Android Wear 5.0 | Review

Since the launch of Android Wear, I have been eager to try it out. It is a possible new product category and I fancied understanding how it fits in a world where we use smartphones, tablets, PCs and smart TVs. So, last December on Google Play the original LG G Watch was on sale and I jumped in with both feet.

The LG G Watch is probably the most basic Android Wear smartwatch without any physical buttons and no light sensor (so no automatic brightness control). It does have good internals, though, so I figured I’d be able to trial Android Wear, and its development, well into the coming year.

What I have done with Android Wear

To set the scene, this is how I have used it so far:

  • This is the first time in over a decade that I wear a watch again.
  • Since I took it out of the box I have basically worn my LG G Watch everyday. 
  • It has always been hooked up to my HTC One M8, except at night when I put my phone in flight mode. 
  • I have set the screen brightness to level 5, although it dims after 30 seconds of not interacting with it. 
  • I tried to use the tilt-to-wake feature, but it was not reliable enough, so now I have the screen on always-on. 
  • At night I turn on Cinema mode.
  • I use it for viewing time and date, receive all sorts of notifications (although I don’t actually receive all that many, as I turn many off), I have played around with watch faces, and used various voice commands.
  • My watch is on Android Wear 5.0.1 and my HTC One M8 on Android 5.0.1.

Pros and cons of Android Wear and the LG G Watch

Pros

  • It is pretty great for controlling media playback both on my phone and when I am casting to the Chromecast. It is nice to pause and play media from your wrist. A real boon.  
  • It tells time. I did not use to wear a watch, and it certainly is convenient not to have to dig up my phone just to know the time.
  • It is nice to have the notifications from my phone mirrored to the watch. I can view, have some interaction with them and dismiss them (which also conveniently dismisses them on the phone).
  • On Android 5.0 Google introduced Smart Lock, which let’s you have the phone unlocked when it is connected to a trusted Bluetooth device. Now that I have it connected to my watch, the phone can be easily unlocked while it still being secure when it is not next to me (and not connected any more).
  • The “Ok Google” command in order to start up voice commands works quite well. I use it particularly to check on the weather and set alarms and timers. I do not however, respond much to messages by voice as it hardly ever gets the message correct and it ends up being quicker to grab the phone. 
  • Performance is good, in terms of responsiveness and animations.  

Cons

  • The LG G Watch easily gets me through 24 hours, but I never get to 48. This means I have to charge it everyday. This is just one more thing I have to charge, and I really do find it annoying.
  • The screen technology on this particular phone is just not right. The screen is not visible in direct sun light and it is too bright at night. I realise that a light sensor would go a long way to alleviate this problem, but still I have to say that the quality of this screen is not good enough. 
  • Touch screen interactions are a little fiddly and do not respond too accurately, for instance when pausing media playback. It is not easy to handle input while on the move, for instance, with a moving arm, small screen and small controls.

Questions

  • In general, I am not sold on a touch screen (only) yet. I can see how it should be a natural way of interacting, but at the same time I wonder. The watch is not fully fixed on the wrist, and the touch screen is rather small. I think something can be said for physical buttons, like on the Pebble smartwatch. It makes me wonder whether the Apple Watch with a touch screen and crown have found the right middle ground of interaction with the device.
  • I have tried leaving the watch off for a few days straight, to see what aspects I would miss most. In reality, it was only just two: the time and media playback controls. I still fail to see what the killer app or use case is for smartwatches. I certainly won’t recommend it to anyone yet, unless the person has a very clear idea of what they want.

Market context

Pebble is the brand that set a fire under the smartwatch scene. It showed, to a certain extend, what a smartwatch can do for you. They recently announced that they sold 1 million watches to date. It has some really nice features, like great battery life and a visible screen under all circumstances. In turn, it misses a certain level of sexiness in terms of colour UI, UI animations and touch interactions.

Android Wear, on the other hand, does well in the things that Pebble does not do well (UI, particularly), but it hasn’t brought them real market success yet either. According to Canalys, some 720.000 Android Wear watches were sold  Furthermore, it has the advantage of being offered by multiple manufacturers. This means that the market will soon be flooded with them, and each manufacturer will offer different designs and price points. It should help covering many different market segments.

Lastly, there is Apple, a brand not too worried about covering all market segments. It is designing a touch+button user experience, with what looks like a good looking screen and a personalised design (models and colour options). 

In summary

I’ll continue to use the LG G Watch for the foreseeable future, because all in all I do get some value from it. However, at this moment in time in the development of smartwatches in general, I would not recommend it to normal people. Quite frankly, the products don’t really meet a clear consumer need. 

If someone is interested in trying, though, there are better and better looking and performing watches out there. If you use an Android phone, both Pebble and Android Wear offer interesting products. If you use iPhone, you can already use Pebble now and an Apple Watch is around the corner.

Whatever the case, it’s a category that I mean to follow closely for now.

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