BERLIN — One of the most common objections to smartwatches has been that these phone-connected timepieces are just too big, and that’s not fair.
Watches are allowed to be chunky as long as they’re round: Just look at half of the men’s watches on sale in a store that doesn’t cater to techies. Unfortunately, most of the smartwatches on the market today have sported square faces that advertise to passersby “I am wearing a miniature computer on my wrist.”
If squareness is the only obstacle to mainstream smartwatch adoption, LG’s upcoming G Watch R may stand a better-than-average chance at breaking through. At the IFA gadget show here, the Korean firm gave journalists a peek at the round-faced Android Wear device it announced late last month, and I spent a few minutes inspecting one and trying it on.
First: Yes, it’s thick. I measured it at about 7/16th of an inch thick, making it chunkier than Samsung’s 3/8th-inch thick Gear Live but not as hefty as Samsung’s just-introduced Gear S. And it looks like it could have been thinner, since the 1.3-inch screen (unlike the Moto 360, this display is completely round) is recessed below the edge of the watch.
But between a default watch-face screen that imitates an, er, dumb watch, the printed numbers on the bezel, a band made out of leather instead of plastic, and even a crown on the side (which didn’t appear to do anything when I spun it), the G Watch R looks much more like a standard timepiece.
The software on the model I tried, one not connected to any smartphone at the time, looked like conventional Android Wear aside from being on a circular screen. With Google’s tight control of this software, the bits on the display won’t be how Android Wear manufacturers will set themselves apart.
On the back there’s a heart-rate monitor; it clocked me at 67 beats per minute. The 410 milliamp-hour battery inside should run the watch for a day and a half, LG says.
LG isn’t talking pricing. The German version of its press release earlier cited a €299 price — $389 at today’s exchange rates — before being taken down. I can’t imagine that becoming the final price when this ships later this year, not when Motorola’s Moto 360 will retail at $250 and the Gear Live goes for $199.
The price of other Android Wear devices like Sony’s SmartWatch 3 also remains up in the air. And then there’s the distinct possibility of Apple unveiling its own smartwatch next week. It’s becoming an increasingly interesting time to shop for a smartwatch — which is to say it also remains a risky time to buy one.
Disclosure: Most of my travel expenses, along with those of several other U.S.-based tech journalists and analysts, are being covered by IFA’s organizers.