Oh how we've longed for Android Wear 2.0 to make its grand entrance. We waited, and we waited, and then we moaned a bit, and waited some more. But it's finally here, and with two brand spanking new smartwatches to flaunt its stuff – the LG Watch Sport being the main event.
Early rumours had us believe the two lead Wear 2.0 smartwatches would be a wearable extension of the "Pixel" brand Google used on its latest smartphones, but the Sport and LG Watch Style are very much LG's devices. Think of them more like Google's Nexus smartphones, here to showcase the power of Google's new software update.
And what an update Android Wear 2.0 is. It's a leap forward that often feels like we're using an entirely different operating system. But once you're over the excitement of Android Wear's new tricks, just how good is the LG Watch Sport itself? Here's the verdict.
LG Watch Sport: Design
Chunky yet funky – that's how I rate the Sport on looks. With a 14.2mm-thick case that's 51mm tall, it's hefty, but it carries its dimensions well. Normally I wouldn't wear a watch this big, but I like the shape of the Sport, even if I still think it could do with slimming down. I reviewed the grey titanium, but there's also a blue version that will only be available on the Google Store.
If you do find it too big then your only other option right now is the Style, which is sadly stripped of many of the features that make the Sport a good standalone smartwatch.
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Unlike the Style, on the Sport the antenna extends into the strap, which means it only fits proprietary, non-changeable, bands. These are rigidly angled inwards, but while I found this a little annoying on the Asus ZenWatch 3, I see its merits for heart rate tracking on the Sport and generally making the watch feel snug on the wrist while exercising.
Looking at the screen: the Sport's 1.38-inch P-OLED display, 480 x 480 resolution, is sharp and even on sunny days I've never had to push the brightness up to full. Pixel for pixel (348ppi) it's the best Wear display so far. That said, it collects more fingerprints in a day than US border control does in a week; the LG Watch Sport is a total smudge magnet.
At least with its fancy digital crown you'll be doing a little less screen swiping. That's right – Wear 2.0 supports rotational input, and the Sport comes with a digital crown just like the Apple Watch. I'm sure we'll see plenty of manufacturers taking advantage of this very soon. You also have a button either side of the Sport's crown, and each opens an app of your choosing. By default the top one takes you to the workout menu, which I've kept, but I changed the bottom one to activate Android Pay, and if you're using Google's payment service you'll certainly want it to be easily accessible – unless you want to be that person holding up the queue.
Flip the watch over and you've got a PPG heart rate monitor on the back, as you'd expect in 2017 from a smartwatch that prides itself on fitness. More on that later.
LG Watch Sport: Features and fitness
Let's talk a bit more about that crown. Scrolling up while on the watch face will pull up your notifications, but tap the crown once to bring up the menu and you can also whizz up and down through the apps. I find this a more intuitive way of navigating than the Apple Watch's circle app menu, and in fact Apple's dock navigator. You'll still be tapping on apps and options to select them, but the crown just makes the whole experience feel a bit more elegant. Faster, too.
Swipe your finger left or right and you'll open the face navigator where you can scroll along the different designs. Don't see one you like? Scroll to the end and you'll be able to add another.
With GPS and a heart rate monitor built into the watch, the Sport is well equipped as a fitness device. It also performs pretty well for the most part. When measuring heart rate from a still position, it tends to take a little longer than the Apple Watch Series 2 to get a reading, but it's more often accurate, while the Apple Watch tends to dance about a bit before landing on a realistic number.
When it comes to running with the Sport, it also does a good job. I put it up against the Wahoo Tickr X, one of our highest performing chest straps, and the readings at the end for both average and peak heart rate were extremely close on the bpm. I actually found it a little closer than I did with the Series 2.
GPS is also spot-on, and for this I tried running with it up against Apple's smartwatch, which we noted to have good tracking in its review. Both were untethered from smartphones, so relying totally on their own sensors, and both kept very close throughout the run.
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One thing Google talked about when it first revealed Android Wear 2.0 was a feature that would detect when you're running or cycling, and automatically open up an app like Strava that would start tracking your workout – all without you having to touch the screen. Google ended up killing that idea, as it found it could be a nuisance in certain situations (like running for a bus). There is a feature for detecting strength training movements, but really I find it's easier to just tap the one I'm doing manually. Speaking of which, there are quite a few gym exercises you can use the Sport for, from push-ups to squats, and I've found the sensors to be good at keeping tally (it sometimes jumped an extra count, but rarely).
