Thursday, August 28, 2014

Impressions of Android Wear with the LG G Watch

I attended a GDG Muncie meeting over the Summer where I was lucky enough to win an LG G Android Wear watch. The longer version of the story is that the organizer was trying to determine the best way to generate random numbers for the lottery, and I suggested one of my very favorite sites on the Internet, He went to the site and generated my number: the system works!

I normally wear a watch—a Skagen titanium watch, to be precise. It is ultralight and quick to don or remove, both of which I consider to be great benefits. This is my second watch of this model, in fact, after having smashed the face of one on vacation several years ago. For those who don't know, I don't have a cell phone plan: the Nexus 4 I carry everywhere is used strictly as a pocket Wi-Fi device. Hence, my watch is not a fashion accessory, it serves an important function, and being so light, it does so innocuously.

My LG G arrived a few weeks after the GDG meeting, and I decided to wear it around the house for a few days. It is clunky and heavy, especially in contrast to my usual watch. I'm not hip to the technical terms for watchbands, but while the band is functional, it is fiddly, so it takes a few moments to put on or take off. Again, I am not interested in the piece as a fashion statement per se, but I think the picture shows how my rather thin hands and wrists are dominated by this piece of black technology.

It was easy enough to set up and sync with my Nexus 4. I like that the watch face can be configured to show the time, the date, and some ambient information, such as the temperature. I was afraid that the notifications system would be distracting, but I find it no less distracting than my pocket device, really. When I want to know whether I have new email, for example, I simply check. When I am in a situation where I don't want to be interrupted, I am not generally checking my watch for the time anyway: I am either in a situation where I don't care about the time (writing) or there's a clock readily available (meetings, teaching).

Given that I'm the type to turn off notifications and avoid distractions anyway, I also haven't found it to be that useful: almost any time I have used it, I could have about as easily used my pocket device instead. Perhaps that's due to immaturity of the platform, but I suspect it has more to do with me not being in the target demographic. All the same, it is kind of fun to check messages on my watch while walking down the hallway to the men's room. It doesn't feel any less isolated or rude than carrying a phone and checking messages in the same situation, but it does leave hands a bit more free. Probably the single-most feature I use on the watch besides time and date is the view of what appointment is coming next.

I do have a major complaint with the email authoring feature. It does feel very futuristic to talk to your wristwatch and have it send a message to someone. However, it is set up so that you narrate your brief message, and then the watch shows you what it recognized and sends it right away. The two times I've tried this, the speech recognition was terrible, but I had no opportunity to stop it before it sent—I was left with that awful feeling of having just sent a nonsensical message. In my opinion, it really needs a 2–3 second confirmation period in which one can stop the process.

Another usability failure on the watch arises from the context in which it is used, and in particular, I wonder if the designers considered users with small children. When my toddler sits on my lap or when I pick him up, his arms reach exactly to my wrists, and he tends to fiddle with whatever is there—a smarthwatch, for example. It's a bad feeling to be sitting happily with a child in lap and then suddenly realize that he may have knocked messages out of your inbox. The device really needs a hardware switch that turns on or off the touch-sensitivity, or it should come with a warning, "Not for parents of young children." I've started wearing it only on days when I am working from campus, and around the house, I stick with my Skagen and pocket-device.

Preliminary conclusion: It's a fun toy with a few good uses and a few usability problems. I would not buy one, but I am happy to tinker with one. I do have an idea for an app that I may experiment with in the next few days, but that depends on how the semester gets rolling.

UPDATE (8/29): A crazy thing happened this morning, the day after I posted my review. I checked my messages while walking down the hallway to work, and a colleague sent me a question that could be answered either "yes" or "no." I figured, how badly could the speech recognition mangle that? I hit "Reply" on my watch, and the voice recognition screen came up with the "Speak now" prompt. Then I swiped or tapped or something... I am not really sure what I did, which itself is interesting... and I got a "Yes/No" dialog. I hit the "Yes" button and an email was sent with exactly that content.

That is neat. I need to wait for someone else to send me an email that I can answer in one word and try that again.

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