Smartwatches have been around for a couple of years now, but most consumers sat on the sidelines waiting for something more compelling. Watches like the WiMM One, Sony SmartWatches, and Galaxy Gears (now just Gear) were all okay, but they seemed to serve as appetizers for the main course. Why? Because they lacked consistency or a solid foundation. Plus, most people knew Google, not to mention Apple, had something up their sleeve.
Google did have something up their sleeve and it’s called Android Wear. A simple version of Android that allows developers to add code to their existing apps rather than creating something from scratch. Android Wear will also be free from manufacturer skins, which gives everyone a consistent user experience.
The LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live are officially the first two Android Wear smartwatches, but they feel like unwanted step children as everyone salivates in anticipation of the Moto 360. I’m gonna get something out of the way quickly here folks. I’m not going to tell you to hit the break to find out if you should buy the G Watch. I think it’s a pretty safe bet, I am going to tell you to wait until the Moto 360 comes out, but this review is more than the G Watch, it’s mostly about Android Wear. Sure, I am going to talk about LG’s implementation with the G Watch, but expect a heavy dose of Google’s new OS.
Android Wear is either going to finally put smartwatches on the map or be just another failure. Is Android Wear the game changer we have been looking for?
The G Watch is your basic rectangular smartwatch that is made of plastic and includes a rather dull and cheap wristband. The watch itself might not be as flashy as the Gear Live, but I think it’s less bulky. The G Watch actually has a bigger display (barely), at 1.65 x 1.65-inches vs 1.63 x 1.63-inches, but it feels so much smaller sans the extra metallic frame. What will make the G Watch (or any other smartwatch) look closer to spectacular is swapping out the wristband. LG’s wristband is pretty bad, but that is usually the norm with all smartwatches I have purchased. However, both LG and Samsung are using the standard 22mm size, so you will find a slew of straps to purchase, whether it be leather, metal, and/or a cooler color.
You won’t find any buttons on the G Watch, nor will you find a port for charging. You will find a small pin hole at the back of the device for resetting or powering the watch. You will also find a set of pogo pins that will connect to the charging plate. This is one of the big annoyances with both the G Watch and the Gear Live. They don’t have microUSB ports built-in like the Sony SmartWatch 2. Instead, you must connect your watch to the charging plate and the microUSB cable plugs into that. This adds one more thing that you need to worry about when you travel, and if you ever lose it, you will be SOL until you can buy another.
As I said before, the G Watch isn’t going to blow anyone away in terms of looks, but it’s simply stated and not too bulky.
The G Watch features a 1.65 x 1.65-inch LCD IPS display (280 x 280 resolution), a Qualcomm Snapdraon 400 processor, 512 MB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage, Bluetooth 4.0, gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, and pedometer. It’s also IP67 Certified for dust and water. This means that it’s water resistant, not waterproof. You should be able to submerge your G Watch in up to 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes, but running water with force could be an issue. This means you need to stay away from some faucets, the ocean, or a hose.
The G Watch sports the Snapdragon 400, which is a quad-core. However, it’s probably tuned to run only one core. With that said, Android Wear is a very simple interface, and that kind of horsepower would be overkill. Things run smoothly.
The display is probably the most important aspect of the device. The resolution is a little lower than the Gear Live (280 x 280 vs 320 x 320), but that might actually be a good thing since icons and letters appear bigger. When lit, the display is pretty good, even in sunlight, but standby mode is another situation. You have your choice of either allowing a dimly lit version of your watch face to appear at all times (ambient mode) or a blank screen. The problem with standby mode (or ambient) is that it’s worthless in sunlight. Yes, with a flick of your wrist or a tap of your finger, the watch face will light up and become readable, but I would have preferred something like Sony’s implementation with the SmartWatch 2. The standby display on that watch was superb and completely readable, even in the brightest sunlight.
Ambient or Standby Mode
You won’t find a speaker on the G Watch so you won’t be able to use it for phone calls. You also won’t be able to utilize a ringtone for notifications, but you will get a vibration. I did find the vibration on this particular watch to be a little weak, so if you’re someone that likes to wear your watch a little loose, it could be an issue.
Lastly, there is a microphone so you can tell your G Watch to open an app, transcribe a text / email, start navigation, etc. It works very well and it rarely misses what I I’m saying.
