LG G Watch R: The best Android Wear smartwatch (review)

I have been wearing the LG G Watch R for the past 2 months each and every day. I have gathered a lot of pros and cons about this wearable. A smartwatch should be smart, but at the same time, it should be a watch as well.

The G Watch R does a great job as a watch. Whether you like the looks is totally up to you, but form far away (and with an appropriate watch face), it gets mistaken for a regular watch all the time (until a notification comes in). I prefer the more futuristic and unique design of the Moto 360, but it still isn’t available to buy in my country. The rugged design helps with the durability a ton. Even though the display glass is not some sort of Gorilla Glass. Because the display is sunk into the bezel it is well protected and still scratch-free. One thing I can say for sure is that having a display instead of an analog dials makes this watch much more customizable. You can make it look really sporty and casual or wear it with a suit. The relatively easily changeable standard 22 mm strap also helps.

Speaking of the display, it is really good. The resolution, color accuracy and responsiveness are not perfect, but good for a watch. This is probably the best display on an Android Wear device. And of course, having fully circular shape helps with the aesthetics, but I would prefer a square display. Majority of watch faces looks good on a circular display, but functionality is seriously affected. Unlike watch faces, apps and square notification cards do not work properly on a round display. If you want to see more than the first couple of words from a notification, you have to look at the whole card to see something useful, and even then it looks weird because you are presented with a square card on a round display. There is a reason why we don’t use round paper sheets and computer monitors. If you do not trust me, cut out a round sheet of paper and try to write or doodle onto it. It just isn’t right. The same thing applies for watches. It is fine for analog (or even digital) dials, which do not do anything else than telling the time, but you want a smartwatch because it can do more than a standard watch.

Okay, but what about performance. Again, it is okay for what it is, but it has a relatively powerful processor and enough memory to run silky smooth. The problem is, it doesn’t. Sometimes animations drop frames, but that isn’t the biggest issue. The really disturbing fact is that Android Wear crashes frequently. These are not total freezes (usually), but minor glitches, which make the total experience feel less complete. Looking back, I think that there are more glitches in the newest Android Wear (based on Android 5.0.2) than there were on the previous version (based on 4.4.4). I have used a Nokia Lumia 530 just as an experiment which has less powerful specs and more performance hungry display, but all the animations were much smoother on the Nokia. This proves, that hardware isn’t the problem, the software is. A 100 $ Windows Phone can do much more, with worse specs, and maintain better performance and stability than a 300 $ smartwatch. That’s a serious problem.

I would also talk about comfort, but there isn’t much to say. It feels just like a regular watch and if you are used to wearing a watch, you will forget it’s there.

The most frequently asked question I get is about battery life. The answer is pretty simple: 1 day with very heavy usage, 2 days of normal use, and 4 days with very little notifications and no interaction. The charging from 0 to full takes about 60 minutes and is effortless because of the simple magnetic charging cradle (which plugs into a regular micro-USB cable).

Even though many people think that having a tiny computer on your wrist is useless, I can reassure you that it comes in handy from time to time. Especially the ability to Google anything without having to pull your phone out of your pocket is super useful. Not just searching for facts, but quick unit conversion or calculation are not the only important features.

Looking back, I can say that my habits have changed. I do not check my phone every minute, it is always in silent mode, and I delete all useless emails right from my wrist. I do not reply to emails individually (unless it’s a short message and I can dictate the reply), but I wait till a few mails need attention and then I reply to all of them at once. Even though, the developer adoption has been slower than I would like, I am really happy to see that all the major messaging apps (like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp) support voice reply.

The thing holding this device (and all smartwatches) back right now are developers. Not only 3rd party, but in this case also Google itself. Basic features should be built-in and the OS shouldn’t crash every time you try to do something. The ability to download and change watch faces is essential and should have been there from the beginning. Right now, Android Wear is really basic. There are a few apps in the Play Store which show that there is potential and wearables can add to the smartphone experience, but more developers have to get on-board. They also need to realize, that smartwatch is not a smartphone with a smaller display, but something totally different. Software and apps should reflect that.

When it comes to the final decision, should you buy an Android Wear smartwatch or not? I would say wait for Android 6.0 which should bring more improvements on the Wear side as well. The hardware is close to perfect. It is at least good. The software is the thing stopping the device. All the reviews seem to say that, but I didn’t believe. The idea is right. The card interface and integration with Google Now and voice recognition is great on a wearable device. Smartwatch should provide you with glance able information and it almost does that. The real issue is not the idea, it is the execution. Frequent crashes and not enough apps (and lack of essential built-in features like find my phone) make this a difficult recommendation for the general consumer. If you want a smartwatch, this one is probably one of the best ones on the market right now. That is one of the reasons why I didn’t went with the Moto 360. The newer processor in the G Watch should make it slightly more future-proof.

With that said, Apple Watch will be released in less than a month, so I would wait for that. There is also the new Pebble Time (compatible with both iPhones and Android phones) with 7 day battery life and a new color screen.

At first I was a little bit skeptical about the Apple Watch, mainly because of the software, but as the release date nears, it seems like Apple knows what it’s doing. The most important fact is that they are not trying to make a smartwatch with a round display. Square (or rectangle) makes much more sense. To offset the nerdy look, Apple went with premium materials and a range of easily interchangeable straps. One detail which I really like is that the screen is totally dark when not lit, so it blends with the bezels. The software also takes advantage of this and it makes it look like the whole front surface is a display. In the Android Wear world, watches have huge ugly visible bezels (Asus ZenWatch) or edge to edge displays which have a visible “flat tire” at the bottom to house some of the display components (Moto 360).

My hope is that Google fixes most of the bugs as soon as possible, adds at least some of the essential features, and last but not least, encourages developers to optimize their notifications and apps for wearables…

If you want to know, why I decided to buy the LG G Watch R as my first smartwatch, you can read my second article here.

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