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Monday, March 23, 2015

LG G Watch R Review

It seems that the hottest trend in the tech industry is wearables, specifically smart watches and fitness bands. While smart watches aren’t really all that new, the Big 2 namely, Google and Apple have started to take notice of the success of startup companies like Pebble which recently just sold a million of their smart watches. I actually own a Pebble which I also reviewed a several months ago. Since then, Pebble has made some improvements in their OS one among which is the announcement of a new model with a color screen called the Pebble Time. Unfortunately, my Pebble broke and while waiting for my free replacement (yes, they have excellent warranty and customer support) I got tempted into buying this LG G Watch R. Let’s see if I made the right decision.

1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
1.3-inch P-OLED Display (320 x 320)
4GB eMMC / 512MB RAM
Android Wear 
(compatible with smartphones running Android 4.3 and above)
9-Axis (Gyro/ Accelerometer/ Compass), Barometer, PPG
Dust and Water Resistant (IP67)

Looks and Style

It may be apparent that the G Watch R and the Pebble are worlds apart when it comes to style. The G Watch R looks more like a traditional sport watch like say a Suunto or a Casio G-Shock, while the Pebble really looks like a techies watch.  In my opinion both have their own charm. The G Watch R uses a colored  P-OLED display which allows it to display more information and better watch faces then the Pebbles e-ink display. One of my favorite features is to change the face to look like traditional watches. Fancy a Rolex, IWC or Omega? No problem. There are a lot of third party watch faces (like WatchMaker) to choose from. The body is made of stainless steel and has a black matte finish with a fix scale ring. It feels very sturdy and has quality finish. The included leather strap feels cheap and I replaced it immediately. I really wish LG included a better strap. Thankfully it uses standard 22mm so changing the strap is not a problem. Here are some of my favorite watch faces.

Casio G-Shock vs LG G Watch R vs Omega Seamaster GMT

Android Wear

The G Watch R runs on Google’s version of Android for wearables called Android Wear. While the latest updates have added much need features and better user interface, I find myself missing the simplistic Pebble OS. Don’t get me wrong. Android Wear has a lot more features but Pebble really nails it with a very simple easy-to-use OS. On a small screen, that’s what you really want. Simple things like handling of notifications and alerts are a mixed bag. For one, your app has to support Android Wear for it to work properly unlike Pebble which uses it’s own app to push notification. Some apps work better than others like WhatsApp which supports Wear and works better than Viber. At least with Google backing it up I’m sure it will have better improvements with every update.

Just long press and swipe to change watch faces

Google Now cards

Performance and Battery life

While the G Watch R is not the only Android Wear watch, others like the Motorola 360, Samsung Gear Live and the Asus Zen Watch are all great options. I have to say I almost got the 360 but based on other reviews it seems that the 360’s battery only lasts a day, which was a real deal breaker for me. While I’m used to the Pebble’s one-week battery life, I was able to find ways to maximize the G watches R’s battery. On a typical 12-hour usage, I had 67% left even after receiving about 30 to 40 notifications and keeping the screen on “always ON” mode. With the screen on “always ON” mode OFF I had about 87% left. Additionally, I was able to go on an out of town trip for three days with screen off and airplane mode at night, and I still had 35% left. All of these had the lowest brightness and using a black-and-white face to maximize the battery savings of an OLED screen. So to maximize battery life you’ll need to set it at the lowest brightness (which is actually still quite bright), turn off “screen always on”, use the tilt to wake feature, use a black and white watch face and turn on airplane mode at night before sleeping and you can easily get 2 days of use, maybe 3 if you don’t get that much notifications. Under the hood the watch actually has almost the same guts as a low end Android phone. It has a Snapdragon 400, 512MB RAM and 4GB of internal memory. Navigating around the device is very smooth and fluid with no lags at all. Sometimes touches are not registered and you’ll need to do it again, however most touchscreen devices have the same problems anyway. Dirty or oily fingers are usually the cause.  Additional features like heart rate monitoring and step counting are a mixed bag and not very accurate. I hope this is something that can be fixed in future updates.

Magnetic charger


It have to confess, I really miss my Pebble with its simplicity and week long battery life. But I’m glad I got this G Watch R. It really shows the future, which to me is that smart watches need to look and act like traditional watches. Having a colored circular display is really big selling attraction. Android Wear, while very usable, needs some more work but I’m sure it will improve over time. The biggest competition right now seems to be the soon-to-be released Apple watch but we still need to see how it works in real life, plus it only works with the iPhone. The dark horse is still Pebble, I actually pre-ordered the new Pebble Time but that will still arrive in a couple of months. I really wish Pebble used a circular display instead. For now the G Watch R will be on my wrist as my daily watch happily changing watch faces to suit my mood.

The Good:

Design and build quality
Circular OLED display
IP67 water and dust protection
Battery life (still best in class but not as long as Pebble)

The Bad:

Weak vibration motor
Proprietary charging dock
Heart rate and step counter sensor accuracy
Android Wear needs improvements