Google Fit – Necessary updates, but the work’s not done
Android Wear 2.0 is officially out, and Google has welcomed the update into the world with two new smartwatches: the LG Sport Watch and the LG Style Watch. While Android Wear now has a bunch of new and improved features, we wanted to take a new look at Google Fit specifically.
Shortly after Apple came out with the Health app and HealthKit framework, Google released the Fit as its way of collecting and storing everyday activity data from multiple sources. Android Wear, along with third-party app integrations, allows you to use Google Fit more efficiently by tracking workouts with hardware that should be more accurate than the motion sensors inside your smartphone. Google Fit was updated last year, so I spent some time with LG’s Style Watch and Google Fit to see how the fitness app has evolved, how well it interacts with one of the newest Android Wear devices, and if it will really be able to stand up to Apple’s and Fitbit’s programs going forward.
Ars’ Ron Amadeo spent some time with the $349 LG Sport Watch, and I tested the $249 LG Style Watch. While the Style is certainly more svelte than its counterpart, that slimness contributes to the Style being a less-equipped a fitness device. Unlike the Sport, which has built-in GPS, an optical heart rate monitor, and a barometer, the Style only has an accelerometer and gyroscope inside. That means the $250 device will tell you as much as the $79 Fitbit Flex 2 or $99 Fitbit Alta if fitness is your biggest consideration in a smartwatch purchase.
Clearly, Google and LG banked on the Sport being the primary device for fitness enthusiasts, while the Style is geared more to fashion-focused consumers. The companies push the style as the slimmest Android Wear device you can buy, and it is quite slim, measuring just 10.79mm thick. Sense of style is all about personal preference, and for me, the Style has all the personality of a generic watch emoji, making it too bland to be considered truly fashion-forward. Plenty of wearables companies strike a balance between minimalist design and gadgets that are immediately identifiable and recognizable, but Google and LG missed the mark with the Style.
Going back to fitness, the LG Style does run Android Wear 2.0, which includes separate Google Fit and Fit Workout apps. Fit is now mostly an informational app, showing your overall fitness goal immediately upon launching the app. Scrolling down the watch’s display shows your total step count, total distance traveled, active minutes, and calories burned for the current day as well. In Fit, the bottom third of the circular display becomes a button that gives you quick access to Fit Workout, where you can start recording exercises. The Style supports a decent list of activities: walking, running, biking, treadmill running, stationary biking, aerobics (better known as the “miscellaneous” category), stair climbing, and pushup, sit up, and squat challenges.
For the cardio exercises, the Style is on point, with distance calculations and measurements close to the Apple Watch Series 2 in calorie estimates. The “challenge” exercises count every rep you complete accurately, and I appreciate that the app shows you a short instructional video to teach you proper form for push-ups, sit-ups, and squats. Form is important for getting the most out of your workout and reducing the risk of injury, but proper form also ensures that the watch can track every rep you do correctly.
I was very disappointed to see the Style doesn’t support the weight training category that the Sport does, which automatically recognizes which exercises you’re doing while tracking reps. I reached out to Google to confirm which Sport sensors allow the feature. As it turns out, only the accelerometer and gyroscope are needed for that feature, but it’s not enabled on the Style because it’s considered too “battery-intensive.” In the future, Google will consider bringing the feature to other Android Wear devices, but that’s a bummer for anyone thinking that they could use all Google Fit has to offer when buying the LG Style. At least Google did right by this feature on the LG Sport: Ron was impressed with the auto-recognition’s accuracy in detecting every different weight training move he did.
In light of that left-out feature, let’s talk about battery life. The Style sports a 240mAh battery, which lasted all day during normal use, including one workout (I did use it with a Galaxy S7 Edge, not an iPhone). After wearing it for 15 hours, it still had about 25 percent battery life left. That’s not too bad considering most smartwatches last about a day or two on a single charge. But what was more concerning was the Style’s performance in our Android Wear battery test. This sends a Hangouts message to the watch every 15 seconds to keep the CPU at work and wake up the display. On average, the Style lasted 176 minutes in our testing, or just under three hours. Even during general use, I could tell that the watch lost battery life faster on the days that my wrist was vibrating with more smartphone notifications than usual.
