LG Watch Sport review: A beautifully bulky showcase for Android Wear 2.0

Throughout 2016 there were a number of rumors referencing a Pixel or Nexus smartwatch coming from Google. Instead we got a pair that Google co-designed with LG. Enter the LG Watch Sport and its sibling, the LG Watch Style. Born out of a collaboration between Google and LG, these new smartwatches have been designed to show off everything possible in the newly released Android Wear 2.0. The more feature-packed of the two, the Watch Sport brings a lot to the table, but it may not be the beast of a smartwatch you’ve been looking for.

Hit the break for our review of the LG Watch Sport.

Design

I’ll just get this out of the way right from the start: the Watch Sport is one bulky smartwatch. In our review of the Samsung Gear S3, I talked about how big that smartwatch was, but this guy brings that to a new level. It’s not terribly heavy and is actually pretty comfortable to wear, especially for someone like me who tends not to wear a watch of any kind. But it’s thick. Thicker than it’s sibling, the Watch Style, and thicker than most smartwatches. The Watch Sport at 14.2mm simply looks like a tank.

As I said before, however, it still manages to be comfortable to wear. The soft TPU straps feel good around the wrist and doesn’t irritate or tug at your skin. And while the body itself is large, it doesn’t feel too heavy, allowing you to comfortably wear it the whole day. The stainless steel body looks sleek and minimal while feeling solidly built. Will it win any design awards? Probably not, but does it have to? Sometimes the best design is the one that almost disappears. With a wearable of any kind, that can certainly come in handy as it blends with whatever lifestyle or activity you find yourself in.

In addition to the beautiful touch-ready display (more on that later), there are three hardware buttons on the right side of the Watch Sport. The top and bottom buttons are customizable shortcuts and the middle button brings you right into your app list, but it’s also a scrolling wheel for easy vertical navigation. On the backside of the device you’ll find LG branding as well as the heart rate sensor. One downside is the lack of being able to swap around different watch straps as the LG Watch Sport uses the straps to house its various antennas. To improve the signal? To free up space inside? I would be okay with this if it allowed for a much thinner device, but moving components into the strap yet still giving us a watch that is thicker than most is not acceptable.

Hardware

The LG Watch Sport comes with a gorgeous 1.38-inch P-OLED screen with a resolution of 480 x 480 and, as they are proud to point out, no “flat tire” appearance with the full circle display. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 2100 paired with 768MB of RAM power the device that gives you 4GB of internal storage and 430mAH battery, plus WiFi and Bluetooth. Unlike the LG Watch Style, NFC and LTE are supported, and the Watch Sport also comes with a PPG heart rate sensor that measures the blood flow rate as affected by the pumping action of your heart. With a water resistance rating of IP68, the Watch Sport can withstand being submerged in water up to 1.5 meters for 30 minutes.

Performance

The Watch Sport ships with the barebones version of Android Wear 2.0, in a way similar to how the Nexus phones shipped with stock Android. This, paired with the fact that Google was involved in the production of the watch, promises a smooth and responsive performance and it certainly delivers. Animations were slick, and swiping or tapping around the interface was very fast and I never saw the Watch Sport stutter or struggle. The only times there were hiccups involved an app that was slow to load, but it’s hard to track exactly what causes that, such as if it’s just a poorly optimized app or if the data connection itself is being slow.

The display of the Watch Sport is amazing. The high resolution paired with P-OLED technology makes the interface jump off the surface and I almost never struggled to see what was on display while outside in the sun. Samsung always gets the highest marks for its displays, but I would put the Watch Sport right up there alongside any of the Gear watches. And with not only Bluetooth, but WiFi and LTE (with supported service) to connect the watch to the world and allow you to receive notifications and sync apps, you will always and easily find yourself able to get things done on the Watch Sport no matter where you are.

Battery

Battery life is one of the most important factors when choosing any mobile device, but especially with something like a smartwatch. With the reliance on activity and heart rate monitoring, as well as providing sleep pattern data, it’s not terribly helpful if you have yet another device that needs to be charged every night or even struggle to make it through a single day. How does the LG Watch Sport hold up in the battery department? Not great to be honest. This is definitely a smartwatch that you will need to charge every night, unless you wear it and almost never use it or look at it, but then what’s the point? When the day reached 7 or 8pm, I often found myself hovering around the 30% mark and that was based on what I consider to be “average use.” What that means is using the phone for receiving and responding to notifications, checking the weather or news feed, and maybe playing a game or two. Fitness lovers and those who rely on a smartwatch for higher levels of activity and full-fledged workout routines will see a pretty big drop in battery life, unfortunately.

There are ways you can tweak the software to squeeze some extra juice, such as turning off the always-on display, raise to wake, and limiting the number of apps that can send notifications to the Watch Sport. But at the end of the day, what good is a smartwatch that requires you to turn off half of the features just to make it last longer than a day? Granted, we are still in the early days of Android Wear 2.0 and certainly for the Watch Sport itself, so I hope to see improvements with battery life in future software updates.

The battery charger couldn’t be easier or simpler to use. Just snap the back of the Watch Sport on to the magnetic dock and you’re good to go. No complaints here, just allow at least 4 or so hours for the Watch Sport to fully charge back up.

