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LG Watch: First impressions of the most feature-packed Android Wear device yet

At last, the long-awaited update to Android Wear is upon us. Google is debuting its new wearable OS on a pair of LG-made devices: the Watch Style and Watch Sport. The Style is a $249 smartwatch that bundles Android Wear 2.0 and a new dial in a petite, simple frame. That all sounds promising in theory, but the Watch Style barely meets expectations and relies on that fancy new software to tempt shoppers.

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Hardware

For a watch with the word “style” in its name, the Watch Style is a letdown from a design standpoint. Although I appreciated the thin case and slim 18mm band, I didn’t care for the watch’s otherwise bland design. The Italian leather strap I received was an unappetizing camel color. But it is easy enough to swap out for a nicer strap, with the convenient clasp on the underside. LG offers two other colors for the case (black and rose gold) and two additional band colors: black and cream.

Display

The watch’s 1.2-inch P-OLED display is a size that’s becoming increasingly popular on Wear devices, according to Google. So it’s baffling, then, that LG decided to surround the petite screen with an almost half-inch-thick ring of dead space. The display and this black circle are enveloped by the Style’s matte-silver case, which has a bezel that adds about another half-inch around the face. While the device is still compact overall, it feels like there’s too much wasted space overwhelming the design.

Heart Rate Monitor And Water Resistance

The Watch Style also lacks a heart rate monitor, which isn’t surprising for the price. The underside of the case is a bare plastic disc that feels as cheap as it looks. For the price, though, the Style’s IP67 rating for water and dust resistance is a nice touch. It’s safe enough to wear in rainy weather (or in the shower, if you want), but I wouldn’t recommend getting the leather band wet.

Software

One of the biggest updates to the OS is the new scrolling mechanism. The original Android Wear was criticized for being too reliant on swiping to get around. You had to swipe over and over again to get through all the notifications stacked up under the home page, for instance, or swipe twice to the right to unearth OK Google or your contacts. With this new interface, you can scroll through all of your alerts just by dragging your finger down the screen or twisting the dial.

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This saves a lot of time and is the main reason the new OS feels so much faster and more responsive than before. But Google was slightly inconsistent in integrating this mechanism with its existing gestures, which makes navigating a bit confusing. For example, swiping right from the apps list on the old Wear brought you back to the watch face. Doing that on the Wear 2.0 does nothing; you have to press the dial to go back home from the apps list. Sure, it’s easy enough to relearn a few gestures, but in this case, since swiping right doesn’t do anything, it would have been more intuitive if Google simply programmed that action to bring you home.I also wish Google had been more thoughtful in some other aspects of the software. Music playback controls still shows up as a notification in the new Wear. It was annoying when I accidentally dismissed the music notification and had to wait till the next song for the alert to appear again. This is a better Android Wear, but it’s not without its problems.

Connectivity

When paired to an iPhone, the Style has fewer functions than when connected to an Android device. The features you’ll miss the most on iOS include the ability to reply to your messages or initiate calls from your wrist — indeed, some of the most convenient amenities a smartwatch has to offer.You’ll also find far fewer apps available in the wearable’s onboard app store if you’re paired to an iOS device. The Play Store is another addition to Android Wear 2.0 that makes finding apps for your wrist easier. Downloading and installing most applications took less than 30 seconds, which is a reasonable wait time. That said, larger files like games took longer.

As I mentioned before, though, iOS users will find a dearth of compatible apps. I only saw a total of about a dozen applications in three categories when paired with an iPhone as opposed to more than a hundred listings across five categories when connected to Android. These standalone apps work even when your watch isn’t linked to your phone, which is another benefit of Wear 2.0.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the LG Watch Style feels more like a proof of concept than a smartwatch for consumers. It shows how well Android Wear 2.0 can perform when Google collaborates with a device maker to make sure new hardware input methods are integrated properly into the interface. But almost everything else about the Style, from its bland design to its dismal battery life, is disappointing. Even though its $249 price is relatively affordable, a lower cost would help justify some of this watch’s shortfalls. Simply put, the Style is not a good enough watch to showcase the many improvements that Android Wear has made. Fortunately, any number of promising alternatives are sure to arrive this season.

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