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LG G Watch R review: LG G Watch R wins big on style, falls down on software

The LG G Watch R mixes metal, glass and real leather to be the most stylish smartwatch around. Android Wear just isn't up to scratch yet.

Andrew Lanxon headshot
Andrew Lanxon
Andrew Lanxon headshot

Andrew Lanxon

Lead Editor, CNET Advice, Europe; Lead Photographer, Europe

Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.

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11 min read

Fanatical fashion followers finally have a smartwatch that they won't be ashamed to wrap around their wrist.

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7.1

LG G Watch R

The Good

With its round design, angular metal frame and selection of gorgeous watch faces, the LG G Watch R is the most attractive Android Wear Smartwatch around. It's battery life isn't bad either.

The Bad

Final pricing is still unclear. Battery life, while better than Android Wear competitors, still isn't good enough for the average person. The watch's design won't appeal to those who prefer sleek, slim timepieces.

The Bottom Line

Although its stark design and beautiful face makes this the first smartwatch you might actually be happy to be seen wearing, its Android Wear software has a long way to go before it's anything more than a passing novelty.

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.

Meet the beautiful, metal LG G Watch R (pictures)

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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.

Design

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.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

Android Wear software

If you've used an Android Wear watch already, then there'll be absolutely no surprises for you here as the interface on all of them is the same. The home screen, as it were, is the watch face. Notifications pop up on the bottom half of the screen and swiping up takes you through these alerts or through other cards.

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Watch this: Everything you need to know about Android Wear
Everything you need to know about Android Wear
2:05

The most common cards you'll see will be your step count, upcoming calendar appointments and travel information to your home, office or other regularly visited destinations -- it links to your Google accounts, pulling the information from there. Swipe the card left to see more information or to open the related app on your phone. Swipe right to dismiss the card. Using voice commands, you can ask the watch to set a timer, ask for the weather or bring up your schedule.

The G Watch R does many of these tasks well. I rarely had problems setting timers or checking my schedule and I was able to use casual language such as, "Will I need a jacket tomorrow?" instead of the more clunky "Show me the weather tomorrow" to bring up the weather forecast. Asking, "How old is Queen Elizabeth?" brought up a card with her age, date of birth and a picture of Her Majesty in the background. Smashing.

Things aren't always so smooth. It doesn't help that getting the watch to listen to your voice is sometimes a challenge. After activating voice commands by saying, "Okay Google," I often found it would start "listening" too late to catch the whole of my command, or would stop listening almost immediately, showing me a panel of suggested commands.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Even when you do manage to speak at the right time, it's sluggish to respond, taking several moments to process what's been heard before loading an appropriate action. It's far from immediate.

You can send emails by speaking the name of the recipient -- common names seem to be recognised fine, but my brother Nate was nearly always heard as "mate". Dictating the email message is very clunky too. It's slow to process what's been heard, so the words appear several seconds after you've said them, and as there's no way to edit before sending, your email is likely to be plagued with errors.

On several occasions too I found that the watch appeared to get bored halfway through listening and just cut off and sent the email half-finished, without asking for confirmation. I sent an email to my friend, the content of which was simply his own email address -- evidently heard when I had to repeat the address at the start and decided to just send it.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

While most if not all apps will show notifications on the watch, there are various third-party Android apps that interact a little more with Android Wear. Recipe app Cookpad, for example, lets you find a recipe on the phone then follow the steps on the watch. Asking the watch, "How do I cook pecan pie?" however, will simply bring up a Web search, rather than the recipe pulled from the app. The information is simply being pushed to your watch -- the watch is unable to find the recipe itself.

Similarly, the Hotels.com app will show a watch notification for an upcoming booking, but asking, "Where can I stay nearby?" or, "What hotels are available in Berlin?" will again just result in a Web search. App developers and Google need to work together to enable more communication between watch and apps in order for the watch to become a more useful everyday tool.

The watch has 4GB of storage which, thanks to a recent software update, can be filled with music, allowing you to play tracks while out running without needing to be connected to your phone. There's no headphone port on the watch, so you'll need to pair a set of Bluetooth headphones and at the moment, you can only transfer across tracks you've downloaded using Google's Play Music app. It worked well in my testing, although as someone who gets his music almost exclusively from Spotify, which isn't supported, this feature has limited appeal.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Unlike Android on phones, Android Wear is not skinned by individual manufacturers, meaning that each watch runs plain, untampered versions of Google's platform. Although on the surface it might seem disappointing that you won't find funky LG-specific software, the reason behind Google locking down the software is sound.

For one thing, it allows for an identical experience across all watches, meaning you won't have to get to grips with new software if you change brands. Crucially, however, by keeping the experience the same, app developers will be more willing to create apps for the watches as they won't need to change the app for numerous different screen sizes, resolutions and software versions -- as they currently have to with Android on phones.

It's running on a 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, with 512MB of RAM. Swiping around the interface seemed about as nippy to me as the Moto 360, although Scott Stein found the G Watch R to be a touch more spritely in his time with it. It has 4GB of onboard storage (like most Android Wear watches) and doesn't have its own GPS connection, so you'll need your phone with you if you want to map your run.

Battery and charging

Poor battery life is an issue that plagues nearly all current smartwatches and, while the G Watch R isn't a revolution here, it's certainly better than some of its rivals. With careful use -- using it to keep track of incoming notifications and not using much in the way of voice commands -- I was able to get two full days out of it before needing to charge. Sitting and constantly bombarding it with voice commands and dictation will quickly drain the battery, meaning you won't even get a whole day.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

That's an improvement over the Moto 360, however, which I found needed a full charge every night even with light use throughout the day. I'd still recommend popping it on charge when you take it off at night though. While better than the 360, battery life still needs to be improved on all smartwatches. While I'm well used to charging my phone every night, I don't welcome having to charge a second device too, particularly when my regular watch battery lasts years. I'd at least like to be able to get three full days of use between charges.

It isn't helped by the fact that charging the watch requires placing it on a little magnetic dock, into which you plug the micro-USB cable. The watch comes with one of these docks and you'll need to take it with you every time you're away from home for more than a night. Leave it behind and your watch will quickly become a piece of useless metal strapped to your arm. Building the charging port into the watch may make it chunkier, but you wouldn't be forced to carry a separate charger with you.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The Moto 360 also uses a charging dock, but I much prefer its charging method as it turns the watch into a neat little bedside alarm clock, propping it up and dimly displaying a clock face throughout the night. I really liked seeing it there, and simply not seeing it there next to my bed at night reminded me that I needed to put my watch on charge.

Conclusion

Thanks to its selection of beautiful watch faces and its round, angular metal body, the LG G Watch R is the most attractive Android Wear smartwatch around. Its good battery life earns it some points too.

The problem here isn't the hardware -- it's Google's Android Wear software, which still just isn't ready for prime time. It doesn't yet provide anything that's essential, or even particularly exciting, and the things it can do don't work as well as I hoped they would. The interface needs to be much smoother and have deeper interaction with third-party apps for Android Wear to become anything more than a passing novelty.

If you're a dedicated Android fanatic and are itching to put a smartwatch on your arm, the G Watch R is the best of the current crop to go for. If you're after the device that will usher in a new era of communication, you're still in for a wait.

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7.1

LG G Watch R

Score Breakdown

Style 8Features 7Ease of use 6
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