Software

Speaking of the software, Android Wear 2.0 brings in a host of great new features. Right from the default watch face you can swipe to the left to bring up other watch faces to choose from. And from there you can tweak each face with customizable app shortcuts, which is very handy indeed. I settled on one of the shortcuts being for the weather and for the second I decided on the one showing the number of active notifications. Although I couldn’t actually interact with the notification “shortcut” and still had to swipe up on the screen to see them. Either way, there is no shortage of apps or other functions to set these shortcuts to.

Apps get a big overhaul too with Android Wear 2.0 as the Google Play Store can be accessed directly on the watch to browse and install all available apps. And as one of the primary uses you’ll have with the Watch Sport is to receive and reply to messages, the new software brings several different methods to input those replies. Voice dictation is still there and works as expected, but now you can also draw out an emoji to send. This isn’t as fun as it sounds and I think a better solution would have been to simply show a scrolling grid of emojis for you to tap on. The big new input, however, is a full QWERTY keyboard with swipe support. I won’t lie and say my eyebrows didn’t furrow slightly at the thought of this, but I was surprised to discover just how well this worked for me. Speaking as someone with large hands, tapping or swiping on the keyboard almost always resulted in the exact word I wanted being chosen. It’s by no means as easy as typing on a smartphone, but there must be some pretty neat tech behind this. Others will certainly have a difference experience, but for me alone it was very surprising.

Fitness lovers will find all the usual and expected features here. The heart rate sensor works quickly and Google Fit integration means you’ll have no trouble setting up workout routines, counting steps and even weight lifting reps taken. It’s clear that Google and LG want to push hard towards those with an active lifestyle as those features paired with cellular connection support (so you can leave your phone behind), and many watch faces that default to showing Google Fit data, provide a solid experience to those less lazy than myself.

Google Assistant is the other big new feature with the LG Watch Sport and Android Wear 2.0. After setting it up with your personal account on your phone, simply say “Ok Google” like you normally would to access all kinds of information from the weather forecast and navigation to a destination, to creating new reminders and even controlling, say, the lights in your connected smart home. It’s probably one of the best features that Google is implementing with Android Wear 2.0 and I hope and expect to see it only get better.

Unlike the LG Watch Style, the Watch Sport supports Android Pay with the embedded NFC chip. Setup was easy and once it’s all up and running you can simply hold the watch near the NFC terminal to complete your transaction, with one little caveat. In order for Android Pay to work you need to enable some kind of lock screen protection, such as a pattern you draw, on the Watch Sport. This isn’t the worst thing in the world, but when you’re used to simply placing your finger on your phone’s fingerprint sensor to make a payment, having to manually unlock the watch each time did get a little tedious. It’s a small complaint and I’d rather see more protection than less, but it still was worth mentioning.

Closing

So now that the dust has settled a bit, where are we? The LG Watch Sport is a very good smartwatch and combined with the new features found in Android Wear 2.0, I daresay it may elevate to very very good. The shortcomings may be few, but they are not minor. First off, the size of this thing. I’m a tall guy with large hands, albeit a small wrist, and the Watch Sport felt too big for me a lot of the time and I can only image what it must feel like to a much smaller person. Some might appreciate the heft, but with the fact that the antennas were moved to the straps instead of inside the device, paired with a battery that could have been larger, I’m struggling to justify how thick the Watch Sport is.

Speaking of the battery, it really is a shame to see a 2017 smartwatch struggle to last through a 12-hour day. There’s a lot going on with both the hardware and software of the Watch Sport, but I can’t help but think it could be optimized better. If you primarily use the phone as a way to check and interact with notifications, maybe throw some questions at Google Assistant, and check on some news or hire an Uber, you’ll usually get through the full day. But if you want to take advantage of all the sensors and Google Fit integration, as Google and LG seem to really want you to do, make sure your charger is close by.

The LG Watch Sport does a lot of things very well. Notifications appear instantly and I for one really enjoyed the on-screen keyboard. Support for Android Pay is a welcome addition, as is the Google Assistant for getting quick information with little effort. Android Wear 2.0 brings a lot of great new features in general and I’m excited to see where it goes from here. But at $349, is it worth it? Hard to say. There are smartwatches out there with better battery life, dedicated activity trackers that are easier on the wrist and sync with more data and third party services, and smartwatches in general still haven’t seen mainstream adoption many were hoping for. LTE support is great, but that will only add to the cost of owning the Watch Sport and is probably not a necessity for most people as even with a smartwatch we still tend to have our smartphones nearby.

With all that said, the LG Watch Sport is still a very good smartwatch, but a lot of the reasons why are because of Android Wear 2.0 and not anything related specifically to the actual watch. The year 2017 is still young, but if you cannot wait to get a new Android Wear device, the Watch Sport will not disappoint. However, if you are on the fence, you might just want to wait a bit to see what else may be released.

Buy it now: Google Store, Best Buy, AT&T


About the Author: Kevin Arnold

Kevin has been obsessed with technology ever since the days of playing with commands in MS-DOS. As a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology where he studied a combination of New Media Programming and Photography, Kevin lives in New York City where he works as a photo retoucher. His first "smartphone" was the good old LG Voyager with its slide-out physical keyboard. The first Android device Kevin owned was the now-infamous HTC Thunderbolt, which he still has in a drawer somewhere. Currently rocking both the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X, Kevin has a (un)healthy obsession with phones and has owned more than he can remember. When he's not shopping for a new phone, Kevin enjoys lots of food and wine, video games, astronomy, and the Big Apple.