LG G Watch R is out now for £225 on Amazon.
- 1.3in, 320x320 plastic OLED screen
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.2GHz quad-core processor
- RAM: 512MB / Storage: 4GB
- Water and dust resistance: IP67
- Battery: 410mAh
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The LG G Watch R is the latest attempt to build a smartwatch that normal people want to wear.
It's round, attractive in a sporty, 'sixth-former transitioning from school uniform to suits' sort of way, and has a leather strap you can swap out for your own design. It has on-board storage and access to Android Wear's latest tricks and some other interesting ideas.
Thing is, before we get into that, there's a big steaming elephant in the room with a question mark painted on the side. Which is that while it's tempting for the tech press to leap into a smartwatch review as if we're reviewing phones or cars - IE a product you already either need, or want, or at least understand, that's not true here. To put it more clearly, what does this watch do?
How many people do you know who wear a smartwatch? Or who actually want one? Even if they - or you - do have a smartwatch, do you wear it all day or mainly for sport? Do you want to talk into it like Dick Tracy? Do you want to play poker on it?
The answer to most of these questions, for most people, is negative. And LG's problem with the G Watch R is that it presents no new arguments for why anyone should change their mind in the context of its existence.
Aesthetically, it's easy to mock the G Watch R if you're comparing it to a refined product like a flagship smartphone, or an actual, beautiful watch. It's not refined -- like most smartwatches it's very thick (to account for the battery) and has a small, unlovable round screen. It's made of metal and leather, but it feels a bit cheap. And it has an unmovable dial-like bezel printed with numbers and five-minute increment indicators arranged in such a way that it appears to have the non-word "DE" printed on the bottom.
LG has at least made it easy to swap on your own strap, and the watch itself is probably nondescript enough to go with most masculine-style choices. But as an object on its own it's not a simple statement like the Moto 360, or a customisable object of desire like the Apple Watch. It's just... a bit naff.
On the other hand, what it has going for it is simplicity, and anonymity. The G Watch R does look like a watch. It will pass. If you don't want people to know you have a smartwatch, this will probably do the trick. It's also boosted by some nice watch faces by LG, which -- if not stunningly abstract -- are at least functional. There's a dedicated face for hiking, for instance, which displays your direction and altitude. Neat.
The plastic OLED screen is also pretty decent. It is at least round - all 360 degrees of it, unlike the Moto 360 ironically. It also has a nicely hidden ambient light sensor.
However the big issue is Android Wear. Much has been said about Google's cards-based wearable OS, and the key takeaways are all relevant here. It's clunky, and doesn't know how to walk the line between being proactively helpful - sending you notifications of calls an messages? Cool. Sending you match reports mid-run? Pointless - and just annoying. It's hard to launch apps without trawling through menus, and the apps that do run on it are all fairly simple and often weakly designed. Voice recognition is okay, but unusable in both polite company and for messages or notes of any complexity.
If the argument for smartwatches is still to be hinged on the idea they make life easier to manage, without constantly looking at your smartphone, the fact is Android Wear still fails.
Then there's the round thing. When it's displaying custom watch faces, the screen is fine. When it's displaying anything else, it doesn't work. As others have said, Google Now just isn't… round. The G Watch R frequently finds it impossible to display all of a message or notification at once, and it's frustrating as often as it is useful.
Yes, the recent updates to Android Wear mean you can store music on board the watch's 4GB storage space, and take it running with Bluetooth headphones without your phone. That's a big new feature. It's also true that LG's recent announcement that it will be among the first third-party manufacturers to move to Android 5.0 Lollipop means it's going to be on the cutting edge of any new updates. But right now it still feels half-done.
That's not to say the G Watch R has nothing going for it.
In fact this is a genuinely capable gadget if you learn to love its flaws. You can take it running, hiking, and the to the gym. You can get it wet. It will count your steps for you (though not with location data, as there's no GPS). It can control your music, or play its own. You can use it to catch up on news and social media with the right apps, and even - yes - play games if you want.
And in context of its competition, the G Watch R is a strong candidate. It has a better processor than the Moto 360. It's fast and has a better battery too - in our tests making it through a full day, just about, without recharging. The heart-rate sensor worked fine as well. But there are also disappointments: the charger, for instance, is a bit flimsy and inconvenient, and the strap - while technically leather - feels like cardboard.
What you have, ultimately, with the G Watch R is a fairly nice-looking, but nowhere near classic piece of design, running a flawed OS that it (a) can't be held responsible for but (b) can't do anything to fix. There is a useful gadget in here for the right user. If you're sold on Android Wear, it's a decent choice. But it's comes nowhere near the standard that smartwatches have to meet to convince more than a tiny minority that they need one in their life.