I’ve always wanted a watch phone. Why? Because it’s an incredibly practical concept.
My use case may be slightly different than most people’s, but in my case a watch phone would be perfect:
- I constantly forget my phone everywhere, but I won’t leave a watch phone behind
- If the phone is on the wrist, looking at the caller ID is the same as looking at your watch; no need to find the phone or get it out of the holster
- In almost all cases, I don’t need the bulk of a phone; I rarely dial a phone number, and even then I’d rather do so on the computer and have Google Voice route the call
- I don’t like using a smartphone for voice calls; actually, like a lot of people, I don’t like voice calls at all
- I am on the move a lot and it would be good to have some sort of paging mechanism to warn me of impending doom
A watch phone is the perfect solution for all those things, plus it can easily work as a bluetooth MP3 player. You get a bluetooth headset anyway (or did you think you’d have to talk to the phone like some crazy hobo spy?); might as well use it to listen to music, no?
Now, the review of this particular watch phone. Without giving too much away, it’s the proof that Steve Jobs deserved all the money he made.
You see, back in the ancient days (2000) there were MP3 players. They were incredibly horrible (and I have half a dozen in my personal museum to prove it). They would jam on an MP3 they didn’t like and you had to reset them by pushing in a tiny button. They would have unmanageably complicated menus. They would stop playing when you changed volume. They fit only a handful of songs. They required strange docks and cables.
Then came the iPod, and life changed for the better. Suddenly, you actually wanted to use an MP3 player. Suddenly, everybody else on the market understood what mattered and changed their products accordingly. Those that didn’t, died.
This watch phone is where the world of MP3 was before the iPod. It works, but it’s useless.
The phone comes in a black box made to resemble jewelry cases. The box contains the watch, wrapped around a cushion, and another box with the accessories. Since you have to open the watch body to insert the SIM card and the battery, there is a small screwdriver included. Also, you’ll find the usual accessories that come with this kind of device: headphones, connection/charging cable, power-to-USB converter, mini CD with drivers, and manual.
Let’s start with the manual, since it sets the tone for the whole experience. In a language that sounds like a Babelfish translation circa 1998, you get a run-down of security precautions and a list of menu items. The manual is absolutely useless, and it’s only by navigating the menu that you can actually hope to find the items you need.
The manual alone is reason enough to send the watch phone back.
The watch phone is billed as “waterproof,” but it really isn’t certified to be. It’s just what we’d call “splashproof:” you better not get into water with it in a serious way. It’s a bummer, since the whole purpose of buying this thing was to have something when I surf.
The downside of the “waterproof” is that there is no external connection directly available. If you need to change the battery or SIM card, you have to unscrew the bottom of the watch (as noted, you have to do that when you first receive the watch). If you want to recharge the watch or manage files, you have to unscrew one side.
From a purely mechanical perspective, the watch is not bad at all. The screen is pretty big, although the watch has way too much bezel around it. You end up carrying about twice as much size on your wrist as useful.
The screen came scratched. I was surprised they didn’t put one of those goofy protectors on, until I realized they had simply mounted it on the bottom. So much for quality assurance in production.
Unscrewing the bottom to insert the SIM card (T-Mobile) and the battery was fairly easy. Just make sure you have some form of place where you can store the microscopic screws once you remove the cover. Fortunately, the box comes with a set of replacement screws – a really nice touch.
Unfortunately, for mysterious reasons this watch phone does not use a normal USB connector. Instead, it’s some strange and wide variant of micro USB. That means you always have to carry the cable with you wherever you go. A really stupid choice.
Once the SIM card is installed, connection and configuration on the T-Mobile network was simple. Just go to the T-Mobile web site and enter the information required, and you are good to go. Note: if this is your first GSM phone, remember to write down the IMEI written down under the battery!
Bluetooth pairing is fairly simple, once you figure out where the menu item is located. We’ll get to that later. Suffice to say that it’s easy to accept calls from the BT headset.
