Updated at 6:30 p.m. Eastern with hands-on impressions of the LG Watch W7.
A year and a half after releasing two underwhelming Android Wear 2.0 smartwatches, LG is back with something a little different: a Wear OS touch-screen watch with mechanical hands. The $450 LG Watch W7 combines an analog watch's gearbox with the functionality of a smartwatch. Yes, it's as weird as it sounds.
The Watch W7, available to preorder through Best Buy on Sunday (Oct. 7), relies on mechanical time-telling to free up the processor, Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 2100, to handle more-intensive tasks.
Wear OS watches running on the 2100 chip typically last about 18 hours on a charge, but LG says the Watch W7 will last two days in smartwatch mode. If you disable those smart features by activating Watch Mode, the W7 will last 100 days. LG made some other sacrifices to get its smartwatch to last longer: The Watch W7 doesn't have a heart rate monitor, or GPS, or LTE connectivity, or an NFC chip for mobile payments.
Smart vs. Analog: How it really works
So, how do you read text on a smartwatch that has mechanical hands layered on top of its touch-screen face? LG has come up with a creative work-around. Pressing the watch's top side button moves the entire display upward, and not just the text. The whole screen beneath the glass moves toward the top of the device so you can view it more easily. LG says Wear OS recognizes that this particular smartwatch has mechanical hands, making that feature possible.
It's fascinating to see in person. Check it out below. Wild, right?
There are some cases where the display move upward and the hands shifting to the sides won't help you much, such as when reading a text message. I scrolled through chats on a demo version of the watch LG had on hand at its V40 ThinQ event Oct. 3. I could make out what each message said, but I had to read around the hands.
Where the W7's hands come in handy (ha) is a unique feature called Master Tools. Press the bottom side button and choose from a menu of options that will make use of the hands, including compass, stopwatch, timer, barometer and altimeter. I used the compass and watched as the hands moved north and the display showed me in real-time the degree toward which the watch was angled. The timer also seemed like a neat use of a touchscreen with mechanical hands: I set a 3-minute timer and watched as the hands ticked around the display to count down the seconds.
Aside from the hands, using the watch's touchscreen is just like using another smartwatch. Taps open apps, and swipes work just the way they do on other Wear OS watches (calling up the assistant, jumping into a workout, etc.). You can also use the crown on the right side of the device to scroll.
In fact, the only issue I have with the Watch W7 upon first glance is how massive it is.
We've seen a similar smartwatch, the MyKronoz ZeTime, in action in the past, and we found the concept intriguing if not exactly intuitive. ZeTime doesn't run on Wear OS and lacked third-party apps, but LG's new watch will run the latest version of that operating system. The demo unit I saw had all the latest Wear OS features, including the useful proactive Google Assistant that shows you an overview of your day, from the weather to major events. As you can see below, the hands block the text slightly, but not so much that you can't read the text on screen.
The W7 is also rated IP68, so it will withstand 30 minutes of freshwater immersion at up to 1.5 meters. The watch runs on a last-gen processor; Qualcomm has already announced the 2100's successor, the Snapdragon Wear 3100. But perhaps the combination of analog and smart will fix the battery and performance issues I've experienced with Wear OS watches running Snapdragon Wear 2100.
Stay tuned for a full review of LG's Watch W7.
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Caitlin is a Senior editor for Gizmodo. She has also worked on Tom's Guide, Macworld, PCWorld and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. When she's not testing out the latest devices, you can find her running around the streets of Los Angeles, putting in morning miles or searching for the best tacos.