Smartwatches started off square, but now they’re finally taking on a more watch-like design, with circles back in. Motorola got their first, but LG’s is totally circular with no part of the screen cut off, and that makes it the most circular smartwatch to date. Is it also the best?
It hasn’t been long since LG’s G Watch was first released in Australia, and yet here we are with another, this time with a look more like that of the traditional wristwatch: circular.
Beyond the shape, technology-wise, LG’s G Watch R is very similar to the regular G Watch, with more or less identical technology under the hood.
You’ll find a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor clocked at 1.2GHz underneath, working alongside 4GB storage and 512MB RAM, with Google’s Android Wear running on this system.
With Google’s Android Wear used, a Google Android phone is required to use the G Watch R, connecting to the phone by way of Bluetooth.
Several sensors are included in the package, with a nine axis module supporting gyroscope, accelerometer, and compass, as well as a barometer. Depending on the watch face, these sensors can be used in the design to make the smartwatch look and respond more like a sports and adventurer watch.
A heart rate sensor has also been included in this smartwatch, utilising the green light optical technology seen on a few smartphones, which is apparently a photoplethymography sensor.
Resistance to the elements is also included, with IP67 certification, making it dust-proof and water resistant, generally up to a metre of liquid immersion.
The screen is where all the action happens, though, and here it’s a very different beast to the original G Watch, with a 1.3 inch plastic OLED display (P-OLED), cut into a circle and running a slightly higher resolution of 320×320.
Under everything is the battery, which is rated for 410mAh.
The strap is made of leather, and while there won’t be a metal band released by LG, we’re assured that the band connections are made to accommodate generic bands, and that you can therefore use whatever band you prefer.
When you set your eyes upon the G Watch R for the first time, it’s clear you’re not in Kansas anymore.
No longer do you have to settle for a square or rectangular screen, because the G Watch R is pretty much a circle, and one kept in place by a piece if metal. For this smartwatch, there’s an aluminium frame with numbers in place at each quarter and strokes in the remaining areas.
It’s a look reminiscent of slightly sporty and luxury watches, and it’s simple enough to work for LG, especially since you can load pretty much any face into a smartwatch and change it for a given day or activity.
Connecting this watch to your wrist is a piece of leather that is much thicker than we expected. It will take some time to break this in, that much we can tell you, and while it seems overly thick in the beginning, the strap grows on you.
We’d prefer an option for metal, but this is one LG won’t be supplying, with representatives for LG telling GadgetGuy that the company isn’t looking at supplying different bands at this time, but that the watch band in use was a standard measurement, and therefore could really be replaced by anyone.
Get to using the G Watch R and if you’ve ever tried an Android Wear device, you’ll be in familiar territory as very little has changed.
If you haven’t, it’s all new regardless, and you’ll want to get yourself used to gestures of swiping left, right, up and down as you move through the menus.
There aren’t many menus, mind you, so don’t get too fussed about this, as for the most part, you’ll be flicking up or down on the touchscreen with your finger as you scroll through the various notifications that pop up.
A new email comes up with a small preview: swipe one way to open it on your phone, or swipe the other and have it disappear from the notification queue.
If someone phones you, you can swipe in either direction — left or right again — to hang up or pick up, the latter of which will send the call to your phone, which is probably in your pocket and now should be out, in your hand, and ready to be used.
And you can always touch the screen in the top right to force Google to listen to you, speaking aloud your orders to the watch, which will communicate them to the phone, translate them, and maybe even do them.
Just like in the first Android Wear watch we took a look at — LG’s G Watch — you can phone people, send text messages, take a note, set reminders, and let the navigation take you places, though for all of these, you’ll want to be using Google Now more frequently on the device, as well as let the phone and Google talk to your list of contacts, otherwise it has a hard time working out who you’re talking about.
Voice translation is still doing an acceptable job, though we’ve had some very odd text messages sent through, and a few errant phone calls that we’ve stopped quickly due to names being similar, and Google’s engine not quite providing enough time to let you get in there for a change.
The battery, at least, is relatively surprising, offering around two days of use for those just using the watch as a light to moderate use smartwatch, and a little over a day for anything else.
