I still look back to the day that Android Wear debuted as the one that I finally took wearable devices seriously. I remember getting excited that, finally, someone had gotten a wearable operating system right. However, after its debut, that shine quickly wore off. I found myself no longer enjoying the ecosystem I had come to love, and looking into other options.

Now, it’s 2017, and it’s been almost a year since Android Wear was on my wrist on a daily basis. In the time since, I’ve used a variety of wearables like the Pebble, the Ticwatch, and Samsung’s Gear S3, all while Google worked on Android Wear 2.0 in the background. Now, Android Wear 2.0 is here, and with it, new hardware.

Google partnered with LG for this new hardware, resulting in two new devices: the LG Watch Sport, and the LG Watch Style. For the past several days, I’ve been using the “flagship” of the two, the Watch Sport…

The best gifts for Android users

Hardware |

This design screams Android Wear 2.0

One of the reasons Android Wear became a little stale for me was the design of Android Wear hardware. There were highlights, yes, like the Moto 360 2015, the Huawei Watch, and couple others, but there wasn’t anything “polished.” Pretty much every Android Wear device from the last generation at least one glaring flaw, whether it be a missing feature or something a little more minor like the charging method.

That can’t be said about the Watch Sport, at least in terms of specifications. Aside from a couple unfortunately necessary quirks, this device looks the part of a polished wearable device, and that matches up with Android Wear’s continued evolution over the past couple of years.

The Watch Sport has a sturdy design, built entirely from brushed metal, which looks excellent in just about any setting. It fits well in an active setting, but it also might be classy enough to pair with a suit and tie sometimes (although it’ll be a bit snug under your shirt cuff).

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On the left side of the watch, you’ll find nothing more than a speaker, which is used for phone calls and audio playback. It’s nothing special in terms of audio quality, but it gets the job done. Under the watch, you’ll find a heart rate monitor and a removable door that provides access to the SIM card. You can replace it pretty easily using the included tool.

Lastly, on the right side of the watch, you’ll find three buttons — two customizable and one power button/”digital crown”/rotating side button (RSB). We’ll get to the crown more in a little bit, but the buttons themselves offer a respectable click that is tactile and satisfying.

Big, bulky, and surprisingly well-built

While the Watch Sport looks excellent, it does fall flat in, well, not being flat. Since this watch has LTE, it has to accommodate a larger battery to power the extra components. That leads to a design which is significantly thicker compared to most other smartwatches. At 14.2mm, it’s actually one of the thickest smartwatches on the market, as you can see compared to several others below.

Smartwatch Thickness         
LG Watch Sport 14.2mm
Apple Watch (38mm) 10.5mm
Huawei Watch 11.3mm
LG G Watch R 9.7mm
Ticwatch 2 11.95mm
Moto 360 2015 (46mm) 11.4mm
Samsung Gear S3 Frontier 12.9mm

While on paper, a couple of extra millimeters might not seem like much, you can feel it on the wrist. Compared to something like the LG G Watch R (which was my previous Android Wear device of choice), the Watch Sport feels absolutely massive. Even compared to the Gear S3 which I recently reviewed, the Watch Sport feels pretty huge on the wrist.

Honestly, a massive smartwatch isn’t always a bad thing, as there are dozens of standard watches that are far thicker than this. What grinds my gears on this watch in particular, though, is that it feels like wasted space to a degree. If we look back to 2016 with LG’s previous LTE watch, the Watch Urbane 2nd Edition, there’s one spec shared between the two: thickness. Both measure in at 14.2mm, but it seems like the Urbane makes better use of the space by including a significantly bigger battery (570mAh vs 430mAh).

In pictures this isn’t something you’ll immediately notice, but it’s the first thing you’ll realize when putting the watch on your wrist. Is it a deal breaker? For some, maybe. The sheer size of this watch aside from the thickness is pretty ridiculous as well, but since I have average-to-larger wrists I felt fairly at home with the footprint, it’s just way too thick.

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What surprised me about the build, though, is the attention to detail. Nothing about the watch itself feels inferior. The metal chassis is hefty and looks premium, and even the plastic material under that looks and feels great. Little touches like matching the color of the underbody to the band, the slight chamfers around the buttons, and the notches on the “digital” crown all make the Watch Sport a more attractive device.

