LG Watch Sport review

Android Wear has been kicking about for a while, but it has taken some hardware and software mistakes for us to get to the LG Watch Sport. Google handpicked LG to release it, the first smartwatch to ship with Android Wear 2.0 along with the cheaper, less featured LG Watch Style

It does so much right. It’s circular, it’s fast, build quality is brilliant, it looks the business (if you’re into grey) and the interface is an uncluttered pleasure to use. It is more intuitive than an Apple Watch.

But it’s large, and the battery lets it down big time. If you’re planning on a day of GPS navigation or hardcore run tracking, the Watch Sport might just let you down. For everyone else, it’s the very best of the frustrating charge-it-every-night smartwatch brigade.

Then again, we charge our phones every night, right?

Where can you buy it in the UK?

Here’s the catch – there is till no UK release date for the Watch Sport despite the fact we’ve got our hands on one. It’s still US only, and retails for $349, though at the time of writing is available from $249.99 from AT&T on contract.

You should be careful if ordering from the US though. Because the watch can take a SIM, you need to get it on contract in the States. It’s a tad confusing and this review goes into more depth on that.

Design and build

There’s no doubt that the LG Watch Sport is a premium thing. The heft is evident as soon as you pick it up, housed as the main unit is in a metal chassis. The attractive circular screen is a 1.38in P-OLED that brings Android Wear 2.0 to colour poppin’ life. More on that in a bit, but it’s good news. It’s also great to see no ugly flat tyre at the bottom of the screen. 

If the Watch Style is breezy-take-it-easy in terms of design, then the Watch Sport is the no-nonsense version. It’s very different and these are two devices for two quite different consumers.

I like the design but it is unquestionably masculine, the whole thing coloured titanium (though there’s also a blue version), paired with the mostly dark OS makes for something you might expect to see on the wrist of someone in a sci-fi epic.

It’s big and fairly heavy too. That’s because it’s got LTE tech, NFC, GPS and a heart rate sensor crammed into its tiny body. You control everything via the touchscreen and the three buttons on the right edge; the middle one is an excellently tactile crown that you can use to scroll through menus.

The strap is rubberised and sits circular, following the natural curve of your wrist. The whole thing might well dwarf that wrist though – I recommend trying one on in store if possible before taking the purchase plunge, but yes, you’ll have to be in the US.

The underside has a bit more chunk than you might expect, and this is to allow for a nano-SIM tray. A proprietary tool in the box allows you to take off the underside of the case to get at it. This cover also protects the heart rate sensor.

On my wrist I found it less intrusive and bulky than the initial impression gives. It catches on stiff cuffed coats a bit, and it won’t add to a dainty look, but I found it more comfortable to wear all day than the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier

The buttons are wonderfully tactile, and the crown is just as good (and easier to turn) as the one on the Apple Watch.

Features and specifications

The Sport’s spec sheet makes for good reading. It has everything you could possibly cram into a smartwatch in 2017. Google worked with LG to make sure it was the Watch Sport (and Style) that introduced the world to Android Wear 2.0, so we have a high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 with 4G LTE powering the 1.38in P-OLED display. It looks great, with a 480x480 resolution and 348ppi.

The unit measures 45.4 x 51.21 x 14.2mm and is watertight to IP68 standards, but apparently only 1.5m for 30 minutes, so you can't really swim in it. There’s 4GB of on board storage for music on the go without your phone, and a healthy 768MB RAM.

Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to test the LTE aspect of the Watch Sport as its functionality only works in the US. US networks AT&T and Verizon allows the linking of your phone’s SIM to a second SIM in the watch, allowing you to saunter off without your phone but still make and receive all your calls and messages.

UK networks don’t yet have the ability to offer this to consumers over their networks, and even when I put a nano-SIM in the Watch Sport just to test, nothing happened. At the time of writing, a UK price and release date is still unconfirmed, and the fact LG hasn’t produced a non-LTE model is probably why.

If you decide to import one though, I didn’t miss the LTE functionality, and it worked very well for me without it.

LTE for all regions is surely the next logical step in the evolution of smartwatches. Much like Samsung’s Gear S2 and Gear S3 though, any potential UK release is likely to remain Wi-Fi only on these shores.

GPS is also included on the Watch Sport, meaning you can go off on a run without your phone and the Watch Sport will track exactly where you’ve been. Oddly though for a watch called Sport, it doesn’t feel like a runner’s gadget such is its uniform design, but it performs well enough to earn its name.

Also crammed into it is Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi, an accelerometer, barometer, microphone, speaker, NFC for mobile payments and an ambient light sensor that’s joyously hidden in the display, not in a black window at the bottom of the screen like on the Moto 360 2

More annoying is the wirelessly charged 430mAh battery. Not that you can fit a larger one in this form factor, but with so much for a small power pack like that to run, I didn’t expect much. I was unfortunately right – the watch barely makes it through a day.

Taken off the bundled wireless charger at 7am, and without a workout that would need GPS, the watch limped towards 20% by about 6pm. 11 hours of continuous use maybe, but it bugged me. Sure, most charge an Apple Watch every day but even the first-gen Apple Watch can do a day comfortably.

It’s a poison chalice with smartwatches – if you want to use all the bells and whistles (and you do, that’s why you bought it) then the tiny cells in these things just aren’t enough for more than a day tops. That’s OK because you’re probably going to go home every night and stick it on the dock, but if you travel then this thing, like most, is going to die on you.

I got round the poor battery life by turning off the always-on display, turning down brightness, turning off NFC, Wi-Fi and GPS. It works, but it stunts the function and experience. It’s something all decent smartwatches suffer from.

We put up with it on our phones, but even though the simple fact that you can’t fit a larger battery in the Watch Sport, it’s still unacceptably bad battery life. I can’t help but feel LG could have worked closer with Google to optimise the noticeably quick drain.

