The LG G Watch is one of the first in Google's Android Wear line, and at the time of writing the most affordable of the lot. So is this a brave new step in wearable technology, or another dead duck? Is this the smart watch we've been waiting for?
ITProPortal's Paul Cooper takes the watch for a four-day test drive to find out.
I wear my LG G Watch home from work, feeling pretty self-conscious about it. Its first immediate advantage is obvious: it's great to get a text while reading on a crowded train, and be able to simply turn my wrist to read it rather than fishing through my pocket for my phone. I begin to notice that the watch lights up if you make the classic "watch check" wrist movement, a nice touch that adds to the feeling of being pre-empted by your technology.
If you want to reply to a text, you still have to get your phone out of your pocket, due to the unreliable nature of the voice recognition software, but it's still helpful to know whether, for instance, you got an important text or just a Domino's 3-for-2 offer.
The UI is slick and fast, making cycling through options and menus nice and silky. There isn't a lot going on in terms of processor-heavy animations or graphics, though, so it should be expected. The 1.65in screen is more than enough to do the jobs it has to do, but its 280 x 280 pixel resolution (giving a 240ppi density) means it feels more like the screen of an old nokia rather than a modern smartphone. Still, a higher resolution screen would come at the expense of battery life, so it's clear why Google hasn't gone for it.
The LG G Watch isn't at all distinctive in design. It's as though Google is asking the hardware to step back to allow the software inside to come to prominence. It gives the watch a very basic and slightly cheap feel. Which isn't what most people want in a watch.
"Navigate to Stepney Green Sainsbury's," I tell my watch. A reassuring tick appears on the screen. Nothing happens. It takes me a little while to realise that the map has opened on my phone. Seeing as my Nexus 5 has Google Voice control inbuilt, this doesn't seem to have saved me any steps.
"How do you say 'Where is the bathroom?' in Japanese," I ask my watch, just to reassure myself that it might be useful, at some undefined point in the future.
"Basurūmu ni wa dokoni," my watch tells me. "バスルームにはどこに"
I have a number of conversations with people I meet, who remark on the watch and how they've thought about getting one. I answer in half statements and hedged praise.
When charging, the watch sits on a magnetic charging plate that charges with a micro-USB. I start carrying the charge plate around everywhere. After a day, the 400mAh battery is half dead. The battery life is half that of its competitor, the Pebble. I set the LG G Watch to charge, eyeing it suspiciously.
After just a day of wearing the watch, it's beginning to press uncomfortably on my ulna and radial tuberosity (that's wrist-knobbles to most people). The wide and flat face of the watch doesn't sit that comfortably on the arm, and could do with a nice ergonomic curve right where it sits on the wrist. I soldier on.
The LG G Watch is very light, weighing only 63g, but the shape is a little uncomfortable. The material on the back of the face is a pleasant matte texture, but the rubber strap is horrible. I find myself taking the watch off on hot days and wiping the sweat off my arm.
The touch response is nice and slick, and when you want the watch to go to sleep, you cover the screen with your palm. This is quite satisfying, as though you're telling it to quieten down and leave you alone.
I decide to give the voice texting function a go. My flatmate texts me asking if she had remembered to shut the window in her room. She had.
"Text Aileen," I tell my watch.
"Text..." it says. Then "text who?"
"Aileen," I say. It's not all that common a name, sure. On the third try, the watch surprised me by finding the name in my contacts.
"Text what?" It says.
"Yes, you did," I say.
The watch sends: "yes you did"
I worry that this sounds short. No punctuation, no obligatory smiley to soften the short message. I try to fix it.
"Sorry that sounded short," my watch sends. "I'm using my watch to send text".
The typos make me sound weird. I try to cancel the text, tapping the cancel button a number of times, but it doesn't make any difference. "Sent text," the watch says. I get out my phone to sort out the mess.
Android Wear is so quick to react that it's very easy to send garbled messages to people, and there's no system for checking if the message is correct before the watch dutifully sends it. I found the watch coming into its own when I was weighed down with shopping bags or cramped into a crowded train, but more often than not I would have to fix some mess caused by the watch with my phone, negating the convenience. Similarly, functions like navigation are never quite as smooth as they could be. Why spend the time and effort speaking into your watch, repeating the street name, repeating it again (if it's an unfamiliar one) and then just getting out your phone anyway to follow the route? Why not just get out your phone and get it right first time by typing it out?
I have never been able to get the watch to successfully recognise the names "Aatif Sulleyman" or "Alysia Judge", and voice recognition can be a bit patchy. Although you can manually get to some elements of the watch's UI, there are lots of things you can't do without talking, which can be frustrating.
I forget to put on the watch in the morning, and leave the house without it. It smarts the first time I have to take my phone out of my pocket to read a text, but after that I don't miss it.
I remember the watch this time. It's run out of battery charge, and I take it off to charge it at my desk. This means my pedometer score goes down considerably compared to the day before. I feel inadequate.
I find I accidentally turn it on while standing with my arms crossed. It vibrates every time it happens, like petulant child. I begin to hate the watch. When my phone runs out of battery, the watch loses its connection to the Internet and basically all other functions other than pedometer and clock face.
In the evening I head to a Microsoft event, and have another couple of conversations about the watch. This time I am a little more negative. It has started to bother me; it's just another slightly irritating device in an already electronically crowded life. Along with it come all the same obligations: check it when it goes off, carry a charger, charge it when it runs out, put it into sleep mode when you accidentally turn it on.
There should be no doubt: this is the future, but the LG G Watch is a prediction, not a realisation of the future of wearables. As more and more developers begin designing apps for the G Watch and its ilk, the uses will surely expand, but this isn't the inspiring wearable breakthrough we were hoping for.
For me, the LG G Watch was a fun departure from my normal engagement with technology, but I would never shell out the £159 to buy one for myself, nor would I recommend it to a friend. In the end, the LG G Watch sits among the pantheon of early wearable devices, another solution searching desperately for a problem, a monument to its own pointlessness.