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One of the best Android wearables comes with a hefty $300 price-tag and an equally oversized name: LG’s G Watch R. LG’s second Android Wear smartwatch costs around $150-200 more than the original LG G Watch. While it improves on build quality and aesthetics, do the improvements justify the price tag? Read on to find out.
The G Watch R – perhaps the most rugged of Android Wear devices – employs a P-OLED screen, circled by a traditional watch bezel. The brushed aluminum bezel displays a fixed watch-dial, with an etched-in, white-painted numbers. The design looks similar to an analog sports-watch. The screen’s surface received an unknown glass treatment, potentially Gorilla Glass. In terms of weight, size and heft, the watch feels heavier and more solid than any of its competitors.
Its replaceable band comes in two colors of leather – the exterior portion gleams in glossy black. The interior portion comes in white calfskin, which feels soft and pleasant on the wrist. But I guarantee you that a white, inner-band will get fouled with dirt in very short order.
Like most leather bands, the LG G Watch R’s strap requires a lot of breaking-in before it becomes pliant. Sizing it onto the wrist, out-the-box, requires a lot of tugging and pulling. After a few size adjustments, the leather began to wrinkle.
The LG G Watch, unique among Android Wear smartwatches, uses a P-OLED screen – short for “polymer organic light emitting diode”. The display technology differs from AMOLED screens by offering shorter lifespan, along with higher battery drain. The tradeoff: P-OLED displays can curve for use with wearables. I’m not sure why LG went with P-OLED, instead of OLED, since the G Watch R’s screen doesn’t curve.
LG went with the standard, and now ubiquitous, Snapdragon 400. The Snapdragon 400 equips most of the Android Wear devices on today’s market (with the exception of the Moto 360). As on other watches, LG disabled three of the Snapdragon 400’s four cores. The 400 also includes a custom Hexagon Digital Signal Processor (DSP), which aids in language recognition. The 400 chipset, however, uses an older ARM architecture known as the Cortex A7. Despite its age, it offers solid performance, although the chipset isn’t really appropriate for a wearable device. Unfortunately, the only purpose-built system-on-a-chip currently in production comes from Apple. Another, from MediaTek, will release early this year.
- Display: 320 x 320 1.3″ P-OLED display with tempered glass;
- Chipset: Snapdragon 400 chipset with a single core 1.2GHz CPU;
- Battery: 410 mAh battery;
- Water/dust resistance: IP67 weather and dust-proofing rating;
- Band: 22mm replaceable leather strap;
- Cradle charger: 0.85 mA charging cradle;
Living With the LG G Watch R
Like all other devices in the Android Wear stable, the G Watch R can switch on using the device’s accelerometers. Just swing the watch up to view and the screen turns on. After the screen turns on, users can input voice commands using Google Now personal assistant software. Like in other Wear smartwatches, Google Now offers the best voice recognition software available on any platform, smashing its competitors from Microsoft (Cortana), Apple (Siri) and Samsung (S-Voice). It boasts 80%+ accuracy in word recognition along with a sophisticated arsenal of commands. Users can call out for navigation directions on the fly, search Google with queries, set timers, reminders and a great deal more.
To charge the G Watch R, just plug the magnetic cradle charger into a power source (a computer will do) and then drop the smartwatch onto the cradle. The cradle doesn’t feel as solid as the Moto 360’s, but compared to Samsung’s chargers, it’s a tank. However, the charger outputs at 0.85 amps, meaning it only trickle charges, so a full recharge takes around 2 hours.
Android Wear continues to evolve at a breakneck pace. Its latest iteration uses Lollipop as a base – many Android Wear watches have updated, or will update, to this latest standard. I can’t say with confidence that Lollipop increased battery life over previous models, but the G Watch R gets very good battery life. With heavy use, and all the settings maxed out, you can get a full day plus a bit more. With all its sensors switched off – including capacitive screen and accelerometer, LG’s watch gets at least four days of light use.
In previous versions of Android Wear, you couldn’t switch features off, and battery life faltered after a day. In the 5.0 version of Wear, Theater mode allows for switching off the persistent touchscreen and accelerometer functions by double-clicking its button. Sunlight mode allows for a brighter display by triple-clicking the button.
Bear in mind that turning those features off robs a great deal of the utility of Android Wear. Even so, users will find these preset shortcuts ease the burden of digging through multiple sub-menus. Theater mode in particular offers users a quick way to extending battery life in a pinch.
