It’s not exactly a choice, but how do these watches compare?
Asking whether an Android Wear watch is better than an Apple Watch here on Android Central may seem a little silly. After all, you can’t use an Apple Watch on Android so it doesn’t really matter right? Also, why are we comparing the technical lesser of the two watches Google and LG released as the Android Wear 2.0 standard bearers to Apple’s one flagship watch?
Here’s the thing — it doesn’t make sense to compare the LG Watch Sport to the Apple Watch. They aren’t competing products. For starters, one is nearly twice the thickness of the other and offers its own cellular connection as a totally standalone platform. The other is an Apple Watch. They aren’t comparable products by any stretch, but the LG Watch Style is positioned perfectly to compete with Apple on their own turf.
So how does the new LG Watch Style with Android Wear 2.0 compete with Apple’s Series 2 Watch? Lets take a look!
It couldn’t be more clear by looking at these watches side by side that Apple and Google wanted watches that disappeared under a dress shirt and didn’t get in the way until you actually wanted to interact with them. In effect, these watches are identical in height and thickness. Apple manages to shave a couple tenths of a millimeter here and there, but when wearing the watches it’s impossible to feel or see the difference.
Where you will see a substantial difference is width, due in no small part to the biggest physical difference between these two watches. Apple’s legacy of rounded rectangles made its way to the Apple Watch, while LG joined the ranks of many other smartwatch manufacturers with a round body. Historically, Android Wear have been noticeably larger than the Apple Watch but the LG Watch Style does a great job showing off what a round watch at Apple’s scale looks like.
Both watches offer up a stainless steel version of their watches, but for LG that more durable metal is the default option. Apple’s aluminum Watch variants are the less expensive base models, and are not quite as durable as their stainless counterparts. The underside of both watches are not the metal you find on top in order to support wireless charging. Apple’s Watch uses glass to support the sensors for fitness monitoring, while LG’s underside is a rigid plastic with no fitness sensors. Both watches include magnetic chargers that snap into place quick and easy, so there’s no confusion about whether your watch is being charged.
Fitness sensors aren’t the only thing the Watch Style is missing when compared to the Apple Watch. There’s no NFC radio built into the Watch Style, so Android Pay from your wrist is not an option on this version. Apple’s Watch also includes a second button on the casing instead of just the rotating crown button, which can be customized for rapid app access. You also won’t find a speaker on the LG Watch Style, and whether that matters to you or not you can’t miss the one on the side of the Apple Watch.
One huge things both watches do incredibly well is auto-brightness with no sensor shelf or “flat tire” on the face of the display. The top-down look for both of these watches is fantastic, and both watches handle brightness controls quickly and efficiently. In many cases LG’s Watch Style is just a hair faster when adjusting to extreme light changes, and a big part of why is the LG Watch Style display never fully turns off. The always-on display in this and most Android Wear watches keeps a dimmed version of the watch face or a glanceable version of the app you’re using without consuming a ton of power, which isn’t available on the Apple Watch. Instead, Apple turns off the display to conserve power and activates the display when you lift your wrist.
There’s a lot to like about both of these watches, especially when you start looking at customization. Google’s leather MODE watch band is included with every LG Watch Style so you can quickly swap watch bands to accessorize as you see fit, and Apple’s proprietary watch band system is practically legendary at this point. There are dozens of different bands to choose from in just about every material, all built specifically for the Apple Watch. You’ve got plenty of options either way you go, but you’re significantly more likely to wander through a mall and see a watch band you like that works with your LG Watch Style. Unless, of course, you’re wandering through an Apple Store in your mall.
This may shock you, but Android Wear and Watch OS are fairly different. I know, take a minute if you need. I’ll wait.
Apple designed WatchOS from the ground up to be style first. It’s very pretty, it’s very animated, and when you want to actually do something it can be a little clumsy. Everything starts with the watch face, and a quick swipe left or right will give you access to other faces. This means you can use a fitness-focused watch face at the gym in the morning, a more professional face during the work day, and a silly watch face in the evening when you’re crashed out on the couch or out with friends.
Each watch face has been built by Apple, with personalization sections called Complications that allow you to inject data that is important to you. This can be a step counter, email notification, apps, weather, and personal contacts. Some complications are larger, and can display more information, but you don’t have a lot of control over their placement because you don’t have any control over the watch faces themselves.
