Remember when cellphones used to be big, giant bricks tethered to a suitcase? That’s where we are with smartwatches. They’re big giant bricks strapped to your wrist…and tethered to your smartphone over Bluetooth LE. And like those early cellphones, today’s smartwatches are also very limited in terms of functionality.
Google’s Android Wear platform is poised to change the latter, while hardware manufacturers like LG aim to improve on the former. The company’s new G Watch is the first of three Android Wear smartwatches—the other two being the Motorola Moto 360 and Samsung Gear Live. It comes with an always-on, 1.65-inch LCD display and a 1.2 GHz Snapdragon processor with 4 GB of memory. It’s kind of like a tiny little smartphone strapped to your wrist. Kind of.
In reality, the G Watch feels like the worst parts of your smartphone strapped to your wrist, plus Google Now and some third-party app integration.
On the hardware side, the G Watch comes with a 280 x 280 pixel resolution LCD display that’s bright and clear, although it’s basically unreadable in bright sunlight. A replaceable 22mm synthetic band straps that LCD watch face to your wrist. The band, inlaid with shallow diamond-shaped indentations on the inside, feels very thick. It never just blends seamlessly into your daily experience—you’re well aware there’s a watch there. The hefty watch face doesn’t help matters either. Its rectangular face measures approximately 38mm x 47mm x 10mm, and the bottom is completely flat, save for slightly rounded edges.
One thing LG’s G Watch does do well is voice control. You don’t even have to hold the watch up to your face, a simple utterance of “OK Google” instantly brings up the voice command interface, letting you record a note, set an alarm, make a simple query, search directions on Google Maps, and more. When you get a text or Hangout, you can dictate and send a reply straight from the watch. It does a stellar job of interpreting what you say so long as you’re in a reasonably quiet location. In a noisy bar though, it took multiple tries to get “OK Google” to register.
The G Watch, like all Android Wear watches, is water and sweat resistant. But unlike a dedicated fitness wearable, it isn’t truly waterproof. It charges in a small cradle that the watch face magnetically snaps into. You can easily use 80 to 100 percent of its battery in a day, so you’ll want to keep this charging cradle at your office desk or by your bedside.
The goal of wearables, smartwatches in particular, is to free you from your smartphone dependence. “Look, now you don’t need to pull your phone out of your pocket to check what that notification was. A discreet glance at your wrist will let you know if it’s important or not!” False. When your wrist is vibrating constantly it’s both irritating and distracting for you and everyone else around you. And unlike a smartphone tucked away in a bag or pocket, you can’t ignore it.