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LG's G Watch: Designing a blank canvas for Android Wear


The G Watch is minimal. The shape aims to bring Android Wear front and center. "The content floats." The lack of toggles, buttons and periphery is all intentional. "A lack of ornamentation," is how Chul Bae Lee, VP of mobile design put it to us when explaining the company's wearable. But it didn't start out that way. Lee gestures at a soft sheet where there are roughly 10 prototypes of varying shapes and profiles. It's the "What If..." of LG wearable design, but because these designs are still in LG's collective brain for possible future use, we're not allowed to take photos.

We pore over the early prototypes, which are built and machine-finished to seem like the real thing. They intentionally have a slight weight to them, even if there are no electronics inside. One has a brushed-steel finish along a thick bottom bezel, while some jarring LG branding in the corner made another look like a tiny wrist-mounted version of the company's TVs. Several prototypes pack landscape screens, while another, with its curved sides and soft vertices, veers close to Samsung's Gear 2, or Neo... or Live.

The G Watch has two primary features: commands and notifications -- and not, Lee specifies, interaction. This, in a way, explains the lack of buttons (or cameras), as well as the inclusion of a touchscreen that, while accessible, certainly does do as much as your smartphone. "Commands" is an interesting way to put it too, because the primary way of getting information from the G Watch is by barking orders at it.

Circles and squares

The biggest difference between the LG G Watch and Motorola's 360 is their faces. LG's product goes for the smartwatch staple, a square LCD, in an aim to maximize usable screen space, while Motorola's chosen to display Google's latest project on a circular screen. Lee says. "A circular face? Well, we like it, but it'll lead to a more classical watch experience." The exec wouldn't admit that his company would be bringing out a similarly shaped timepiece, but told us that LG is trying a whole load of things -- and it probably helps when you have a display-making companion company.

"A circular face? Well, we like it, but it'll lead to a more classical watch experience."

While it's the first effort, the G Watch is still borderline chunky (just like the rest of the Android Wear gang) and it's due to what Lee calls the smartwatch's biggest challenge: battery life. As the LG VP tells it: "I prefer to have high picture quality with (LCD or OLED)." He offers two options: a smartwatch with a low-grade display that will last a week on a charge, or one that has a high-quality screen, but lasts around a day. "[The battery life] could have been very different. It's the mix of design, hardware, chipsets and display. Some people wanted a 15mm-thick watch face. Well, that's crazy ... but it's all part of the compromise."

The sales pitch for Android Wear is a notification-heavy one. This editor wants it to do more -- what's a watch doing that my smartphone doesn't do already? How does it make my life better? "The point of the G Watch isn't that we are wearing it, but that we are accessing information instantly -- especially compared to a phone," Lee says. "If I get a call or notification there, I have to drag it out of my pocket, check it, unlock it, answer it. Instant accessibility is the core value here." But is it worth $229?

Does one size fit all?

The G Watch will arrive on July 7th in black and white options, but it's a uniform, relatively unisex shape and size. LG's stance is that smartwatches, at least for now, are nascent. Admittedly, there's something regressive about gender-specific technology, but these watches and wearables will be compared to "dumber" male and female fashion accessories, whether they want to or not.

There's something regressive about gender-specific technology, but these watches and wearables will be compared to "dumber" male and female fashion accessories

Lee recalls those heady feature phone days, where companies like LG used to market teenage, feminine and even "silver" phones to different customer segments. "As the smartphone era matured, [these segments] disappeared." (There was the HTC Rhyme: never forget). Lee says it ties into another trade-off: Change the specification, like increasing the screen size, and you're going to make the entire thing bigger. "The smartwatch has potential ... but there's still room for refinement."

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