An unimpressive band, but good for an LTE watch

Arguably the worst part of the Watch Sport is its band. The band is made from a TPU material which is fine, and it fits well on the wrist. However, there are two big issues here. First, this band is not very comfortable. While using it, you’ll eventually get used to the feel, but only if your up and moving around. If you’re like me and spend most of your day at a desk, this isn’t a band you’ll be able to wear while typing away on a keyboard.

Easy solution, right? Just swap the band. Well, on the LG Watch Sport, you can’t do that. This band is required to stay on the watch. Why? To improve LTE reception, the LTE antennas are spread through the watch band. It’s a necessary evil, I get it, but this above all else was the deal breaker for me in buying the Watch Sport.

That said, this isn’t the worst band I’ve tried. In the past I’ve worn some pretty miserable smartwatch bands, but the king of that was the band on the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition LTE. That band was far worse than the one found on the Watch Sport, so at the very least, LG has made progress here.

The “digital crown” is a revelation for Android Wear, but not as good as some alternatives

The biggest standout as far as hardware is concerned on this watch is the “digital crown” along the side of the watch. While it’s certainly “inspired” by features from competitors, the addition of the rotating button on the size of the Watch Sport (and the Watch Style) is a fantastic addition that makes a big difference for the platform.

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The rotating button is, in all reality, only used for one major thing: scrolling. If you’re in the app drawer, Play Store, or just in the settings app, this rotating side button makes it easier to find what you’re looking for without blocking what’s on screen. My favorite use for this action was quickly checking notifications. Directly from the watchface, a rotation can pull up your notifications and you can continually run through them with that button.

This button isn’t perfect, though. At times, the scrolling action will just stop working for no reason in the current build of Android Wear. For example, when scrolling through the Play Store, a tap to select seems to always break scrolling for me on the next screen. On that same note, I wish that you could also make selections without tapping the screen. For example, in the app drawer, it’d be great if you could center the app you want to open, then tap a button to open it up.

One of the main reasons I fell in love with Android Wear’s competition was tactile input and navigation. Pebble used it exclusively, and Samsung understands just how valuable it can be. If you ask me, Android Wear still has a long way to go here, but with a single rotating side button, Google and LG have set the framework for physical input in Android Wear, and I can’t wait to see how it evolves over time.

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A solid overall display

LG has always had a strong suit when it comes to their wearable displays, and the panel on the Watch Sport is no exception. Brightness is excellent and the size is great for display notifications and using apps. The star of the show here, though, is the ambient light sensor which is hidden behind the display, somehow… It’s unclear how LG pulled it off, but this watch has an ambient light sensor tucked behind the display, avoiding both the flat tire and an unsightly spot on the bezel.

Software |

Android Wear 2.0 is a much-needed evolution

Android Wear is a solid platform, and with 2.0, it’s seen a massive overhaul, almost entirely for the good. After using early developer previews, I was pretty skeptical about if Android Wear 2.0 would stick the landing, but for the most part it has. The look of Android Wear 2.0 is different, but inherently polished and clearly focused on a few things.

The biggest area of clear focus in Android Wear 2.0 is making the watch work both when connected to your phone and when it’s not. On the LG Watch Sport, that’s a very important thing since you’ll likely be using this watch completely independent of your phone via an LTE connection. Standalone functions include phone calls, messaging via certain apps like Google’s SMS client and third-party options like Pulse SMS, but also include apps like Uber and Google Play Music.

Along with those things, Google has brought the Play Store to Android Wear, making it easy to download watch faces and apps directly from the watch without installing them on your phone. Right now, this is a hit or miss in terms of whether or not it’s actually better, but as developers update their apps, this will feel like more of a win for the platform.

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Another area that Google clearly focused in on is info at a glance. This is apparent directly from the watch face, where most new watch faces now include “complications.” Using new Android Wear APIs, developers can use “complications” to offer quick shortcuts or information directly on the watch face. I found this especially useful for things like step tracking or weather info, but some developers have even configured this to show notification preview on the watch face.

However, this is still a Google project, which essentially means that it’s not done on launch day. There are still inconsistencies through the OS and certain things, like the Play Store, are clearly in early days. All things considered, though, this is a fantastic effort by Google to revitalize its wearable platform, and it’s absolutely a success.

Performance

The biggest standout on the Watch Sport with Wear 2.0, though, is performance. I’ve never had good luck with performance on an Android Wear smartwatch, but the Watch Sport is easily one of the fastest and smoothest wearable experiences I’ve ever tried. While other platforms like Samsung’s Tizen have been pretty quick the entire time, performance was one place Android Wear really needed an upgrade, and that’s clearly seen on the Watch Sport.

