LG G Watch and Android Wear: First impressions of the new smart watch and wearables OS

During the Google I/O developer-conference keynote last week, the company spent a lot of time talking about Android Wear, its new mobile OS for wearable computing devices. The technology is targeted at the smart watch market, and the first models were available for pre-order that same day: The LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live. We borrowed a press sample of the LG for a preliminary evaluation.

Most smart watches to date have used some version of Android. (The main exceptions are the Pebble Watch, which uses a proprietary OS, and the recent Samsung Gear Fit and Gear 2, which run on a mobile OS called Tizen, which Samsung had a big hand in developing.) But Android Wear is made by Google specifically for wearable devices. Having a common platform for wearables lets developers create apps for multiple devices, and that means the app library has the potential to grow quickly. 

Here are our first impressions of the watch and the operating system. We’ll be testing battery life, display quality, water resistance, and more in our labs, so check back soon for our results.

Is this a must-have gadget? Check our smart-watch reviews with lab-test results.

What we liked

It’s early days, but Android Wear seems like a winner for wearables. Google Now—the company's Siri-like "intelligent personal assistant"—on a smart watch is a natural fit. The voice recognition works quite well, though you may have to experiment a bit with the cadence and speed of your speech. Say “OK Google,” and you can do Google searches, compose texts, and make requests of your watch (“Show me my steps” or “Set an alarm”).

Google Now also offers up a stream of "cards" on the watch's face, with information it determines is relevant to you. If, for example, the card tells you how many minutes it would take you to get home from your current location, you can click on the card and get specific traffic and navigation information.

The LG G Watch also lets you answer or reject phone calls, though you’ll need your phone to actually talk. And you can view your agenda for the day and set alarms and reminders.

Getting started on the LG G Watch was simple. You install Android Wear on any phone running Android 3 or later (we tested with a Samsung Note 3), then pair the two devices via Bluetooth. (When we connected, the watch downloaded an update before we could get going.)

LG claims that the G Watch is dust- and water-resistant, characteristics that we haven't tested yet. Finally, we found the magnetic charging dock that comes with the watch refreshingly simple to use. Just pop in the watch and it charges, with no weirdly angled plugs or awkward snap-on chargers in sight.

Find out where smart watches and other wearables are today—and where they may go.  

What we didn’t like

The LG G Watch, which comes in all black or white with gold accents, is heavy, thick, and plain—that might suit some tastes, but I found the aesthetic lacking. And after wearing the curved, comfy Samsung Gear Fit, it’s hard to get used to the squarish bulk of this watch—again, tastes will differ. One bright spot: The rubber watchband can be replaced by an aftermarket band. But there’s nothing to be done about the watch, except play with colorful watch faces.

The 1.65-inch LCD screen is a bit dull compared to Samsung's latest AMOLED offerings. It’s not terrible, but it’s just not as crisp and vivid.

This last thing might not be a problem for most people, but if you're looking for fitness monitoring with your smart watch, you may want to look elsewhere; the G Watch has no heart-rate monitor. The Samsung Gear Live has one. (Check our review of the Samsung Gear Fit for our findings with that smart watch's heart-rate monitor.)

Bottom line

At $230, the LG G is pricey compared with some other smart watches that do a bit more and look better doing it. But our first taste of Android Wear makes us think it's a step in the right direction.  

—Carol Mangis

Copyright © 2005-2014 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.