The majority of Android apps don’t tie into Android Wear. However, we’ve compiled a list of six of the best Android Wear apps. I installed five of these for our tests.
Wear Mini Launcher [No Longer Available]: Without a dedicated launcher, Android Wear fails as an app-oriented platform. Mini Launcher fixes this issue by introducing a swipe left gesture to open up a list of all available apps.
Alternative watch-faces: One of the default LG G Watch R watch-faces (or wallpapers) offers a sub-adequate color scheme for a P-OLED screen. The rest shouldn’t even be on your device. To get any reasonable color-scheme, users must install (which costs money) a third-party watch-face. Go with any color scheme which is predominantly black, with red highlights; avoid blue as it causes screen burn-in.
Google Fit: This remains one of worst Google apps available for Android Wear. Although I assume the app will expand over time, as the hardware evolves to incorporate more sophisticated sensors, right now you get little more than a pedometer, which tracks daily step totals.
Find My Phone: This emulates a similar function available to Tizen (What’s Tizen?) equipped wearables. If you can’t find your phone, just fire the app up and it causes your phone to ring.
Google Hangouts: This comes installed by default (on most devices). Along with Google Maps, Hangouts remains the key selling point of the Android Wear platform. Users can carry on Hangouts conversations using Google Now’s voice-recognition.
Overall, the operating system remains in its infancy and the available apps just don’t justify the cost of the platform. While Google Maps and Hangouts offer considerable value, these already inhabit your phone. The mini launcher is a must-have on all Android Wear devices. Alternative watch-faces, likewise, should be installed on every OLED-screened Android Wear smartwatch, to reduce the symptoms of screen burn-in.
After making sure Theatre Mode functioned and installing a full suite of apps, the battery life clocked in at around 4 days of light use – and actually several hours longer than that. As mentioned, with default settings and heavy use, a full day is to be expected.
The Taste of Lemon
Despite the G Watch R’s superlative build quality, it suffers from serious issues. First, its accelerometer stops working – on occasion– after several days of continuous operation. This requires a soft reset, which fixes the issue. I’m not sure if LG will push out a bugfix, since the G Watch R released in the Fall and users reported this issue immediately following release.
Second, the P-OLED screen will be prone to damage from burnt-in images. Because of the nature of OLED screens – and P-OLED’s even worse durability – the screen may suffer from burn-in, which is when the individual light emitting cells of an OLED screen degrade. Screen suffering from burn-in retain an afterimage of frequently displayed images (like watch-faces). OLED screens on smartwatches and smartphones already suffer from this issue to a lesser extent. LG should not even offer ambient display as an option on the Watch R because of its notoriety stemming from screen damage. Note, though, that after leaving ambient display on for a week, no burn-in was detected.
Third, the lowest brightness setting is still too high. Like most of today’s smartphones and smartwatches, setting brightness to its minimum level still emits frustratingly bright light at night or indoors. Most users trying to squeeze every last bit of battery life out of your devices may find this infuriating. On a P-OLED display, this exaserbates screen burn-in.
Last, the G Watch R sometimes experiences Bluetooth disconnects. Because the Android Wear platform loses all functionality when unpaired, users will find themselves with a $300 timepiece strapped to their wrist for brief moments.
Android Wear remains in its infancy. While it offers an array of novel, perhaps even game-changing features, the various builds I’ve seen don’t justify the price tags. The current stable of devices – even the G Watch R – suffer from design flaws which will shorten its life expectancy. The small batteries, combined with poor battery life, will cause high rates of battery failure through more frequent discharge cycles. Prospective buyers should wait until Wear receives custom chipsets and day-light readable screen technology, such as transflective (Pixel Qi) or interferometric modulator display (Mirasol) screens.
Despite the limitations inherent in smartwatch design, the G Watch R manages to claw its way into the best Android Wear smartwatches available at the beginning of 2015. Of the three best devices so far, each comes with its own advantages: The Asus ZenWatch looks less rugged, has a smaller battery and its charging cradle fares poorly in comparison. The Moto 360 uses a high drain LCD screen, a much smaller battery and a weaker chipset. The G Watch R uses an untested and burn-in susceptible P-OLED screen and its cradle charger falls short of the Moto 360’s wireless Qi cradle.
Early adopters should consider the Moto 360. Those who want an AMOLED screen should check out the Asus ZenWatch. That leaves LG G Watch R catering for those who want a more rugged, traditional watch face.
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