LG is having another go at Android Wear, ditching the square screen for a round one this time and tweaking the formula a little bit. So what's it like?
I've gradually worked my way through the whole Android Wear crop, buying and owning a G Watch, Gear Live, Moto 360 and now the G Watch R. I have to say that unlike some, I actually didn't mind the design of the original G Watch - it felt a bit like a 'Nexus Watch'. Simple, purposeful and well suited to the job in hand. I started off with the black model but then bought (and still own) the gold edged model which has a white back and a white strap.
The G Watch R takes a very different approach to its predecessor. It shares the same plastic back with contacts for the lovely magnetic charging dock, but that's really where the similarities end! It has a chunky watch-style bezel, raised up from the face. It has a button on the side, in the style of a traditional watch crown, so unlike on the original G Watch you can turn the watch on without the aid of a dock. It still has a 22mm strap, but rather than an underwhelming silicone item, it's made out of high quality leather. The G-Watch R feels like a much better quality product than LG's first attempt, although this is reflected in the price.
The screen on the G Watch R is a 1.3" Full Circle P-OLED (Plastic-OLED) item. Yes full circle - there's no cutout at the bottom as seen on the Moto 360, but this has both positives and negatives. It looks better, no question, but it means once again there is no ambient light sensor. It actually doesn't matter as much as you might think, but more on that later.
Overall I think the design of the G Watch R is very successful. It's chunky but not too big (it's smaller than my Casio G-Shock for example) and it feels very well made courtesy of its metal construction. Alternative 22mm straps look very nice on the watch, i'm using a black metal mesh one as pictured.
G Shock, G Watch R and Moto 360.
The G Watch R specifications are as follows:
- OS: Android Wear
- Display: 1.3” Full Circle P-OLED
- Dimensions: 46.4 x 53.6 x 9.7 mm
- Weight: 62 g
- Battery: 410 mAh
- Processor: CPU Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 400, 1.2GHz
- Bluetooth: 4.0
- Storage: 4GB eMMC* (user available memory up to 3 GB)
- RAM: 512MB
- Sensors: 9-Axis (Gyro, Accelerometer, Compass), PPG (Heart rate monitor), Barometer
- Dust / Water Resistance: IP67
- Strap: Changeable (22mm)
Specifications don't vary massively between Android Wear devices, the main things to note are that the CPU is a current one (*cough* Motorola *cough) and the battery is a good size.
The G Watch is available to buy from MobileFun for £218.99, which makes it the most expensive Android Wear you can buy right now, with the G Watch (Square) coming in at £150, the Samsung Gear Live at £169, the Sony Smartwatch 3 at £189.99 and the Moto 360 at £199.99. The pricing on the Asus ZenWatch is still to be confirmed, but I suspect you won't get much change from £200.
Your first thoughts on the G Watch R might depend on whether you've used an Android Wear device before and if so, which one. As you take the device out of the box and hit the button on the side to turn it on, you're greeted by the Android boot logo on screen. If you've come from a Moto 360, the screen might feel a little claustrophobic at 1.3" vs 1.5". If you've come from either the 360 or the original G Watch, you'll be immediately struck by that P-OLED screen with it's impressive brightness and ultra dark blacks. If you've come from the Gear Live, then you'll be used to the OLED screen, but you'll be impressed by the general build of the device. Regardless of whether you've used any of the previous Android Wear devices or this is your first, I suspect you will be pleasantly surprised.
I won't cover the utility of Android Wear in general in this review, but instead talk about how the design and features of the G Watch R impact it. I don't think there's any doubt - the very best experience of Android Wear as a whole is on a square screen. On a round watch notifications are clipped, with text appearing 'off the screen', making them less glanceable until expanded. The flip-side is that the watch faces on the round devices (of which there are a LOT installed out of the box, not to mention some excellent third party offerings like that pictured below) just look better and the watches themselves look more like timepieces and less like gadgets. The aforementioned clipping seems to be more pronounced on the G Watch R than on the Moto 360, which is a bit strange (as if things aren't scaling to the screen size) but for me personally, it's not a huge issue that affects my enjoyment of the watch.
The impressive 'A45' watchface is downloadable from the Play Store.
Impressive build quality and attractive design aside (subjective, of course) there are two big selling points on the G Watch R. The first is the battery life compared to its peers - the watch will run for 24 hours no problem in my experience, even with the screen at full brightness. The second is just that screen - it's incredible. It's very bright indoors. Searingly bright. It's perfectly viewable outside. It's high resolution. I honestly can't fault it. Yes, i'd prefer the watch to have auto-brightness built into the case (without compromising the full round screen), but as the endurance and the display itself are so good, it's much less of an issue than on other devices. The main downside to no auto-brightness is that if you are in a darkened room or cinema, when the watch display comes out of ambient mode it's not very subtle. Even IN ambient mode it's pretty bright!
The G Watch R includes a heart rate monitor on the back, which can measure your heart rate on demand and also seems to measure periodically throughout the day. To be honest, i'm not sure how useful this actually is (the real utility comes when devices can continuously monitor all day), but it's nice the feature is there, not least because it's also included on the Moto 360 and the Gear Live.
So what of its rivals? Should you buy the G-Watch R? Let's talk first about what you shouldn't buy. Don't buy a Samsung Gear Live. The charger is horribly designed - really, bad enough to put you off. Don't buy a Moto 360. Although I do love the look and feel and the QI charging, the aging processor means battery life is an embarrassment and performance is far from where it should be. The original G Watch is still a great device (particularly at the reduced prices now), but the screen is considerably inferior to the R. Which leaves the rather utilitarian Sony Smartwatch 3 (which i've yet to try, but it adds GPS to the mix) and more significantly. the Asus Zenwatch. With its premium design and materials and a square OLED screen, I suspect the Asus will be very good, but it will have to go some to top the G Watch R.
G Watch R on the left, Moto 360 on the right.
Before I got my hands on the G Watch R, I was using the Motorola. For all its faults, I just enjoyed having the round watch. The G Watch R made me never want to wear it again, it's that much better. The only sticking point with the R is the design - while I like it, it might not be for everyone and it certainly doesn't cater for female users very well.
Should you buy Android Wear at all?As you would expect, the value and utility in Wear is increasing quickly. Not only is Google pushing out updates (to add features such as GPS support and Bluetooth music), the number of Android Wear applications is growing very fast as is the number of watchfaces, despite Google inexplicably failing to release an official watchface API (they say it's coming). Regular readers may know i'm a big fan of the Pebble, but after using Wear for a short while, it feels distinctly low tech. This is the future.
Many thanks to MobileFun for the review device. After which I bought one. :)
Edited by PaulOBrien