Press the crown in, and you get a hexagonal grid of bubbles with app icons. There are no names for these apps, so you need to know what your icon looks like when it’s roughly 1/6 the size of the icon on your phone. You can move your apps around so the ones you use most are closest to the center, but there’s not much else going on here. Like the iPhone, you can’t uninstall any of the “core” Apple apps that are included. Other watch apps can be installed from the App Store, but the bigger your hex grid gets the more tedious it is to locate an app you don’t use frequently.
Apple Watch Apps are largely sidecar versions of apps on your phone, and are great for quickly interacting with existing data. Fitness apps pass data back to the core apps on the phone, but are very much installed and used primarily on the Watch. Apps on the Watch are frequently slower than their phone counterparts, which is to but can also leave you wondering why you don’t just pull your phone out. The most important exception to this is Siri, which launches quickly and delivers nearly the same experience as you expect on the phone.
In typical Google fashion, Android Wear is built to be largely predictive. Also in typical Google fashion, it’s really cool when it works and deeply frustrating when it doesn’t. When you start playing music on your phone or casting something to a television, the player controls are immediately there for you to interact with. If you have a calendar appointment with a location, you’ll get a notification with traffic aware data telling you when you need to leave in order to arrive on time.
Google’s OS now starts with a watch face and includes very little else until you press the physical button, which is a significant departure from the original layout of this OS. Watch faces can be quickly switched around with a swipe left or right, and the ability to shop for watch faces right on your wrist opens up a nearly unlimited number of customization options. There are several third-party tools for building your own watch face from scratch if you are so inclined, but the included watch faces offer a fair amount of personalization through Complications.
Google and LG have done a great job building a watch that actually looks and feels like a watch that fits smaller wrists.
Complications give you the ability to grab data from apps, launch apps, access media playback controls, report weather, and all of the other fairly standard options. Not every watch face supports Complications right now, but those that do include many options for data position and amount of data presented. This is a fairly new system for Google’s ecosystem, but like the ability to make watch faces it has been adopted quickly.
Pressing the crown gives you a list of apps, sorted alphabetically save for the last app you used, which sits at the top of the list. Swiping or scrolling through this list, even with many apps installed, can be done quickly. Each app icon comes with an app name, but not even app functions the same. Google has a healthy mix of sidecar apps and apps that are installed directly on the watch, meaning some apps pull data from the phone while others can exist and function without a phone connected at all.
One of the more important apps installed on the LG Watch Style is the Google Play Store. This gives any LG Watch Style owner access to Google’s entire catalog of apps and watch faces for this watch even if the phone is not connected to an Android phone. This is great news for iPhone users that find themselves embedded in the Google ecosystem, since it also means apps can be installed directly to the watch by using the Play Store web interface. On an Android phone the difference is fairly minimal, save for new notifications about updating apps directly on the watch.
Which is better?
Calling something the “best” invites a lot of subjective criticism, but there are things about each of these watches that are decidedly better than its counterpart. Apple does an incredible job fitting as much hardware as they do in such a small body, but the consequence of this is a battery that can’t power the display all the time. Google and LG have done a great job building a watch that actually looks and feels like a watch that fits smaller wrists, but sacrificed quite a bit in the process.
As for which software is best, it’s not easy to say. Apple’s OS is more visually pleasing, but frequently requires more taps to accomplish the same task on Android Wear. While Google’s predictive software is very nice when it works, the failure rate is still far too high to be considered a solid feature for most. It’s also worth pointing out Google’s massive library of watch faces entirely dwarfs any claim to personalization Apple can claim.
Really, what this comes down to in many cases is price. The LG Watch Style at $249 has a stainless steel body and a nice leather strap in the box. A comparably assembled Apple Watch is $599, plus whatever you’d pay for a leather strap instead of the sport band included in the box. Even if you compare against the aluminum Apple Watch, there’s still a $150 price difference before you add in a leather watch strap. The big question is whether Apple Watch is actually $150 better than the LG Watch Style, and unless you really want to pay for things from your wrist and get a constant look at your heart rate the answer is probably no.