Last fall I got my first smart watch (the Samsung Gear Live
), and I haven't regretted the purchase at all - even though I knew that smart watch technology was going to be moving very quickly.
Since then, I also decided to give the Fitbit Surge
at try. Unfortunately, that experiment didn't last long at all and I sent it back so I could stick with my Gear Live.
Recently, I started seeing reviews on the LG Urbane and decided to give it a try to see if it's really much better than the initial Gear Live. I'll just be completely clear and say that YES, this watch is probably the best watch I've ever owned! (And, yes, I'm including non-smart-watches in that statement.)
I wish I could say the Urbane is perfect (it isn't); but, it definitely has more good than bad. In this review, I'm going to go through some of the features and details that set it apart instead of focusing on every detail.
[*** Function & Performance ***]
I know there are a variety of factors involved (including a newer version of Android Wear on the Urbane); but, this watch has a more 'polished' user experience.
It's easy to do things that should have been easy all along; like:
- I can select a favorite contact and dial the phone without talking. It's also easy to redial people from the recent call history.
- I can set reminders that go off at a specific location, like: "remind me to buy air filters at Home Depot". It works surprisingly well; and, in that example, I would get a quick reminder the next time I was at Home Depot so I wouldn't walk out without buying something I'd been needing.
- Due to the WIFI connectivity, it's possible to perform tasks even if I accidentally leave my phone on my desk. Or to see incoming calls, etc... (I will say this feature isn't perfect - but it's a step in the right direction, and works almost all the time.)
- Initially, it seemed like Android Wear was going to force everybody to use nothing but voice commands (which is impractical because I don't want to talk to my wrist in the office). Software updates had improved that on the Gear Live; but, the Android update on the Urbane is finally to a point where it's possible to do far more with the menus.
- I like having the ability to measure my pulse on demand (I'm kind of a Fitbit geek); but, the only software it seems to integrate with is Google Fit - which doesn't seem to work with anything else. Hopefully other companies (like Fitbit or MyFitnessPal) will start integrating with Google Fit in the near future to make the feature more useful.
On top of the additional features, the watch seems to perform far more smoothly as well - although the Gear Live was no slouch. Part of that impression is due to upgraded hardware, and part is due to a more intuitive & polished interface.
Finally, the notification vibrations on the Urbane are more noticeable than the Gear Live - which was always one of my biggest complaints with that watch. I'm far less likely to miss incoming call/text notifications with the Urbane than with the Gear Live.
The function and performance of the Urbane is smooth and intuitive enough that it's easy to start wondering how much more can be improved (although I'm sure I'll be surprised over the next year).
[*** Battery Life ***]
First of all, I use my watch with the face on 100% of the time - trust me, it will drive you crazy if you set it to require a 'flip' to see the time. I also use it fairly consistently throughout the day to view & respond to both emails and texts, start/stop audio books, and manage reminders and other notifications. I'm to a point where I'm pretty dependent on my smart watch - and use it instead of pulling my phone out of my pocket for a lot of basic tasks.
With that in mind, the battery life on the Gear Live wasn't a problem since I could easily get through a day and would just charge it overnight.
The Urbane, on the other hand, is quite a bit better - and I suspect I may be able to get two full days out of it with just a tiny bit of battery life to spare. That makes it quite a bit easier to travel with!
The charging mechanism itself is also pretty solid. It's basically a magnetic dock that attaches to the bottom of the watch and has a USB charging port. Personally, I attached a Qi Wireless Charging Receiver
to the dock so I can just set the watch by my Qi charger at night instead of requiring another cable.
[*** Shape & Size ***]
I've been wearing the Gear Live for long enough now that I didn't even realize it looks like a geeky calculator watch. :)
The Urbane, on the other hand, looks more like a typical watch - and I've gotten far fewer comments asking "Is that an Apple Watch?". Personally, I like the round styling so much better that it's hardly even a comparison.
As far as size goes, I wore a G-Shock watch for more than a decade - and this watch is about the same diameter as a G-Shock; although, it's about 2/3 of the thickness. As a result, to me it still feels compact enough for every-day wear - but I can see how it might be too big if you have a small wrist.
I should also say that the large variety of round watch faces look amazing on this watch! (Even in standby mode.)
[*** Watch Band ***]
The watch band on the Urbane looks good in pictures; but, I found I didn't like it at all in real life.
It's just too stiff, and the leather had a 'cracked' look once it was on my wrist. It was also pretty uncomfortable.
Fortunately, it's possible to replace the band with any standard 22mm watch band; so, I picked up a Black Polyurethane Link Bracelet Band
and am using it instead.
Even though this isn't a review of the band, the new band looks great and is far more comfortable - although it did take a few minutes to get it installed on the watch and fit correctly.
[*** Brightness ***]
If I could change just one thing on this watch, it would be the addition of an ambient light sensor.
Since there isn't any automatic brightness setting - it's either too bright in the dark, or not bright enough in the daylight.
I think most people will be able to find a middle ground that works 'OK' in any light; but, an ambient light sensor would make this just about the perfect watch; and, it's the one feature I would consider upgrading for.
[*** Applications ***]
Even though the Android Wear platform has come a long way since last fall, I haven't seen much movement as far as application support goes.
There are lots of new watch faces which is nice; but, the only real usable apps that I've found are:
1) For texting, be sure to switch your Android phone to using 'Hangouts' instead of the built-in texting app. It really is a better app anyway, and supports the phone far better.
2) For email, I'm using CloudMagic. This is one of the best email clients I've found - and it works great with Android Wear! It's easy to read full messages, mark them read, delete them, and even reply if you want to dictate a response.
3) For note taking, I'm a big Microsoft OneNote fan. Fortunately, they do have a version of OneNote for Android Wear that works pretty well!
4) There are built-in calculator and flashlight apps on the Urbane that both work pretty well.
Some apps that I'd love to see on this watch would be:
1) Digifit: I think it would be awesome if I could start/stop workouts from the watch.
2) Audible: It's already possible to start/stop audio books from the watch once the Audible app is running; but, I'd like to be able to launch it directly from the watch (so I don't have to dig my phone out of my pocket when I'm driving).
Fortunately, even though I'm definitely an Android user - I think the Apple Watch will bring enough attention to this segment that we may start to see some real innovation with apps for the Android Wear platform.
[*** Conclusion ***]
At the end of the day, I suspect this is probably the single best wearable device on the market right now.
I think it looks better than anything out there (including the Apple Watch), it has excellent performance, and brings enough features to the table that I'd definitely miss it if it were gone.
Having said that, this platform is moving forward very quickly; so, in 6 months there will be something better out there. Personally, I can't see any killer features that would compel me to upgrade - other than the addition of an ambient light sensor...
Overall, if you're in the market for a smart watch, I think this should be at the absolute top spot on your list!