Hands on: LG’s round-faced G Watch R looks great (on men)

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BERLIN—It won’t beat the Moto 360 to retail, but LG’s G Watch R might be the circular smartwatch that tech enthusiasts—the male ones at least—are clamoring for during the holidays. 

As a technology company, LG is a rather subtle member of the premium brand club. It may not earn all the fanfare of Samsung’s franchise, and it may not have dominant marketshare. But it definitely understands product design.

The G Watch R is a perfect representation of LG’s design prowess, and it erases the embarrassment of the company’s first smartwatch effort. The R is a well-crafted device, and doesn’t feel bulky and uncomfortable like the original G Watch, which LG now describes as a reference device. In fact, the G Watch R looks like the closest thing to a real wristwatch that I’ve seen in the wearables scene.

A smart watch, a stylish accessory

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The LG G Watch R.

This is the kind of device that my boyfriend or father would wear on their wrists. It’s exceptionally stylish with its matte-black finish and genuine leather band, and from afar it really does resemble a high-end TAG Heuer or similar sports watch. LG said it spent two years looking at the way that men’s fashion and sport watches were designed before going to the drawing board with the G Watch R.

As our editor-in-chief Jon Phillips points out at the end of this video, the R’s strap lugs are a critical design element that help seal the deal.

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A heart-rate monitor resides on the back of the G Watch R.

Compared to the G Watch, the G Watch R is relatively light and unobtrusive. I still think it’s a bit big for a wrist the size of mine, but at least it doesn’t make my arm ache. I also appreciate that LG is sticking with a typical watch buckle rather than some of the other fastening mechanisms available. This makes it more comfortable to wear and easier to adjust. A slight tilt of the wrist is all you need to glance at your notifications on its 1.3-inch display.

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It’s morphin’ time? 

P-OLED is pretty darn good

My previous experience with LG’s P-OLED technology wasn’t positive, but it works for this device, and I’m glad to see that the company tapped into its existing resources for the niche wearables market. If nothing else, it shows that LG understands it needs to differentiate itself from the competition.

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That round part on the left is the P-OLED panel in its naked form. 

The P-OLED display is marketed as being visible in bright sunlight, but I didn’t get a chance to test this for myself. That said, LG says it offers a 100 percent color gamut and up to 300nit luminance. After five seconds, the watch will also go into ambient mode, which will dial down the device’s battery use from 130mW to 13mW—a significant difference, LG says, that will help the G Watch R stay powered-on for up to two days on a single charge. 

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The G Watch R’s screen brightness isn’t too bright or saturated. 

Despite its dignified aesthetic, LG still designed this watch for one particular demographic: men—men interested in a sporty design.

I’m a woman, and my biggest beef with the wearables market is that almost nothing is tailored to smaller wrists. I asked LG why the G Watch R wasn’t more gender-neutral, and a spokeperson could only offer that the company landed on a design that it believed would sell best. As the wearables market matures, however, LG hopes to develop products that cater to a wider spectrum of users. Luckily for the ladies, it’s still en vogue to wear a man’s watch, and you can also swap out the R’s stock strap for something else. Still, you’ll have to contend with the actual watch body, which skews decidedly butch.

Unfortunately, all of the watches I played with were in demo mode, so I couldn’t evaluate the software experience. But, hey, we’re talking about an Android Wear watch: They all pretty much offer the same UI. I did get a long glance at LG’s custom watch face, however, and I liked how realistic it looks. LG has done an admiral job in replicating the design of a mechanical watch. It also helps that LG’s on/off button looks like a traditional watch crown.

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It has a crown you can push and spin, just like on a regular watch. 

The LG G Watch R would have probably made more of a splash had it been announced at Google I/O, but then again this isn’t a watch for developers. It’s a device that will be marketed toward technology-loving, style-conscious consumers. Maybe Diane Von Furstenburg will ditch Google Glass and take a liking to Android Wear devices instead—at least then we’ll start seeing some watches designed for women.

The LG G Watch R will be available in late October.

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