Wearables are taking over and since Google introduced the Android Wear platform there have been new entrants into the space every few months. One of the most highly anticipated wearables was the LG G Watch R which became fully available at the beginning of December. Well we got one so now we’re going to give you a full review so you’ll be able to make up your mind if this is the wearable for you.
For starters, I’ve been using the LG G R as my daily watch for almost two weeks to get a full feel of how it works and what you can expect with actual normal use. At the beginning of week two Google pushed out an update for Android wear from software version 4.4w.2 to 5.0.1 which made a big difference in the experience and added a lot to the watch which made a great piece of tech even better. I’ve also had the LG G Watch R paired to a Nexus 5 running Lollipop 5.0. I have 4 e-mail accounts synced, plus Instagram and Twitter along with Google Now and Google Fit.
From the moment you get the box the watch comes in, you feel like you purchased a – watch, not just a piece of tech gear. The box is a nice sleek black with silver accents. Once you open the box you see the large round watch face surrounded by the (non-functional) tachometer which gives the appearance of a high-profile watch. Inside the box is also the charging cradle, and charging cables, unfortunately LG decided to go with a proprietary 4-pin charging cradle instead of a Qi charger like the Moto 360. Luckily the cradle connects directly to your standard micro-usb so you can use your regular phone charging cords.
The watch itself is very solid build quality and about the size and weight of any metal large face watch (that isn’t a smart watch). The watch body is black, and the band is a standard black leather. The watch clasp is metal and ties everything together nicely. Te band and clasp are pretty run of the mill that can and probably will be replaced by most users. Changing the watch band isn’t nearly as challenging as replacing watch bands on some of the other Android Wear devices out there because LG kindly decided to use a standard 22mm band connection.
I haven’t worn a watch for a while so wearing the LG G Watch R was a bit foreign at first, not because of the device but because I was actually wearing a watch again. After wearing it for two weeks and adjusting to actually having a watch on now I feel weird not wearing it. If you haven’t worn a large face watch before, you’re going to have a little bit more to get used to just due to the size of the body and face of the watch. It’s not overwhelming and it’s not too large, it just isn’t a small face or body by any means.
Initially I was concerned about the faux tachometer around the screen thinking it would get in the way. Honestly it doesn’t it actually gives you a nice feel of where your swipe should begin and end without making it feel limited. The subtle but important benefit of the bezel is that it also protects the screen, you don’t have to worry if you put your watch face down (accidentally) or wear it on the inside of your arm instead of facing outwards.
LG packed a lot into the G Watch R, and they didn’t cheap out on anything which makes the investment in this watch ($299.99 currently) feel worth it. The screen is a 1.3″ P-OLED display (320 x 320 pixels), initially I was concerned about how the screen was going to feel and respond in contrast to more traditional glass displays, but honestly the P-OLED is great. The screen doesn’t feel cheap or “plasticey” and you probably wouldn’t know it’s not glass if someone didn’t tell you. The display is really solid, the colors are vibrant and bright, both in low light and direct light situations. I haven’t had any problem reading the screen even outside in the sun. I have noticed that since the update to 5.0.1 that the screen seems brighter than it did on the previous build. The LG G Watch R is also very responsive to the touch and I’ve only experienced a few stutters or miss triggers but those were software specific and had nothing to do with the hardware.
The G Watch R is running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.2 GHz processor, which is extremely powerful and very good at power management and consumption, especially in comparison the Motorola 360 which is powered by an older smartphone class processor. The OS is very snappy, swiping through the Google Now cards is very fluid and opening notifications or apps doesn’t lag at all. You can tell the OS and apps are no match for the processor which is really good, because the last thing you want is to have your “Watch” freeze or have hiccups.
The watch also houses 9-Axis accelerometer, barometer, and PPG (heart rate sensor). The watch easily notices movements and changes in positioning, so if you’re using the “tilt to wake” feature it will easily pick up the subtle motion of turning your wrist so you won’t have to over exaggerate the motion to get the screen to turn on. The heart rate sensor is located on the underside of the watch and needs to have direct contact with the skin in order to work. It is pretty consistent and generally accurate so you should feel comfortable using it to check your resting and active heart rate. I wouldn’t trust it if you had a heart condition that needed monitoring, but then again it’s not a medical device and isn’t marketed as one.
Last up is the ever important battery, which is rated at 410 mAh. The battery size and processor work really well together, and I can say that I’ve never been concerned about running out of power. For the first week on 4.4W.2 I ran the watch with the screen always on and was consistently getting 40 hours of use before the watch would power down. When I ran the watch with the screen off until activated I was getting almost 3 days of use without it powering down. Since the update to 5.0.1 The battery life has actually gotten better and Google seems to have snuck in some additional power managing features. On 5.0.1 if you have the screen always on, when your battery hits 15% it automatically switches the screen off so you have to tap to wake it. This is similar to how the OS works on phones and tablets but is great on the watch because it helps extend the batter a lot longer. With this new feature and other under the hood improvements I’ve been experiencing close to 48 hours of life with the screen always on. For anyone who was concerned about earlier Android Wear battery life, the LG G Watch R does not have any of the problems earlier devices.
Android Wear, while in its infancy is a very solid and stable platform, mostly because it’s built on the same backbone as regular Android. The way that it handles notifications is similar to regular Android. There are cards that pop up when you get an e-mail, or text, or any notification. The cards slide up from the bottom and can be easily ready at a glance or dismissed by swiping to the right. If you want to see more of the notification , you can swipe the card up or tap on it.
When you tap on the screen you trigger the voice activation feature baked in to Android which allows you to search, text, or open apps just like using the voice functions on your phone. The voice detection is pretty accurate when texting or messaging directly through the watch, I’ve only experienced a few instances where it got something wrong. If you want to access additional functions or apps, instead of using the voice control you can swipe up to bring up a full menu where you can access settings, features and apps.
I’m not going to identify all the differences in performance and features between Android Wear 4.4w.2 and 5.0.1 but there are quite a few. The biggest difference between the original software and the new lollipop update are on the inside of the system, how it handles task management and power saving features. Yes there are new watch faces, yes there is now a quick menu and modified notification settings, and yes things seem a bit more polished. Overall the update to 5.0.1 has made the device that much better.
Considering we’re in the early phases of the Android wear platform, LG has really pulled out all the stops in the development of the G Watch R to make it a great device that shows off what the platform can do. From a hardware perspective the only thing I would have wanted to see different would be wireless charging, and an on-board GPS so you can track runs or hikes without needing your phone for positioning information. From a look and feel side, everything is great and feels high quality, I would have potentially made the bezel useful and made it a real tachometer instead of just a place holder but that is just nit picky. Overall having Android built into a watch is a really good fit and I have no complaints about the performance of software and its only going to get better.
If you’re debating getting a smart watch this year and are not sure which one to get. I would definitely recommend the LG G Watch R, even though it costs more than the competitors right now, it feels like it should and is well worth it.