Update

LG G Watch R review: Even at $300, it's the best Android Wear watch available today

g watch r beauty best
Credit: Jon Phillips
At a Glance
  • LG Electronics G Watch R

    Greenbot Rating

    If you're willing to pay a premium, the G Watch R will give you the best display, battery life and overall aesthetics in the rapidly advancing (but still not fully realized) Android Wear market.

Smartwatches like the LG G Watch R are probably best suited for skilled craftsmen. I’m talking ironworkers, car mechanics, plumbers, and stonemasons. These are the professions that make a man’s wrists buff and burly, and you’ll want the biggest wrist possible for a smartwatch this large. Still, if you have the bone and muscle density to pull it off, you’ll be rewarded with the best Android Wear watch available today.

Its size notwithstanding, the G Watch R has a look that sends all the right signals to sports watch traditionalists. Just as importantly, the R’s battery life easily beats that of the Moto 360, its direct Android Wear competitor. And there’s a lot to like about LG’s Plastic OLED display, too.

g watch r wrist3 Jason Cross

I’ve got a writer’s wrist. Your wrists may vary. Here we see the World Clock watch face.

Available for $300 at AT&T stores this Friday, the G Watch R is a hefty $50 more than the Moto 360, so fence sitters will face tough decisions on which watch to buy. But if the G Watch R’s aesthetics immediately sing to you, the choice is clear. Based on looks and performance alone, the G Watch R is the Android smartwatch to beat. 

A decidedly butch industrial design

Watch aesthetics are subjective. You may be looking for something more classic-luxe, but I’m a big fan of LG’s sporty-techy design. Some of LG’s watch faces makes the G Watch R look remarkably similar to a traditional analog chronograph, and only those Android Wear notifications at the bottom of the screen betray the R’s digital underpinning from 10 feet away.

That said, I’ll concede this isn’t a design for everyone. Absolutely nothing about the G Watch R is feminine. LG employs big, chunky lugs for its strap attachment points, and while this flourish might send all the right emotional signals to many watch enthusiasts, the lugs also add to the watch’s overall bulk. Measured edge-to-edge horizontally, the R is just a smidgen wider than 1.75 inches, the diameter of the Moto 360. But measuring the watch vertically, from lug to lug, the G Watch R measures 2.25 inches.

g watch r crown Jason Cross

From lug to lug, the G Watch R measures 2.25 inches. People with especially small wrists need not apply.

I don’t find the dimensions overwhelming, and I have the wrists of a writer, not a construction worker. But some folks will inevitably find the G Watch R simply too large.

LG’s stainless steel case comes in an attractive if unremarkable flat black. The materials are solid and reassuring, but aren’t particularly interesting, and don’t exude hand-crafted elegance. This is especially true of the the bezel around the display, which includes notation for the 15, 30, and 45 minute marks.

Of bezels and straps

The bezel notation is a nice touch that helps you tell the time when your analog-style watch face is in its dim, ambient mode with only white hands displayed. The notation also supports the sports chronograph aesthetic. But, overall, the bezel falls short of anything you’d find on a true luxury watch. I’d like to see more visual interest in the hour notation (maybe a bit of embossing or debossing instead of simple printing), and even a rotating bezel like you’d see in a diving watch.

g watch r flat Jason Cross

The bezel notation adds a bit of visual interest, but I’d like to see even more. And, no, the angling of the bezel does not affect the watch’s ability to recognize finger swipes from the side of the display.

But, who knows, LG might want to discourage diving. The G Watch R has an IP67 rating, which means it can survive 30 minutes underwater—but only to a depth of one meter.

Like the Moto 360, the G Watch R has a black leather strap that can be replaced with any standard 22mm watch band you choose. Where Motorola’s strap bears the Horween trademark, LG simply calls its strap “calf skin leather.” It doesn’t smell as leathery as Motorola’s (yes, I check these things), nor is it quite as soft or supple. Still, while LG’s strap doesn’t ooze luxury, it’s far fancier than the rubber strap on the original G Watch, and far easier to put on than the maddening Samsung Gear Live strap.

g watch r genuine leather

It’s genuine calf skin leather, says LG, but somehow it doesn’t feel quite as luxurious as it should.

