LG Inching Up with Newest Wearable

LG’s newest device is a modest smartwatch improvement.

In the battle for timepiece legitimacy, the smartwatch is waging war on two fronts: fashion and function. Does the watch carry instant style cache with crossover appeal? And does it do more than play the role of plucky smartphone sidekick? In the case of the new Watch Urbane from LG, advancements on both ends are slowly being made – but too much unconquered territory remains for victory to be declared.

Let’s start with the good. LG’s new timepiece has compelling visual flair. The metal-encased bezel (in choices of silver or gold) catches the eye and comes with black or brown stitched leather bands. It looks like a legitimate watch – nice enough that you’d have serious reservations about wearing it for fitness-related activities.

But a true fashion item? Not yet. For one, the Watch Urbane is noticeably bulky, and feels about as heavy as it looks. Also, even though its watch bands can be switched out, its appeal to women will be limited; its size too well imitates the oversized timepieces favored by some men. On looks alone, the Watch Urbane simply won’t be a universally adopted item.

Functionally, LG is the first to utilize the new Android Wear 5.1 operating system, and the experience is a noticeable improvement over other Android predecessors. Android Wear was previously voice-command driven, and the Watch Urbane does a commendable job of offering beefed-up touch navigation. The interface is mostly intuitive; performing tasks is often as simple as a couple swipes or a click of the crown. There’s still room for speed optimization, but overall the slight delays or hiccups were minor. The relatively impressive battery life (2-3 days if you power it down at night) and sharp-looking 1.3 OLED plastic display are also plusses.

Android 5.1 brings other advances of varying usefulness: always-on screen options, wrist gestures to flip through notifications and the ability to converse with your smartphone through Wi-Fi, even if your phone is miles away on a completely different Wi-Fi network. The last feature is the most interesting, because it enables the watch to venture beyond the 30-foot (or so) Bluetooth radius of the phone. It’s certainly useful if you’re in your house or office building, but problematic in the outside world. The Watch Urbane simply relies too much on an Android smartphone to be its own independent experience.

Ultimately, that’s the trap which LG, like other manufacturers, can’t escape. Want to make a call? You’ll need to do that on your phone. Care to track steps like a FitBit? The phone does that job. Want to Shazam that song on the radio? The app must be open on the phone first. The conveniences that smartwatches offer (reading your emails and notifications at a glance, skipping Spotify tracks from across the room) won’t be enough to justify their cost and upkeep. That becomes an even greater issue given the Watch Urbane’s $350 retail price – which puts it on par with the cheapest of Apple Watches but more expensive than just about every other Android timepiece on the market. And considering that LG’s G Watch R is essentially the same watch for $100 less, you are paying extra for visual styling that may or may not appeal to you.

Verdict: An improved but iterative take on the smartwatch, LG’s Watch Urbane benefits from an appealing look and agreeable user experience, but still has sizable hurdles to clear.

Notifications – such as weather, emails, meetings and more – are a part of the Android Wear 5.1 operating system, which offers an improved user experience.

LG’s Watch Urbane looks sharp but at 1.8 x 2 x 11 inches in size, it’s rather bulky.

C.J. Mittica is the editor of Wearables. Contact him at cmittica@asicentral.com and follow him on Twitter at @CJ_Wearables.