer versions of the flagship Android OS, this system is only being dripped out into the world via a small selection of carefully curated devices that will best show off its new capabilities. In this case, the first two of those devices are the LG Watch Style and LG Watch Sport.
I’m reviewing the former, in part because its smaller and lighter and is, I think, the better alternative to Apple Watch, the stylish market leader. But both devices share some functionality, as you’d expect, as they are both based on Android Wear 2.0. So you get the ever-improving Google Assistant on both, activity tracking (which has emerged as the key reason to own such a device, go figure), and so on. But both are differentiated from each other as well.
The LG Watch Sport’s bigger body houses cellular connectivity so you can make phone calls, send text messages, and use connected apps, even when you’ve left your phone behind. It also includes a heart rate monitor, which missing from Style.
But I still find the LG Watch Style to be the more interesting wearable. It features a MODE leather strap, which means you can swap it out for any other MODE strap, a feature not available on Sport (which includes a non-removable strap). Google offers a wide variety of MODE straps in their online store, and this kind of personalization is important for the audience that might be interested in this kind of wearable. You can also choose based on usage. A silicon strap might be better for working out, for example, but you could get a leather strap for work or a night out.
So. The LG Watch Style.
It was “designed with our friends at Google,” as the box proudly declares. Which I suppose makes it like a Nexus device, as opposed to Google’s in-house Pixel efforts. The materials seem high quality, from the pretty metal body to the removable leather straps, which use a much more obvious (and easier to use) mechanism than does Apple Watch.
Speaking of which, the LG is comparable to the Apple Watch from a size and weight perspective. And it features a round watch face, which I prefer. And unlike the Moto 360 devices, there’s no “flat tire” effect, where the bottom portion of the face is not really a screen: The display covers the entire face of the device, and with Android Wear 2.0, the OS adapts nicely to this shape too.
Setup is simple enough: You’ll need the Android Wear app on your Android phone or iPhone, and a simple wizard will get you going. I synced the device with my iPhone, which isn’t actually a new feature, but it still seems a bit odd.
The user interface is simpler than before. You can choose from a variety of watch faces in the phone app or right on the device, and like Apple Watch these faces run the gamut from old-school watch-like designs to newer, more functional faces that provide real-time information related to your activity level, among other things.
Like Apple Watch, too, the LG picks up a new digital crown-like dial on the side. You press this button to view the apps list, which neatly curves around the side of the display now, matching the circular shape of the screen.
Or, from within any app, you can press it to return to the watch face, which acts as the home screen on these devices.
That dial works as a dial too. So while you can scroll through screens (like the apps list) using multitouch swipe gestures, you can also just turn the dial to do so. It’s very natural, but to actually select an item on-screen—like the currently selected app in the apps list—you actually do have to tap it on the screen.
So far, this seems like a very positive step forward. Android Wear 2.0 has a much more intuitive and obvious UI than Apple Watch, but the app story is unclear. That there is a Google Play Store right on the device itself, however, is very interesting.
I’ll use it for a while and report back later. The LG Watch Style costs $250, but it appears that some coming versions—rose gold, perhaps, it’s not currently available—will cost a bit more. The bulkier but more capable LG Watch Sport is $350.