If you’re considering the LG Watch Sport as a health-and-fitness tracking sport watch, I won’t blame you. But if you have small-ish wrists, I will dissuade you.
This new smartwatch, made by Google and LG, seems like it would be the platonic form of a fitness-focused smartwatch. It has an always-on display. It has GPS. It has LTE. It has built-in heart rate sensors. It has a barometer. It’s waterproof (sort of). And it runs on brand new Android Wear software. Most other smartwatches lack something, whether it’s GPS, LTE, or all of the above. Not the $349 LG Watch Sport.
But to look at the watch, you’d think that a bunch of Google and LG engineers sat in a room and mashed all those parts together without a care in the world for how the thing fits on your wrist. In my experience over the past week and a half, the watch was so ill-fitting that it basically negated its activity-tracking benefits. And I couldn’t wait to take the thing off. Which is never a good thing for, you know, a wearable.
There are actually a lot of good things to say about the smartwatch’s fitness features, which makes it even more of a shame that it feels like a handcuff.
The LG Watch Sport is running on Android Wear 2.0, Google’s newest operating system for wearables. It is good software (even if it over-promises its iPhone compatibility) and is much better than the previous version. And it optimizes the fitness-tracking experience. For example, you can now add complications and shortcuts on the watch’s face, which means you have quick access to your daily step count, or your total active minutes, or even to Google Play Music.
Pressing on the top physical button on the right-hand side of the watch brings you to a series of exercise-tracking options: walking, running, cycling, treadmill running, stationary biking, stair climbing, strength-training and “other” (you can specify what “other” is later in the Google Fit app). The watch also offers daily challenges for push-ups, sit-ups, and squats, starting at five reps and building from there.
Pressing on the middle physical button brings you to apps and settings, which flow nicely in a half-moon curve along the round watch face. The apps are one of the biggest feature-adds with Android Wear 2.0: now, popular workout apps like RunKeeper and Strava will run directly on the watch and tap into the watch’s GPS, no smartphone needed.
Perhaps one of Google’s biggest brags with this watch is that it automatically classifies strength-training exercises. I can’t think of another smartwatch I’ve tried that does this. After each set of exercises, the watch will log what you’ve done: 10 bicep curls, or 12 deadlifts, or 15 lunges, and so on. It wasn’t right all the time. It was better at recognizing arm movements like overhead presses than it was at reading lower-body exercises like leg extensions and leg lifts, and at one point it even misclassified simple bicep curls as Russian twists. (This sounds like a vodka drink; it is an ab twist.) And, you still have to swipe and tap on the watch face to manually log how much weight you’re lifting.
But it’s still a cool feature, one I think will get better over time. The best part is that it’s not relegated to just the LG watch; Google says that, provided other smartwatches have the right combination of sensors, other Android Wear 2.0 watches will have this too.
All of this activity data is shared to Google’s Fit app, which runs on Android phones and on the web. Again, iPhone users are out of luck, and your feelings about Google Fit might largely depend on how you feel about backing up all of your health and fitness data to Google’s cloud. But it’s an intuitive, colorful app that offers more manual entry options than Apple’s Activity and Health apps.
Okay, let’s talk about hardware.
All of these features are possible because of the sensors and radios that are crammed into this watch. The result is a huge, round-faced, steel-bodied watch with wide lugs and stiff, unforgiving bands that can’t be swapped out. Again, this is for function: all of the watch’s antennae are built into the watch bands. Want LTE in a smartwatch? Want the ability to get text messages and stream music from the watch — without your phone in your pants pocket? This is what you get.
I should note, some people like the way it looks! The Verge’s Creative Director James Bareham called it “beautiful,” and that man has taste like no other. TechRadar called it “stylish, form-fitting, and surprisingly comfortable.” A concierge at a hotel I checked into recently commented on it and said he liked my watch. (There is one common denominator in these examples, and I don’t think I need to point it out. I do? Okay. They’re all dudes.)
I don’t mind the circumference of the watch face (45mm); if anything, I like watches that stand out. But the wide lugs and its overall thickness were problematic. It was almost impossible for me to tighten the watch to its last loophole because the fat underside of the watch was smashed against my wrist. But on the second-to-last loophole, the watch was loose, sliding up and down my wrist with the slightest movement.
When I went for a morning run with co-workers last week, the LG Watch Sport accurately recorded the distance thanks to GPS. All of us clocked in at around 3.5 miles, using various tracking methods. But the ill-fitting smartwatch was horribly annoying. Same thing with subsequent treadmill runs. Even when I was doing relatively stable exercises, like indoor cycling, the watch’s fit proved problematic: because of its movement, it was unable to show accurate heart rate readings through the sensors on the watch.
The Watch Sport does have an IP68 rating, which means it’s dust and water-resistant up to 1.5 meters. It can definitely survive a shower. But it won’t track swim sessions — it doesn’t have the kind of water-expelling function like Apple Watch Series 2 — and it’s definitely not a surf watch. (Insert bad joke here about sinking to the bottom of the ocean with it.) In fairness, there are few smartwatches I would risk wearing in the ocean anyway, with the exception of the Nixon Mission, an equally large and cumbersome Android Wear model.
Finally, despite its size the Watch Sport’s battery life is really bad, barely lasting from early morning until evening. If I went for a run with the watch 40 percent charged, it would hit low-power mode (10 percent or less) by the time I finished. If I forgot to charge it overnight, I could forget about having a gym-ready watch when I woke up in the morning. A lot of new smartwatches manage to eke past a day. Not this one.
Almost every smartwatch that has come out in the past couple years has been good at one or two things, but not everything. You could literally go down the list and ding each one on something: Apple Watch Series 2 (no LTE), Samsung’s Gear S3 (runs on Tizen), Sony’s Smartwatch 3 (no optical heart rate sensors), Moto 360 2 (no GPS), Casio’s Smart Outdoor Watch (seriously, no GPS?), Fitbit Blaze (no third-party apps). The list goes on.
Google and LG at the very least deserve credit for trying to fit everything in this watch. And the good news is, some of these software features will be making their way into other Android Wear 2.0 watches. But the LG Watch Sport is just a monster of smartwatch, and a case of bad design dragging down its ultimate function.
Photography by Vjeran Pavic
Video by Vjeran Pavic and Tyler Pina
Edited by Dan Seifert