Today, Google launched Android Wear 2.0 (the operating system for Android-based smartwatches) and announced the first two smartwatch models sporting the new system: the LG Watch Style and LG Watch Sport.
Android Wear 2.0 highlights
As we first learned from last year's Google I/O event, Android Wear 2.0 brings some significant updates to the wrist wearable experience.
First, it allows more watch face customization. The widgets on the watch faces can now be populated with information from any app, so you can receive relevant, personalized information at a glance.
Secondly, the update makes it much easier to untether from your phone. There is a new on-watch version of the Google Play Store, so you can now download apps directly to the watch, without having to download them (or their smartphone equivalents) on your phone first. If your watch has a cellular data connection, you can now make calls and use apps independently of your phone.
The update also brings Google Assistant to your wrist, along with more wearable-appropriate ways to respond to incoming messages. Google Assistant made its first appearance in the Pixel and Pixel XL phones: It's the Android answer to Siri, and in this application, its voice activation could make interacting with your watch much easier than fiddling with tiny buttons. (Though you're also left with the potentially awkward prospect of talking to your wrist, Dick Tracy-style.)
Along with voice dictation, you can now answer messages (across apps, including Facebook Messenger, Google Messenger or WhatsApp) with typing, handwriting, drawing an emoji, or a Smart Reply auto response feature.
For those that utilize smartwatches for their fitness tracking capabilities, the pre-installed Google Fit app receives some 2.0 updates as well. In addition to tracking pace, distance, calories and heart rate (in watches with a heart rate sensor) the app also measures reps for weight-lifting and some body weight exercises like push-ups, sit-ups and squats.
The 2.0 flagships: LG Watch Style and Sport
The first two smartwatches to ship with Android Wear 2.0 are the LG Watch Style and Sport.
Both watches feature a rotating power button that doubles as a navigator. You can use it to scroll through streams, launch apps or access Google Assistant. This rotating power button seems like a direct knockoff of the Apple Watch's Digital Crown, albeit a welcome one: Navigation at the twist of a dial is one of our favorite features of the Apple Watch, and an improvement over Android Wear's previous swipe-reliant interface.
The LG Watch Style is the smaller of the two new watches and appears to be a more basic device. It has a round face measuring 42.3 mm x 45.7 mm x 10.79 mm with a 30.5 mm (1.2 inch) round display. It's also IP67 water-resistant, meaning it can withstand brief, shallow immersions, but isn't swim-proof. It is available in three different metallic finishes and connects to interchangeable 18 mm leather or silicone bands.
LG Watch Style internals include a Snapdragon Wear 2100 1.1GHZ processor, 512 MB of RAM, 4 GB of built-in storage and a 240 mAh battery with wireless charging. Since it does not have a cellular connectivity option or a heart rate sensor, some of Android Wear 2.0's newfound functionality may not be fully showcased. It retails for US$249.
The LG Watch Sport is a larger device that seems to harness Android Wear 2.0's new capabilities more robustly. It has built-in GPS, heart rate sensor, NFC for mobile payments and a cellular connectivity option. At 45.5 mm (1.79 in) round and 15.2 mm (0.6 in) thick, it follows the tradition of other bulky, masculine wearables, though it does fall short of some more hulking devices, such as the Samsung Gear S3.
The Sport has a 430 mAh removable battery and is available in titanium or dark blue with an elastomer band; full retail price is $380.
Both watches will be available in US markets starting February 10. The LG Watch Style will retail through Best Buy and the Google Store. The LG Watch Sport will retail through AT&T, Verizon and the Google Store. The watches are rolling out to other selected countries, including Canada and the UK, in the coming weeks.
Verizon sneaks in a watch of its own
Almost lost amid Google's announcements was a smartwatch with Verizon branding, known as Wear24. Verizon didn't go into great detail about the watch (above) in its blog post, other than saying that, like the Sport, Wear24 supports standalone 4G LTE while adding water resistance up to 3.3 ft. (1 m) for 30 minutes. It will cost $300 with a two-year activation. (Full retail pricing hasn't yet been announced.)
The Android Wear 2.0 operating system is expected to roll out to all supported watches (full list in the source link below) in the coming weeks as well.