"Make a nice smartwatch. But don't make it too nice."
That's sort of the working line you figure was floating around during development of the LG Watch Urbane. Like the LG G Watch R before it, this model can actually pass as a traditional timepiece, at least from a distance. And from that same distance, it looks really nice — easily the best-looking example of Android Wear thus far.
Perhaps that's damning with faint praise, but the simple fact remains that there are a whole bunch of displays on wrists these days, and few smartwatches that actually look like watches. (And that absolutely includes this one.)
The Urbane (we're not going to call it "Watch Urbane" any more than is absolutely necessary for obvious reasons) also is the first watch to run Android 5.1.1, which definitely adds a new spin to the software experience, though it doesn't start from scratch.
The quick take
This is a dressed-up smartwatch that you actually can wear when you're dressed up without looking like you're trying to force the latest gadget in with your three-piece suit. It's large without being huge, has a great display and the hangups that come along with the first generation of smartwatches.
- Best-looking watch-style smartwatch available
- Best display you'll find on a watch
- Doesn't scream "nerd!"
- Some classy new watch faces
- Still a little on the chunky side
- Swiping scheme still a little convoluted
- Watch button is superfluous
- Software can still be hiccupy
About this review
We've been using a retail version of the LG Watch Urbane (running Android 5.1.1, Build LJZ13E) for a week, connected to a pre-release version of the LG G4 on Android 5.1 Lollipop. We've got the silver model (there's a gold version as well) with the leather strap that came with the watch.
The LG Watch Urbane video walkthrough
LG Watch Urbane Hardware
Another point for Team Round
The front of the watch, of course, is the most important view. You'd be right to argue that it's just one part, and the design of the whole case and the attention to detail is truly what makes a great watch great. The LG Watch Urbane both succeeds and falls short here.
Round is still right for a smartwatch.
So let's start with the face. The Urbane has a 1.3-inch P-OLED display. Same as the G Watch R, and it's just as good, as you'd expect. In fact, we've yet to see a smartwatch with a display as good as what LG's done. And because we're dealing with a round display, we retain the sense that we're interacting with a watch, and not a tiny smart-thing on our wrist. That goes a long way toward a better user experience.
Outside the face is where things start to fall apart a little. Again — and we can't stress this enough — the Urbane is one of the best designed Android Wear watches we've seen thus far. (I'd personally leave room for the ASUS ZenWatch, but that's a sort of round-square hybrid.) The brushed metal bezel is a nice touch. And the chrome body isn't bad. The button —which I don't actually use for anything — has some detail to it. The lugs are large, though, and that's where you're bound to hear the most griping.
Get up close and personal with the Urbane and you'll notice that the gloss helps distract from the missing details.
From the top down it's pretty striking — especially when compared to other Android Wear smartwatches. From the side? It's a bit portly. The transition from that fat lug to the skinny leather strap doesn't help matters any. On the other hand, there are electronics that have to get crammed into this thing. You want a smartwatch, you need a place to put the smart — and, more important, the battery.
To that end, my battery life has been a little hit and miss. Most days I make it home before needing to hit the charger. Occasionally I pull in the driveway after being gone nine or 10 hours with the watch screaming for some juice. Your mileage will vary depending on how many notifications plow through every day.
The Urbane comes with the same sort of charger as the G Watch R — round and magnetic with pogo pins for charging and connecting to a computer, if you do that sort of thing. But do note that the chargers are not compatible, due to the slight physical differences in the two watches. It gets power from a standard microUSB cable, though, so at least that's easy.
The leather strap that comes with the Urbane is decent. A week isn't enough to get it broken in and give it that worn look — and, again, this is only a $350 watch. The stitching is a bit fat for my taste, too. The good news is it's a standard 22mm connection, so you can swap out for something else if you prefer. I went for a new stainless steel bracelet, and swapping it out took less than 10 minutes.
