Google is doubling down on smartwatches.
With the launch of Android Wear 2.0, the first major update to Google’s smartwatch operating system in nearly three years, comes two new smartwatches to run the new OS created out of a partnership with LG.
The new watches — the LG Watch Sport and the LG Watch Style — are simultaneously pared-down and beefed up, with a design to help facilitate Google’s focus on on-watch messaging, fitness, and the addition of the Google Assistant. The watches go on sale February 10, retailing for $349 and $249, respectively.
I tested the LG Watch Style, the slimmer, more stylish alternative to the Sport, a hulking gadget with its own SIM card and advanced fitness tracking capabilities. The Style, available at both Best Buy and the Google Store, is being marketed as a watch for “trendsetters,” a device for daily use that can nearly pass as a standard timepiece.
It’s not yet the perfect smartwatch — if there is such a thing — but it’s a clean, modern, and useful gadget that proves wearables may not be dead after all.
A fashion-conscious approach
The LG Watch Style is billed as just that: a style-conscious watch designed to be as unobtrusive as possible.
The watch is thicker than a standard timepiece, but not overly so. In fact, I was impressed by the amount of computing power contained in a device that’s less than a half-inch thick. The display is about 1.2 inches in diameter, which I was surprised to learn is actually smaller than the Daniel Wellington watch I wear every day.
The Style also comes in three different finishes — silver, titanium, and rose gold — and comes standard with an Italian leather band, although it can be easily swapped out if you prefer a rubberised band.
Compared to some of its predecessors — and particularly its companion watch, the Sport — the Style watch is stylish. It wasn’t over-designed and Google clearly took into account the types of watches that are gaining popularity in the fashion world: an oversized face, only one side dial, and a variety of metal finishes, including rose gold. The launch of the Style watch appears to be an attempt to cater to both women and those who are wary of smartwatches in general.
But it’s actually from a fashion perspective where the Style watch had two shortcomings, though minor ones: I wasn’t impressed by the plastic backing on it, and the Italian leather strap didn’t look as high-end as what I’d expect from a $250 watch.
Still, I felt for the most part that the watch cleverly disguised itself as any other piece of jewellery, which is one major advantage it has over the Apple Watch. Men will likely be comfortable with the size and weight of it, while women will find its look more fashion-forward than other smartwatches on the market.
A well-rounded gadget
Using the LG Watch Style is intuitive and uncomplicated. With the option to scroll by touch, with the dial, or by built-in gesture commands, Google doesn’t put pressure on the user to use only the screen to navigate the watch. For the thick-fingered or farsighted, this is a huge plus.
One important difference between the LG Watch Style and its bigger sibling, the LG Watch Sport, is that it’s designed to be an everyday watch that can carry you from the gym to work to a night out on the town. For those looking for a full-service fitness tracker, the Style watch is not it — but it’s not intended to be. Google built in just enough of those features to make the Style watch a well-rounded gadget.
That said, two major limitations of the Style is the lack of a heart rate monitor and the fact it’s not waterproof. It is water-resistant — it can hold up to a heavy soaking in a rain storm — but you can’t go swimming with it like you can with the Apple Watch Series 2. (The Apple Watch Series 2 isn’t waterproof either, but water-resistant up to 50 meters; the LG Watch Sport is a bit more water-resistant than the Style, as it can only last about 30 minutes in 1.5 meters of water.)
Again, the LG Watch Style isn’t a heavy-duty fitness-tracking watch. But those features would be nice to have and, frankly, almost expected at this point in the smartwatch game.
Using the LG Watch Style was more enjoyable than most other smartwatches I’ve tried. It expertly straddles the line between staying true to the intention of a smartwatch — the “Always On” feature, which ensures your watch actually tells you the time, is key to that — while paying attention to trends in technology and thoughtfully implementing them on a small device.
While it’s not the most stylish watch I’ve ever worn, it is a definite improvement over its predecessors from an aesthetic standpoint. If the Style watch goes head to head with the LG Watch Sport, or even an Apple Watch 2, it’s the obvious winner from both a comfort and fashion standpoint.
Still, the LG Watch Style isn’t perfect — if there is such a thing — but it’s the best smartwatch for most people: It’s thin, it’s lightweight, and it’s aesthetically pleasing, but above all, it’s subtle enough so that if you’re wearing one, you won’t seem like a gadget nerd.