A tweak here and a tweak there. The mobile manufacturers are slowly honing in on better-looking Android Wear watches, and now the final, shipping version of the G Watch R has arrived in stainless-steel and leather flesh. I’ve been using LG’s Android Wear redux for the better half of a day, and I already think it wins first place in industrial design among the quartet of available Wear watches.
No, not because the R’s aesthetics are sublime. LG’s second Android Wear watch looks nice, but it’s not transcendent. The G Watch R is the best-looking Android Wear watch precisely because, well, it’s the one that looks most like a watch.
The most watchy-looking Wear watch available
Like the Moto 360, the G Watch R has a circular display that places the design aesthetic firmly in chronograph territory. But unlike Motorola’s watch, the R uses substantial, chunky lugs for its strap attachment points. It’s a much more traditional, watchy look than what Motorola delivers in the Moto 360 with its poorly integrated straps that jut out of nowhere.
And once you add in LG’s chronograph-style watch faces, with all their teched-out dials and digital complications, the G Watch R looks even more like a sports watch. Simply put, it’s the Android Wear watch that comes closest to looking like my everyday TAG Heuer Formula 1. The G Watch R comes with 18 different watch faces, and my favorite so far is the Hiking face, shown above, which has smaller dials that reveal your current steps and altitude (divined by monitoring atmospheric pressure care of a built-in barometer).
The G Watch R’s visibility in direct sunlight appears to be just as good as the Moto 360’s. This alone makes the new R better than the original LG G Watch, which is practically illegible outside, even on cloudy days. The G Watch R also has a fully circular display, whereas the Moto 360 has a little slice cut out of the bottom of its screen—an unusable black sliver, devoid of pixels entirely. Motorola took this approach to accommodate the 360’s display controller, whereas LG appears to place control circuitry around the display itself.
A complete circle, but not the biggest circle
The practical upshot is that the G Watch R has a more refined look, but in a smaller display with a wider bezel. LG’s 320x320 P-OLED measures 1.3 inches, while Motorola’s 320x290 IPS LCD measures 1.56 inches. And you know what? The Moto 360 display does look bigger, and that may mean something to anyone who obsesses over display and font size.
I’ll also note that the very last line of text on Android Wear’s context cards get slightly trimmed-off by the curve of LG’s display. Hopefully an update will fix this soon.
As far as the G Watch R’s fit and finish, it’s pleasant and inoffensive, but the Swiss have nothing to worry about for now. The black stainless steel case is sturdy, but doesn’t ooze luxury. The bezel has dial markings like a traditional rotating bezel used for event marking, but there’s no physical rotation at all.
The leather strap is comfortable, and is easy to take on and off, but somehow feels a bit too ordinary for the genuine leather article. Still, I’d say the same for Motorola’s leather strap. Is “entry-level leather” a thing? If it is, then I’d hazard that all the Android Wear hardware manufacturers are buying it up at commodity prices.
There’s a lot to like about the G Watch R, but I’m not yet ready to render my final verdict. I still need to spend more time with the OS experience and charging cradle, and, most importantly, battery life remains a mystery. Run time is critical to the Android Wear experience, so how long the G Watch R lasts on a single charge will be a major factor in its final review score.
Stay tuned while testing continues. In the meantime, please share your G Watch R questions in the comments below, or tweet them to @JonPhillipsSF.