Android Wear: Wait and Watch

I’ve been a smartwatch hater ever since the first Apple Watch rumors started. I never liked the premature Android or other OS ‘smartwatches’ by the likes of Samsung and Pebble. I didn’t really care about Android Wear when it was first announced.

But all that changed overnight when I saw that the LG G Watch, introduced at a price of Rs. 15,000 on Google Play, was being let go for less than half the price at around Rs. 7,000. Flipkart went even lower, offering it at just Rs. 6,000. I didn’t even bother thinking twice. But should I have? Maybe…

Forget privacy

All notifications are displayed in full on the watch. Anyone can read them if they’re next to you like in a meeting at work or next to you on the subway. There’s no way to hide the messages, because there’s no way to lock/unlock the watch. I get that it would be cumbersome, but some people might not be comfortable with a buzz and notification saying “You have a new Tinder match!”

There are two solutions to this. One is to block notifications from apps with sensitive content, for eg. Tinder or OKCupid, but maybe you’d like to keep WhatsApp notifications private too. Then you’ll end up blocking all apps and turning the smartwatch into just a watch. The other solution is to use an app like Showear, which adds a pattern lockscreen to your watch. But it’s very paranoid and it keeps locking your watch even while you’re using it. Also, sometimes you can see the notification for a full second before it’s covered up with the lockscreen. It’s not perfect, but something is better than nothing.

You can’t turn it on

You can turn the watch off by going into the settings menu, but, because there are no buttons on the watch, you simply cannot turn it on by itself of even with the help of your phone. The only way to turn it on is to place it on it’s charging cradle. So, if you decide to turn the phone off in a meeting or in a movie theater or lunch or whatever, that’s the end of the day for your watch.

It doesn’t have a real-time clock

This watch doesn’t have a real-time clock. What the fuck. If you turn it off, it stops keeping time. When it turns back on, it’s still got the same time that it had when it was turned off. It syncs with your phone to tell the time, but until you do so, it’ll show you incorrect time. I get that a smartwatch needs a phone and/or internet for things, but you really can’t just keep the time on your own in spite of having a built-in battery?

It’s useless without a reliable internet connection

All the Google Now voice commands need internet to work. Even the simplest ones, which have no business going online (for eg. “Show me my steps”), need internet. The watch really has no idea what you’re saying apart from a vague aural representation of “Ok Google”. Anything you say after that is sent to Google in California and then back to your phone. If you’re not in a decent internet range, most of the watch features are useless.

I don’t know about you, but I get shitty, unreliable 3G on Airtel in my area or any area I go to and this has been the case across phones. Most of the times, the phone is in my pocket and it’s practically as good as putting it in airplane mode. It’s still far better than my experience with Vodafone and Idea.

It looks like shit

I’d love to say that the LG G Watch is, wrists down, the worst designed watch of the century. But that would be an incorrect statement, because there wasn’t any design phase involved in making the watch. This is 100% certainly just the prototype that LG first made according to Google’s instructions, which was simply put into boxes and sold because they ran out of time or they couldn’t be bothered. That’s probably why it’s being sold at a 50-60% discount.

The upcoming LG G Watch R is one good looking watch. Some design effort certainly went into that. Either that, or maybe I simply prefer round faced watches. Alas, when it launches here, it’s probably going to cost twice as much as the Moto 360. And even with half of the issues above, it’s still a terrible waste of money.

So… Am I back to being a smartwatch hater? Not quite. I can see the utility of certain features and apps on the wrist, but, unfortunately for now, the time for smartwatches hasn’t come yet.

Things I do like about the watch and/or Android Wear in general:

  • Calculator. A third party app that just gets the job done.
  • Google Keep note taking/viewing.
  • Navigation. Decent enough, but with no actual 3D map display or voice instructions, there’s still room for improvement. Mini Maps is a good app that shows you maps with panning, but it could do with pinch zoom and a satellite/map option.
  • Custom watch face making apps allow you decent personalization options.
  • Remote camera button is cool. Some third party apps even throw in a remote viewfinder.
  • ‘Zero communication’ apps such as Yo are a perfect fit for this platform. Too bad most of my contacts have moved on from Yo.
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