Back in March I was given an LG G Watch R, the first Android Wear smartwatch to have a full round display (the Moto 360 was earlier, but has a bit cut off the bottom of the actual display). I’d promised I’d get round to making some comments about it once I’d had it for a while and have failed to do so until now. Note that this is very much comments on the watch from a user point of view; I haven’t got to the point of trying to do any development or other hacking of it.
Firstly, it’s important to note I already was wearing a watch and have been doing so for all of my adult life. Just a basic, unobtrusive analogue watch (I’ve had a couple since I was 18, before that it was pretty much every type of calculator watch available at some point), but I can’t remember a period where I didn’t. The G Watch R is bulkier than what I was previously wearing, but I haven’t found it obtrusive. And I love the way it looks; if you don’t look closely it doesn’t look like a smart watch (and really it’s only the screen that gives it away).
Secondly, I already would have taken my watch off at night and when I was showering. So while the fact that the battery on the G Watch R will really only last a day and a half is by far and away its most annoying problem, it’s not as bad as it could be for me. The supplied charging dock is magnetic, so it lives on my beside table and I just drop the watch in it when I go to bed.
With those details out of the way, what have I thought of it? It’s certainly a neat gadget. Being able to see my notifications without having to take my phone out of my pocket is more convenient than I expected - especially when it’s something like an unimportant email that I can then easily dismiss by swiping the watch face. My agenda being just a flick away, very convenient, particularly when I’m still at the stage of trying to remember where my next lecture is. Having walking directions from Google Maps show up on the watch (and be accompanied by a gentle vibration when I need to change direction) is pretty handy too. The ability to take pictures via the phone camera, not so much. Perhaps if it showed me roughly what I was about to photograph, but without that it’s no easier than using the phone interface. It’s mostly an interface for consuming information - I’ve tried the text to SMS interface a few times, but it’s just not reliable enough that I’d choose to use it.
I’ve also been pleased to see it get several updates from LG in the time I’ve had it. First the upgrade from Wear 4.4 to Wear 5.1 (probably via 5.0 but I forget), but also the enabling of wifi support. The hardware could always support this, but initially Android Wear didn’t and then there was some uncertainty about the FCC certification for the G Watch R. I can’t say I use it much (mostly the phone is within range) but it’s nice to see the improvements in support when they’re available.
What about the downsides? Battery life, as mentioned above, is definitely the major one. Mostly a day is fine, but the problem comes if I’m ever away. There’s no way to charge without the charging dock, so that becomes another things I have to pack. And it’s really annoying to have your watch go dead on you midday when you forget to do so. I also had a period where I’d frequently (at least once a week) find an “Android Wear isn’t responding. Wait/Restart?” error on the watch screen. Not cool, but thankfully seems to have stopped happening. Finally there’s the additional resource requirements it puts on the phone. I have a fairly basic Moto G 4G that already struggles with Ingress and Chrome at the same time, so adding yet another thing running all the time doesn’t help. I’m sure I could make use of a few more apps if I was more comfortable with loading the phone.
The notable point for me with the watch was DebConf. I’d decided not to bring it, not wanting the hassle of dealing with the daily charging. I switched back to my old analogue watch (a Timex, if you care). And proceeded to spend 3 days looking at it every time my phone vibrated before realising that I couldn’t do that. That marked the point where I accepted that I was definitely seeing benefits from having a smart watch. So when I was away for a week at the start of September, I brought the charger with me (at some point I’ll get round to a second base for travel). I was glad I’d done so. I’m not sure I’m yet at the point I’d replace it in the event it died, but on the whole I’m more of a convert that I was expecting to be.