Friday, December 5, 2014

Android Wear and the LG G Watch

     Cyber Monday treated me well this year, among other deals I came across Best Buy offering the LG G Watch and a $50 Google Play credit for $80. Even before getting it in my hands it was abundantly clear this and the Samsung Gear Live watch were rushed out of the door so Google actually had something to deliver Android Wear on when it was announced. In no way does the hardware and software justify it's original MSRP of $229. I wanted to know if, for a net cost of $30 is it worth while to strap to my wrist every day?
     I'll get this out of the way first, the battery life on this device is abysmal. With the screen set to never sleep, which I've found is necessary for the pedometer to work correctly, I barely make it from 6:00am to 10:00pm. When I put it on the charger last night it reported 3% battery. With the screen set to automatically sleep I get about a day and a half out of it. There is no automatic brightness control and it's only barely legible outdoors at max brightness. Otherwise the 240x240 pixel screen is acceptable, it has good viewing angles and the colors look OK. It definitely won't be winning any style awards, it's as generic looking as a watch with a screen can get. I was thinking of getting another band for it but anything other than the generic black rubber strap it comes with would bring attention to the extremely boring design of the face itself. This doesn't bother me too much as I've never worn watches for style. I expected the hardware to be mediocre, what I really wanted to evaluate is Android Wear itself.
     The watch is essentially a Google Now delivery device. Along with mini versions of the cards you get on your phone, it also mirrors all of your notifications and in some cases lets you send quick responses. Incoming calls can be quickly silenced with canned text responses such as "I'm in a meeting." You can also bark out a few sentences to reply to an email or text which is handy if you're driving and don't particularly care about correct grammar or punctuation. There are a few third party apps, most of which are extensions of their phone counterparts. You download these apps via the Google Play store on your phone and the relevant Wear pieces are then pushed to your phone. RunKeeper has a mini app that allows you to start activities by talking to your watch. The Google Fit integration works just fine and I look forward to getting a device that performs heart rate monitoring as well. There is even a mini browser that lets you surf the web on your wrist. Dick Tracy, eat your heart out. Of course in reality browsing the web on your wrist is a terrible experience. After messing about with third party apps it's abundantly clear it's best to stick with what Wear is intended for at this point, to parse notifications easily and quickly without needing to break out your enormous, cumbersome phablet.
      While it's a good first effort, the platform and hardware have a very long way to go. Wear devices really need to run independently of a parent phone or tablet with their own mobile data connection. I want to be able to leave my phone on the charger until I need it but that's not possible with Bluetooth's very limited range. I can't make it more than 2 rooms over before my watch disconnects. Wear devices also need to come standard with more fitness sensors and a system-wide method to input text without speaking. I will continue wearing it as a replacement for my Fitbit. I have high hopes that Google will continue dumping resources in to developing the platform, it has a lot of potential beyond the nerd crowd as devices become smaller and more attractive.