Opinion: LG Watch Style Is Shaping Up To Be The Perfect Smartwatch
If you are like me, then you are likely not that impressed with the smartwatch scene in general. It is not that the technology is not impressive (as it is), or the fact that it is a wearable (as this is one of the most impressive emerging tech markets at the moment), it is just more of a redundant technology. That is, while there is a need to having a smartphone, and (to a lesser degree) a need to having an Android TV device, a Bluetooth set of headphones, and even a Google Home Mini to some extent, there is no need at all to owning a smartwatch. It is just not that important, or even that useful. This is largely due to dumb watches not only being sufficient for purpose but exactly fitting the purpose. All a wearer really needs a watch to do is tell the time and everything else a smartwatch offers is not only accessible through an already-owned phone (typically a prerequisite to owning a smartwatch), but is better served via a phone. There is nothing a smartwatch offers at the moment that requires it to be worn, let alone paid for. They have been, and for the most part still are, too geeky. A point I made almost two years ago. But here is the kicker. I recently bought an LG Watch Style when it hit a rock bottom $99 (tax included) price during the BF/CM weekend (only because it hit that price) and it has now proven to be the perfect smartwatch. Yes, there are better smartwatches out there and while the Style Watch did not exactly get glowing reviews when it was announced this time last year – if you are like me, then it is the best smartwatch.
The reason being is that it does not try to do more than you want a watch to do. In many ways, it is just a watch. It has forsaken NFC (a cardinal sin apparently), it does not include its own cellular connection (so I can’t call the people I already rarely call), there is no heart-rate monitor (so I can’t keep track of my performance in the gym through a rudimentary and inaccurate measuring tool), and it (apparently) looks too generic with some even suggesting it is not stylish enough – quite the irony considering its name. These points represent the sum of the main criticisms many reviewers leveled at the Watch Style. Which is weird considering LG did announce the Watch Style along with the Watch Sport – one that pretty much offers all of those features. Therefore, you would expect people might take into consideration that maybe the Watch Style was never aimed at tech-heavy users in the first place. Those that did take that point into consideration did, however, argue that maybe it should have been much cheaper than it is – presumably because you can get more for your money elsewhere. Although, again, that is only if you equate the cost as relative to the number of features you get. For the tech-heavy user it does not offer much value but maybe, just maybe, for those specifically looking for something without all the additional features the price is not that excessive. Looking back, it is a shame all of the reviews (including ours) were done by tech-hungry people and not its target demographic.
What it is, is a watch. One that is customizable, and one that offers just enough smarts to intrigue the wearer enough to use them without overwhelming the wearer with an abundance of features they don’t need or want. This is not to say it is therefore an entry-level or lightweight option as I wouldn’t consider myself a lightweight tech user. If anything, the opposite is more likely to be true – I don’t feel the need for my watch to do anything more as I have more than enough tech products to do those other things already. Speaking of which, this is one of the core features that does add value to a smartwatch – other things. More specifically, the Internet of Things. Thanks to the inclusion of Google Assistant on watches like the Watch Style, wearers can easily use their watch to control home automated products compatible with Google Assistant. What’s more, because of Google Assistant’s compatibility with SmartThings, the Watch Style is able to control all of the lights and devices connected to my SHIELD Link as well. Besides checking the time, this is the single most useful feature to me. Not NFC.
And the more you are entrenched in the ‘Made by Google’ ecosystem, the better the Watch Style seems to become. If you own the Pixel Buds for example, then you’ll know one of the big gripes with them is when you are not near your phone (in the gym for instance), you have to use voice commands for even the most basic of features, such as changing tracks – there are no press or swipe actions available for that. Something which looks seriously weird when you are on the treadmill and others are nearby. If you have a watch like the Watch Style, though, controlling the Pixel Buds is super easy and even easier than using your phone, gym or not.
My absolute favorite feature, however, is one that is exclusive to use with the Pixel 2 line. As when connected to a Pixel 2 phone the Android Wear watch is able to make use of the Pixel 2’s “Now Playing” feature. Being able to see what song is playing in the background on your wrist is significantly more beneficial than through the phone. You’re walking through a department store, driving in the car, and a song playing catches your attention. There is no need to rummage for your phone and try to squint at the lock screen without activating the display light for the name. All the info you need is right there on your wrist. Yes, while you can also get emails and notifications for everything else on your wrist as well – they are optimized for consumption through a phone. An email for example requires heavy amounts of scrolling on a watch to digest its contents properly. And this is without even factoring trying to reply to an email from your wrist. Now Playing, though, is a feature which seems almost purpose-designed for a smartwatch.
Granted, some, if not all, of these features are available through any Android Wear smartwatch so you don’t have to buy this particular watch to make use of them. Likewise, some of the features will require you to have other devices regardless of whether you own a Watch Style or not. But to go back to the original point, these are small additions to having a watch. The Watch Style allows me to continue wearing what feels like a dumb watch with just enough small benefits to make the whole experience that little bit more intuitive and inclusive. Which is something that should be embraced and not criticized. The trend in the smartwatch market right now is to cram as many features into a watch as possible, with a view to adding as much perceived value as possible, to justify a price that many already consider to be too excessive for a device that is not only surplus to requirements, but will inevitably become outdated in a short space of time.
Which brings me to the final point – the Watch Style has proven that value is not in the number of things a smartwatch can do, but how true it can stick to its core purpose (being a watch) while also providing tweaks that genuinely add value. This is true of Android Wear in general as the entire platform seems to get a lot of bad press nowadays and the more a manufacturer adds to a smartwatch the more clouded the true Android Wear functionality becomes, buried beneath an avalanche of other stuff. For those tech-heavy users out there, I’d suggest trying out a more generic smartwatch without the expectation of more, and truly embracing the core features on offer with Android Wear. Most tech-heavier users already apply this same approach to their phones with many preferring a lightweight or ‘stock’ user experience yet when it comes to a smartwatch, the emphasis seems to revert to a more is better philosophy. When in reality, it is this lightweight and stock-like smartwatch market that is likely to see the biggest levels of adoption going forward. Take Fossil as an example. In a short period of time Fossil (and its related brands) has become one of the most prolific Android Wear supporters and virtually all of its offerings provide what is considered a basic smartwatch experience. Ask yourself why? Why is one of the platform’s most prolific supporters focused on the less is more approach? Maybe it is because that is what the mainstream market actually wants from a product like this. Something that is less geeky. For those who already know they are not looking for an all singing, all dancing smartwatch, and are intrigued enough to give a basic smartwatch a try then you don’t have to opt for the Watch Style. You should buy any perceived to be basic Android Wear-running smartwatch you can find for around the $100-150 marker. For me, that was the Watch Sport – a perfect smartwatch.