With a smaller display and Android Wear 2.0, the LG Watch Style would have been nearly perfect if it just had wireless payment abilities.
It's 2017 and we're still talking about smartwatches like they're this untapped element, waiting to be unearthed. The reality is that many of the companies making the wearable devices have failed to answer the question of why I'd need to sport one of these things in the first place. What's the point? Is it to be fashion forward, or to have all the functionality of a smartphone on my wrist? And why can't I have both?
The LG Watch Style has only made this conundrum worse. On the one hand, this is the first Android Wear smartwatch I've been able to wear for prolonged periods of time. And as a result, it made me want to use Android Wear: to remember to strap it on before I leave the house; to turn my wrist over to check on notifications; to take more walks so I could hit those steps. It's the first time that an Android Wear watch truly felt like a necessary accessory. But on the other hand, the LG Watch Style is missing a key feature that would have made it a worthy bragging point against my pals sporting Apple Watches, and there's where I'm struggling to justify its hefty $250 price tag.
About this review
I (Florence Ion) am writing this review after a week of sporting the LG Watch Style on my left hand. I tested it while connected to a Pixel XL over Bluetooth. For testing purposes, I was using the pre-release version of some Google Apps. The watch did not receive a software update during the course of the review. The LG Watch Style was provided to Android Central by Google.
Get the gist
LG Watch Style Video review
Don't feel like reading? With the help of our executive editor, Alex Dobie, we put together a concise video review of the LG Watch Style. If you're finding you need more after watching it, read on for the full rundown!
Work it, Watch
LG Watch Style Hardware
Let's be clear: smartwatches haven't traditionally been designed with a woman's wrist in mind. The evidence was always in the available sizing. The typical excuse for the gargantuan devices that existed these past few years was that the necessary miniaturization of technology "wasn't there yet." Thus, I can only surmise that the comfortable display size of the Watch Style means we're finally there.
The LG Watch Style comes with a 1.2-inch POLED display, which I've officially deemed the best size for an Android wear watch for my dainty little wrist. This watch looks like a real watch, too, though it's also helped in part by its brushed metal chassis. The Watch Style that I have is a slight rose gold with a camel-colored leather band, but you can pick it up in a black or silver casing if that's more to your liking. Bear mind that the rose gold option will also run you an extra $30.
The spinning metal crown on the side of the watch is quite a treat. It's there to make the device look more authentically watch-like, but you can use it as both a back and home button, or to call up Google Assistant (more on that later). The crown scrolls through pages, too, which is exceptionally helpful for cold weather days, when tapping at a screen without gloves on is the last thing you want to do. I do have one slight gripe about the placement of the button, in that it protrudes out of the side of the case just a bit too far, and occasionally pokes me when I lift my wrist.
The back of Watch Style is plastic. I was a bit dubious about this design decision at first because it makes the watch seem a bit under polished, but as I wore it out I realized that the smooth finish of the plastic is actually what makes it so comfortable. I appreciate, too, that the device comes with snap-off watch straps, even though it's a ploy to get you to invest in Google's MODE watchbands. If you don't need fancy buckles, you can buy cheaper 18mm watchbands off Amazon.
Inside, the Watch Style runs on Qualcomm's new wearable-centric processor, the 1.1GHz Snapdragon Wear 2100, along with 512MB of RAM. A new processor seemed to be exactly what Android Wear needed to feel like a more responsive operating system. Besides a few frustrations with Google Assistant — I blame the fact that the microphones are placed on the back— Android Wear 2.0 on the Watch Style was quick to reply to commands and shuffle between screens.
Touch responsiveness was a bit of an issue.
Touch responsiveness was a bit of an issue, however, and sometimes I found myself having to tap a spot twice — like on a complication, for instance — to get it to register. To that end, I found myself using the scroll wheel to navigate the interface since I figured using my finger would be more effort than it's worth.
Battery life on the LG Watch Style is still not where I want it to be. Granted, I could get through an entire day of activities on the watch's 240mAh cell, but I'd still have to charge it the next day. I'd like a smartwatch where I don't have to worry about having the battery charger packed nearby if I forget to charge it overnight. At the very least, you can go every other day without charging the watch, and that's even with the always-on display enabled.
Better than before
LG Watch Style Software
Google did a bit of reconstructive work on Android Wear to make it more palatable for the average smartwatch wearer. User feedback revealed that what people cared about with regards to wearables were watch faces, notifications, and fitness tracking, so that's what the company focused on. For the most part, Android Wear 2.0 has excelled in all three of those categories.
Google did a bit of reconstructive work on Android Wear to make it more palatable.
Many of the new watch faces that come with the Watch Style feature slots for "complications," a new API that essentially allows you customize indicators based on what the developers of the apps you have installed have offered. For instance, I set up my watch face to show me my next alarm, my progress in Google Fit, and how much battery I have left. The options are limited for now, but there are plenty more options coming from third-party app makers once Android Wear 2.0 goes live.
Notifications have improved in the Android Wear update. Not only are fewer swipes and taps involved to get through them, but even the relatively useless ones ("Your IFTTT recipe ran in the background!") are organized so that you have some type of context. You can also easily reply to emails and messages from within the same window, without having to navigate far and wide through menu screens just to get to the option.
Eventually, throughout the course of using the watch, Android Wear 2.0's tiny little keyboard will pop up. It's finicky to use — a keyboard on a tiny watch screen is not really the pinnacle of user-friendliness — but seeing as how voice dictation is still hit-and-miss on Android Wear, it's nice to have a backup input method.
Android Wear 2.0 also comes with Google Assistant, which is not as good or as effective as it is on the Google Pixel or Google Home, but it's there nonetheless. I hardly used it because of my frustrations with the watch's inability to understand me most of the time. I even had issues getting it to play specific Spotify playlists. And though it's only tangentially related, I did like the Google Feed button, and that it now lives in Android Wear as a separate entity rather than a feature integrated into the interface.
Our complete Android Wear 2.0 review!
Android Wear 2.0 is a complete overhaul of Google's wearable platform, from interface and design to apps and functionality. For the complete breakdown of everything that's new in the latest release, be sure to read our complete Android Wear 2.0 review.
You won't get the new fitness tracking abilities of Android Wear 2.0 on the Watch Style, and that's primarily because of hardware limitations. Unlike the Watch Sport, the Style doesn't have a heart-rate monitor, a barometer, or standalone GPS. It doesn't have NFC, either, which is the real tragedy here, considering how close to perfect the Watch Style would be if I could just pay for stuff with it.
NFC would have been really nice
LG Watch Style Bottom Line
The LG Watch Style is definitely the most stylish Android Wear watch ever, but I'm stuck on the fact that it doesn't have wireless payment abilities. Even the Apple Watch has Apple Pay!
I'm aware that there's a practical reason for why the LG Watch Style isn't outfitted to the nines with features, and that's likely because the smartwatch is physically too small for all that. But my fear is that, since this particular lineup of wearables from Google is supposed to be a blueprint of sorts for other manufacturers to follow, they'll continue to eliminate any forward-facing features for fear of crowding up the chassis. As a result, those stylish watches you see from fashion brands like Michael Kors and Fossil will continue to offer a simplified experience of a wearables platform that's really quite good.
Here's to hoping that's not the case. I plan to keep wearing the LG Watch Style because there's finally an Android Wear device that's comfortable enough for me to wear throughout the day. But until companies find a way to perfectly marry fashion and functionality — specifically something that offers an edge to the Apple Watch — Android Wear will continue to struggle to appeal to the masses.