Android has grown to become the dominant operating system for smartphones and tablets of the world but when it comes to the wave of wearables coming out there is less certainty over what operating system will dominate.
Android Wear is Google’s answer to the impending wearable-apocalypse and the LG G Watch R is the first piece of kit we’ve had that shows off the new OS.
It’s been the most popular piece of tech I’ve had of late mostly because it lights up when you lift your wrist to view it which draws attention to it, but also because a lot of folks who saw it wanted to know if it’s the Apple Watch.
The casing is designed to give a familiar watch-like feeling to a category that has seemingly eschewed traditional watch aesthetics for the geekier Dick Tracy effect.
It has the same markings around the bezel you would expect from a sports chronograph and accepts any standard 22mm watch strap to make sprucing it up after-the-fact much easier.
It’s something you may want to look not because the included strap, although leather, isn’t exactly the greatest quality. It looked and felt cheap and the light coloured inside of the strap felt like it would get dirty too quickly.
It’s by far the best of the smartwatch bunch when it comes to being an actual watch in addition to the rest of its functionality.
The Watch is IP67 rated for water and dust resistance meaning that it can go 1 meter deep for up to 30 minutes without any problems. That should cover you for any momentary moments of moisture including rain, showers and sporting activity.
Underneath the G Watch R lies a row of 5 charging connection pins for its dock and the heart rate monitoring setup.
The G Watch R packs some serious power under the hood with a dual-core 1.2Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor and 512MB of RAM coupled with 4Gb of internal storage.
That basically make the G Watch R half as powerful as the LG G3 Beat smartphone which has two more cores and twice the RAM powering many more apps and services.
It’s plenty powerful enough to handle anything we threw at the G Watch R and was never in a position to be called slow on any specific task.
The LG G Watch R is the first piece of hardware in the htxt.africa offices to be running Android 5.0 having received the update halfway through our review period.
Android Wear is still seemingly designed for square watch faces with several cards and longer menu items getting cut off by the rounded display, but after a day you stop worrying about it and just get on with using the G Watch.
The new version of the software brought with it a new watch face API which allowed third-party developers to create and sell watch face s for Android Wear watches.
Our favourites immediately became the Minions face from the Despicable Me movies and another called ‘Odyssey’ which had the fantastically handy trick of showing both the G Watch R’s battery life as well as that of the connected smartphone.
Android Wear itself is still in its infancy but it’s incredibly useful in its current form. The voice recognition software built into the Google Search function is fantastic and more often than not gets everything perfectly transcribed.
Voice commands like “what’s the weather like?” or “phone my mother” were recognised and easily translated into the required actions from the connected phone.
The noise cancelling microphone on the G Watch R in particular was brilliant even in noisy environments like a pub where it still managed to pick up voice commands easily.
Text messing works brilliantly on the G Watch R, new messages can be initiated and received messages can be viewed or replied to with a few swipes and your voice. IMs from the likes of WhatsApp can be replied to but not initiated, so you still have to take your phone out every now and then to do certain tasks.
While the display doesn’t have an ambient light sensor to automatically adjust the brightness settings the software allows you to change between six preset levels all of which are viewable indoors.
When heading outside you can choose to manually ramp up the brightness to be able to see what’s going on or, as of the Android 5 software update, just swipe down on the home screen and select ‘Sunlight Mode’ which temporarily maxed out display brightness until it goes to sleep again.
The display can be kept in two modes, permanently on or raise to wake. Permanently keeping the watch on uses a bunch more battery life and we found that there was no real reason to do it other than the cosmetic effect of looking more like a real watch.
The 410mAh battery was more than enough to keep the G Watch R running the entire day. In fact more often than not we would start using it at 6AM and only get it onto charge at 10PM at night with 40% battery still remaining.
For light users we suspect that two days between charges would be possible if the display was not set to always on mode but for most we think that nightly charging will be the order of the day.
That’s never a problem at home with the included charging dock easy enough to place on a bedside table where the G Watch R can sit overnight while it waits for you the next morning but it does mean that you’ll be packing another charger whenever you go away.
Hopefully wireless charging becomes the norm in the next wave of technology and we can just have charging mats lying around everywhere.
The best part of the G Watch R’s battery abilities however has nothing to do with its own battery but rather with that of the smartphone connected to it. The biggest drain on a smartphone’s battery is the display and the fewer times you turn on that display during the day, the longer its battery will last. Because you deal with so many of the notifications coming from the phone on the G Watch R you land up turning on the phone less, which in turn means longer battery life for your smartphone which is never, ever a bad thing.
If you’ve got an Android smartphone and you’re looking for a smartwatch with the fantastic functionality then Android Wear is the best choice for you.
Of the Android Wear watches we’ve seen (which in fairness is only three of them) the G Watch R is a clear favourite. It’s got more than enough processing and battery power for anything you throw at it every day.
Display: 1.3” 320×320 resolution Full Circle P-OLED display
Memory: 512MB of RAM
Networking: Bluetooth 4.0
Other: IP67 Water and dust resistant