Saturday, May 23, 2015

The LG G Watch R is everything the Moto 360 isn't

After briefly owning the Moto 360 (and subsequently returning it), I tried to figure out if the problems I had with it were shortcomings of Android Wear as a platform, or with the watch itself. I wore my Pebble for a few weeks after giving up on the 360, but I had my eye on the LG G Watch R, which I mentioned in my previous post.

I finally decided to try again and give Android Wear another shot with a different watch. I'm glad I did. The G Watch R is everything the Moto 360 isn't.

Looks and Design
While both watches are round, the GWR is slightly taller and wider, and 360 is slightly thicker. There's no denying that both watches are large, though in different ways. The 360 has a band that tucks up under the watch, making it feel very tall on the wrist, whereas the GWR is a more traditional sport watch design but feels kinda chunky.

The 360 looks shiny and modern, while the GWR looks far more traditional and masculine. Style is completely subjective and really not worth debating. One person's perfect design is another person's ugly, but in my subjective opinion, the 360 is too modern and attention grabbing. It looks like a gadget. The GWR, on the other hand looks like a traditional watch and isn't going to necessarily draw extra attention.

Internal specs
The Moto 360 was laggy, there's no way around it. It's using an older processor than the GWR, and even just with 3 days of using it, I noticed it. It was mostly smooth, but sometimes scrolling through menus, or waking up from sleep, there would be a delay that was noticeable and annoying.

As far as features, both watches are round, but that's where the similarities end. They use entirely different display types (more on that later) and they each have unique features.

A topic of much debate these days is WiFi support. The Moto 360 has it, the GWR doesn't. How important WiFi is is debatable, but the Internet is working itself into a frenzy about it (as the Internet likes to do). But even so, that's a feature the 360 has that the GWR does not.

The 360 also has an ambient light sensor, meaning it can automatically adjust the brightness of the screen. The GWR doesn't have that, but since it uses a different type of screen, it's questionable whether it's needed (more on the screen later).

Other differences include the charging method (wireless dock vs magnetic dock with pogo pins), the attachment of bands (and ease of changing bands), and other minor stuff like that. These are vastly different types of watches and will appeal to different types of people.

Battery
The GWR lasts 2 days, the 360 barely made it through one, often less. During the 3 days I had it, it lasted between 12 and 16 hours each day. That's wildly unacceptable in a watch, especially coming from the Pebble. The GWR, on the other hand, easily makes it through an entire day and most of the second day on a single charge.

Display
For me, this is the single most important part of a watch, and it's the biggest reason I returned the 360. The Moto 360 uses an LCD display, like most smartphones and computer monitors. It consists of two parts, the screen and the backlight. The display is transparent and changes pixel colors to make images appear. The backlight then shines through the transparent display, lighting it up. Benefits to this screen are better sunlight visibility,

The GWR, on the other hand, uses an AMOLED screen, like the ones on most Samsung smartphones. This type of screen consists of a single layer and the pixels produce their own light, so a backlight layer isn't needed. Benefits of this type of screen are battery life (only the pixels that are on are using power), true blacks (when a pixel is off it is a true, deep black), and color vibrancy.

Ambient Mode
Most smartwatches (the Apple Watch included), have two modes for the display: active and inactive. Active is when you're using/interacting with it, and inactive is when it's just on your wrist and "asleep." The Apple Watch simply turns the display off when it's asleep, meaning it's totally black when it's hanging on your wrist. Android Wear watches each offer something different for sleep mode, which is called "ambient mode."

The Moto 360 had an ambient mode, but it constantly warned you that turning it on would be bad for battery life. Even when it was on, it was barely visible and would often still turn off the screen anyway. Other watches (like the Asus Zenwatch or Sony Smartwatch 3) have an ambient mode that turns off all backlighting and leaves the display on, but dark. So if you use a watch face with big bold numbers, you can still read it.

The G Watch R (and the new Watch Urbane) have an ambient mode that not only leaves the display on, but leaves it illuminated, too. So it looks like a real watch all the time and never goes black. For me, this is the single biggest reason to buy the G Watch R over other watches. The display is second to none and by staying illuminated all the time, it is always easy to read, always looks good, and always looks like a watch.

Conclusion
Watches are, and always have been, a deeply personal accessory. Some have compared them to jewelry and I think that's accurate. What appeals to one person won't appeal to another. Look at the extreme variety in traditional watches and you'll see how subjective something like style can be.

So the decision about which smartwatch to buy should involve just as much personal thinking. Buy what YOU like and what appeals to YOU. Personally, what appeals to me is a round watch that has a great screen that is always on, and has battery to last 24 hours at a minimum. Fading to black and worrying about the battery dying are unacceptable.

For me, that totally rules out the Moto 360 as an option. It just didn't work for me. If you're on the fence about a smartwatch, I highly recommend checking out the G Watch R or Watch Urbane (if you want a more sophisticated look). It's the first smartwatch I've used that actually looks like a watch all the time. That's no small feat.