Fanatical fashion followers finally have a smartwatch that they won't be ashamed to wrap around their wrist.
While the LG G Watch was a plain black, uninspiring square, the new G Watch R completely overhauls the design. It fuses real leather, angular black metal and a host of beautiful round -- yes, round -- watch faces into a smartwatch that's difficult to tell apart from a regular watch. Even the most dedicated fashion fiends might struggle to dislike this one.
Under the hood it's business as usual -- it's running the same software found on all Android Wear smartwatches. It'll therefore happily connect via Bluetooth to any Android phone running version 4.3 or later and display your incoming notifications and various other alerts from Google Now.
The G Watch R is still listed as "coming soon" on LG's US, UK and Australian websites, with no prices given. It's due to hit both countries within the next month, however, but as an approximate guide, the UK retailer Unlocked Mobiles has given it a preorder price of £230, which converts to around $370. We'll update this article with more pricing details as and when they arrive.
In Australia, it's on sale now and LG are charging AU$359 for it at Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi and Optus stores. You can buy it from Google Play for AU$349, but you'll need to factor in postage if you go that route.
When I first laid eyes on the G Watch R at a briefing in Berlin earlier this year, it immediately became my favourite of all the smartwatches currently available. The main reason for this is its round design.
Sure, it's not the first round smartwatch we've seen -- the Motorola Moto 360 has that honour -- but unlike the Moto 360, the G Watch R actually looks like a watch, instead of just a disc with a strap. The glass face is set into the body of the watch, with an angled metal ridge surrounding it, into which LG has etched notches and numbers to help you tell the time using analogue hands.
The home button on the side cleverly looks like a crown. It comes with a real leather black strap made from quite inflexible leather, although in time, I imagine it will soften somewhat. The watch uses a standard strap connection, so you can swap it out for any strap you choose, or opt for one of the many that LG will eventually be selling.
From a distance, I couldn't immediately tell that it's not just a regular watch, which is precisely the effect smartwatches need to have. Watches are of course primarily fashion items, yet previous smartwatches -- the first LG G Watch, for example -- had extremely dull, square designs that brought to mind those nerdy old calculator watches from the 90s. They were very much technology first, fashion second. The G Watch R is the first smartwatch I could potentially see the average style-conscious watch-wearer actually being happy to be seen with.
Sure, the Moto 360's minimalist disc is much more beautiful than a black square, but to my eye, it has the look of a reference device designed to demonstrate the software, rather than a meticulously refined product that's ready to hit the shelves.
I definitely think the G Watch R is the best looking smartwatch around, but it won't appeal to everybody. Its black, angular face and chunky body give it an extremely aggressive aesthetic. The Asus Zenwatch goes another direction entirely with its slim, curved body and delicate rose gold colouring.
The screen is recessed into the body of the watch, as opposed to the Moto 360's display, which "floats" above the rim of the body. That means there's a noticeable stopping point for your finger when you're swiping around, which gives it a slightly different feel in use, although I didn't have any preference either way.
The back of the watch is home to a heart-rate sensor, which seemed to work quite well, although it did require a bit of shuffling around at times to gain a proper reading. You'll find a heart-rate sensor on the Moto 360 and Samsung's Gear Live too -- all three performed about the same. The watch itself is waterproof to a depth of 1 metre for 30 minutes, meaning you don't need to take it off every time you wash your hands. It has a microphone for voice commands, but with no speaker, you won't be able to make and receive calls through the watch.
Display quality and watch faces
The watch has a 1.3-inch screen, with a 320x320-pixel resolution. That's the same resolution you'll find on most Android Wear smartwatches, including the circular Moto 360. The Moto 360's display isn't completely circular, however, as it has an odd black "chin" at the bottom of the screen -- something not present on the G Watch R. The Moto 360 is also a little larger at 1.56 inches, making text less sharp than on the G Watch.
A tiny sliver of black may not seem like much, but to my mind it's enough to really spoil the overall look. My colleague Scott Stein agreed, commenting in his review, "The little bar isn't a deal-killer, but boy, for a watch this obsessed with looking flawlessly beautiful, it certainly stands out." The lack of this bar on the G Watch R means watch faces are able to display in their entirety. Apart from just looking more visually appealing, it adds to the illusion that it's a regular watch.
The screen is good quality too, which also helps the effect. It's an OLED panel, with deep black levels and decent contrast. It's bright -- certainly enough to counter the harsh overhead lights of our office -- although how it copes under the midday summer sun remains to be seen.
There are a variety of watch faces to choose from, including the standard simple digital faces you'll find on all Android Wear watches, and a host of LG's own. It's the latter of these that really make this watch stand out. LG's faces are almost all based around classic analogue faces, with metallic-looking hands and dials. Most have dark backgrounds and these certainly suit the black surround of the watch best -- I also found these faces to lend a much more realistic effect.
As well as simply telling the time, some of the faces provide extra information. The fitness face has a secondary dial showing your step count, for example, while the world clock face allows you to display the times from two extra time zones on smaller dials set into the background. The hiking face packs a compass too, which sometimes works well, but I found I had to frequently wave my arm in a figure of 8 to calibrate the compass -- it quickly became a hassle.