Welcome, one and all, to Charged Up - the place where we deliver spicy hot takes about the latest wearable tech happenings. And, boy oh boy, am I in a spin this week over the LG Watch W7.
After last entering the space at the dawn of Wear 2.0 with the LG Watch Sport, still one of the best smartwatches on the market, the Korean giant offered up the long-awaited sequel this week.
Did it update and improve upon what we saw with the Sport? Has it mounted a serious challenge to Apple and Samsung? Well, no, not exactly.
As has been strongly tipped throughout 2018, LG resurfaced with a hybrid smartwatch - but, crucially, this isn't a smart analogue device like the ones you're probably used to, the ones that hides away the smarts. The $450 (yes, you read that right) Watch W7 instead blends together mechanical hands and a touchscreen face; in theory giving buyers the look of a traditional timepiece while still maintaining the interactive smarts of everyday smartwatches.
Sounds great, right? Well, let's start with a positive. On paper, this is a pleasantly surprising move for the industry. In a Wear OS world filled with scores of indistinguishable devices, it's nice to see a bigger name take a design risk and give us something different to choose from. Also, in my view, it's actually an attractive device, slightly resembling what we've seen from Tag Heuer.
But there are plenty of questions to ask about this decision, too. And though I've yet to spend time with the Watch W7 - stay tuned for our full review - I'm already sceptical it does the concept of the real hybrid smartwatch any justice.
"Why the scepticism, you negative crank?", you're probably thinking to yourself.
It's because we've been down this path before. I, reader, have been down this path before. In the heady, time-lost days of 2017, Swiss startup MyKronoz stormed onto the crowdfunding scene and promised a different kind of smartwatch - one with the exact mechanical-hands-over-touchscreen concept as the LG Watch W7. The company's ZeTime raised $6,141,374, making it the most successful campaign from Europe ever.
As a reckless youth, when I first covered the device I found it intriguing. Sure, I still had my doubts over whether a startup could pull it off convincingly, but it was different - fun, even. But after spending time with the MyKronoz ZeTime for our extended review, I quickly realised it was a flop. The screen was often unresponsive, the operating system was clunky and slow and, generally, it felt like a watch that was trying to do too much.
Within the overarching disappointment, though, were actually a couple of positives. I still liked the idea of mechanical hands working when the battery could no longer keep up with a touchscreen, and MyKronoz did do a convincing job of moving notifications, emails and other bits of text around the hands, which would automatically roll horizontally (as shown above). It just felt a little bit half-baked, and something that a company with more muscle could pull off better.
Where MyKronoz bit off more than it could chew, LG appears to have gone the other way
And that brings us back to LG. Disappointingly, where MyKronoz bit off more than it could chew, LG appears to have gone the other way, focusing on aesthetics and relegating smartwatch staples such as GPS, NFC and heart rate tracking. The stripped-back version of Wear OS running the operation will also be powered by a last-gen Qualcomm Snapdragon processor - why?
In my view, it's not a direction which makes a lot of sense, but you could perhaps forgive the company if it at least delivered on the basics of a fashion-forward hybrid in its first iteration. But as we can see below, taken from this Marques Brownlee tweet, the hands don't appear to be playing nicely with the touchscreen - something which should be a minimum expectation from a device costing $450.
For that money, you could buy three Garmin Vivomove HRs, a device which takes mechanical hands and a screen and blends them in a much more attractive way - despite not being as fleshed out on the touchscreen front.
Now, I'm willing to reserve my full judgement for our review, and I'm sure there are elements of the Watch W7 which will outshine the ZeTime and other watches. The fact it runs on Wear OS is encouraging, for example, as is the idea of separating the "touch" and "display" parts of its screen.
But after seeing the reactions from hands-ons, as well as the ludicrous price tag and lack of features on the spec sheet, I'm finding the whole thing unconvincing. I still have faith in the wider concept attempted by LG, and MyKronoz before it, but this doesn't appear to be the smartwatch that will drive the hybrid forward.
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