LG Watch Sport: Massive size and poor battery life ruin a great concept

I’m an AT&T user and want a smartwatch I can use while leaving my smartphone in my car or at home on regular occasions. AT&T has made this possible with NumberSync which allows users to forward their text messages and phone calls to wearables or tablets with a data connection at a cost of $10 a month.

I mainly want this feature for when I work out and carrying a large smartphone in my pocket for music and texts is simply annoying. I also want to free myself from my bulky smartphone when I go out on hikes or out on the town when my jeans are a little tighter and my pockets are smaller. When Google rolled out its all encompassing Sport Watch with all of these features I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I’m not unrealistic and expect a smartwatch to replace my smartphone, I simply want it to augment my connected lifestyle.

When you factor in all of the things the recently released LG Watch Sport can do, the price tag of $350 doesn’t seem unreasonable, especially when you compare it to higher priced options such as the Apple Watch which doesn’t have LTE. It’s also competitively priced with the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier LTE which starts at $350 as well if you get it from AT&T direct.

Spec highlights:

  • Android Wear 2.0 (Google latest wearable software)
  • 1.38″ P-OLED 480 x 480 display (full circle, no flat tire)
  • 4GB Memory
  • 768MB RAM
  • Stainless steel case
  • IP68 water resistance
  • 430mAh battery
  • Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, LTE
  • Inductive wireless charging with a USB-C input
  • Accelerometer, Barometer, Ambient light sensor, Gyroscope, PPG heart rate monitor

For my personal use, I like that the LG Watch Sport is designed for active lifestyles. Many experts claim smartwatches or dead, but I think there is a large market for active lifestyles. It may not be as big of a market as the general population, but there hasn’t been anything that has come close to the success of smartphones in the past decade and that doesn’t mean they’re not useful.

The biggest change from past Android Wear devices is the update in software to Android Wear 2.0. It has major upgrades like having the ability to download updates and install updates directly from the Google Play Store. It also uses a digital crown button as a scroller for going through notifications and available apps, similar to what Apple and Samsung have done with their smartwatches. The software runs as smooth as I have experienced with other smartwatches and the improvements are noticeable. It’s one of two LG watches that run Android Wear 2.0.

Size

14.2mm thick makes this one big watch

While some people might claim the LG Watch Sport is comfortable, because they’ve come from a full sized Casio G-Shock, think of all of the people you know who own that watch. They’re most likely a male. The Watch Sport is massive. The face of the watch measures in at 45mm which is typical of a watch made for men, but the thickness and weight are where this watch eliminate 50% of the population. Measuring over 14mm tall makes this one heck of a thick watch that makes is very uncomfortable to wear under sleeves and makes your wrist prone to bumping cabinets, tables and so on.

The only smartwatch that compares in stature is the Nixon Mission, but it’s also made to wear surfing or diving and is the only one of its kind. The LG Watch Sport weighs in at 3.2oz, which is a good 20% heavier than the largest Apple Watch and 33% heavier than the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier.  If you have any thoughts about those watches being large, then don’t fool yourself into thinking the LG Watch Sport will be comfortable just so you can have access to all of the specs.

Fitbit Alta next to the LG Watch Sport

Sport

When I workout, run, cycling, hike or lift weights, I need my music. The LG Watch Sport allows me to download music from Google Play Music (and Spotify)directly to the on board memory and stream it to my Jaybird X3 wireless headphones over Bluetooth. The Samsung Gear S3 can’t stream music unless you download MP3s you own on your computer and transfer them to the watch, circa 2005.  The Apple Watch can also download music through iTunes if you sync a playlist so you can go phone free, but apps like Spotify and Google Play Music are still non-existent (although Spotify has an app in beta mode). The Apple Watch also lacks LTE so I wouldn’t be able to stay connected to friends and family while I am away from my phone. With all of that said, I downloaded several playlists to the Watch Sport in preparation for a weightlifting session later that day.

A very useful feature is the integration of Google Fit, as well as a variety of other activity app trackers. Since the LG Watch Sport is designed for active lifestyles, this is one area where it is supposed to shine. Once starting Google Fit and selecting Strength Training to track, the watch immediately picked up on the movements of my first set of deadlifts. It counted the number of reps I did and then asked what weight I used. I was pretty impressed. In between sets, there’s a timer for keeping you on track to get onto your next set. This feature is very nice and made me realize my breaks were much longer than I realized. On my second, third, fourth and fifth sets of deadlifts, it managed to fail in identifying that I was still deadlifting. However in following the rest timer, which was set at 90 seconds, I found myself breathing harder and sweating more since my rest periods were much more accurately timed.

During my weight lifting session, I managed to get a text message from my primary number hooked up to an iPhone 7 Plus. Android Wear 2.0 is much better integrated to iOS but still has its flaws which I will get into later. I even got a quick phone call which interrupted my music and I took the call without issue. As soon as I ended the call my music came back on and back to my workout I went. Of the 18 sets of different exercises I performed, rows, pull downs, etc. Google Fit managed to automatically detect 3/18. I had to manually input the rest from a selection of exercises. While this feature is nice to have, Google shouldn’t really be advertising exercise tracking if it can’t actually do it properly at least 50% of the time. I had the same success rate on my chest workout day and leg days, all repeated a couple of times for accuracy. Google Fit is not available for use on iOS which means any of that data the watch tracked won’t be accessible through the web or through Google Fit at later times. It’s pretty much useless for iOS users who want to see a history of their workouts to see if they are improving from workout to workout.

