LG has made the classiest canvas for Android Wear yet in the Watch Urbane. Its stainless-steel and leather design will fit in with the Emporio Armani and Diesel timepieces already in your collection, and it performs the usual tasks of Android Wear - and its newest features - without hiccups. Even if Google's wearable operating system is still a work in progress, the $350 LG Watch Urbane is stiff competition for the likes of the Apple Watch and other competitors.
For once, I got compliments wearing a smartwatch. The LG Watch Urbane looks and feels like a luxury timepiece, evoking envy and pleasant comments with its stainless steel body and stitched leather strap. My review unit was finished in silver, but it comes in gold as well. The standard 22mm straps can be changed to your liking.
The Watch Urbane felt big on my wrist at 2.0 x 1.7 x 0.43 inches and it feels substantial at 2.3 ounces, but it didn't feel like it was weighing me down. Nevertheless, the 42mm Apple Watch Sport is just 1.1 ounces, while the Moto 360 is 1.7 ounces.
LG's watch has a bold, bright, 1.3 P-OLED, 320 x 320-pixel display, which is always on to show you the time, in the watch face of your choosing. (With the Apple Watch, you need to lift your arm to turn on the screen.) Though Android Wear watches have always had this ability, the Watch Urbane comes with its always-on watch face feature by default. You can disable this if you'd rather have a blank screen (and save some juice) when the device is asleep.
I went with a simple, blue-sky background, which turned to black and displayed the time at the top in white type. The display was easy to see most of the time; however, unlike the Apple Watch, the Watch Urbane's screen became nearly impossible to read in direct sunlight.
I don't consider the Watch Urbane a step up in design from the G Watch R - it's simply for a different type of person. While the G Watch R is what you might see your trainer wearing outside the gym, the Watch Urbane is what's on the wrist of your best friend's style-conscious, engineer boyfriend.
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Like the G Watch R and Apple Watch, the Watch Urbane is IP67-certified, meaning it can withstand being submerged in 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes. This should protect you against most spills, but you don't want to go swimming with this watch.
New Android Wear
The LG Watch Urbane is powered by the same 1.2-GHz Snapdragon 400 CPU as the G Watch R, but it's the first smartwatch to get the new Android Wear 5.1.1 software. The update adds small yet important new features, including gesture control, Wi-Fi support and emojis.
The layout of Android Wear maintains its bright, bold, minimalist illustration design and its info card alerts. The initial home screen actions have changed a bit, but for the better. A single tap on the watch face brings you to your app list, which includes Settings, Google Fit, Alarm, Call, Google Play Music and Flashlight. Swiping to the left from that page displays your contact list, and another left swipe brings you to the Voice Command page, which shows you common phrases you can speak to the watch to evoke actions.
Google has also added gesture control, which lets you scroll through items like emails and text messages by flicking your wrist. It's useful when you have your hands full, and when you don't want to be That Guy tapping your smartwatch in the middle of a meeting, but you will have to swipe the notification to dismiss it.
But it was the smallest new feature that made my day: the ability to draw emojis to respond to a text message. Swiping to the left of a text alert displays a reply button, where you can speak a response, choose from short stock messages or draw a picture. I drew a mediocre sun, and Android Wear brought up a list of emoji suggestions based on what I drew. For those who strictly speak in digital hieroglyphics, you can draw many emojis to respond to one message.
Wi-Fi support is one of the newest, and best, features of the updated Android Wear. You can turn the watch's Wi-Fi on so you can receive information and alerts even when out of Bluetooth range of your smartphone. This gives you a little more leeway to leave (or forget) your phone in another room and still stay connected. Just note that you'll need to connect to Wi-Fi networks via your smartphone first.
Android Wear now lets you keep apps open on the watch face even when it dims. Currently the only app that supports this is Google Keep, but it's a neat feature to have if you like making daily to-do lists and want to glance down at your tasks throughout the day. Google claims it will update this feature to include Maps as a supported app, which will be useful for directions.
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Notifications on the Watch Urbane aren't different from those on the G Watch R - any alert you get on your Android phone will show up on the smartwatch. There's still a lot of swiping involved with notifications: Once an alert pops up, you swipe up to see it fully and continue swiping to see the rest of its notification card. However, unlike the Apple Watch, Android Wear doesn't offer Taptic feedback or vibrate with all incoming notifications.
The watch comes with an alarm function, which I appreciate for taking my daily medication. You can set it for the time and days you want it to go off in the Settings menu, and then the watch will vibrate and light up to alert you.
Android Wear continues to support notifications from a number of apps, including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram and Tinder. However, the number of apps you can actually download and use on its watches remains limited. Some of the best-featured Android Wear apps include Lyft for calling cars from your wrist, Wunderlist for keeping track of your to-do list, and Pinterest for browsing pretty pictures.
While Google is not releasing the number of Android Wear apps currently available, the company says there are thousands. The Apple Watch and Pebble have more than 3,000 and 5,000 apps, respectively, and Apple has some big names Android Wear doesn't have. These include Uber, which lets you order a car service from your watch (although Android Wear has Lyft); the New York Times, which lets you swipe through recent news stories and save them for later reading; and Instagram, for flipping through the most recent photos from your followed accounts.
Heart Rate Monitor
The heart rate monitor on the Watch Urbane hasn't changed much from the G Watch R. Opening Google Fit will give you the option to take a heart rate reading, and it usually took about 30 seconds to capture my pulse.
Google Fit remains unchanged as well, tracking your steps, distance and calories in the background throughout the day. You can also connect third-party apps to Google Fit, including Strava and RunKeeper, to monitor exercise data when you're working out.
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LG claims that the Watch Urbane's 410mAh battery can get up to two days on a single charge, and I experienced exactly that. It comes with a circular charging dock that can be plugged into any USB port. After the first full day of use, the battery was down to 52 percent. I suggest turning the watch off while you sleep, because the battery will last longer. Overall, the Urbane's endurance is better than Apple Watch's 18 hours of juice and the Moto 360's one-day battery life.
Wearables are a work in progress, but the LG Watch Urbane is a prime example of how far the category has come. LG continues to up the ante in its hardware design, while Google continues (albeit slowly) to create a useful operating system for your wrist. The addition of gestures and Wi-Fi support make the Watch Urbane more practical, while emoji support makes using Android Wear more fun. However, Android Wear wearables still have a ways to go on apps, compared with Apple Watch, and Apple's timepiece is more versatile because you can use it for mobile payments. If you're in the market for an Android Wear watch, though, the LG Watch Urbane is the one you should buy.