Why I chose the LG G Watch R as my first Android Wear smartwatch? And should you buy one?

I have wanted a smartwatch or some sort of smart wearable technology since the original Sony Smartwatch. But there was not enough good and usable options. The original Sony Smartwatch was a good idea, but it didn’t work in real life situations. The Galaxy Gear was pretty much the same thing.

Then the next generation of smartwatches came around and I thought that it is the time to buy one. The Samsung Gear 2 finally looked like a usable option. The problem is that it only works with a bunch of Samsung smartphones. At that time, I still had an iPhone, so it wasn’t an option for me. Luckily I didn’t switch to a Samsung smartphone at that time, because from what I have seen, I really hate TouchWiz and Samsung’s hardware looked and most importantly felt terrible. The Note 4 is miles better, but if you are happy with your current smartphone, I wouldn’t switch to a different one, just because of a smartwatch.
So I had to wait. Google finally came out with its Google Now oriented operating system for smartwatches. That was a good sign. Later this year, Apple announced their Apple Watch and Microsoft announced their fitness / smartwatch hybrid, the Microsoft Band. I do not think that Microsoft will get the wearable market moving, but I like the approach and most importantly, the Microsoft Band works with all major platforms: iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.
You might have noticed, that I have not mentioned the very popular Pebble Smartwatch. The reason is pretty simple. I just do not find it to be functional enough. It can only show you notifications, so if you want to interact with them, you have to pull out your phone anyway. You cannot use it to ask for questions or Google Searches. This was a must for me, because when I need a quick conversion, I do not need to pull out my phone. Some people consider it the best smartwatch because of the long battery life. The e-paper display enables the long battery life, but at the same time makes the watch less up market. 2014 is almost over and you are trying to tell me to use a device with black and white display, no microphone or speaker, and no touchscreen? Are you serious? I’m not saying that it I always adequate to talk to your wrist, but there are situations, in which voice recognition helps. Like replying to a text message or telling the watch which album to play.
Google officially unveiled the consumer version of Android Wear at Google I/O. At that point I thought: “Now is the time to buy a first smartwatch.” Roughly at this time I had left iOS (iPhone 5) and I got my first Android phone (the OnepPlus One). The Android Wear interface is simple, trying to be contextual, and it has great voice recognition. The hardware wasn’t there. I wanted a smartwatch with a speakerphone functionality. That was one feature, which I liked most about all of the Samsung smartwatches.
The original LG G Watch looked boring. LG should have called it a Nexus Watch, because that is what it is. It was made just to show off the new operating system from Google.
I really like the design of the Samsung Gear Live. The display isn’t easily visible in direct sunlight and I couldn’t get it in my country, but if I wanted to, I could buy it in Germany and ship it to my country (Slovakia). I could also forgive it the not so perfect display and no automatic brightness adjustment, but the charging cradle is a deal breaker for me. It is difficult to get on, off, and it breaks easily.
The third watch is the very popular round Moto 360 by Motorola. I haven’t even seen this one in person, because it is constantly out of stock. I love the design and I think it is the best looking smartwatch, but the ancient single core processor is unacceptable in 2014. Especially at that price point.

A few months later a next wave of smartwatches was launched. The Asus ZenWatch, Sony Smartwatch 3, and the LG G Watch R. I do not like the design of the ZenWatch, so I was left with the choice of the Sony Smartwatch 3 or LG G Watch R. I like to sporty appearance of the Smartwatch 3, the inclusion of GPS, and I do not mind the absence of heart rate monitor, because they are inaccurate anyway. I also do not mind having a square display, because text and the UI is better displayed on the standard square or rectangle display.

The decision came, when I saw the LG G Watch R available immediately in my country for less than the Sony Smartwatch or any other Android Wear smartwatch. I like to look of the perfectly circular display, and I like all of the included features. I just wish it had a slightly larger display (with smaller bezel), ambient light sensor for automatic brightness adjustment, and wireless charging like the Moto 360. At this price point (200 €), I bought it immediately.  

As I have thought, the display is nice, but not as usable nor practical as an ordinary squared one. The heart rate sensor is a hit or miss. On the other hand, I do not really mind the absence of the light sensor, because the watch stays in the low power mode with black and white watch face for 90 % of the time (brightness set to level 3 of 6). I would like to see a built in speaker for phone calls without headphones. These would be all things I would like to see addressed in the next generation of smartwatches, and at that point I am okay recommending a smartwatch to a non-geeky person.

There is one thing I do not get. I have been wearing a fitness band for around 2 years and I really like the ability to look back and see when I was / wasn’t active or how I slept. These features should be available in all smartwatches, period. The Android Wear watches have Google Fit integration, which allows them to count steps, but that isn’t enough. These smartwatches have more hardware suitable for health tracking like GPS or heart rate monitor. I do not see a reason why Google Fit cannot easily and automatically track sleep. We can at least now manually add activity, but that is not a point of a smartwatch. Also third party apps can now communicate with Google Fit, but there are not enough apps for all activities. I also do not want to use a different app for each type of activity… Because of this, I am wearing the LG G Watch R on my left wrist, and the Polar Loop on my right wrist.

If you want to buy an Android Wear smartwatch, go for it. They are all pretty good and finally usable, but if you do not know whether to get one, I would say wait at least 6 months. Apple has unveiled the Apple Watch, which means that smartwatches are no longer only gadgets, but a new product category, like smartphones and tablets. I am excited to see, how the Apple Watch does when Apple will release it sometime in early 2015. Even if it doesn't do too well, it will definitely also help Android Wear…

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