When the Smartwatch craze first erupted with the advent of the Apple Watch, consumers were eagerly waiting for Google’s action. When they unveiled the Android Wear OS in 2014, with a model smartwatch using the wearable OS, people thought that Google was going to release the official Google smartwatch, for sure. They released the Nexus line of phones, they could do the same to the smartwatch market.
As the Android wearable market rose and floundered, Google kept quiet. There were murmurs that the smartwatch market had lost its edge, despite the anticipation for the Android Wear 2.0 OS. Rumors began to circulate that Google would make two official smartwatches, partnering with LG (who we all should be grateful for if only for the LG Nexus 5—still an immortal classic).
When the smartwatches were finally announced, I was one of those wanting to get my hands on the product. There were two smartwatches, but it was the LG Watch Sport that had the cellular technology, LTE, GPS and NFC. The LG Sport met polarizing reviews, some saying that it is a great leap forward, and others saying it is too bulky.
I ignored the reviews, thinking that I should reserve the final judgment. I got the original W280 version, the one that wasn’t locked to the AT&T.
My first impression was that it was bulky. When I first wore it, I thought it was fat and unwieldy. Overtime, however, this ceased becoming an issue. Somehow, the bulkiness just fit in my arm, and there were only the slight annoyances like having to pull out your wallet from your pants, and it snagging. Those whose main gripe is the bulkiness probably have small wrists, or didn’t give it a chance to grow on them. You get used to the size.
The next to greet me was the UI interface. There were still some similarities, but there were also a lot of improvements. The marketing of the LG Sport boasted the “complications”, data you could add in the watch face. I, however, wanted a pure watch experience and didn’t need extra data (I wasn’t into fitness, so the fitness aspect didn’t work either). The apps are also navigated in a circular motion by rotating the center dial (more on that later), which for me made navigation quick and efficient.
There were three buttons: one was the central dial which served several primary purposes. Long-pressing it turned the watch on, another press took you to the main apps menu, turning the dial navigated the apps, and long-pressing it while on turned on the Google Assistant, the company’s much touted AI. The other two buttons above and below the main dial can be customized to be short cuts. The default of the upper button was the Health component, and the lower one wasn’t yet customized (I made it default to settings).
The best feature which I truly consider a leap in Android Wear (though a few watches were ahead in this), was the presence of a speaker. I could play videos, given the right app. I could also play music, but I will talk about that later.
The Four Things I can’t Get Past
The LG Sport worked like a much-improved Android Wear smartwatch, but that was all it was. And for all the advertised features and improvements, there were simply four things that I couldn’t shake off.
This was the most obvious flaw. Many reviewers complain that the battery drains too quickly, and that you have to charge it every night. In my experience, it doesn’t even last a full day. It was always at 20% or less after a few hours.
Granted, that I was using the cellular/LTE, but even disabling it gave me just a little more time before it started losing significant charge. Besides, I had the peculiar intention for the watch: if my phone’s network didn’t work, I could use the watch as backup phone. (Yes, I’m Dick Tracy-ing the watch)
In either case, the natural state of the watch was always at its charging dock.
The Cellular (Non) Connectivity
Maybe because I was using the W280, non-AT&T version. Maybe because the watch simply had incompatible bands in my country (I live in the Philippines), but the LTE and the cellular functions are virtually non-existent. I was using a local network (Smart Prepaid), and it was mostly out of service, except for the rare occasions I could send and receive SMS. Those happened very rarely.
But the network sometimes connects, and it’s strong in the LTE. Not that it mattered. I tested disconnecting the Bluetooth, turning off the WiFi, with the intention of accessing the Internet through LTE. Nothing worked. The Google Assistant, which would have depended on LTE if the phone or Wifi didn’t work, simply said it didn’t work.
Google (Non) Play Music
Again, I’m chalking this up to geographical limitations. I had the assumption that, like the previous Android Wear iteration, the music on my phone which I didn’t necessarily have to download from the Play Music would download to the watch. It worked in my Moto 360, and though I couldn’t use a working speaker in my Moto, I could play it anyway using a Bluetooth headset.
I set up Play Music as usual, with the apparent promise that I would sync the music files and get to play it (and download it) on the watch. Instead, I got a No Files Available notification. I created a playlist just to see if it could work. Nothing. So now I’m waiting for a Good Samaritan to develop a Play Music-like app that could send my music to the watch without any problems.
The Google Assistant
For all the flaws of the LG Sport, I thought that it would be compensated by the revolutionary AI. I had my experience with the Moto 360 Google, and it was lacking. So I thought this was different.
All I can say is, Google Assistant has a long ways to go. When I asked it basic questions like “How tall is the Empire State Building?”, it can give me details. But more complex questions, or realtime news like “When is the next NBA game?” or Alexa-like requests “Read me the news”, simply shows a confused Google Assistant.
So I felt somehow shortchanged by the LG Sport. It was supposed to be revolutionary, but it was looking more like any other Android wear smartwatch. They boasted all these features (LTE, Google AI, good battery, music on the watch), and none of them work. I don’t use NFC payments anyway, as the stores here are still not that advanced. And how can you use GPS if LTE won’t load the map?
I feel stuck with the LG Sport, but I guess it could improve. I mean, the Moto 360 initially had bad battery and couldn’t load music to the watch, but the updates fixed that. Maybe Google will improve with its updates.
So take my review with a grain of salt. You might realize that it still is the best out there, (the Huawei Watch 2 doesn’t have the revolutionary dial, for example), or maybe the other watches are better.
If you’re still interested in getting an LG Sport, be my guest. Just be sure you buy it with eyes open.