The First Decent Smartwatch That Doesn’t Need Your Phone
Smartwatches are accessories. Without your phone, they don’t do much more than tell the time. A few watches have had built-in cellular radios to make them a little more self-sufficient, but those—the Galaxy Gear S, the Timex Ironman One GPS+—were all more like computers on your wrist than anything you’d call a good-looking timepiece.
Today, though, LG’s taken a nice step in the right direction, showing off the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition. The Urbane is LG’s sleeker, higher-end lineup of smartwatches, and the new model comes in stainless steel and with four different nice-looking bands. At a large 44.5mm across, it’s still a statement piece, and it won’t be for everybody. The big difference, though: It doesn’t need your phone to connect to the Internet. It does that through a built-in radio, which can connect to LTE and 3G, or to your phone via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi if you for some reason still want to connect your watch to your phone like our forefathers did.
There are two new buttons on the side of the screen, which is itself now a bigger and better 1.38-inch, 480×480 panel. The buttons accesses shortcuts to apps and information, which you can also see with LG’s classy-ish watch faces.
LG says it’s the first cellular-connected Android Wear device, which appears to be technically true. (Other details are fairly scarce at this point, like how much the new Urbane will cost—all that will be announced later.) But it begs the question: who cares? LG’s promotional video is full of people gladly leaving their phones in their lockers and apartments, and saying things like “I need my hands free all day” even though they’re not surgeons and thus can probably afford to hold things at some point. There are a few great use cases, like exercising without your phone or streaming music while you run, but most people don’t walk around taking phone calls on their watches—and that’s not because they don’t have LTE. It’s because taking a phone call on your wrist is weird.
Still, though, a cellular radio inside a smartwatch is a good thing. If it can be integrated without a hit to the battery life (and LG says it has been, thanks to a bigger internal battery), it turns the Watch Urbane 2nd Edition into something more independent, capable of doing things it doesn’t have to stream from your phone. And it finally starts to deliver on the promise of truly being always connected, not just when your phone’s in earshot. Either way, it’s nice to see some recognition of the fact that we are still firmly in the try-everything phase of smartwatch development. It’s not impossible to imagine that one day we might leave our phones at home and spend the day happily emoji-texting from our buzzing wrists. Or that developers will figure out things we can do with our watches that never made sense on our phones, or that only work when we don’t have our phones.
The biggest challenge for smartwatch makers isn’t that the devices are accessories. It’s that they’re mostly unnecessary ones, because everything they do can also be done by the better, faster, more usable device a foot or two away. A watch that can exist on its own, though, might have a shot at finally being important.
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