LG Watch Urbane Specs
|Dimensions||45.5 x 52.2 x 11.0 mm|
|Weight||66.5 grams with leather band|
|Color||Gold with brown leather band, Silver with black leather band|
|Body||Stainless steel cover|
|Display||1.3-inch (320x320) P-OLED with Gorilla Glass 3|
|OS||Android Wear (Android 5.1.1)|
|Connectivity||Wifi, Bluetooth 4.0 LE|
|Processor||Snapdragon 400 at 1.2 GHz|
Welcome to Android Wear 5.1.1
LG Watch Urbane Software
The newest version of Android Wear classes (and perhaps clutters) things up a bit.
The Urbane is the first smartwatch to run the Android 5.1.1-based version of Android Wear. (Other watches will be updated in due time.) If you're familiar with the previous versions of Android Wear, you'll mostly be at home. You've got the watch face with notifications that pop up from the bottom. You pull down from the top to see the date and battery life, and to change the notifications. And you tap the face to enter the menu system.
That's where you'll find the greatest change, with apps, contacts and commands each getting their own column to swipe through. And along with the new organization of items comes a new, more attractive (and colorful) interface for the icons and shortcuts.
None of that particularly makes me want to swipe through a menu system on a smartwatch, however. Voice is still key here. But know that if you are attempting to use the Urbane as a smartphone, it's a little easier. Just not easier than actually using a phone. Tap-swipe-swipe-swipe-tap-tap-voice-wait-wait-tap-action really isn't more useful than just pulling out the damned phone in the first place. That's not to say having more options on a watch isn't great in a pinch — and I'd still argue it's a hell of a lot safer to dictate a reply while driving than it is to get anywhere close to picking up your phone. It's just that watches still don't (nor should) replace phones, is all. And Google needs to be real careful about adding more complexity to the Wear software experience.
Some highlights, though, include LG's watch faces. The "Chronos" and "Chairman" faces — both available in either silver or gold — certainly stand out. So, too, does "Classic," which has a cool faux-shimmering effect that you might not even think about at first, as it looks fairly natural.
Other watch faces include things like a battery indicator, step counter, altimeter, second hand, calendar notifications or day/month indicators. LG's had some of the better out-of-the-box options for a while now, and that continues with the Urbane. Of course, can still install third-party watch faces at your leisure.
A couple other new software features include the ability to draw an emoji when replying to a text message. Of course if you have the time to do that you probably have time to whip out your phone and actually craft a real reply. (That might just be my inner dad talking, though.) There's also the added feature of Wifi connectivity. If your watch strays out of Bluetooth range with your phone, the latter can send notifications via Wifi instead, and then watch will then receive them via Wifi. If the watch is in range of a known access point — that is, one your phone's already authenticated — it can connect automatically. Or you can connect new access points manually. How useful this will be absolutely varies person to person. If you're usually in a small house or office, it's probably not a big deal. (It also depends on just how badly you need to receive notifications on your watch at all times, too.) I've yet to really need this feature, but its usefulness is clear.
Android 5.1.1 also adds "always-on" versions of apps (like the less graphically intensive and battery-hungry watch faces), but I haven't really run into too much need for them. The new wrist flick to more through notifications also works nicely for when you don't have both hands free. It's a specific (read: infrequent) but well-done feature.
The bottom line
LG has brought what we've been waiting for — an Android Wear smartwatch that you can wear with a suit and not have anyone look at you funny.
The Urbane is nicely designed, but you really do get the feeling that LG had to stop short for cost purposes. Where you might expect to see more bevels and details you get curves and chrome. This is still a smartwatch, not a high-end timepiece.
But it's also easily one of the best models you can get for Android. The display is gorgeous, LG's got some nice new watch faces, and Google is slowly growing Android Wear. The trick will be to keep it from trying to do too much.
Should you buy the LG Watch Urbane? Sure, but ...
If you want an Android Wear smartwatch that actually looks like a watch, the Urbane fits that bill. It looks like it's trying a little too hard to be a high-end watch, perhaps, but it's also the best we've currently got. It doesn't look bad at all, it's just not quite as detailed as what you're used to seeing in a watch of this price range.
You'll also pay a premium for it — $100 over any other Android Wear smartwatch. But that won't cause anyone who's in touch with high-fashion watches (or unlocked smartphones for that matter) to raise an eyebrow. If you simply want a round Android Wear watch, go for the G Watch R. If you want something that's still a little dressy and not as expensive, check out the ASUS ZenWatch.