Review: LG Watch Urbane

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Gizmag straps on one of the most beautiful smartwatches to date, the LG Watch Urbane (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

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LG's first Android Wear watch was pretty uneventful, but the company took a big leap forward with its fast follow-up, the G Watch R. Now LG's third Wear smartwatch, which is almost identical to that second one, is also available. Read on, for Gizmag's LG Watch Urbane review.

The LG Watch Urbane is basically the LG G Watch R with a fresh coat of paint. Not literally, mind you, as it is technically a brand new device, complete with slightly different dimensions. But its basic shape and size are very similar, and its internal specs are nearly identical.

That leaves three major differences between the two: appearance, price and software. And software should also be the same before long.

The G Watch R had a black body with diving watch-inspired markings circling its screen, but, as you can see above, the Urbane loses those dial markings and goes for a cleaner look. We like the change and think the silver version that we're reviewing looks terrific, continuing with the "it can almost pass for a regular watch" approach that we've seen from the best Android Wear gear.

The Urbane's default leather band also feels a little higher-end than the one we saw on the G Watch R. It now has stitching along its edges, along with a metallic clasp.

The Watch Urbane's stainless steel body is pretty big though: if you have a smaller wrist, this sucker is going to look enormous on you. And though the Urbane is a little shorter than the G Watch R, it's 12 percent thicker – and the G Watch R wasn't a small watch to begin with.

If you're an adult male with wrists that are, let's say, "average-sized" or larger, then the Urbane will probably suit you just fine (for what it's worth, I have no problem with how it looks on my wrist). And there are, after all, standard watches with faces that are this big – though they're usually much thinner.

In the long run, there's going to be a place for big smartwatches, because hey, people have different tastes and different wrist sizes. The problem right now is that "big" is the only option Android Wear gives you. If your platform gives buyers a choice between big, small and everything in between, then you're serving them well. But if all you have is one huge smartwatch after another, then that probably indicates an engineering problem that hasn't been fully solved (or, perhaps more likely, supply chain and profit margin problems).

We'd be shocked, though, if we didn't see some smaller Wear watches launch at Google I/O. That's something to look forward to, but it also might be reason to think twice about buying the Watch Urbane right now. It's sized like a 2014 smartwatch that happens to be launching in 2015. Unless you're actively seeking a big watch, then you might want to wait a few weeks.

As for the Android Wear 5.1.1 software that's launching with the LG Watch Urbane, it's a step in the right direction. One of the big things it adds is hands-free gestures, so you can scroll up and down through your Google Now cards with a flick of the wrist. It works as advertised and can come in handy when your other hand is full.

The big Wear update also lets your watch connect to Wi-Fi networks, so it still works even when your phone isn't around. Your phone will, however, still need to be connected to the Internet somewhere for the watch to receive messages, use voice search and whatnot. And of course once the watch leaves Wi-Fi without having the phone nearby, you won't get anything, as there's no cellular built-in to this model.

Our favorite new feature in Android Wear 5.1.1 is the plugging of one of Wear's biggest holes: the hassle that it used to require to open an app. Now you just tap or swipe to the left from your main clock face, and you'll immediately see a list of all your apps, with your three most recently-launched apps at the top (the rest are ordered alphabetically below). Swipe to the left again and you'll see your contacts list. One more swipe takes you to a third panel where the legacy voice control screen lives.

This does have the minor downside of making it a little harder to launch voice control, but there's still "OK, Google" for that. It makes sense: if you're someplace where voice control is an option, then saying "OK, Google" should also be an option.

We think the new easy access to apps makes Android Wear look a little better next to Apple's Watch OS, and it also could make Wear a bit more of an app-friendly platform – in addition to its rock-solid voice control and contextual cards.

Android Wear 5.1.1 is a pretty big step forward for Google's wearable OS, but you won't want to buy the Urbane just to get the new software. Though it's the only Wear watch running it at the time this review was published, it shouldn't be long before it starts rolling out to other watches. At least we'd hope so, considering all Android Wear watches are essentially Nexus devices, with no custom skins to clog up the process.

We like the LG Watch Urbane a lot. It's arguably the best-looking Android Wear watch, with the same snappy performance and long battery life that we saw in the G Watch R (it can last a couple of days even with its always-on clock face turned on). It's a subtle update over the G Watch R, but it moves everything in the right direction.

But our recommendation for the Urbane isn't quite as strong as our affection for it. We'll almost certainly see new Wear gear at I/O at the end of the month, and some of those watches could even be available soon after the developer conference. One possibility includes a Moto 360 update, likely due before too long, and you'll also want to keep your eyes peeled for the sharp-looking Huawei Watch. Who knows, maybe we'll even see some new Wear gear from Samsung, HTC, Asus or even another from LG.

At US$350, the Watch Urbane is also the most expensive Android Wear watch yet. Considering its 2014-era size and specs – and also considering the $180 sale price that you can find right now for the Moto 360 – it's hard to say you should run out and buy the Urbane. The smarter choice would be to wait for Google I/O, see what's in store there and only then, if you still want the Urbane after that, go for it.

... and of course there's also that watch from a little fruit company in California that makes all of these Wear watches look gigantic:

The LG Watch Urbane is available now from the Google Store for $350. You can choose from silver (pictured in this review) and gold color options. And for more on the features we skimmed over, you can revisit our reviews of Android Wear and the Urbane's spiritual predecessor, the LG G Watch R.

Product pages: LG, Google

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