The best and worst thing about Android Wear watches is that they all run Google’s basic platform. Watch makers can add their own custom watch faces, and maybe an app or two, but they can’t throw a skin over Google’s standard interface as phone makers can.
It provides a consistent experience across the line and makes for fast software updates, but it puts a big onus on the hardware makers: you have to innovate on the hardware side. LG’s Watch Urbane attempts to bring class to the Wear market with a stylish all-metal chassis and stitched leather band, but it only succeeds in achieving a sort of Vegas-style faux-class.
Big, bulky, boring
The Urbane is big. It’s about the same size as the G Watch R, and slightly thicker, though it makes poorer use of the space. The round plastic-OLED screen is the same size (1.3 inches, with a resolution of 320 x 320), but where the G Watch R puts numbers and hash marks on the wide bezel around the face for a sporty look, the Urbane is barren. At 67 grams, it's on the heavy side. At 52mm tall, it won't fit well on small wrists.
This isn't a good display-to-case size ratio. Compare it to the Moto 360, which fits a bigger 1.56-inch display into a 46mm round case that weighs only 49 grams. You may point out that many analog watches have lots of case surrounding the watch face, but such comparisons are moot; those watches don't demand you interact with them, nor read notification text.
Opinions are mixed on the styling of the case. Some users I showed it to thinks it looks classy, others say it's cheap and gaudy. I'm in the second camp. The Urbane looks like an amateurish imitation of a fancy watch; the kind of thing you’d expect from a $50 “Rollecks.” It’s on the Timex/Seiko end of the scale, not Burberry/TAG Heuer.
The overall effect is a watch that is dominated by its metal casing, with a seemingly too-small face. It’s about the largest watch I can fit on my relatively thin wrists.
The best thing about the Urbane’s design is that it’s available in both silver and gold (really sort of a “rose gold” or "champagne gold" color, and judging by the price, there’s not much real gold in there). For some, that gold color is a really big deal. But it’s not even the only gold Wear watch around. The “champagne gold” Moto 360 can be had for $210, considerably less than the Watch Urbane’s $350 price tag. Sadly, while it seems from my informal survey of coworkers and friends that women are the ones most interested int eh gold color, this watch is way too big for most women’s wrists.
The specs on the Watch Urbane are like so many other Android Wear watches. 512MB of RAM, 4 gigs of storage space, IP67 water and dust resistance, and a Snapdragon 400 processor. In practice, it felt exactly like using most other Android Wear watches. It's neither faster nor slower, and doesn't move the needle for features or usability.
In fact it's still missing the same important feature that the G Watch R lacked: an ambient light sensor. Pick a brightness setting that works well outdoors, and it’s way too bright in darker indoor environments. Pick a comfortable indoor brightness, and you'll fumble through the settings to crank up the brightness when you step out in the sun. The ability of a smartwatch to automatically adjust its brightness in concert with ambient light is a key battery-saving and usability feature.
The first with Android Wear 5.1
The Watch Urbane is the first smartwatch to ship with Android Wear 5.1. This point-release doesn’t significantly overhaul the platform, but it adds enough welcome features and polish to make it finally feel like less of a public beta test and more of a finished, usable everyday product.
Android Wear 5.1 adds an ambient mode function for any supported app, Wi-Fi support, a lock screen, the ability to draw out emoji, and improved menus. It’s a really nice upgrade, but it’s no reason to buy the Watch Urbane. All the other Android Wear watches will get it soon enough.
LG customizes the Urbane with a handful of custom watch faces, but none of them are particularly inspiring. For the most part, they look like someone copied what they think makes for a good luxury watch face, without the taste and refinement to get the little details right. There are better watch faces, in both form and function, on the Play Store.
LG also released an app called LG Call, which inexplicably supports only the Urbane but not the G Watch or G Watch R. Android fans have been up in arms about this, but they needn’t concern themselves. All it does it let you dial one someone from a list of recent calls, favorites, or by dialing a number directly. As soon as you've chosen who to call, it completes on your phone. In other words, it doesn’t save you any time or hassle—and any Android Wear watch can dial one of your contacts with a voice command, anyway.
No innovation here
The Watch Urbane is the most expensive Android Wear watch available, and all it has to show for it is an all-metal casing with a style that is at best, divisive and at worst, gaudy. It functions well, and it’s your first chance to see the new Android Wear 5.1 update, but with a price tag more than $100 higher than the competition, I expect more. More innovation, and more refined design.
The battery lasted through a typical day, but not any longer—how about addressing that? How about a larger display? Or a significantly thinner, smaller, lighter casing that works well for those with smaller wrists? Perhaps a better charging method than the snap-in-place dock that is almost identical to that which the G Watch R uses?
LG’s Watch Urbane is not a bad Android Wear watch. In fact, it’s quite average. But it’s the easily most expensive Android Wear watch, and for that, “average” just won’t do.
This story, "LG Watch Urbane review: Big, bulky, and boring" was originally published by Greenbot.
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