LG Watch Urbane Review
Interface and functionality
The Watch Urbane comes out of the box with the latest Android Wear update on board, which puts it in a very advantageous position compared to older smartwatches — at least for a time. Indeed, even our still fresh resident LG Watch R is stuck with the older, more basic Android Wear version, and is therefore no match for the Urbane functionality-wise.
One of the many new additions is the ability to only receive priority notifications or none at all (a DND mode). Another handy feature allows you to tweak font size. Google has finally also realized that endless vertical lists of actions and apps just aren't cutting it anymore, so the main menu is now split in three horizontal 'tabs' that you slide through easily. The first one contains your apps, so you no longer have to hunt for them for what feels like eternity, while the second tab has your contacts. The last tab is dedicated to Google Now and the various actions it can perform.
We're also happy to say that we've noticed a healthy growth in the number of dedicated apps and apps that have some kind of Android Wear support baked in. This is especially noticeable with watch faces — the selection has grown tremendously in the past 6 months, though we'd obviously prefer that more of them were free of charge. We'd also appreciate a revamp of the stock Android watch faces, as most of them are just poorly designed and particularly unsuitable for smartwatches that try to look like normal timepieces.
But by far the coolest new feature of the Urbane is the ability to call people through it, making it an excellent choice in situations such as driving (where you have your phone paired with your car's infotainment system). Of course, the calls themselves are relegated to your smartphone, but the Watch will seamlessly download your recent and favorite contacts, and will even whip out a dialer in case you need one.
On a more negative note, Google's latest version of Android Wear on the Urbane is prone to crashes and slowdowns, and we found no obvious trigger for either. It's just something that we had to live with, annoying as it was. For example, on two occasions, we were greeted by an error message that claimed that Android Wear had stopped working, which resulted in a completely unresponsive device that couldn't be restarted unless you pressed and held the crown for about 10 seconds. LG and Google better iron these out, and quickly — smartwatches are already a hard enough sell.
Google Now and the beginning of the Wi-Fi era
If you've ever used, or at least seen an Android Wear smartwatch in action, then there should be no doubt in your mind — the entire premise of the platform is to give you convenient access to Google Now. The rest, at least originally, was just extra.
Google Now can do a ton of stuff — it can turn speech to text and send it off as a message or keep it as a note, it can set alarms, tell you the time and weather, initiate navigation, and pull out all kinds of information from the web in a succinct, easy-to-digest format. Until the Watch Urbane, however, all these queries had a pretty inefficient way of reaching the brain — your smartphone — and serving it all the way back to your smartwatch. Basically, you'd call upon Google Now, ask this or that, wait for your speech to be recognized after a trip to your phone, and then wait for the answer to populate on the tiny screen via Bluetooth after your phone had used its own Wi-Fi radio to ask Google's servers. With the Urbane, we finally have something far more robust.
Yep, LG's new smartwatch has a tiny Wi-Fi radio on board, allowing you to cut the middle man when you're connected to a local or public network. In essence, speech recognition and resulting answers are being handled by the watch itself, so you're cutting out Bluetooth out of the picture. This cuts the time needed to satisfy your query significantly, making Google Now a far more enjoyable piece of functionality.
Health and Fitness
A gyroscope, an accelerometer, a barometer, and even a heart rate monitor — these are the tiny sensors in the Watch Urbane that allow it to assume the role of a fitness and health tracker. It can count your steps, estimate altitude and how fast you're going, and even measure your heart beat. All of this is information that dedicated apps can make good use of to provide you with an overview of your workouts and suggest improvements.
But you don't need to depart the Google ecosystem unless you want to — the Android maker's Fit app, while bare bones, can keep track of your activities — over 50 different types, including wakeboarding, water polo, zumba, yoga, and many more. Unfortunately, this is still very much a manual process, and very far from a plug-and-play type deal, so if you're serious about your training, then look elsewhere.
Processor and memory
With the Urbane, LG is using the same processor and memory chip that it used with the Watch R. We're talking a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chipset with 512MB of RAM available. Like before, the configuration is capable of pushing the software at very agreeable speeds, save for the aforementioned, occasional slowdowns. If anything, we'd argue that the Urbane even feels somewhat more responsive than the Watch R, despite the identical hardware.
As for storage, there are 4 gigs available. In our experience over the past year, that has been more than sufficient.
You can't watch the last episde of Game of Thrones on the 1.3-inch display of the Watch Urbane, even if you were so (masochistically) inclined, so knock that silly thought out of your head. In fact, you can't even listen to music through it — it has a microphone, but no speaker.
Indeed, the only media purpose the Urbane can serve is to offer you quick access to playback controls — next, back, volume up, volume down. We've noticed that this is especially useful when behind the wheel, at least if you stream music from your phone to your car's system over Bluetooth and have no controls for it on the steering wheel. That way, you don't have to take your hands off at any time. Even better — apps like SoundCloud and Play Music push controls to your device, too.