Google's first smart watches have hit Australia, but are they worth the money? We get down and dirty with the LG G-Watch to find out.
What Is It?
The G-Watch has a 1.65-inch (280x280) IPS LCD screen, a 1.2GHz processor, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage and a tiny 400mAh battery to keep it all (proverbially) ticking.
It all connects to your phone via Bluetooth 4.0, and syncs up with the Android Wear app available from Google Play.
It's waterproof to 1m and charges via a magnetic hub you plug into any old micro USB slot.
The G-Watch is LG's first wearable to run the Android Wear OS. Android Wear is Google's vision for smart watches, which essentially brings Google Now's card-based alerts to your wrist.
The G-Watch will set you back $249 (plus shipping) from the Google Play store, or $259 in retailers like JB Hi-Fi and Dick Smith.
The main problem with smart watches of late is that they either made you look like a massive future-douche or a dumb Power Ranger. The LG G-Watch is designed to make you look like a human being with a smart watch that's discreet and practical.
Thanks to that traditional 11mm strap, the G-Watch is actually one of the most comfortable smart watches I have ever worn. It's insanely easy to put on, fits easily on your wrist and is comfortable enough to wear all day without taking it off. The buckle is thin enough that it doesn't impede your ability to lay your wrist down flat on a surface, and it's simple enough to slide up and down your arm.
The wrist strap is also interchangeable, which means you can ditch the bundled rubber wristband and bring your own fancy leather strap to the table to make your smart watch look a little more traditional.
On the inside, the 1.2GHz processor is enough to sufficiently power animations, notifications and the nifty little microphone on your trendy wrist computer and despite the fact that you only get a 400mAh battery, use time is around two days before you're scrambling for a charger.
Thanks to the combo of brilliant LG hardware and stock Google software, the G-Watch is the Nexus smart watch you've been waiting for.
By way of software, the LG G-Watch runs Android Wear, which is basically a cut-down version of Google Now meant for your wrist. Notifications on your phone are neatly boxed-up and fired off to your wrist in the form of app-specific cards, which means that just about any developer can build Android Wear Cards for their apps. Google has also baked its excellent Voice Search software right into the Wear software, meaning that all you need to say is "OK Google" to start ordering your phone to do stuff or to find out things from the ubiquitous search engine. If you need more info than the watch can display, you're prompted to "Open On Phone", which beams you straight to the screen you want on your respective Android device.
It's nice to see your apps throw cute little cards at you, but it would be nice if they displayed more information about things like your emails, for example. The screen size means you only really see who the email is from and not the subject line. It would be even nicer, however, to have more apps for your shiny new smart watch.
What's Not So Good?
Right now, the list of compatible apps for Australia is relatively small (65 apps) compared to the number of apps on the store (literally hundreds of thousands). Apps that you'll actually use are in even shorter supply: some of the most popular apps are still missing Android Wear integration. The most popular apps with Wear integration now come in the form of Wunderlist; Tinder; Lyft; Runtastic; Philips Hue Control; IFTTT; Google Keep; Pinterest; Google Maps and Google Hangouts. Of those 10 stand-out apps that people actually use, three of them were made by Google. Not a great showing so far.
Google has apparently made Wear integration pretty easy to muster for developers, so hopefully we'll see more apps worth using soon.
The real issue, however, comes from missing functionality in Google Now for Aussies.
When Mario tested the G-Watch, Google Now sent him a bunch of useful stuff in the form of cute notification Cards. Such as:
• New emails • New text message • Incoming phone call, with an easy option to dismiss or answer the call • I reached my daily goal of 10,000 steps • The score of the Giants game • My package has shipped • An event on my calendar is coming up in a few minutes • Public transportation options from the location I was three blocks ago • Estimated time to get a restaurant I looked up on my phone. • Estimated time to get to a bar I looked up on my computer.
There are still a few of those functions that don't work in Australia when it comes to Google Now: it doesn't support package shipping information in Australia, you don't get decent sports integration in Australia, public transport options aren't ubiquitous across the country (looking at you, Melbourne) and estimated transport times often don't show up correctly.
It's not the most important functionality to have on a smart watch, but it lets you down when you realise that it's just another goddamn smartphone remote. It doesn't do anything above and beyond that of a normal watch: it's mostly just fancier (you don't even know-ow).
From a hardware perspective, the screen on the G-Watch lets the experience down somewhat compared to the vivid AMOLED screen on its primary rival, the Samsung Gear Live. Plus, the Gear Live features an optical heart rate monitor, meaning it can both track your steps and record your pulse as you work out, whereas the G-Watch only tracks steps via its accelerometer.
Should You Buy It?
If you absolutely have to have a smart watch, the LG G-Watch is a winner. Better app support will come in the future, and given the emphasis Google places on Now these days, it's not completely out of the question that Australia get better local functionality soon.
Having said that, the Samsung Gear Live does pack a brighter screen and a heart rate monitor. Feature-wise, that puts it ahead, but given that the strap on the Gear is still pretty obnoxious, the advantage falls back into LG's court. It's definitely worth checking these two out in store before you buy.