LG G Watch R review – a good-looking smartwatch with exceptional battery life
Most of the Android Wear smartwatches we’ve seen so far have offered rectangular screens, but the G Watch R’s display is a perfect circle. That makes it instantly distinctive, albeit not dissimilar to the the Motorola Moto 360. Where the lower part of the Motorola’s screen is cut off by a small black bar, however, LG’s latest smartwatch goes all the way round. See also: what’s the best smartwatch of 2014?
It’s a design that instantly lends the G Watch R a certain cachet. To our eyes, a square-faced smartwatch, no matter how luxurious, inevitably calls to mind the low-cost digital watches of yore. The G Watch R’s classic shape suggests a more grown-up accessory, an effect that’s supported by the faux winding knob (which in fact turns the screen on and off), and completed by a dive watch-style bezel. The chunky body won’t suit slender wrists, but at 62g it’s lighter than most dumb chronometers, and the comfortable leather strap is easily replaceable via a standard 22mm fitting.
LG G Watch R review: display
Wake the watch up and you’re greeted by a 1.3in screen, with a 320-pixel diameter that translates to a pixel density of 246ppi. That’s not quite Retina-sharp at typical watch-reading distances, but it delivers crisp and clear text and images. LG has also chosen to use P-OLED technology, which delivers sumptuous colours that really leap off your wrist; at maximum brightness it’s a sight to behold (around 310cd/m2), and easily readable, even in bright sunlight.
So far so good – but there’s a slight catch. The G Watch R’s high-brightness settings can be a bit too dazzling for discreet indoor use, and there’s no ambient light sensor to automatically dial down the brightness when needed. Happily, the latest Android Wear update introduces a new “sunlight mode”, which temporarily pushes the brightness up to maximum, automatically returning to normal the next the screen wakes up. On watches with a side-knob – such as this one – you can quickly activate it by triple-clicking, so once you get into the habit it’s a decent workaround.
It’s also worth mentioning that OLED screens are susceptible to screen-burn, which isn’t covered by the warranty. It remains to be seen whether this early generation of Android Wear watches will remain in use for long enough for that to be a problem. Android Wear tries to minimise burn by subtly shifting the position of your watch face each minute, and you can help matters further by choosing mostly black faces and switching between them periodically.
LG G Watch R review: other features and battery life
The outer ring surrounding the screen is, in our view, a design misstep. It doesn’t actually rotate – not that you could really take the G Watch R diving anyway, as its IP67 rating means it’s only water-resistant to a depth of one metre. And the raised surround interferes with the swipe gestures that are used to navigate Android Wear, creating a sense that the software and hardware don’t quite gel. Those who prefer a minimalist face may find the physical markings a needless visual distraction as well.
Still, since all Android Wear smartwatches run the same base software, the G Watch R can’t really be faulted in terms of function. As well as sunlight mode, the recent Android Wear 5 update brings an official API for third-party faces – so you can expect to see plenty more of those in the future – along with a battery and storage monitor and a new “theatre mode” (helpfully translated to “cinema mode” for UK users) for temporarily silencing notifications. There’s also a built-in heart-rate monitor for one-shot pulse readouts, which several models, including the original G Watch, lack.
Best of all, LG has packed in the biggest battery we’ve yet seen on an Android Wear device, rated at 410mAh. In our standard tests, this gave the G Watch R a projected battery life of two days and 21 hours per charge (at default settings), and that quite closely reflects what we saw in real-world use: after disabling the always-on screen mode, we got through three working days of use on a single charge, helped along no doubt by the efficiencies of the OLED display.
The biggish battery does take a little while to charge: hooked up to a regular USB port, it took around 1hr 45mins to fully replenish; with a 2A USB mains adaptor, a full charge took around an hour. That’s quick enough to live with, although we’re not fans of the charging apparatus itself: similar to the regular G Watch, the G Watch R charges via a USB dock that attaches magnetically to the back. But it’s a disconcertingly loose fit, feeling more like a pedestal than a clip. It takes only an inadvertent shove to knock the watch off its charger.
LG G Watch R review: verdict
If you’re looking for an upmarket smartwatch, the G Watch R has an obvious rival: the Moto 360’s wireless charger, built-in light sensor and edge-to-edge screen make it a much slicker and more polished device. It’s a touch cheaper, too.
Overall, though, the G Watch R strikes a better balance. It doesn’t come close to the elegance of a real high-end timepiece, and it’s significantly more expensive than its rectangular rivals. But where the Moto 360 offers a battery life of barely over 24 hours, the G Watch R is a champion, surviving 19 hours longer than our previous battery-life champion, the original G Watch.
If you’re looking for an eye-catching Android Wear watch that won’t let you down at the end of the day, we have to say the G Watch R is your best bet – so far.
LG G Watch R specifications
|Display size||1.3in (circular)|
|Resolution||320 x 320|
|OS support||Android 4.3+|
|Battery life||2 days 21hours|
|Price including VAT||£210|