Another week, another incremental addition to Google’s Android Wear smartwatch line-up. Indeed, you’ll be excused if you have trouble identifying one Wear watch from the other. The latest entry, announced yesterday for $200, is the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition, and its highlight feature is cellular connectivity care of AT&T.
That’s right: You can use the Urbane 2nd Edition to send and receive voice calls directly from the watch—with no smartphone tethering required. I’ve been using the watch for less than a day, and can testify that, yes, the watch can be used as a standalone phone. It just hasn’t been a totally reliable experience.
When the Urbane 2nd Edition is paired with my Nexus 6P, voice calling from the watch adheres to the basic Android Wear experience. I can say “OK, Google” into the watch, prompt Wear to call a contact, and the watch will dial accordingly. People on the other end of the line report extremely clear call quality. So there’s that.
But as is the case with every other watch-phone available today, from the perilously precocious Galaxy Gear to the Apple Watch, the Urbane 2nd Edition’s speaker just can’t deliver a great voice-call experience on the receiving end. Even at max volume, the speaker can’t cut through much ambient noise, and the sound quality is crackly and distorted. Granted, this is state-of-the-art for all watch-phones. Please know that going in.
Google? Are you there?
But there’s an even bigger problem: The whole self-sufficient watch-phone promise breaks down when the Urbane 2nd Edition isn’t tethered to my smartphone. Yes, the SIM is working, and the watch still sends and receives voice calls, but dialing by the “OK, Google” voice prompt has failed about 9 out of every 10 times. Instead, to make a call, I’ve had to drill into Android Wear’s Contacts menu, pick a person to call, and follow menu prompts. (That said, receiving calls works perfectly fine.)
The “OK, Google” problem persists even when the Urbane 2nd Edition has a live Wi-Fi connection, which, in theory, negates the need for Bluetooth tethering entirely, and should preserve all “OK, Google” cloud connectivity. Choking on the voice prompt, Android Wear issues a “retrying...” message. Then “trying again...” and finally “still trying...” before issuing a “Disconnected” alert. And amid all of this, the watch still reports that my Wi-Fi connection is active.
Unfortunately, friction like this has been par for the Android Wear course. Throughout my almost 18-month experience with the smartwatch OS, features have often failed to work from the get-go, or have broken down after working properly, only to be fixed with Android Wear updates, individual app updates, or watch hardware system updates. In fact, Maps didn’t work properly on the Urbane 2nd Edition until I uninstalled the app on my phone, and then reinstalled it (along with an un-pairing/re-pairing routine to make sure the watch was getting a clean, fresh start).
This isn’t a final review, and maybe my connectivity problems will sort themselves out in due time. So stay tuned on that front.
Reign of the big, hunky man-watch
In terms of the hardware itself, I like what I see—but what I see may not work for you. With a 44.5 mm diameter, the Urbane 2nd Edition is mid-size for an Android Wear watch, which tend to range from 42 mm to 46 mm. I don’t mind the form factor, but this certainly isn’t a watch that will appeal to those of slimmer wrists (on the Game of Thrones scale, mine are much more Theon Greyjoy than Gregor Clegane).
The Urbane 2nd Edition design aesthetic is sporty-chunky-hunky, and I dig all the points of visual interest that LG has built in. With prominent strap lugs, and a contoured stainless steel case rife with angles and sweeps, the watch makes a much more showy statement than the Huawei Watch or 2nd-gen Moto 360. Add in three functional buttons—along with a great selection of watchface complications—and you’ve got a lot to look at.
The textured rubber strap is comfortable. In fact, I’ve always liked how rubber straps grip my wrist, and almost self-adjust to a snug, but un-restricting position. That said, I don’t think the rubber vibe marries well to the much more sophisticated and architectural case. And, no, you won’t be swapping straps, as the cellular antenna is integral to LG’s band.
The 1.38-inch, 480x480 display is good for 348 pixels per inch. LG has always delivered great power efficiency with its P-OLED display tech, and this model has a whopping 570mAh battery inside (LG’s G Watch R has a 410 mAh battery). Nonetheless, I’m worried about battery life. As I post this article at 10:50 am, the Urbane 2nd Edition has only 49-percent battery life left—this after about five hours of heavy use. I fear voice calling takes a lot out of this watch, as a long call last night left the watch feeling toasty to the touch.
So: Can the battery hold up under “normal” use? Will my Wi-Fi problems ever get fixed? I’ll answer all these questions and more in the final review.