But perhaps the Style’s most disappointing feature is its price. The $249 Style banks on the idea that you mostly want a smartwatch for notifications and communication rather than fitness. The Sport is the better fitness device purely because it has a built-in heart rate monitor, GPS, and can auto-recognize exercises. However, the Style remains overpriced for what it offers. There are much more fashionable wearables than LG’s watch, and many of them are cheaper, too. But they’re not all Android Wear devices—yet. Once Android Wear 2.0 hits new and existing devices, there will be better-looking devices that run Google’s wearable OS.
The LG Style Watch should be priced at $200 since you’re only getting Android Wear 2.0 and the least-capable version of the improved Google Fit. Android Wear 2.0 certainly brings valuable improvements, including an onboard version of the Play Store that lets you download apps to the watch free from companion smartphone apps. But $250 is a lot to ask for a device that is more of a showcase for Android Wear than anything else, as it lacks many of the practical and useful hardware features that other wearable device makers include on cheaper devices.
Google Fit got an overhaul early last summer that changed the look and feel of the app while adding some new features. Now, with the introduction of Android Wear 2.0, all that data your wearable can collect will appear in the new and improved Google Fit. You can’t review data from past days or workouts on an Android Wear 2.0 device, so you’ll have to consult the Fit app on your smartphone for those stats.
Thankfully, Google Fit on Android become brighter and more user-friendly with the latest update. The homepage puts your goals front and center, and unlike other apps, Fit lets you set multiple goals. You usually just have a step count to reach or a total amount of active time each day, but now you can add exercise goals, too. For example, I had a step goal of 10,000 per day as well as two activity-based goals: run three times per week and strength train four times per week.
Believe it or not, this type of goal customization is unique. Apple only lets you change the calorie goal on the Apple Watch; its other two goals, exercise and stand, aren’t customizable. As most health professionals suggest 30 minutes of activity per day to maintain a healthy lifestyle, the Apple Watch uses that benchmark for its daily exercise goal. With standing, the watch just measures if you’ve stood up every hour for 12 hours. Fitbit, on the other hand, only recently released personalized goal setting in its app—you can now set a regular activity goal, choosing from categories including calories and active time to measure daily movement, as well as more personal exercise goals similar to that on Google Fit.
However, some of your Google Fit goals won’t appear on your watch depending on the type of Android Wear device you have. The LG Style only has a handful of trackable activities that you can access from the watch itself, so saving a goal of completing three elliptical workouts each week (when elliptical is not a choice on the watch) will result in the goal just living in Google Fit. It would be convenient to be able to swipe through all of your recorded goals on the on-watch Google Fit app; unfortunately, only my step goal appeared on my LG Style.
When tracking a workout using Fit Workout, you can change the display stats so you can view the data that’s most important to you. The Apple Watch lets you do this as well, but you have to customize the workout screens in the Watch app on the iPhone first. Every single workout that you can track on the Apple Watch can be customized with different stats showing on the display, but you must do it ahead of time. Google Fit lets you scroll down on the watch display and to customize which data populates the sections of the screen. After you finish a workout, your overall stats appear on the display as a notification that you can swipe away when you’re finished. To review that workout again, you’ll have to open Google Fit on your smartphone.
Google Fit on Android is more aesthetically similar to Fitbit’s app than Apple’s Activity app thanks to its bold colors and inviting doodles. Along with your activity goals, you’ll see your current weight (if you recorded one) and recent workouts on its homepage. Tapping on a workout reveals the stats you saw when you finished recording it on your Android Wear device, including active time, distance, calories, and average pace. It’s almost identical to the information Apple and Fitbit provide, and if you have a device with a heart rate monitor, that information will appear as well.
