Hands on: LG Watch Urbane LTE

LG's elegant Watch Urbane LTE exposes everything that's wrong with Android Wear

The Watch Urbane LTE is an elegant glimpse into the future of smartwatches and a loud call for Google to fix its Android Wear OS.

You may never have the opportunity to buy it, but LG’s Watch Urbane LTE is a vital step forward for smartwatches. We were first to find extensive photos of the watch back at CES, and it’s finally come to fruition at Mobile World Congress.

We’ve seen a lot of Android Wear watches over the last eight months, but none of them are lighting up the sales charts. There are a lot of reasons for this, one of which is Google’s confusing, messy watch interface. Android Wear clogs the screen with countless Google Now notification cards that are difficult to control and impossible to predict. You don’t really know what the next screen holds when you’re on an Android Wear watch, and that’s not fun. LG is committed to Google, but has recognized some of its software failures. With the Watch Urbane LTE, it has gone rogue to fix a few of them.

A list of apps on your watch is a simple enough idea, but Google has failed to provide it in Android watches yet.

Running a version of LG’s WebOS (the operating system that powered the Palm Pre years ago), the Urbane LTE has the ability to connect to a wireless carrier without tethering to a phone. Yep, this watch can have its own phone number, take calls, make calls, and send/receive text messages by itself. The predictive text on the keyboard is better than you’d expect, too. We’re not going to say it’s fun to type on a tiny watch face, but it certainly is doable here. Android Wear has none of these features yet, nor support for NFC payments, which LG has also integrated.

Choosing when to wait for Google to add new features to its Android OS and when to go rogue and do your own thing is a dilemma manufacturers often face, and LG is right on the nose with the Urbane LTE. The new watch runs on a Snapdragon 400 processor, 1GB of RAM, 4GB of memory storage, and a 700mAh battery; it has LTE connectivity, a heart-rate monitor, an accelerometer, near-field communication (NFC), and a 1.3-inch, 320 × 320 P-OLED screen. These enhancements in battery, RAM, sensors, and LTE put it ahead of almost everything else on the market, and LG’s WebOS software shows huge promise.

Instead of the notification mess that is Android Wear, the Watch Urbane LTE has a button that takes you to a scrolling list of apps, which whip like a tornado around the edge of the circular screen. Having a list of apps on your watch is a simple enough idea, and one that even the Apple Watch has, but Google has failed to provide anything like this in Android watches yet. A tap of the top button on the Urbane LTE brings up quick settings — again, a basic, but very helpful feature — which lets you turn on and off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc. The bottom button acts as a back button. Again, great idea.

LG has also amped up watch face customization. Using its store, you can choose from different looks and customize the colors or texture of the background, time-keeping handles, and index of your watch face. Digital faces are available as well.

Finally, outside of the impressive new tech it brings to the table, the Watch Urbane LTE is also the most beautiful and stylish watch LG has created yet. It’s still definitively masculine, but it looks a lot better on thinner wrists (like my own) than previous models. This is thanks to a better-integrated watch band, which blends right into the sides of the brushed metal face. Style is a major part of the equation on smartwatches. With the Urbane LTE, LG nailed it.

We named the LG Watch Urbane LTE our favorite wearable product at Mobile World Congress 2015. It’s currently only slated to ship in South Korea, but if it starts lighting up the sales charts, we could see it elsewhere. Still, no matter what the future holds, we hope Google sees the light and fixes Android Wear up, or LG will continue to invest in WebOS. The Watch Urbane LTE is exactly where smartwatches need to go.

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