We’d probably put the watch on its magnetic charger every day, but that’s us. Still, we found two days was likely in our tests, putting the slightly larger 410mAh battery on par with the 400mAh battery found in the square G Watch.
Overall, though, it’s still an interesting concept, and one that is made even better due to the circular face, which helps make this gadget feel more like what it’s supposed to be — a watch — and less like a random bit of technology you just happen to be wearing because you like being at the forefront of tech.
But beyond the voice translation wobbles, there are other things that concern us, such as the screen, which is made from a plastic OLED panel that doesn’t appear to be protected by Gorilla Glass.
Interestingly, the original G Watch was, but this one doesn’t have the look of glass protecting the plastic screen, and LG hasn’t yet come back to us on if strengthened glass is being used on this model, making us a little concerned.
This might be fine in the long run, and we haven’t gone out of our way to damage the display, but we’d also sleep easier if we knew for sure that mineral strengthened glass was protecting the screen, especially since watches get damaged so easily.
The paint on the aluminium body appears to wear away faster than we’re expecting, also.
Wearing it for five days, we already have some of the black paint and its Physical Vapour Deposition coating or “PVD” wearing away (above), revealing a different colour underneath. That isn’t a good start, and makes us wonder what the watch will look like a year from now.
There’s also no automatic brightness, and there really needs to be.
On the LG G Watch R, you’ll have settings one through six for brightness control, but if you leave it at three — you know, balanced and in the middle — it won’t change automatically if you’re in a super-bright place to six, so you can see the screen. Rather, it’ll stay at six.
And if you set it to six and you need to check your watch in the middle of a darkened movie theatre or in the middle of the night at home, there’s no automatic brightness sensor to pick up on the lack of light and decide on the lowest brightness, blinding you with light instead.
This lack of a sensor has meant that LG gets to use the entire circular display, beating out Motorola’s 360, which looks like a circle, but cuts off a slither off the bottom to accommodate these sensors.
We’re not sure which we’d choose to be honest: on the one hand, we like the full circle, as this really looks like a watch, but on the other hand, that automatic brightness would sure be appreciated.
LG has also added a crown to this watch — you know, the little button and peg on the side of the frame — and it helps give off the impression that this is a real watch, except for one thing: it doesn’t really do much.
You can press it in to activate the home button, and it turns in its spot like a regular watch, but the turning does nothing.
It almost feels like it should, like the turning up and down should scroll through a list, but it doesn’t.
It does also serve as a restart mechanism, as you can hold the button down for a good five seconds or so, feel the G Watch R vibrate madly, and keep holding for a force restart. Given that Android Wear does crash some of the time, this is one of those things you may want to know.
But we wish the crown did more, and that’s a problem that continues with the rest of the handset.
While the new circular design might have made the LG G Watch into something easily more fashionable, the watch is still kind of a second screen for your phone, displaying messages on your wrist, phone calls, navigation instructions, footstep calculation (pedometer), and letting you send text messages or call and answer from your wrist, sending the actual phone call not to that wrist watch — you’d look silly answering it, we know — but rather to the phone.
All the watch really does is provide a second screen for your phone, and we’re not sure that’s enough. LG has, at least, added a heart rate monitor to the mix, great for those of you keen to see what your heart is doing, but that’s kind of it.
That’s more a fault of Android Wear, mind you, and not of LG, as Android Wear only does so much and Google doesn’t let you fiddle too much with the software.
But give it time and it could do more, providing more than just a second screen and a persuasion to stop you from checking your phone all those times, keeping battery life up in your pocket and letting your wrist watch do some of the heavy lifting.
LG’s G Watch R is easily one of the best reasons to try the technology and update your wrist ahead of time, providing a snazzy look with your phone’s notifications available on your arm without you needing to take that phone out of your pocket.
While we still don’t have a great reason to wear a smartwatch, this is a better starting point for the movement than the square and rectangular watches because this shape epitomises the look and feel of a watch.
It seems so simple, but circles make all the difference, and while we have no problem with our softened square G Watch (original) and square-like Pebble, the circle makes this gadget feel more like a watch than we’ve felt before.
We still need it to do more, but this is a much better start, and worth looking at if the whole idea of a smartwatch grabs you.