A More-Than-Bearable Wearable: The LG G Watch

Warning This article was written over six months ago, and may contain outdated information.

Yes­ter­day I read Chris­t­ian Heilmann’s arti­cle Bear­able Wear­ables, a review of the Sam­sung Gear Live and Android Wear. Christian’s over­all opin­ion was that it’s too flawed for him to cur­rent­ly find use­ful. I’ve been using an LG G Watch for the last few weeks, and have come to a dif­fer­ent con­clu­sion; that being the case, I thought I’d give my own opin­ion. Con­sid­er this my review of the G Watch, in the form of a response to some of the issues Chris­t­ian raised — mean­ing you should first read his arti­cle in order to get the most from this one.

Chris­t­ian and I are using dif­fer­ent watch­es, but I think some of the prob­lems with the hard­ware are direct­ly com­pa­ra­ble, and obvi­ous­ly the soft­ware is the same. It must be stressed I’m not try­ing to say Chris­t­ian is right or wrong: his require­ments and expec­ta­tions are dif­fer­ent from mine, so our reviews are entire­ly sub­jec­tive. What I want to say is that my expe­ri­ence is pos­i­tive, Christian’s is not, yours may accord with either one of ours.

The Hardware

I didn’t find the size uncom­fort­able; I’m used to wear­ing a watch, and this is cer­tain­ly no big­ger than some­thing like a large G‑Shock. Like­wise, as a long-time user of the F‑91W, the rub­ber strap doesn’t feel too unpleas­ant to wear. How­ev­er, Chris­t­ian notes that he uses his when run­ning, where­as I’ve only used mine while walk­ing and cycling (for tran­sit, rather than sport), so per­haps that’s the problem.

The bright­ness of the watch is an issue. In bright direct day­light it’s hard — not impos­si­ble — to read. And in dark­ened set­tings it can be too bright — I was very con­scious of it when I wore it in the cin­e­ma. There are bright­ness set­tings, but what it could real­ly ben­e­fit from is a light sen­sor with auto­mat­ic bright­ness adjust­ment (I under­stand the Moto 360 has this).

The bat­tery life is about 36 hours for my lev­el of use. To me, that’s accept­able. I charge it every night, like my phone, and have nev­er run out of bat­tery on the same day. Of course I’d like bet­ter bat­tery life, but I’m sat­is­fied with that.

The watch depends on a Blue­tooth LE con­nec­tion to the phone, and with­out that con­nec­tion it grace­ful­ly degrades to become a watch. Could that be improved? Maybe, but I think bat­tery life would be con­sid­er­ably worse if the watch had, say, built-in 3G. I don’t want to use my watch to play games, or any­thing that my phone can do bet­ter. Speak­ing of the phone, any bat­tery drain from BLE is off­set by fact that the screen — the num­ber one ener­gy drain — is off for more of the time.

The Software

Chris­t­ian com­pares this type of wear­able to “a head­set with a screen”, but that’s not how I look at it: to me, it’s an out­board­ing of Google Now and the Android noti­fi­ca­tion tray. This is the most impor­tant point and bears empha­sis: it’s an exten­sion of your phone, not a replace­ment. Some things are done bet­ter on the watch, and some on the phone.

I don’t expect to be able to read a full email on my watch. I see the same amount of infor­ma­tion as I see in the Android noti­fi­ca­tion tray, which is usu­al­ly plen­ty. It’s almost like a triage device: I see who the email is from and the sub­ject line, and I decide if it’s worth tak­ing my phone out to read the rest; if not, I swipe it away and deal with it later.

In my opin­ion, if you feel over­whelmed by the num­ber of noti­fi­ca­tions you receive, that’s a prob­lem for you to man­age, not the watch. I’m strict with my noti­fi­ca­tions: if it’s not some­thing I might want to see, I dis­able it — and that’s some­thing I did even before own­ing the watch. It requires a lit­tle effort, but results in few­er unnec­es­sary distractions.

The voice input con­trol is one of my favourite fea­tures, and it works fine for me.  It worked espe­cial­ly well when I want­ed to reply to a text while cycling; I could quick­ly stop, give a short reply, then con­tin­ue, while my phone stayed in my bag or pock­et. It’s also very use­ful for tak­ing quick notes or set­ting reminders: “remind me to [do X] when I get home” is a real­ly nice fea­ture. I haven’t used it much for doing Google search­es, although it seems to work well for that.

I did feel self-con­scious when using voice input in pub­lic; I sus­pect that’s some­thing I’ll get used to. And back­ground noise hasn’t seemed to be a big issue; I’ve used voice input in the street and in a bar, and my words were, for the most part, recog­nised with­out trou­ble. I do find the undo fea­ture hard­er to use than I’d like, so I gen­er­al­ly only use voice to make short SMS replies: “I’ll be there in 10 min­utes”; “sure, see you then”. For any­thing more com­plex, I use my phone. Again, the watch is an exten­sion rather than a replacement.

The Conclusion

My phone stays in my pock­et a lot more. That’s the most impor­tant thing, the rea­son this works for me. Rather than try to use this a phone replace­ment, I use it as a phone exten­sion, and adapt my behav­iour accord­ing­ly. This way, I feel that it’s an improve­ment on what I had before.

I owned a Peb­ble before this, and when I acci­den­tal­ly left it at home, I didn’t miss it. With my G Watch, I do. I’m not going to pre­tend this is for every­one, that it’s a quan­tum leap in tech­nol­o­gy, or even that it’s a neces­si­ty: it’s a con­ve­nience. But for me, it’s a con­ve­nience that works well and fits in with what I want to do.

The field of wear­ables is young and still devel­op­ing: some, like the Fuel­Band, will do a sin­gle job (health track­ing) and do it well; some will very like­ly end up being for spe­cial­ist use only (e.g. Glass); some will be mul­ti-pur­pose con­ve­nience devices, and in my opin­ion the Android Wear watch­es are the best effort yet at get­ting this right. On the smart watch hype cycle I’d say many are rolling down into the trough of dis­il­lu­sion­ment, but I’m climb­ing the slope of enlight­en­ment. There is still plen­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ty for watch­es to get bet­ter, but the G Watch is — again, for me — an actu­al­ly use­ful device, rather than a con­cept piece. And I’m real­ly excit­ed about see­ing how future gen­er­a­tions evolve.

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