I have been using the G Watch for almost 3 weeks now, and you can definitely get more than a day out of it, but not a full 2 days. Nobody wants to take off their smartwatch and charge it in the middle of the day so you will be forced to charge it every night. Assuming you remove your watch from the charger in the morning, you are likely to have about 30 to 40 percent of battery life left when going to bed. That means that even if you were to turn it off and turn it back on in the morning, there still wouldn’t be enough to get by for the next day. The thing to take out of all of this is that you shouldn’t need to charge your watch during the day, which would be a pain. You will have no problem going from morning to bedtime, and the fact that you have to charge it every night over every other night doesn’t make a difference.
The software is the nuts and bolts of this review. As I mentioned earlier, Android Wear will not be tarnished by manufacturers so we will finally see consistency across devices. Android Wear is what is going to make you love or hate owning the G Watch, Gear Live, Moto 360, or future watches. Even in the Moto 360’s case, looks are only skin deep. If the “smarts” of the smartwatch doesn’t impress you than who needs a cool looking smartwatch? Just go get a cool looking dumb watch. Android Wear is touted as making your life easier by making you more efficient by dealing with important information quickly, not to mention saving battery life on your smartphone.
Let’s start with the Android Wear app. This resides on your phone and connects your watch to your phone via Bluetooth. It also includes various settings and it will sync any apps on your device that are Android Wear capable with your smartwatch. Getting your watch up and running is an absolute breeze thanks to this app.
The main premise of Android Wear is to provide you with timely information. Google found that the average person turns on their smartphone 125 times per day. That is a lot of times, so if you can cut that down by dealing with things via a smartwatch, it will make you more efficient and add hours of battery life to your phone. Google is all about Google Now, and that is what Android Wear is built upon. Whatever you find in your personal version of Google Now on your phone, you will find on your watch. This includes the weather, stock prices, sports scores, what’s on TV, etc. This happens out of the box without installing any new apps. You view these cards by swiping up or down on your watch. You can also swipe to the left to get more information or for more options.
The other thing is that any notifications that you get on your smartphone will appear on your watch as well. It’s supposed to be all notifications, but I didn’t find that to be the case. You can also mute any apps using the companion Android Wear app. Now take this one step further in that any notifications that include actions, such as deleting, replying, and archiving an email or skipping a song, will also appear on your smartwatch. This means that if you cast a movie from Netflix or Play Movies to your TV, you will be able to pause it with a couple of convenient taps. No need to grab your phone. You can also quickly read an email and delete it, archive it, or respond to it without pulling out your phone.
The included sensors like a pedometer and heart rate monitor (not on G Watch) are a really nice touch. There is already a card that is built-in that shows you your steps for the day along with your history. You can even set your daily goal. The pedometer works very well, but the last two times I mowed the lawn, it didn’t track a thing. At this time, there is no way to save your data because Google hasn’t opened up the Google Fit SDK yet. Developers can create third party apps to tap into the pedometer to save your data, but those apps will only be able to capture data starting at the time you install the app. Steps Assistant is one such app.
So Google Now, app notifications, and pedometers / heart rate sensors work right out of the box without installing a thing, but is that enough to making you want to spend $200+ on a new watch? Probably not, which is why Google has made it very easy for developers to add code to their existing apps. This is important because with all past smartwatch offerings, there was always a separate app store. This meant that you needed to install a separate app. With Android Wear, developers will add the sufficient code to their current app in the Play Store. When you update the app, you will have all the features. And if you don’t have an Android Wear Smartwatch, it won’t matter because it will obviously not be visible to you. Let me give you an example. I like to use Glympse for sharing my location with family. Glympse already updated their normal app in the Play Store with Android Wear support. All I needed to do was update the same app that I already had on my smartphone and tada…..I could start a Glympse from the G Watch. Developers can also create an app from scratch that is specifically designed for Android Wear like a game or a watch face.
There are already over 50 Android Wear apps in the Play Store after only about 2 weeks of Google allowing them to be released. There is everything from fitness apps (Runtastic, Runkeeper), automation (IFTTT), productivity, and even a few games. This is what is going to make Android Wear amazing. I’m actually surprised at how much support there is already, and there is likely to be thousands of apps available by the end of the year.
