In tech circles, 2014 was predicted to be the year of wearables. While it wasn’t quite the wearable tech saturated year that some were expecting, every tech company worth their salt either released or announced (we’re looking at you Apple) their answer to the new wearable tech product category.
LG was no different and released not 1 but 2 smartwatches this year, the LG G Watch and the LG G Watch R. The main difference between these 2 devices is the design, the “R” in the second of the 2 LG smartwatches stands for round. Yes ladies and gentlemen, the LG G Watch R has a round screen.
When smartwatches were first announced, the design was very utilitarian. Very sparse looking devices with square screens that didn’t really look like a watch and that might be one of the reasons why the wearable tech, and specifically the smartwatch category, remains such a niche market.
The Moto 360 was the first smartwatch to change that by bring a round display, the one issue that most people had though is that the display wasn’t completely round. Motorola, in order to keep the bezel as slim as possible, had placed the sensors at the bottom of the watch’s screen, thereby leading to what many people refer to as the “flat tyre” effect.
LG decided that they could (and would) make the world’s first smartwatch with a truly round screen, thus the LG G Watch R was born. I have to admit, I’m not much of a watch person. I’ve gone years without wearing a watch. Whenever I needed to check the time, I’d just check one of the many electronic devices that I always carried around with me, the G Watch R kind of changed that for me. Now I’m glancing at the G Watch R more than I’m checking my phone (something that I thought would never happen). The problem with that is that even though wearables are meant to be less obtrusive in our lives, we associate people constantly looking at their watch as being in a hurry, not as someone checking notifications, doing a quick Google search or setting a reminder. That’s part of the problem that wearble tech faces with trying to introduce this still new product category to the masses. How do you change perception and behavior that’s ingrained in us over time? How does technology become more familiar, less obtrusive and more useful?
Part of that lies in design.
When introducing something new to the market, give people something they can relate to, something familiar. That’s exactly what LG did with the G Watch R.
At first glance, it doesn’t look like a smartwatch at all, it looks like a regular watch.
I’ve had so many people commenting on the beautiful watch that I was wearing only for them to be flabbergasted when I told them that the watch was actually a smartwatch made by LG, this lead to the now inevitable demonstration of what the watch could do and people grabbing my wrist so that they could talk to the device (I can only imagine the confused looks on the faces of passersby as they saw people speaking into my wrist).
The LG G Watch R is a beautiful, if somewhat sporty, watch with a metal ring around the P-OLED (plastic OLED) display and a genuine leather watch strap, all in black. On the underside of the watch is a heart rate monitor and the connector pins for the charging dock. The G Watch R is dust and water resistant, with an IP67 rating, which is super handy because having to take your watch off every time you wash your hands would be a nuisance.
LG opted to put a 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor under the hood as well as 4GB storage, 512MB RAM and a 410mAh battery. It also runs on Google’s Android Wear operating system, and that’s where our minor quibbles come in. Google has proven that they can push out incredibly intelligent operating systems yet Android Wear does not seem to measure up to the capabilities of Android.
“Well, it’s a smartwatch not a smartphone” you might argue, and granted, you’d have a point, but why include the option for me to start playing music that’s on my Android phone by using my watch but give me no controls? No way to skip tracks or for me to adjust volume? That makes absolutely no sense. And on the topic of music, with 4GB of storage space, the LG G Watch R is meant to allow music downloads to the device so that you can listen to music via a Bluetooth headset and leave your phone at home (when you go running for example) but Google Play Music does not allow the download of music to Android Wear devices in South Africa, thereby limiting some of the watch’s functionality. Shame on you Google.
Another thing that we don’t like is that google pretty much buried the menu in Android Wear devices and makes options like changing watch faces and switching the device off, far more cumbersome than it needs to be. We did find and app that makes access to the menu slightly easier AND allows music controls, but these are things that should not come from a 3rd party app.
OS issues aside though, the LG G Watch R is a fairly easy device to use. It connects to your phone via Bluetooth, so as with many smartwaches, its functionality is fairly limited when not paired with your Android phone.
While the watch is beautiful in design, the style might not appeal to some people purely because of the sporty look. If you’re used to the G Shock watch range and to more sporty looking devices, then this smartwtach is definitely something up your alley, if however you prefer a simpler, more classic design then while I’d still suggest that you try out the G Watch R, this might not be the watch for you purely based on personal design taste.
The one issue that I had with the design of the watch is the area above and below the bezel where the watch strap connects. I know that this is where the microphone is housed but it does make the watch a little bit more chunky than I’d like it to be and for people with small wrists like me, this makes the watch look bigger than it needs to be. A few people have also commented on the stiffness of the leather watch strap that comes with the device, saying that it’s too stiff and while the leather doesn’t appear to be as supple as on other watches, I don’t have an issue with it, it makes the watch feel more resilient to me. The nice thing is that the watch strap is interchangeable with the strap of any normal, non-smart watch.
Speaking of resilient, the G Watch R also has quite an impressive battery life. I’ve been able to get just over 2 and a half days of use on a single charge. Charging the device itself is also fairly easy. The G Watch R does not use induction charging (which would have been nice for anyone who already has a wireless charger) but instead uses a charging dock which magnetically attaches to the back of the watch and is then powered by a standard micro-USB charging cable. I normally plug my watch in at night, but on the odd occasion I’ve had to plug the watch in during the day, it’s taken less than 90 minutes to go from completely dead to a 100% charge.
Overall the G Watch R is one of the best smartwatches we’ve seen so far (so good that friends with smartwatches from other manufacturers have even covered their smartwatch bearing wrists after seeing the G Watch R) and it’s definitely something we’d buy.
Having said that, the smartwtach is still a very niche product and it’s clearly still in its infant stage. The hardware of these devices right now is outclassing the software however at the speed that Google has been pushing out updates to Android Wear, we see this changing in the not too distant future.
Smartwatches are a nice to have, not a need to have, but should you decide to go for one, make sure that you do your research first. Not every smartwatch runs Android Wear and not every smartwatch is compatible with all Android devices (the G Watch R is).
Design is also going to factor heavily into the decision of whether or not to purchase a wearable device, so if the sporty look of the G Watch R isn’t for you, then check out the original LG G Watch, either way you can’t go wrong.
The LG G Watch R and LG G Watch are available at LG Lifestyle stores and networks across the country.
LG G Watch R specs at a glance:
Chipset: 1.2GHz Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 400
Display: 1.3-inch P-OLED Display (320 x 320)
Memory: 4GB eMMC / 512MB RAM
Operating System: Android Wear™ (compatible with smartphones running Android 4.3 and above)