Also similar to Apple and Fitbit, you can view weekly and monthly spreads of your activity data, but Google Fit displays this information in a unique way. Instead of just showing total step counts and distances over time, Fit lets you filter your data by “active time” and see how much time over the past week or month you spent on specific activities like walking, running, and biking. This feature will be great for people who are comfortable doing certain activities and want to know how much time they spend on them. For example, if you’re really into running and boxing and those two activities make up the bulk of your active time, you can see exactly how much time you spent running and boxing over a long period of time. With that information, it’s easier to keep track of your overall training methods and either increase the amount of time you spend doing either one or change things up if you want more variety in your workouts.
To see the types of activities you’ve done on a daily bases, Google Fit has its Timeline view that breaks down every bit of movement you’ve done throughout the day by hour. I was happy to see that it recorded activity not manually recorded by my LG Style—I did a 30-minute elliptical session once and didn’t start an activity on my smartwatch because “elliptical” isn’t a trackable option on the Style. But the watch was smart enough to know I was doing consistent activity for a half hour, and that data was recorded automatically and transferred to Google Fit. In the app, I could edit the details of the activity and change it from “walking” to “elliptical,” thereby creating a more accurate account of my daily activity. Modifying auto-recognized workouts is a feature Fitbit’s app has, but Apple’s Activity app doesn’t let you do that—you must select the right category from your Apple Watch the first time.
One unifying factor of all three systems is third-party app integration. Google Fit, Apple Activity and Health, and Fitbit all have a substantial library of third-party apps they can integrate with, allowing you to keep using the apps you already love. Google’s Play Store has a list of all the Fit-ready apps, and it includes popular ones like Lose It!, RunKeeper, Map My Run, Strava, and Endomondo.
Based on only in-app features, Google Fit is more comparable to Apple’s Activity app. In some ways, though, like customizable goals, the active time breakdown, and auto-recognizing activities, Google Fit offers more than Apple Activity (although I do expect Apple will add to Activity, Workout, and Health over time to include similar features). In comparison to Fitbit’s software, Google may offer a larger list of trackable apps within the Fit app, but Fitbit’s app is much more thoughtful as the company has had years to refine, improve, and add to its features. Out of all three systems, Fitbit’s is the most comprehensive (obviously so—Fitbit is a fitness company). Until this point, it hasn’t had to worry about building an entire wearable OS in addition to a capable fitness app.
Google was smart to redesign and improve Google Fit along with Android Wear 2.0 because the feature does make its wearables better equipped to track activity than they were before. Consumers are still iffy about smartwatches in general, but they have more defined opinions about fitness trackers. Until a company defines what smartwatches should be, wearables will continue to be fitness-focused—so any company making them is basically forced to create a solid fitness experience. Going forward, both Google and Apple will have to keep adding to their fitness apps in order to keep up with Fitbit, which is in many ways two steps ahead of both of them.
The biggest issue I see Google Fit facing in the future is continuity. Apple makes this simple (but also overly controlled) by making the Apple Watch itself. Google’s Android Wear with Google Fit is available for any OEM to base its wearables on, and with this variation in devices will come a variation in features. The auto-recognition feature is a perfect example: if you have a more affordable Android Wear smartwatch, does that mean you should have to compromise on how you can use it? Hardware restrictions are one thing—you shouldn’t purchase a smartwatch without a heart rate monitor if you plan on doing heart-rate zone training—but with a feature like auto-recognition, anyone with any device should be able to use it, even if it uses a lot of battery life.
In the future, I hope Google will stop fragment features in this way because it makes it harder for customers to buy an Android Wear device and know exactly what they’re getting in terms of fitness. Overall, I would only recommend the LG Style Watch to those who truly find that it fits their fashion sense—otherwise, it’s too expensive for what it offers. Android Wear 2.0 will be pushed to many existing devices soon, and anyone interested in the new OS and Google Fit can check out the existing options, many of which are more stylish and more capable than the LG Style. Hopefully we’ll see better Android Wear devices in the near future, and hopefully they’ll be better tailored to the new Google Fit.