Android Wear has been in a holding pattern since last year when Google announced that it was delaying the release of Wear 2.0. After months of re-working the software, Google unveiled Wear 2.0 alongside the LG Watch Style and Watch Sport. The smaller of the two was the one I had pinned my hopes on, and I'm sure many of you did too. However, the announcement showed we were off to a bad start with the lack of features like NFC and a very small battery.
We've already reviewed the Watch Style once, but I've been using the device for a while and have some thoughts on it as well. I fear Google's wearables are heading in the wrong direction with the Style. It doesn't fix any of the problems from older smartwatches, and some of the alterations to the software actually seem worse.
Design and display
The Watch Style is a very understated little device. It's not the sort of thing people will comment on because there's no character to it. It has rounded edges and slender lugs. There's a fair bit of bezel around the screen, but LG hasn't done anything with it. The pronounced crown button (which I'll get to later) is the boldest part of the design. The display is flush with the top of the casing, which makes it pleasant to swipe across when you aren't using the digital crown. The underside of the watch is plastic, and nope, no heart rate sensor or speaker. This seems like a bizarre decision from Google and LG. There's also no NFC for Android Pay, which is very, very stupid.
The Watch Style is a small-ish watch with a 42mm case. That's about the same as the small Moto 360 v2 and first gen Huawei Watch. It's reasonably comfortable on my small wrists, but I feel like it could have been designed better in this regard. The lugs angle downward toward the bottom of the watch, but they don't even line up with the bottom of the case. That means there's air between the lugs and my skin, making the watch feel slightly loose. It's a common problem with smartwatches, but it's not as noticeable on a smaller device like this.
The Watch Style comes with a MODE watch band, and it accepts standard 18mm bands. That's cool and all, but I think 18mm is too narrow. The version I have for review came with the silver case and light brown band. The rounded design, narrow band, and light colors give it a very feminine look. I have not seen the black one in person, but I'd wager it's not much more masculine. A 20mm band is the smallest I'd personally go from a style perspective (not that you should take my advice on fashion).
I've included some pictures below of this watch with a third-party band, which I think looks much nicer. It's designed for the Huawei Watch, which also has 18mm lugs. However, Hwatch bands always taper out to 20mm after the lugs. Not only is the mesh attractive, the wider band makes it look less delicate. Even if you like the narrower 18mm bands, I would not suggest getting more MODE bands from Google. They're overpriced compared to other bands, and the soft (but admittedly comfy) leather doesn't age very well. You can see above the band is already getting quite creased after just a few weeks of light use.
As for the digital crown (if that's what you want to call it), I find that I do rather like it. As I mentioned above, the big button is the one thing that keeps the Watch Style from being completely yawn-inducing. The click action has nice tactility without being too hard to press, and the rotation feels solid. The rotation is completely smooth—I'd personally prefer that it clicked, but I understand why LG didn't do that. A lot of the lists in Wear 2.0 are continuous rather than paginated.
The screen is a 1.2-inch P-OLED with a resolution of 360x360. There are some things to like here. The brightness is good enough to read outdoors, and there's an ambient light sensor under the panel. At this small-ish size, the resolution is more than clear enough for a watch. I have no trouble making out text or the time, even in ambient mode. It's an AMOLED, so the black levels are perfect and the colors are vibrant. However, there's a mottled or blotchy pattern to the panel. It's most obvious on gray backgrounds, of which Wear 2.0 has plenty. It's not a deal breaker, and it's probably not something you'd notice unless you really looked for it.
Battery life and performance
The LG Watch Style has a 240mAh battery, which is on the small side for Android Wear. If you were hoping for some magical optimization improvement to turn the Watch Style into a multi-day device, prepare for intense, searing disappointment. This watch actually has weak battery life, even compared to watches that came out last year.
Google says the Watch Style will last "all day," but I'd like to know what Google's definition of "all" is in this case. With the default setting of no ambient mode, the Watch Style will make it through most of a day—around 20 hours. However, that's not how I want to use a watch. Ambient mode is non-negotiable for me. I lost 4-6 hours with ambient mode turned on. That's not acceptable in 2017; I was hoping we could put the smartwatch range anxiety behind us, but not this time.
I will note that LG's wireless charger design is very nice. It's magnetic and the orientation of the watch doesn't matter. I'm not sure what wireless standard it's using, but that doesn't seem to matter. I was unable to get the watch to charge on any of the other wireless pads I have around.