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The easiest way I can describe the change from Android Wear 1.0 vs 2.0 in terms of speed is similar to how I’d describe the different between the Nexus 6P and Pixel. Both can be incredibly fast, but one of the two maintains that speed over longer periods of time and more consistently in general. Fingers crossed that this performance will stick around as the watch ages.

It’s a little unclear where the speed boost is coming from, though. It could easily be Android Wear 2.0, but I’d wager that it’s the combination of 2.0 with the Snapdragon 2100 and added RAM on the Watch Sport. There’s also the fact that LG worked in tandem with Google on these watches to make sure the software experience is particularly optimized here. Regardless, it’s excellent that there is finally an Android Wear device that can go toe-to-toe with most of the competition.

Google Assistant

Along with Android Wear 2.0, Google search also picked up an upgrade to Android Wear 2.0 with the addition of Google Assistant, available with a long press of the power button. Just like on the Pixel, Assistant works a lot like previous versions of Google Voice Search, just with slightly more polished results and better voice recognition. The biggest story here is the speed, which is much faster than voice search in past versions of Android Wear.

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Android Pay is here, and fantastic

The other big addition with Android Wear 2.0 is Android Pay, which is a very welcome arrival. Mobile payments are quickly growing and while Android Pay is somewhat inferior to Samsung Pay, having NFC payments on your wrist is extremely convenient, only assisted by how easy it is to launch the app with a quick long press of a shortcut button.

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Health features

As for health, the Watch Sport lives up to its name. It includes a heart-rate sensor which seems on par compared to other smartwatches, and it also brings along Google Fit out of the box. Google Fit gives a look at your daily summary upon being opened, and a long press of the top shortcut button will let you quickly start a workout. For walking, the app did its job well, and the step tracking lined up nicely with other smartwatches I’ve used recently.

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LTE still has no real use on a smartwatch

If you’ve noticed through this review, my biggest complaints overall have been regarding “unfortunate necessities.” Things like the thick design and non-swappable bands are major problems if you ask me, and they’re caused entirely by LTE.

I’ll just flat out say it: LTE is pointless on a smartwatch at the moment. Realistically, the only time you’ll use it are when you are away from your phone completely, perhaps while running. There, it perhaps makes sense. However, this isn’t a fitness-only watch. With as many tradeoffs as equipping this device with LTE requires, I just can’t see where it’s worthwhile. Not to mention you’ll need to pay for an extra line to get it working.

In this writer’s opinion, LTE smartwatches should only be available as an option, and with the Watch Sport, you have no choice. This is where Samsung nailed it on the Gear S3. Want LTE? Head to your carrier and get it. Want Bluetooth-only? Go for it. It’s the same watch, just with a slight price difference. That’s exactly what I wish LG and Google had done here, but alas, they didn’t.

That said, LTE connections over AT&T were relatively strong on the Watch Sport, and call quality was fine as well.

Battery Life |

Android Wear has never been famous for battery life, and it seems that’s not going to change anytime soon. The Watch Sport typically gets me through a day of regular usage (9am to 10pm), but only with cellular data turned off. If data is turned on, even if I’m on Wifi and connected to my phone, the watch will still be dead by the evening. This could be due to AT&T signal strength in my area, but regardless, if you’re not going to use LTE, it’s probably worth cutting off.

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Charging

Luckily, charging the Watch Sport is a breeze. The included wireless charging dock props the watch up easily and charges it fairly quickly. The 430mAh battery generally charges in a couple of hours, and I love the fact that the charging dock connects to power via a USB-C cable.

Final Thoughts |

After a few days with the LG Watch Sport, I walk away impressed, to an extent. There’s a lot to love here, both in terms of software and hardware. Android Wear has come a long way in the past couple of years, and this hardware puts every major upgrade front and center. It’s a good smartwatch, but the entire I used it, I couldn’t help but want something a little different.

I wish that, instead of going all in with the Sport, Google and LG had created a non-LTE smartwatch with a similar, but thinner design, removable bands, and better battery life. Sadly, they didn’t, so we’re left with a solid, surprisingly affordable LTE smartwatch that just isn’t for everyone.

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Where To Buy |

The LG Watch Sport is available for sale SIM-free from the Google Store in both Titan Silver and the exclusive Dark Blue color for $349. Verizon offers the watch for $329 with a contract, and $379 at retail while AT&T offers it starting at $249 with a contract.


Learn more about the LG Watch Sport

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