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

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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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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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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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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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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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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