The Watch Style has a Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC. This isn't the first time we've seen this chip—the last few watches in 2016 had the same hardware. I have no complaints about the speed of this watch. It's as fast as any other I've used, probably on par with the ZenWatch 3. I don't find myself waiting on the watch to do things, although opening apps can sometimes be a little sluggish.
Android Wear 2.0
We waited months longer than expected for Google to clean up Android Wear 2.0 following mostly negative feedback in the beta test. What we have now is not much better. I'm not even sure what Google spent the last few months doing. For every improvement, Google seems to have inexplicably broken something else.
Let's start with something I consider one of the core uses for a smartwatch—notifications. All the notifications in Android Wear 2.0 are unbundled, which makes no sense to me. That means each and every notification I get has its own screen in the main notification stack. If you only get a handful of emails or messages each day, this might not bother you. However, it makes Android Wear terrible at managing a larger volume of notifications. It also moves paused playback notifications to the bottom of the stack very quickly, making it incredibly annoying to restart playback from the watch.
There's also a glaring problem with email notifications in particular. Wear doesn't tell you which account an email belongs to. If you have more than one account, you basically have to figure out which account is which from the content of the message.
Google has made me start reaching for my phone more often when I want to check notifications, which is the exact opposite of what a smartwatch is supposed to do. This whole thing just baffles me. Bundled notifications work fine on phones, and watches have less screen real estate. Why would you make notifications take up more space?
So close, yet so far.
Then there's the new keyboard. It's not good. I don't think using this tiny keyboard on a watch will ever save me time versus using voice input or just taking out my phone. You can tap the letters (lol) or use swipe input. Swipe works better, but it's still prone to errors. The handwriting input is better still, but it's rather hidden (you have to tap the little globe button to switch). This mode at least recognizes letters well, but it's picky about spacing. I often end up with strings of individual letters rather than a word. The watch should be smart enough to assume I mean to type "this is a test" rather than "this is a t e st." It's usable as long as you pay attention to where you are doodling.
This is a small but consistent annoyance; the new do not disturb mode. It's no longer tied to the DND state of your phone. That means to silence both devices you have to actually use both of them. I vastly prefer being able to silence my phone and watch with one action like you could in older versions of Wear.
It's not all bad, though. The watch face changes are overall good. I'm not sure I like the swipe action being used to change watch faces; it seems like such a basic action should be reserved for something I do more often. Once you are in the watch face list, the customizations are very refined. Google has standardized the addition of complications to faces, and developers can add their own. For example, Weather Timeline has a weather complication that can be added to any supported watch face. There are plenty of built-in complications in Wear as well. The included watch faces on the Style are some of the best I've used. Part of that is the improved customization, but there's a good selection of slick analog faces and digital faces that still fit the round display.
The list of watch faces is no longer an ungainly mess in Wear 2.0. You can choose which watch faces you want to add to the main list and manually set some as favorites. It's similar with apps now that the watch has a Play Store client. Apps on your phone with Wear modules don't automatically install anymore. Instead, you can go to the Play Store on your watch and load them up. Then there are standalone apps, which you can install directly on the watch without a corresponding client on the phone. Wear 2.0 watches even show up in the web Play Store client for remote installs.
Wear 2.0 also adds support for Google Assistant, which is accessed by long-pressing the crown button. It works like you'd expect, with generally improved recognition and support for third-party services. I can control my lights by voice from my watch. It's not life changing, but neat nonetheless.
I'll come right out and say this: don't buy the Watch Style. It's not appreciably different than older watches, and in some ways it isn't even as good. The battery life is mediocre, there's no speaker, no heart rate sensor, and the band is too narrow (in my opinion). The lack of NFC for Android Pay is a huge disappointment too. The design is not terrible, but neither is it a selling point. This hardware is simply not worth the $250 asking price.
On the software side, I have a great many concerns with Wear 2.0. The unbundled notifications are by far my least favorite thing here. It takes ages to scroll through everything if you get more than a few emails or messages in a day. I also hate that it also moves my paused media notifications to the very bottom of the list. I do like the better app and watch face management, and third-party complications on the watch faces are great. I'm not sure about the new focus on standalone apps, though. I don't feel the need to run a lot of apps on my watch.
Google has a lot of work to do on Wear 2.0, and the hardware we have right now just isn't compelling. I worry that Android Wear might not be able to come back from this disappointing launch.