Still Think It's Smart

The honeymoon is definitely over. I wake up next to my LG Watch Urbane and don't feel that same urge to feel it on my wrist that I used to have, and it's a while now since I pulled my sleeve cuff back just to steal an admiring glance at it.

Alan Williams     |     21st July 2015     |     5 Minute Read

LG Urbane

Instalment two of my long term road test of the LG Watch Urbane (where I realise that I'm still an early adopter)
The honeymoon is definitely over. I wake up next to my LG Watch Urbane and don't feel that same urge to feel it on my wrist that I used to have, and it's a while now since I pulled my sleeve cuff back just to steal an admiring glance at it. It has become everyday.

So are we still friends? Have we learned to live with each other successfully?

We have. But whilst it's still my first choice in the mornings over my trusty surf watch, there are occasions now when I pick the Ripcurl over the LG. I'm not surprised by this, and I'm still pretty pleased with my purchase, but it's time to share what I've learned.....

What's still good?
The key usage benefits I reported on last time are still the standout ones. In order those are:

  1. Phone call notifications, I always have my phone on silent now and I can see who is calling
  2. SMS notifications, I love being able to read the messages right away.
  3. Gmail - yes I actually flick through headers as they arrive, and drill down to scan the email content to see if I need to do anything on those that look urgent. The screen's surprisingly readable.
  4. Google Keep checklists - created on the phone or on my laptop, I check them off on the watch as I do tasks, particularly shopping
  5. Calendar reminders- great not having to get the phone out when they fire

These are all very practical and have changed the way that I use my rather unwieldy Samsung Note 4 phablet which in retrospect is far too big to handle comfortably. I don't ever input anything on the watch except for asking it to tell my phone to call people from my phone address book when I'm in the car (which the phone can do as well of course). I've installed all manner of other apps and plenty of watch faces, but with one exception that I'll talk about later they've not become part of my life.

If there weren't the disadvantages that I've discussed below, then getting a watch of this sort (or the Apple Watch) would be on everyone's birthday or Christmas wish list.

So, what could be improved?
Quite a lot of things. In all honesty, this is still early adopter technology. Those of us who are nerds (and there are plenty of us, which is what the manufacturers are relying on) will accept the compromises, but most of us would be fooling ourselves if we say that we're completely happy. Here are my top 5 gripes (and the list is longer than that...)

  1. It isn't a great watch.
    I hate to say it having spent over A$350 on it, but it really isn't. Almost none of these smart watches are except perhaps those with electronic ink faces. A watch should, most of all, let you read the time easily wherever you are. Particularly when you are in a rush, and definitely when you are loaded up with stuff. A quick glance should be all that is needed. Unfortunately, despite being always on (which is absolutely a good thing, and it would be even worse if it wasn't) you simply can't easily read the watch face outside. Even the full brightness mode is no match for the Australian daytime (or even an English summer, as I found out). Indoors it is absolutely fine and at night it excels so if you mostly live inside and are nocturnal then you may beg to differ, but as a diurnal, outdoors loving person I'm not impressed.
  2. It is wearing poorly.
    You can tell that LG is an electronics company and not a watchmaker. I admit to not being the most careful person on the planet and have a reputation for clumsiness, but the wear on the case of this watch after just about 3 months is what it took several years of much more severe wear to produce on my fairly cheap Ripcurl, let alone my old Omega. I don't use this watch for kayaking or other harder outdoor usage unlike my others. The watch case is simply too easy to dent and scratch. Over time hopefully they'll learn more about the materials to use, but this is poor for a moderately expensive watch.
  3. Battery life is an issue for everyday life.
    Although the battery can last for up to a day an a half with moderate use, if you're flicking through emails and other notifications regularly like I am then you're down to the last 15% of battery by the end of the day. On a long day or if you're travelling internationally then pack your spare watch. It's a pain having to charge your watch as well as the phone on the plane or in the airport.
  4. Notification control is not fine enough on the apps yet.
    Yes, you can say which apps will generate notifications and which won't, but if you choose email and twitter, for example, there are just too many notifications coming to your watch all of the time. I want to be able to tag contacts into groups and only let those groups through. And I want to change those profiles easily depending upon my activity. When I'm out in the evening I want important notifications but during the day I don't mind more coming through. I'm happy to say which profile I want, but it needs to be easy to customise.
  5. It's just too easy to send the watch into a settings mode by touching its face by accident.
    When I fold my arms this happens regularly. The most common is to go into "change my watch face" mode. This just takes a longish hold on the screen, but is easy to get into by mistake.

Any pleasant surprises?
As it happens, yes! Much to my delight I found an Android Wear browser called WIB, the Wear Internet Browser by appfour. It is, amazingly, quite functional and efficient.

You might quite reasonably ask, "Why the hell would you want a browser on a watch?" because there's no way you should want to browse websites and surf when on such a small device with no keyboard.

The reason is simple. You can run web apps. One afternoon I took a couple of hours to develop a simple forms-based app in one of our BlinkMobile answerSpaces. The scenario was very specific, an activity-based app that would ask the user to answer two or three questions (with conditional behaviour) by ticking boxes and then submit a record into a back end system database and produce a pdf to email to a document management system.

Easy as pie to develop and all the back-end processing is done at the server side. The watch works really well as a simple input device for particular activities when handling a phone would be more difficult. What surprised me was that the WIB browser doesn't drain much battery and is crisply efficient. The app worked really well.

In summary
After two months with the LG Watch Urbane I'm willing to continue with the compromise because the benefits of the good features outnumber the irritations of the things that need improving. I'm hoping that software upgrades may come along to sort out the notifications issues and the flipping into settings mode. The other ones I'll have to live with.

I suspect that over the next 12 months the watch face issues and battery life will be sorted out on the best of the new watches and then the Smart Watch will live up to both parts of its name.