Watch faces will also be huge. Google didn’t officially open up the ability for developers to create watch faces, but there is a work around for now. However, they will work differently once Google opens the watch face API sometime this fall. Once more developers jump onboard, there will be a plethora of faces available. Now I know these faces have nothing to do with the “smart” aspect of watches, but Android fans love to customize and show off their creativity. I know it’s strange, but I am actually more excited for this aspect of Android Wear than anything else.
For a better look at Android Wear, check out my walkthrough video….
Android Wear will make your mobile life simpler and more efficient, but it’s not perfect. Let’s face it, what new OS is perfect out of the gate. Android Wear will continue to evolve, but I have to say that we are off to an amazing start. With that said, I do have some complaints and / or things that I would like changed.
Getting to apps and cards is a little difficult. You have to constantly swipe to get to what you want, and if by chance the screen times out, you have to do it all over again. Opening apps is another issue. There is a “Start” menu that can be called upon by saying “OK Google….Start.” This start menu will show all of your apps, and you can then tap on the appropriate app to run it. You can also simply open an app via voice as well by saying “OK Google……Open Keep.” That’s fine, but what about those that don’t like using voice or are in public places? You would have to tap on the watch face to get the Search box, then scroll down to Start, tap it, then select the app. That is way too much. It would be nice if there was some sort of a pull out screen that held your favorite or most used apps. Update: An app was released called Wear Mini Launcher that simplifies this.
The standby or ambient display is boring. There is an option to keep your display “always on”, but that “always on” means a simplified version of your watch face without the color. If there is a cool background image, it disappears also. It would be nice to have an option to allow the full watch face to remain in standby. Thankfully some developers have figured this out and some of the 3rd party watch faces do this. We’re not sure if this will continue with the Google’s upcoming watch face API.
The first card is always visible on the watch face when turned on. Right now there is only the option of eliminating the first card from showing in standby or ambient mode, but it would be nice to also have the option to eliminate it when the watch face is lit up because it does cover up at least a third of your watch face.
An option to toggle off the feature that turns on your display when you turn the watch towards your face. This can be really annoying at times because the watch face will just light up at various times. For some reason, it happens a lot when I am driving.
The ability to connect to multiple devices would be nice. I love the ability to control media, but sometimes I want to use my Nexus 7 (or any other tablet) to cast music or video to my TV. Since my watch is only connected to my phone, I can’t pause or skip songs. So now I am forced to use my phone all the time, which kind of stinks since I may not want to waste battery life doing that. Now connecting to a second device would be complicated in that which device sends the notifications? Maybe tablets could be considered “secondary” devices in that they would only offer media notifications. Then there is the fact that I don’t even know if Bluetooth could handle this. That’s the problem with technology……You fix one problem, and another problem arises.
These things are minor and expected with any new OS. It’s not a reason to hold off investing in Android Wear, but I know some people don’t like buying in at the ground floor.
Now we are on to the question on if Android Wear allows you to be more engaging to the people you are socializing with. Some people think that since you will be able to quickly glance at notifications, you won’t seem rude to others as in staring at your phone while someone is talking to you. I think Android Wear actually fuels this fire. One minute you are talking to someone, and then you are glancing at your watch to read the notification. Are you checking the time or are you finding something more interesting than talking to me? This is a problem with mobile in general and it isn’t going away. Android Wear certainly doesn’t solve this problem, but I still love it.
So should you buy the G Watch or not? I already revealed to you that I will be recommending that you wait for the Moto 360, which hopefully won’t be too much longer. The real question is if you should be excited for Android Wear? The answer to that is a big Yes. It’s not perfect, but it’s going places. Is it okay to wait and see how well it develops? Absolutely. To me it’s a lot like the Chromecast when it first came out. It was an awesome device, but we needed to wait for developer support to really get excited. That took about 6 months and there is still more room to grow. Android Wear is actually off to a faster start since the SDK was released at the same time as the devices, but I don’t see the mainstream chomping at the bit for it. If you’re a power user, you will want to grab one now. If you’re a casual user, it’s okay to sit on the sidelines, but you will end up buying one at some point because the best is yet to come.