Our first look at LG's all-new rounded smartwatch
If all the hype around the Moto 360 in recent months tells us anything, it's that tech enthusiasts want smartwatches that look good. LG's first Android Wear device, the G Watch, was little more than a vessel for Google's wearable OS. There really wasn't much hardware to talk about, just a rectangle on your wrist, and a window onto Android Wear.
For its second Android wearable, the LG G Watch R, the Korean manufacturer has focused much more strongly on the design of the physical hardware. And the result looks less like a smartphone on your wrist and more like a traditional analog watch. There's a gulf in build quality between the G Watch R and an expensive high-end timepiece, but like the rival Moto 360, it represents an important step in the right direction for smartwatch design.
The LG G Watch R boasts a bold design — one two years in the making according to the company's designers. Though whether it's the right fit for you — both physically and stylistically — will vary from individual to individual. In our opinion it's a vast improvement on the original G Watch, which is seen as more of a reference design for Android Wear than a fashion item. At least this G Watch is trying to be something.
The body of the G Watch R is a union of glass and metal, with a stainless steel frame and substantial lugs joining to its calfskin strap. Although there's only one body style, LG showed the device paired with a variety of different straps intended to fit different use cases — from sporty fabric designs to metal links suited to a more formal setting. There's no escaping the sheer size of the G Watch R — its chunky proportions make it feel larger on the wrist than its squared-off sibling — but at least you've got some personalization options open beyond the bundled leather strap.
The same goes for watch faces, and LG's included a wide variety of analog faces with the G Watch R for different styles and scenarios — for example camping, hiking or a world clock showing the time in different locations. Given the dearth of decent watch faces for the original G Watch, the variety we're seeing in the G Watch R is a welcome change. The core software remains Android Wear, however, and it's going to take Google to move that experience forward. (Our fingers are crossed for some meaningful improvements with the upcoming Android L release.)
The internals haven't changed much, but the screen is vastly improved.
When it comes to numbers and specifications, the G Watch R doesn't stray far from its predecessor's spec sheet — you're running a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 CPU and 512MB of RAM. The screen has seen a significant improvement, though, moving to a P-OLED panel at 320x320 resolution (with the corners cut off, naturally), and it's noticeably brighter and more vivid than the original G Watch's dull LCD. We'll need to wait and see how daylight visibility plays out, but based on the brightness alone the G Watch R should be easier to see outdoors.
Unfortunately there's no ambient light sensor included — a disadvantage compared to the Moto 360, meaning you'll need to change brightness levels manually through Android Wear's cumbersome settings menu. The trade-off is that you get a "true circular" display, rather than settling for the cutout used by Motorola.
When it comes time to charge, the G Watch R uses a magnetic dock like the original — a larger hockey puck-like design. Like LG's previous smartwatch, pins on the back of the watch join it to its charging dock, and the puck itself connects to other stuff over microUSB. We're not huge fans of proprietary charging docks, but the nature of smartwatches makes them unavoidable to a degree, and at least LG's circular arrangement fits together neatly.
The G Watch R boasts a bold design, but it might lack universal appeal
It's still early days for the LG G Watch R, which is expected to ship in Q4. We have a pretty good picture of the hardware, but we'll have to wait and see how Android Wear develops, and what other software tricks LG might be able to bring to the experience. Perhaps the most significant quality of this watch, though, is how unlike a smartwatch it looks. From the right angle, in the right conditions, you could absolutely confuse the G Watch R with a standard analog timepiece, and that's something you can't really say about any of the competition.