Best Android Wear display around

You have to have a round display. A round display screams luxury watch, while a rectangular display screams nerd watch—like one of those original LED watches from the 70s. Most of us thought the Moto 360 would deliver everything we wanted in a round display, but it turns out there are two significant drawbacks.

First, Motorola’s 1.56-inch IPS LCD display isn’t a full circle. It has a 320x290 resolution thanks to a sliver of non-existent pixels at the bottom of the screen. This is where Motorola hides its display circuitry. Second, the Moto 360’s ambient mode is rather dim—extremely difficult to read unless you’re in a dark environment.

Luckily for LG, the G Watch R suffers neither problem.

g watch r and moto360 Jason Cross

LG’s display is slightly smaller, but it doesn’t suffer from Motorola’s strip of missing pixels.

The R has a 1.3-inch, 320x320 Plastic OLED display. Like the Moto 360 display, it’s relatively easy to read in direct sunlight, fixing a horrendous problem suffered by the original G Watch. But unlike the Moto 360, the G Watch R’s display—proprietary LG technology—completes a full circle. LG opted to place its display circuitry elsewhere in the packaging, leading to a slightly smaller screen, and a slightly bulkier case.

But I prefer the compromise, as the Moto 360’s dead space does bother me a bit. And this is really important: The G Watch R is significantly brighter than the Moto 360 in ambient mode.

g watch r cropped Jon Phillips

Notice how the very last line of the context card is nipped off on the far left and right.

I really have only two gripes with the G Watch R display experience: There’s no ambient light sensor (which would allow for an auto-brightness setting), and the very last lines of text in Android Wear’s context cards get trimmed off by the curvature of LG’s display. Hopefully the text-snipping issue will be fixed with a software update, but even it’s not, I won’t grumble. This display is a winner, and it appears to be kind to battery life, as well.

All-day battery life

It’s difficult to conduct empirical battery testing on a smartwatch. Ars Technica probably has the most scientifically defensible battery testing approach, but my methods are much less advanced. I simply used the G Watch R for two days straight, hitting its display frequently, just as one does when playing with any new tech toy. My results were encouraging: The G Watch R’s battery appears to have more than enough capacity to make it through a day of normal use.

I put the R on my wrist at 5:40 a.m. on Saturday morning (don’t ask). By the time I put it back in its charger at 10:04 p.m.—more than 16 hours later—it had 42 percent battery capacity. On Sunday morning, I started using the watch at 7:00 a.m. When it went back in its cradle at 10:15 p.m., after a much heavier day of use, it still had 21 percent remaining. Now, keep in mind, all of this testing was conducted with Android Wear’s black-and-white ambient mode turned on. Toggling on the “always on” watchface kills battery life in the Moto 360, and is a major reason why we gave Motorola’s watch such a bad review.

g watch r back Jason Cross

When it comes time to recharge, you’ll plop the back of the G Watch R in its simple charging cradle. It’s painless and uneventful.

Yet, the G Watch R was able to withstand the punishment of ambient mode, and battery life should last even longer when I begin using the watch as a normal smartwatch, and not a constantly engaged test subject. It’s important to note the G Watch R has a relatively modern 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, whereas the Moto 360 has a 4-year-old (and certainly less efficient) TI OMAP3630 chip.

Toss in a larger battery capacity (410mAh for LG; 320mAh for Motorola), along with a special “power save mode” when the P-OLED display is running in ambient mode, and you have the makings of a tenable all-day affair. Granted, we really shouldn’t be celebrating just a single reliable day of battery life. But this is 2014, and battery tech remains the biggest challenge facing all wearable devices.

g watch r charger Jason Cross

The charging cradle is magnetic, making seating just a wee bit easier.

Wonky step and altitude data

The G Watch R comes with 18 watchfaces, and a number of them include digital versions of complications you might find in a high-end chronograph. One face shows the current moon phase, while another renders the current time, plus two world clocks. My favorite face is called Hiking. It displays your current step count and altitude, but while it looks great, and hints at the awesome potential of smartwatches, LG’s performance let me down.