Software and everyday use

Android Wear 2.0

Google made Android Wear 2.0 the headline act when the Watch Sport was announced, and rightly so as it’s a brilliant OS. Google Assistant makes its debut here on a wearable, and it works pretty well. It also only knows English and German at the moment though, the lazy rotter. Still, chatting into a watch almost makes more sense that barking commands at a smartphone, but it remains an unnatural thing to do.

Android Wear 2.0 is a visual improvement, with menus clearer and easier to navigate. The Sport’s rotating crown is excellent and makes it simple and intuitive to scroll through menus, though if you’re used to other smartwatch operating systems it might be a bit confusing.

You need to tap the screen to enter apps and swipe right to go back in a menu, but once learned it’s a breeze. I particularly enjoyed the Google Keep integration; it’s easy to assign a complication to your favourite watch face and view or add a note. It’s great for shopping lists for example, as you don’t have to clutch your phone, keeping your hands free.

Google’s apps

In fact much like the Samsung apps on Samsung’s Tizen watch OS, the experience with the Watch Sport is best when you stick to Google’s own apps. The integration is brilliant, evidenced in my use of the Fit and Android Pay apps. Decent third party apps are the usual suspects such as Citymapper with its excellent turn-by-turn alerts.

I ran and cycled at the gym, recording both sessions with the watch (you can pick between outdoor and indoor for both of these). It gives you a live read-out of time, calories and distance but you can swap these for other metrics if you want (hard to do on a treadmill, so do it before you start).

This all works through the Google Fit app on the watch, syncing with the same app on an Android phone, but it also works with iOS. You also obviously need the Android Wear app to keep things ticking over from the start, but it’s an OS that allows you to do most of it on the watch itself, which I like. You have the Play Store is on your wrist, though limited to fewer apps of course.

Google Assistant

The watch also has Google Assistant right there on your wrist. I had trouble pairing it with a BlackBerry KEYone though, so you may have the same trouble. It worked with an LG G6 and Google Pixel (two phones that have the Assistant built in, as opposed to the older Google Now).

On first test with the Pixel, the Watch Sport reacted to ‘set alarm for 7:45am’ very quickly, doing just that. Then it struggled.

It recorded me asking ‘When is the Monaco match?’ but took at least fifteen seconds to give me a Google search result. Worse was when I said ‘email Chris Martin’; rather than open an email to my colleague it sent another Chris in my contacts the word ‘Martin’. Not only is this tech evidently still flawed, I now look like a weirdo.

The limits of the Assistant on a watch are more than on the phone. It has a way to go, and the fact it just doesn’t work sometimes isn’t good enough.

Home screen, Agenda, music controls and Google Assistant on the LG Watch Sport

Does it work with an iPhone?

Use with an iPhone is limited too. You can’t interact with iMessage; you only get incoming notifications. Calendar syncing is also dodgy and you have to pick between Google or Apple. You will probably want both, but you can’t. Also you can only use one Google account at a time, and you need to connect to Wi-Fi to access the Play Store directly from the watch as you don’t have the Play Store on an iPhone.

Supposedly there is some Google Assistant functionality, but when I tried to set it all up on an iPhone 7, it left me with a spinning wheel telling me to ‘check your phone’. Nothing happened. I gave up.

Basically, don’t get the LG Watch Sport if you use an iPhone. There are far too many compromises, the integration is buggy and the experience is terrible. Get an Apple Watch

Everything else

On the bright side, when paired with an Android phone I used the Android Pay function with ease and the experience is seamless. It’s so handy once you start using it, and the LG Watch Sport makes it easy, as long as it hasn’t died on you by the time you need a pint after work.

There’s a ton of new things stuffed into the OS, like handwriting recognition for quick replies to messages, a surprisingly not fiddly thing to do well first time. Presentation is everything on wearables because of the limited size of display, and the combination of hardware and software here works well. You can tell LG and Google worked closely to achieve it.

Google has been smart to just clean up Android Wear with vibrant app icons and largely dark backgrounds to save battery life (whites use more power). The update makes the watch feel like a tiny Android phone, notification tray and all, even more so than the original version of the OS.

But as ever, you’re buying into the innate simplicity of a smartwatch. Simple is the most useful; Google’s charmingly uncluttered calendar interface, the ease of notification management, the music control widget. It’s all here, and it flows excellently and intuitively in day-to-day use.

LG Watch Sport: Specs

  • 1.38in (480x480, 299ppi) P-OLED display
  • Android Wear 2.0
  • 1.1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 CPU
  • 768MB RAM
  • 4GB storage
  • IP68 dust and water resistance
  • 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.2 LE
  • 430mAh non-removable battery
  • 45.4x14.2mm
  • 1.38in (480x480, 299ppi) P-OLED display
  • Android Wear 2.0
  • 1.1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 CPU
  • 768MB RAM
  • 4GB storage
  • IP68 dust and water resistance
  • 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.2 LE
  • 430mAh non-removable battery
  • 45.4x14.2mm

OUR VERDICT

If you are definitely going to be able to charge it every night and you don’t mind paying for the LTE functionality you may not be able to use, then the LG Watch Sport is one of the best Android smartwatches ever made.

Android Wear 2.0 is very good and is definitely the best choice over Tizen unless you’re using a Samsung phone.

But the Google Assistant is weak for a headline feature and the battery life just isn’t good enough. Smartwatches that limp towards lunch on Day 2 still please, but the fact the Watch Sport sometimes dies before you’re home on Day 1 isn’t good enough.

You shouldn’t have to turn off half the functions of the product to make it last the day. It’s is one of the better smartwatches out there, but like most of them, it’s not without its infuriating flaws.