LG Watch Sport review: The best standalone smartwatch
When Google announced Android Wear 2.0 last May, we knew standalone/cellular-connected watches were going to be a major focus. For the last couple weeks, we've been testing the first of the bunch: the 4G LTE-ready LG Watch Sport. Is this hulk of a smartwatch worth buying? Read on for New Atlas' review.
The first thing you'll notice about the LG Watch Sport is its size: This is an enormous smartwatch. But what seemed like a divisive quality during my first few hours with it, later turned into part of its charm. The Sport would look like a monstrous sun dial on most women's wrists, but for those searching for a substantial and masculine-looking piece of wrist tech that does everything you'd want a 2017 smartwatch to do, it's a worthy contender for your dollars.
The addition of 4G LTE only makes practical sense to joggers, gym rats or anyone else prone to phoneless treks outdoors or to a favorite workout spot. (Where else would you not have your phone with you?) But if you fall into one of those niches, I prefer the Watch Sport over Samsung's similarly-connected Gear S3 – simply because Android Wear 2.0 feels more mature and streamlined than Samsung's oft-chintzy Tizen OS.
While Android Wear 1.X was something of a dumbed-down smartwatch OS, with notification cards and voice control making up the entire experience, Wear 2 makes Google's wearable software feel closer to Apple's watchOS. You still swipe up to see cards for notifications, but you now have a hardware shortcut to your apps list, NFC for Android Pay and a button-press to go directly back to home. There's even an onboard version of the Play Store so you don't need to install apps on your phone first (great for iPhone owners, as compatibility could be an issue if you needed companion phone apps).
There is nothing original about the LG Watch Sport's "rotating power button" – it's a blatant knockoff of the Apple Watch's Digital Crown – but it's still a welcome addition to Android Wear. I actually like it better here than on the Apple Watch, as the larger size of both watch and crown makes the gesture feel more intuitive. There's less finger-crunching involved.
As with Apple's Digital Crown, the LG equivalent lets you skip the tedious and repeated swipes on the screen to flip through notifications, messages or menus. Just twist the button and watch it scroll.
The Watch Sport has two other buttons flanking the rotating crown, which launch customizable shortcuts. (You can choose from things like starting a workout, messaging a favorite contact or seeing the current temperature.)
A long press on the power button launches Google Assistant, the company's more advanced AI successor to Google Now (previously only found on Pixel phones). I still find that too many queries default to a web search, but the long-term ceiling here is higher than with the now-deprecated Google Now assistant found in Android Wear 1.X.
All this is extremely zippy and fluid, with the watch's Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor living under the hood.
The Sport has a big and beautiful display, with sharp 348-PPI resolution. That number would only be average today on a high-end smartphone, but keep in mind you usually view a watch screen from farther away than you would a phone. The dark UI of Wear 2.0 on the Watch Sport looks as crisp and beautiful as anything I've seen on a smartwatch.
Battery life is fine, but for a watch this size I'd hope for a little better. With the always-on display option turned off (the default), it typically drops between 4-6 percent per hour. With the screen always on, that will go up and you might have trouble lasting a full day. Apparently this is one of the drawbacks of built-in LTE, as these numbers fall short of many competitors, including the non-LTE variants of Samsung's Gear series, the Apple Watch and 2015-era Android Wear watches.
Still, if you don't need the always-on watch face, the Sport should easily get you through most days without a hitch.
No product has definitively convinced us that a smartwatch is an essential purchase. But the LG Watch Sport makes as compelling a case as anything today, with its long feature list, ability to untether itself from your phone and attractive (if somewhat hulking) build. Its Digital Crown equivalent makes it more fun to use than previous Android Wear watches, it has better software than Samsung's LTE-ready Gear S3 and it even works with iPhones. If you decide you want a smartwatch – and you don't mind its large/masculine design – the Sport should be among your top choices.
The LG Watch Sport is sold from Google (currently sold out), Verizon and AT&T. Google and AT&T charge US$350 full retail, while on Verizon that jumps up to $380.
This article was updated on Feb. 23 to change hourly battery drop from 5-6 percent to 4-6 percent, based on further testing with a stronger cellular signal.
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