On my first day of testing, the G Watch R step count was completely divorced from reality. I spent a good portion of the day on my feet, and finished with 15,705 steps according to my Jawbone UP24. But the G Watch R only recorded 5,540 steps, a preposterous under-tallying, during the exact same period. Numbers were much more consistent by end-of-day Sunday, with the UP24 logging 8,676 and the G Watch R reporting 8,385. Still, the disparity of the previous day remains troubling.

g watch r spooky 2 Jon Phillips

Don’t trust that Altitude dial on the right.

Then there’s the watch’s altitude reporting, which keys into a built-in barometer, and is an “estimated value based on atmospheric pressure at current location.” On two consecutive days, I hiked to the very top of Mount Davidson. On Saturday, it showed a maximum elevation of 263 feet. On Sunday, the watch reported 282 feet at the exact same spot. The difference between the two recordings isn’t that alarming. I’m much more concerned by the fact that Mount Davidson summits at 928 feet.

On the plus side, the watch’s built-in heart rate monitor was notably consistent with numbers reported by LG’s Heart Rate Earphones, a great new gadget that delivers the accuracy of a chest-strap heart rate monitor. Of course, you can’t get an accurate reading during exercise; instead you have to stop working out, and keep your wrist perfectly still. But as you can see from the photo below, when I stopped to check my BPM in the middle of an elliptical machine session, the watch reported the exact same number as LG’s Earphones.

lg heart rates Jon Phillips

Notice how the G Watch R reports the same 126 beats per minute as LG’s Heart Rate Earphones (here displayed on a smartphone app).

LG could really complete its quantified-self promise by finally making a Wear app for the heart-rate earphones: I want real-time and continuous heart-rate numbers on my wrist. Fixing those broken step counts wouldn’t hurt either. Oh, and as long as it’s updating its firmware, LG should also work on a fix for the G Watch R’s turn-wrist-to-wake gesture. System operation was generally trouble-free, and I never once lost my smartphone Bluetooth connection during three days of testing. Still, it’s a pain in the ass when the watch won’t wake with a flick of the wrist.

The bottom line

Small quibbles aside, I think I’ve finally found an Android Wear watch that I’m willing to slap on my wrist every day. It doesn’t have the luxury build quality of my TAG Heuer Formula 1. And lacking mechanical movements, it doesn’t feel like it “has the hand of people in it.”

But Android Wear is an incredibly useful OS if you’re already vested in Google Now and the rest of the Google universe—the system’s notifications and context streams really can add new convenience to life. The G Watch R delivers all of this in a reasonably attractive package that’s reasonably easy to read and lasts for a reasonably long time. It certainly won’t be the best Android Wear watch we’ll ever see, because Google’s platform is still so immature, and we all want more than just reasonably good performance.

g watch r ambient Jon Phillips

The G Watch R’s black-and-white ambient mode is relatively bright—another nice perk in an all-around solid watch.

Still, the G Watch R moves Android Wear ever-so-closer to the enchanting productivity and lifestyle promises that Google made at its I/O developer’s conference this year. At $300, the watch costs far less than a true analog luxury watch (I personally peg that threshold at $550), and instead lands firmly in the “pretty expensive for yet another mobile gadget on my person” territory.

It’s laden with a price tag that discourages impulses buys, but if you’re absolutely certain you want an Android Wear watch, and dig LG’s design, I recommend the G Watch R. On the flip side, if you’re hemming and hawing, play it safe: Wait to read our review of Sony’s Smartwatch 3, which is just around the corner. It doesn’t have a round display, and nothing about its aesthetics immediately strike an emotional chord in me. But Sony’s model costs just $250 and has onboard GPS—and that’s a feature none of the existing Wear watches can add in a software update.

You can read my initial first impression of the G Watch R here.

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At a Glance
  • Greenbot Rating

    If you're willing to pay a premium, the G Watch R will give you the best display, battery life and overall aesthetics in the rapidly advancing (but still not fully realized) Android Wear market.

    Pros

    • Great battery life (for an Android Wear watch)
    • Sharp aesthetics (assuming you like manly chronographs)
    • Best, brightest display in its category.

    Cons

    • More expensive than the competition.
    • Big, chunky, potentially polarizing design.
    • Dubious step and altitude data.
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