LG’s LTE-packing smartwatch drops Android Wear for its own OS

Here’s a bit of a surprise: In addition to the Android Wear version of the G Watch Urbane, LG is prepping a version that doesn’t run Google’s smartwatch operating system, instead swapping it out for something called the “LG Wearable Platform.”

The LG Watch Urbane LTE will also have a few hardware features not found in LG’s Android Wear devices, including LTE support. Some smartwatches have had 3G radios, like Samsung’s Gear S, but LTE is new in a watch. It’s also packing NFC and GPS.  The specs the new model shares with LG’s recently announced Android Wear G Watch Urbane includes a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chipset, an optical heart rate monitor, and the same 1.3-inch OLED circle-shaped touchscreen.

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One major question is how much battery life the LTE modem will eat up. LG has included a 700mAh battery in the Watch Urbane LTE; a significantly larger one than the 410mAh battery included with the G Watch R and the G Watch R Urbane. We’ll see if the bigger battery leads to the Watch Urbane LTE being thicker, heavier or hotter than its Android Wear siblings.

If you’ve been following LG’s smartwatch ambitions, another question is whether the “LG Wearable Platform” is a version of webOS, an operating system LG has been tweaking with mixed success since buying its team from HP in 2013. The Verge is reporting that LG has said LG Wearable Platform isn’t webOS, but CNET says that someone “familiar with the product” indicates that it is based on webOS. The Watch Urbane LTE does look a lot like the webOS smartwatch LG previewed as part of a demonstration for Audi cars, including three physical buttons on the right side, but there are slight differences.

Here’s what LG says those buttons do:

Three physical buttons on the right side of the smartwatch allows for easy access to a number of functions without having to swipe through multiple menu screens. The top button accesses the Quick Setting menu where the user can check and adjust battery usage, brightness, volume and connection settings. The main center button switches between the watchface and list of installed apps. The bottom button acts as the “Back” function when depressed quickly but becomes a safety beacon when long-pressed, automatically dialing any preset phone number as well as sending the location coordinates of the wearer.

LG hasn’t provided screenshots or more information about the operating system, but it sounds like the Watch Urbane LTE will support push-to-talk, making it into a wrist-worn walkie-talkie, as well as other basic communications like calls and texts. LG hasn’t mentioned price, app support, a date when it will be available, or what carriers anywhere will be supporting its LTE modem. Those kind of details will become clearer when LG officially debuts the device later this week.

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LG’s affordable phones get back-mounted buttons, but no G4 in sight

Ahead of Mobile World Congress, where Samsung, HTC, and other handset makers are planning to unveil their high-end devices for 2015, LG has bolstered its lineup with four new devices — but the anticipated successor to last year’s high-end LG G3 isn’t one of them.

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At a glance, the four new devices — named Magma, Spirit, Leon and Joy — look a lot like last year’s LG G3. They use the same slightly curved “design language,” including LG’s rear-mounted volume and sleep buttons. But these phones aren’t going to compete in the high end with the Galaxy S6 or the HTC One M9. They’re affordably priced devices, but all four phones will ship with Android 5.0.

Here are the specs: All four phones are remarkably similar; the main difference is screen size. The Magna comes with a 5-inch 720p display, the LG Spirit is packing a 4.7-inch 720p screen, the LG Leon has a 4.5-inch 854×480 panel, and the low-end LG Joy has a 4-inch 800 x 480 screen. None of the cameras are world-beaters, either, with the LG Magna coming with a 8-megapixel rear shooter, down to the LG Joy with a 5-MP camera.

They’re all powered by unspecified 1.2GHz or 1.3GHz quad-core processors, and all four come with LTE support and 1GB of RAM. There are alternate versions that lack LTE, along with other downgraded specs, and sport a plastic rear shell instead of a metallic build. The LG Joy looks like it comes with soft buttons, instead of Android’s on-screen buttons, and its sleep button is on the side of the handset, not its rear shell.

Unfortunately, these phones don’t look like LG’s Aka line, a line of colorful mid-range phones with personalities and names. They will, however, have LG software features like Gesture Shot, which can take a selfie triggered by your hand, and Glance View, which debuted on recent premium LG phones and takes advantage of OLED displays to show notifications when part of the screen is off.

This announcement could indicate that the LG G4 may be a few months away — but in the meantime, LG’s latest high-end device, the LG G Flex 2, is launching in the United States soon. Price for the new devices hasn’t been announced, but they’re expected to roll out to “select markets” this week.

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LG announces a Google Cardboard–based virtual reality headset

LG’s high-end G3 smartphone was one of the first phones with a pixel-dense 2560 x 1440 display, and now LG is putting those extra pixels to good use. On Monday, LG and Google announced a new virtual reality headset for the G3, called VR for G3, that works with Google Cardboard.

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Like Samsung’s Gear VR and Google’s first Cardboard headset, LG’s new virtual reality headsets merely mounts the phone and a pair of biconvex lenses in front of your face. The virtual reality experience uses the device’s built-in screen, sensors, and processors in conjunction with Google’s software to deliver an immersive experience.

According to LG, the VR for G3 headset is based on the original Google Cardboard blueprint, and it works with the Google Cardboard app as well as other Cardboard-compatible apps and games. VR for G3 headsets will be free with purchase of a G3 for a limited time as part of a promotion, which also includes a free version of the VR game Robobliteration.

Aside from the G3’s 538 pixels-per-inch screen, which helps when your eyes are centimeters away from the screen, another major advantage the G3 has over other devices for VR is that its sleep key is mounted on the backside of the smartphone, as opposed to on the righthand side for most other devices, meaning that the button remains accessible even when the handset is mounted. Perhaps LG was thinking about virtual reality even before Google Cardboard was announced.