I also tried the Sport out on a treadmill. Google Fit takes your GPS data from outdoor runs (along with height info) to calibrate your stride length, and thus, hopefully, get a more accurate reading when you're on the belt. Like a lot of people, my stride length is a little different on the treadmill (shorter in my case), and that caused the Sport to end up counting an extra .01 or .02 mile on the end of a run. However, it felt like a negligible difference.
Really though, the fitness features will only get better with more third parties jumping aboard. The ability for Android Wear to run apps straight from the watch means companies like Strava and Runkeeper have the opportunity to do more than before.
Google tells me that Play Music will soon allow streaming over the watch, but this wasn't working for the testing period. The company also said it's working with other streaming service partners for support later in the year, so hopefully a more complete Spotify app isn't far off. For the time being, you've got 2.35GB of storage on the Sport to play with, if you want to put music straight on the watch. (There's the standard 4GB of storage that you always get with Wear, but the OS takes up a fair chunk of this).
LG Watch Sport: Android Wear 2.0 and Pay
I'm not going to give a full review of the new software here – head over to our Android Wear 2.0 guide for all the ins and outs – but the new OS is a big part of what makes the LG Sport great. It's, faster, slicker and more independent than Google's first attempt at an OS; like Apple with watchOS3, Google has listened, taken stock, and returned with an update that makes much more sense for wearables.
It's the speediest Android Wear experience I've had on a watch, and this may be partly down to the update, and partly down to the fact it's running on a 1.1GHz Snapdragon Wear 2100 chipset with 768 MB of RAM. That's a little more RAM than the Style, and for the most part it's been really zippy. There has been the odd time where things froze or quickly stuttered, but we've been using an unreleased build of Wear 2.0, so we'll need some time with the finished product before we can be sure everything is running smoothly.
With GPS, NFC and LTE support, the Sport gives you a much more complete Android Wear 2.0 experience than the Style, which lacks all three of those features. For that reason it's a much better showcase for the update, and clearly the flagship of the two – although it's $100 dearer at $349.
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Another feature we're getting on Wear 2.0, previously seen on the Apple Watch, is complications, which show up as little circles on the screen. Watch face makers will be able to include space for these in their designs, and although only a few apps are supported right now, I expect we'll see plenty more once Android Wear 2.0 is properly out the door.
Google gave me access to a few third-party apps in beta, and I've been trying out different complications as well as some of the new faces. For example, with Foursquare you can add a complication that shows you the nearest good place for coffee, or there's one for food if you'd prefer.
The untethered Android 2.0 experience is really good on the Sport, and with LTE, NFC and GPS, there have been times I've left the house without my phone without worrying about losing contact with others. You can buy the Sport with or without the SIM card, but if you do opt for cellular then you can share your number from your phone. This means you can also make and take calls on the Sport, which works fine enough if you're comfortable doing the Dick Tracy thing.
However, the best moment came when I realised I could now use Android Pay without my phone – and it works great. With just a tap of a button and a raise of the wrist I'd paid for my shopping (and still managed to draw questions from intrigued cashiers).
Hold down the crown and you'll bring up Google Assistant, which you'll already be familiar with if you're using a Pixel phone. Assistant is essentially Google Now 2.0 and is designed to be more contextual, with running conversations between you and the AI. It works the same on Wear, although you'll need to tap the crown between each question. For example, ask "What is the capital of Brazil?" and it will tell you Brasília, but your follow-up question doesn't need the added context for Google to understand. It can be simply, "And what's the biggest city?", and Assistant will tell you "São Paulo".
LG Watch Sport: Battery life
Truth be told, I've been using the Sport for a week and I'm still working out the balance with battery life from the 430mAh pack. With basic use, I can get a couple of days of power. When I went running with GPS switched on, or had a particularly intense session on the Play Store, I needed a recharge after a day.
It's not great, but unless you're opting for a hybrid smartwatch right now, you're not going to do much better. Obviously with the Sport running GPS and cellular data away from the phone, it's going to suck more battery juice than other Wear 2.0-running smartwatches. You'll also get more battery if you're using the Sport without a SIM inside.
- The full untethered experience
- Super zippy, intuitive design
- Solid fitness features
- Chunky case
- Smudge magnet
- Battery still a pain