Overall I see where Google is going with activity tracking and see a good future for it. Right now however, it needs quite a bit of work.

Build

The build quality of the Watch Sport is great. It has a 45mm diameter watch face which falls in the range of watch sizes I like to wear, and it is made with a stainless steel case that feel very tough. If you’ve owned a chronograph watch before, there are usually three buttons on the side for setting and resetting timers. The LG Watch Sport gets its design cue from this style of watch and uses the buttons to activate activity tracking or other designated activities. The downside to these buttons is their massive size in combination with the height of the watch. The watch case measures 14.2mm thick which stands tall on your wrist. When performing push exercises like bench presses, my hand would frequently activate the main Google Now button, interrupt my music mid set, and wait for me to search for something.

For a watch that prides itself on weight lifting tracking, it certainly got this wrong. Runners, cyclists or walkers should never encounter this issue of accidentally activating the Google Now button. The wristband is also very thick and stiff due to the integrated antennas. While switching watchbands is nice to have as they eventually wear out, the bigger issue is the stiffness of the one on the LG Watch Sport. It’s so stiff that it doesn’t flex when exercising, and it also makes my wrist hotter than it needs to be. Sweating causes the watch to move around too much too as it makes the rubber very slick. The Nixon Mission and similarly sized Casio G-Shock watches have regular rubberized watch bands that don’t have this stiffness that allows for a comfortable fit. If you’re particularly rough on your watches and damage your wrist band, there are currently no options to fix it yourself and there is no pricing available from LG for replacement or repair costs. This is one very important factor to consider if you own and use your device beyond a year. If the band breaks, you can’t use the watch.

The watch is just too big and too heavy to wear regularly for workouts. At this point, I would still rather bring along my iPhone and set it down on the side while I lift weights. For runs and cycling though, I much prefer the watch over the phone.

Battery

Where the LG Watch Sport truly falls down is in the battery category. Most of the reviews I have read don’t really include usage with LTE with working out. Many tech reviewers don’t work out and it comes across in their reviews. For those that do workout, like Lauren Goode from The Verge, encountered terrible battery life just like I did with my experience. In all of my workouts which included streaming music over Bluetooth, activity tracking, and a data connection, my LG Watch Sport would go from 98% down to 40% in a matter of an hour and a half. By the time I was done with dinner or lunch after each workout, my battery life fell in the range of 10-20%. I basically got three hours of usage, for what the watch was designed for, which is universally unacceptable.

Hardly any reviewers have used the smartwatch with LTE beyond a test phone call or two.

While I could dim the display, disable LTE, and not stream music over Bluetooth, that would eliminate the need for this watch altogether for me. There are smaller alternatives that lack these features and are cheaper. I certainly won’t be wearing it on hikes where I am gone for more than three hours, where signal is also weak that causes additional strain on battery life. The last thing I need is to be stranded in the middle of a hike with a dead battery.

Battery life this poor is a deal killer for me.

iOS

Google has claimed that Android Wear 2.0 is better with iOS products. Sadly in my experience, tt is marginally better than the previous Android Wear generation. My biggest complaint is the watch would lose its connection to the iPhone, when I left it at home, and then wouldn’t reconnect unless I restarted my watch. Anytime I hit the reconnect feature on the watch with the Android Wear App open on my phone would result in a fail no matter how many times I attempted to connect it. By losing that connection I lost access to AT&T NumberSync which left me disconnected from my phone’s texts and calls during half of my workout sessions. It also left me fiddling with the watch for five to ten minutes in my truck to get it reconnected, before my workout, which left me a bit frustrated. For iOS users who use iMessage, which is just about all of them, forget getting those messages through NumberSync. When I used my LG G5 or Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Android smartphones with this watch, I didn’t encounter the same issues as I did with my iPhone. Until Google manages to fix these software bugs, I still can’t recommend NumberSync or Android Wear to iOS users.

Overall

Overall the LG Watch Sport is great in concept but still feels like an unfinished experiment from LG and Google. I love that I have the ability to download music from Google Play Music and Spotify to stream it to my Bluetooth headphones for my workouts. I also love the activity tracking found in the next version of Android Wear 2.0 and NumberSync features from AT&T. The new interface is also nice but will take some getting used to for previous Android Wear users. However, the software bugs and abysmal battery life ruin this experiment for me.

Maybe a few software updates will solve some of the connectivity issues and improve battery life, but nothing can fix the thickness of the LG Watch Sport. It is made for a very select crowd and probably isn’t for you. Even though this watch has a long list of shortcomings, I hope LG and Google continue to improve their products. We are closer than ever to having an accessory that can replace our smartphones on occasions and I am confident they will get there very soon. If the LG Watch Sport could eek out a solid eight hours of battery life while using all of the included features, trim its thickness by 4mm, have replaceable watch bands, and update the software bugs in Android Wear 2.0, this review would look a whole lot different.

You can get the LG Watch Sport from the Google Play Store, AT&T for $349.99 or at Verizon for $379.99.

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