Pat Pilcher travels the world with LG’s new smart-watch clamped to his wrist, and it saves his bacon in sticky situations.
A FEW YEARS back I got to wander through the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, where the big draw-card was the Saturn VI. Before I got to see the 36-storey rocket that carried humanity to the moon, our party wandered past a section of the Apollo-era mission control consoles that had been used by hundreds of engineers.
As a kid I was awe-struck by this technology. Nowadays I chuckle. I have as much computing power as a dozen of those old consoles on my wrist. This is thanks to LG’s first entry into the emerging Android Wear smart-watch market.
Its called the LG G Watch and is a simple but elegant smart-watch that I was lucky enough to road test while travelling through Asia and Europe for three weeks.
Look And Feel
One point that deserves mention is its durability. Returning home from my travels, the G watch didn’t have so much as a scratch. In fact, it looked as good as new. I’d worn it through the bustling streets of Shanghai, London, and Yorkshire. It also got a daily dunking in the ocean, plus several pools in Dubrovnik and Hong Kong. Previous smart watches I’d road-tested often ended up looking a tad beaten up after similar wear and tear.
Looks-wise, the G Watch is an unassuming widget. Its simple understated looks might not win it any awards, but that simplicity is also part of its appeal. LG have opted for usability and functionality over pointless features.
Rather than choosing the now commonplace curvy and organic look so many other designers have gone for, LG went for a classic digital watch design. Its body has rounded corners but is otherwise straight edged. It’s also thin. Compared to other smart-watches such as the Pebble, the G Watch is both petite and comfy.
Flipping the G Watch over reveals a pretty sparse back. There’s a bunch of contacts for the charging dock, along with a tiny, almost invisible reset button.
The strap bundled with the G Watch is a simple rubber number. While functional, it isn’t terribly stylish. This said, the G Watch also takes standard 22mm straps should you want something a little more up-market.
Its understated and simple design gives no hint at the amount of power available.
There’s a small learning curve to using with the G Watch. Point in hand is its display.
Going from the QHD 5.5-inch display on the LG G3 to the G Watch’s tiny 1.65-inch 280×280 screen took a little getting used to.
The display works well. Smartphone purveyors get excited about pixels per inch (PPI) and resolution. The fact of the matter is that a high res display isn’t an issue on a device that’s more about notifications than anything else.
Powered by Android Wear, the G Watch makes use of the same card system as Google Now as well as voice commands. It came in dead handy while travelling. For a start I was able to check weather forecasts, and even see how long it’d take me to get from my accommodation to various attractions.
Organisation isn’t my strong point. To this end the G watch reminded me of upcoming appointments as well as flights. Knowing which terminal I was heading for ahead of time saved me a ton of grief at larger airports such as Heathrow or Hong Kong.
When travelling I tend to do a lot of walking. The fitness tracker baked into Android Wear counted my steps and compared them to daily goals I‘d set for myself.
I was also able to stay on top of text messages, emails, instant messages and other notifications – even when my phone was on the other side of the room.
Handiest of all was Voice search. By tapping the screen of the G Watch and saying “Okay Google!” I was able to do an amazing amount. This saved my bacon several times over when travelling. Saying “Okay Google, navigate to XYZ St” saw the G Watch giving me turn-by-turn walking directions. This meant I didn’t end up completely lost in a foreign city.
I was also able to translate languages, saving embarrassment at a restaurant in Shanghai. Saying “Okay Google, what is Chinese for soup dumpling” brought up Mandarin characters for the waiter (who spoke no English) to read.
Additionally, I was also able to use the G Watch to set location or time-based reminders, like saying “Okay Google, remind me to pick up a newspaper when I get to the Langham hotel” or “Okay Google, remind me to pick up a newspaper at 3pm.”
There are three display modes with the G Watch: Always On, which is a full colour display, Dimmed and Mono Always On, which displays the time without killing the battery. You can turn the display off by placing your hand over the screen.
The G Watch had copped some flack for poor viewability under direct sunlight. I was curious to see just how it performed. Testing took place during one of those all too rare sunny days in London amidst a 32c heatwave. While it was dim (I removed my sunglasses just to make sure), it was readable in the afternoon sun. This is impressive, given that the G Watch’s low energy consumption means there isn’t a lot of juice going to a backlight.
The G Watch doesn’t have any buttons. Everything happens via its touch screen. This caught me out when flying from NZ to Shanghai. I was late boarding and in a rush, and couldn’t find the Flight Mode setting to disable Bluetooth. Keen to avoid the wrath of flight attendants, I turned the whole thing off. Upon arrival at Heathrow I found myself somewhat stumped as to how to turn it back on as there was no visible ‘on’ button. After some online research I discovered that there was a tiny reset button on its underside. Pressing that with a paper clip for 20 seconds did the trick. In less than 30 seconds the G Watch had rebooted and synched with my phone. This allowed it to do a handy travelling trick: it set itself to local time using my phone’s clock (which gets time from the local Telco).
Having figured that minor technicality out, I was able to enter the Settings menu and activate Flight Mode on my next flight.
You’d be right that I liked the sheer amount of functionality LG crammed into the G Watch. The G Watch isn’t an adjunct to an Android device, but more of an Android device its own right.
If there is a downside for travellers, it is this – Data Roaming. Using voice commands uses your phone’s 3G or 4G to send a compressed version of your voice command to a data centre. Do this often enough and costs can mount. Throughout much of the trip, Data Roaming was disabled on my phone. The G Watch could still tell the time and show incoming texts/emails and other notifications.
In use, the G Watch lasted about a day, sometimes two days depending on how it was used. Vibration notifications can be muted and the display dimmed, which helps extend battery life. This isn’t too bad considering that the G Watch has a color IPS LCD display and only a small 400-mAh battery.
Charging the G Watch is a simple matter of dropping it into the bundled charging dock, which plugs into a spare USB port on a PC/Mac. This also means that you can do the same sort of under the hood fiddling that you’d do with an android phone.
In theory, it should be possible to unlock the boot loader and root the wear. Here’s hoping that translates to lots of cool hackery apps.
The G Watch wins on many fronts. A basic design might not win it any style awards, but it does make it dead easy to use.
Build quality is also great. The G Watch was able to take real world bumps and knocks, all while still looking near new. Being able to swap out its plain rubber strap is also something other smart-watch makers should learn from.
There is a minor learning curve with the G Watch but it’ll be familiar to any Android phone owners who’ve used Google Now. Battery life is only a 1-2 days, but given the spec and functionality on offer that isn’t too surprising.
The G Watch is a great enhancement to any Android phone running Kit Kat. PAT PILCHER