LG is one of the big Android Wear supporters. It has made a bunch of smartwatches already, but when the Apple Watch came out, LG knew it had to up its game. That’s where the LG Urbane comes in. It’s a fancier version of the LG G Watch R, attempting to crank up the sophistication by smoothing out the bezel for a ‘statement’ look.
The LG Watch Urbane cost £300/$400 on launch but will now set you back about £200/$280 with judicious shopping around. So… Worth it?
Design, build quality, screen and battery life
The LG Watch Urbane seems to polarise opinion. Some say it looks great, others that they prefer the less flashy G Watch R. The best advice we can come up with is to avoid the gold version, unless you’re aiming for the gaudy/slightly naff look.
LG’s silver Urbane is far easier on the eyes, with a stainless steel front bearing no markings. That’s the signature look. It’s still a chunky wrist-hugger, though. This is quite a masculine design, with more bulk than the Moto 360 or Asus Zenwatch.
As standard it comes with a leather strap, which has a classic stitched look, and the feel of your average higher-end ‘normal’ watch. It won’t heat your wrist up too much, but may not appreciate soaking up sweat 12 hours a day if you’re the very active type.
To complete the look there’s a crown on the side of the LG Urbane, but it’s really just a button, not an Apple Watch-style dial.
The Urbane's screen is typical of this '1.5’-gen smartwatch wave. It’s 1.3 inches across, has a P-OLED panel of 320 x 320 pixels and is round - properly so, as there's no flat bottom like the Moto 360's here.
It’s sharp but not phone-sharp and the colours are on the lively side. However, the bit you really miss is an auto brightness settings. This means that unless you tone the display down manually, it shines out like a small supernova indoors. Either that or you have to ramp-up the brightness when you go outdoors. If you don’t the screen just won’t be bright enough.
Not quite what you want in a lifestyle-supporting device, is it? We do like LG’s attempt at an always-on display, though. Without taps or gestures the display stays on in a dimmed state, 24/7.
Used like this, you can get around 1.5 days out of a charge. That’s without using any apps, though, just notifications. Get more involved and it’ll be near-dead by bed time. You charge the watch up using the little plastic dock above, which plugs into a USB cable, and it takes somewhere between 90 mins and two hours.
There’s no socket on the watch itself because it'd make the IP67 waterproofing tricky. Plus it’d look terrible.
Spec and performance
Whether or not you think we’re on the eve of a life-changing smartwatch app revolution, the LG Urbane has hardware powerful enough to handle it. It uses a Snapdragon 400 CPU, a 1.2GHz quad-core chipset. For a bit of context, this is the same CPU used by the two first generations of Motorola Moto G phones, and those can hack all sorts of high-end-looking 3D games.
Internal storage is ‘just’ 4GB, but that’ll go further on a watch than it would on a phone. It has the hardware chops, with even the brand new Moto 360 2 using this brain.
The Urbane is running Android Wear, Google's OS for wearables. Because manufacturers can't customise this in the way they do for Android on smartphones, Android Wear watches tend to be rather samey in terms of everything but looks. This is no exception, and the experience is all but identical to that of other smartwatches apart from the look and feel of the piece.
The LG Watch Urbane's always-on screen style comes in handy for notifications. Unlike a Pebble Time, the LG Urbane’s Android Wear doesn’t fill the display with your latest message, they just pop up at the bottom. You then flick upwards to see whatever it is, as well as any others you’ve received.
While the watch has Wi-Fi, it still largely relies on a Bluetooth connection with your phone, like other smartwatches. Even so, notifications come through snappily, and we didn’t lose connection once during testing. Well, apart from when the battery conked out while we were away from the charger, anyway.
From the Android Wear app you can block specific app notifications if you don’t want to see them on your wrist. It’s a pretty neat notifications machine. Again, like any good Android Wear watch.
The Moto 360 Sport looks set to change things up, but Android Wear watches to date generally aren’t hot stuff for fitness. The LG Urbane is fine as a step counter, but it doesn’t have GPS built in, and that's the star feature of any runner’s watch not sold via a bargain bin.
This means you have to take your phone out with you and simply use the Urbane as a second screen for a phone app like Runkeeper if you want proper tracking. Otherwise you’re left with the humdrum tracking of a stride-counting accelerometer which is not remotely the same.
The LG Urbane also has a heart rate scanner on the back, but it isn’t much use during exercise. We found its accuracy to be dismal as soon as you start moving about, almost never providing an accurate reading. It’s far worse than the Apple Watch HR scanner.
Think of the HR sensor as something to measure your resting heart rate only and you won’t be too disappointed. That means, unfortunately, the LG Urbane doesn’t really have any worthwhile fitness special moves. Still, if you take your phone out on runs/cycles already, having the Urbane as a second screen can be very useful. Although again, this is true of all other Android Wear watches.
Voice control performance
Back in the earlier versions of Android Wear, it felt as though Google was pushing voice interaction with your watch, but now it has been pushed to the background. For most British people, who don't like talking to strangers, let alone inanimate objects, that's probably good news.
However, if you do like to make like Dick Tracey, there’s a pinhole mic down at the bottom part by the Urbane’s strap. As with other Wear Watches, you prick up its ears by saying “Ok, Google”. You can then give it a bunch of basic commands like taking your heart rate, setting timers and looking at your meetings.
It all seems to work well, and quite quickly. You may have a different experience if you speak behind a thick curtain of Manc accent but in general it's notably superior to Siri.
LG puts an extra little firecracker of mic support into the LG Urbane by pre-installing a Call app that lets you treat the watch like a handsfree call unit. You still need to install the LG Call app on your phone too, though.
To some the Android Wear app space looks like a bit of a work-in-progress effort. Sure, the games are terrible and we’re yet to see a killer feature added by an app that gets pupils dilating and pulses racing, but there are strong bits and bobs out there.
Runkeeper, Tripadvisor, Citymapper and Google Maps are all useful and the LG Urbane has a whole swathe of exclusive watch faces designed to look like ‘classy’ real-life timepeices.
On an OLED screen they seem even more silly and over-the-top than they can do in the real deal, though, and we quickly switched to using one of the simpler-looking faces. The Urbane already attracts quite enough unwanted attention with its bright screen, thanks.
The LG Urbane is one of the bolder Android Wear watches, and it currently sells for less than the self-appointed style guru Huawei Watch. Not everyone’s going to like the look, though. It’s a bit bulky and a bit flash.
Behind the high-quality construction this ultimately feels like ‘just another’ smartwatch, with no meaningful steps forwards in the quality of its screen or inbuilt sensors. The 1.5-day battery life is okay at best.
In short, the LG Urbane is a decent effort, but it’s hardly going to convince the as-yet-convinced masses looking at the smartwatch scene with a suspicious eye. And while there are plenty of Android Wear smartwatch apps out there, the Apple Watch has more and better, and is accumulating new ones faster.