LG says they haven’t decided whether the VR for G3 will be sold separately or what it would be priced at. The promotion starts this week in Korea, and is eventually headed to the United States.

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The LG WebOS smartwatch is real, and reportedly launching in 2016

Thanks to a connected car demo from Audi at CES in Las Vegas on Wednesday, you can take a look at LG’s newest smartwatch, which is running WebOS.

Android Central and the Verge were at the [company]Audi[/company] demo, where the watch was used to call a self-driving car to the stage. The most unusual aspect of the watch’s physical design is the three crowns and buttons on the right side. Android Wear doesn’t require a physical button, and the unreleased Apple Watch has one dial and one button. The interface in the short video above certainly doesn’t look like the WebOS seen on old Palm devices or on LG TVs.

Audi told Android Central the watch used in the demo is a prototype, so there will probably be changes before it hits the market. The device strongly resembles the LG G Watch R, an Android Wear device that was launched in late 2014. It’s the same size, and has a similar etched bezel.

LG’s WebOS smartwatch plans were first outed back in October when a few images depicting the WebOS developer program were briefly posted on the LG developer website. LG originally picked up the WebOS operating system in 2013 after HP decided it wasn’t part of its future, even though it spent $1.2 billion to buy Palm.

As reported by Gigaom’s Janko Rogetters, [company]LG[/company] didn’t know what to do with WebOS at first. The team behind WebOS was based in Silicon Valley, but LG’s corporate headquarters, in Korea, consistently overruled it, especially on interface design and hiring new engineers. It’s not clear whether the Silicon Valley office or another LG office is behind the development of this new smartwatch.

The Wall Street Journal reported that you can expect the WebOS smartwatch “early next year.” By that time, Android Wear will be nearly two years old, and millions of people will have bought an Apple Watch. WebOS might be too little, too late, yet again.

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LG wants to take on Sonos with cheaper connected speakers

LG thinks it has a shot to take on Sonos with its new Music Flow connected loudspeakers, and it’s banking on two thing: Content and costs. The Korean consumer electronics giant has teamed up with Google to add Google Cast to its Music Flow devices, allowing consumers to cast audio straight from apps like Pandora, Rdio, TuneIn and others. And it may sell its cheapest connected speaker for as little as $100.

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LG is showing off a variety of Music Flow speakers, including a sound bar with subwoofer and a battery-powered mobile speaker, at CES in Las Vegas this week. The company hasn’t announced any firm release date or details on a suggested retail price yet, but I was told by one of the LG spokespeople on the floor that Music Flow speakers will be available this spring, and that the price will be “significantly cheaper” than the competition. I wanted to know more, so I asked another representative, who told me the plan was to sell them for half of what the competition is charging.

Neither of them directly mentioned Sonos, but it’s pretty clear that the company is on top of LG’s mind: Even the design of the Music Flow line-up closely resembles the connected loudspeakers that Sonos is selling.

LG’s Music Flow app.

 

However, there are a few differences. Aside from the ability to use Google Cast, LG also allows users to communicate via SMS with their speakers to set alarms, start playback or even automatically generate a playlist for a certain mood. Music Flow speakers come with their own app that can be used to configure zones as well as access third-party music apps, and each speaker connects directly over Wifi without the need for a hub or bridge — something that Sonos also recently added to its products.

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Google announced on Monday that it is bringing Google Cast, the technology that also powers the company’s Chromecast streaming stick, to connected speakers. LG, Denon and Sony are all launch partners for what’s being called Google Cast for audio.

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Report: Over half of the mobile devices activated Christmas week run iOS

The first thing many people do after receiving a new tablet or smartphone for Christmas is to immediately go to the app stores to download software and games. Based on those downloads, it looks like Apple had a big Christmas, according to app analytics firm Flurry, which looks at those downloads to determine which brands of smartphones and tablets were the most popular gifts.

According to Flurry’s data, 51.3 percent of mobile devices activated in the week leading up to and including Christmas were from Apple, compared to 17.7 percent from Samsung and 5.8 percent from Microsoft.

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Flurry provides analytics for more than 600,000 apps, so although its data isn’t quite as accurate as device activations reported by Google and Apple, it’s likely to be pretty close. Still — there’s the possibility the apps Flurry tracks are more likely to be downloaded by iOS users than Android users, for instance. It’s also important to keep in mind that although Flurry’s stats are global, December 25th is not an important gift-giving day in most parts of the world, so the data will be skewed towards Western markets.

The data suggested that large phones were significantly more popular this Christmas than in years past, most likely due to both the popularity of the iPhone 6 Plus and rising screen sizes. Last year, Flurry estimated that 4 percent of new devices had screens between 5.0 and 6.9 inches. This year, 13 percent of new devices activated on Christmas can be categorized as a “phablet,” with their growth largely coming at the expense of tablets.

The Flurry report also marks a good showing for Microsoft and its line of Lumia phones running Windows Phone, coming in third behind Apple and Samsung with 5.8 percent of total devices activated in the week leading up to Christmas. That’s significantly higher than the 2.7 percent worldwide shipment market share for Windows Phone estimated by International Data Corporation earlier this month.

Flurry estimated that app downloads are 2.5 times higher on Christmas than on an average day in December.

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Samsung still enjoys a healthy lead atop the Android smartphone heap, but competitors such as LG and Motorola have shown they are starting to find ways to penetrate its market dominance.

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LG has a new way to market smartphones that doesn’t rely on specs like camera megapixels , screen resolution, or price. Instead, it’s giving its new range of Aka phones Tamagochi-like personalities.