That, of course, is the part that is sorely lacking. The phone has no buttons, so you are left with a touch screen. That wouldn’t be bad, but the screen is unpredictable and the interface so complicated, you end up spending a ton of frustration time trying to do the simplest things. Here we have a combination that was lethal to Windows Mobile: an interface that is overly complicated and an input method that is unforgiving.
To make things worse, the touch screen doesn’t seen to recognize gestures. If you are presented with a list, you cannot scroll down to get items that are not visible: you have to push a scroll bar button that is tiny and right next to other controls.
And, to make things even worse, there is no way to pair a better input method: while the phone support bluetooth, it does so only for audio. You cannot connect a BT keyboard or mouse.
It’s a real tragedy, because in real world use, the phone is incredibly frustrating for anything but receiving phone calls.
The screen is acceptably bright in indoor conditions, but completely illegible in the brightness of an outdoors sunny day.
Because of power consumption, the screen is turned off most of the time, which means you have to push a button on the side of the watch to actually use it as a watch. In normal use, it’s just a black square staring at you.
The fonts on the screen are incredibly big. The screen fits only five lines of text and an additional status line.
Voice quality on both the phone and the headset is decent. At street noise levels, the speakers become distorted, but if you are in a quiet room, you can hear and speak clearly.
Making calls is acceptable. The main interface has a diminutive “Call” button in the center. If you click on it, you get a decent-size keypad.
Strangely, the SMS function is horrifying. That’s due to two incidents of birth: the display and the input method.
For whatever reason, the phone displays the metadata of any text message first. If you look at a text message, you see the time, date, and phone number – but only the first few words of the message. That’s incredibly asinine, since you really want the text first and are interested in the metadata only secondarily. But what would be just a nuisance becomes a real hindrance, since to scroll you have to go to the scrollbar button, which sits right atop the Back button. Half the time you end up hitting “Back” when you just want to read your message.
On the other hand, if you simply want to reply to a message you received, the steps to take are amazingly complicated:
- Write Message (in a microscopic keyboard that begs for a stylus)
- Send to
- Enter number (number pre-filled, thank goodness)
- Select number
Needless to say, this is absolutely unacceptable.
To make the pain even worse, there is only limited storage for SMS and no way to delete a bunch of them. You have to delete every message you receive. Even here, the steps to take are heart-stoppingly numerous:
- (Confirmation shows – no interaction possible until the message disappears)
The phone has a built-in camera/video recorder. You take pictures and shoot videos from the main interface, with the lens on the right side of the watch.
I understand why they did it this way, but placing the lens where it is, is incredibly annoying for right-handed persons, who constantly have to move their wrist down. Taking pictures is completely impossible for left-handers (or any people that wear their watch on the right wrist), because there is no way to get the arm out of the way.
The logical thing to do would have been to put the lens on the top of the camera, where nothing is in its way.
The pictures taken are what you’d expect: grainy, blurry, color-warped. This is clearly a function that should be thrown out unless it can be improved.
For whatever reason, a lot of gadgets coming from China focus on video playback. I do not know why I would want to watch any video on a screen that tiny, but apparently there is demand for that. Somewhere. Maybe if they had a secret YouTube feed I’d be happy, but as it stands you have to get the videos to the phone on your own.
Music playback is not particular good, either. I tried wearing the watch phone at the gym and listen to music there, but whenever I moved my wrist, there was crackling and popping going on in the BT headset. Since I’ve used the same headset with other phones and MP3 players, I can definitely say that’s due to the watch.
Allegedly, the phone supports Java, which means you can theoretically download any amount of Java apps. I didn’t try any, because the phone is frustrating as it is. But you have the option. There is one built-in game, simply called “Puzzle.” I never tried it, but maybe you will?
The idea of a watch phone that is useable outdoors is amazing. The focus should probably be battery life, connectivity, and ease of use, in that order. Imagine if you could connect your BT-enabled tablet to the watch phone for Internet connectivity. Imagine you could go surfing or running or hiking, and you’d have a phone with you that at the very least alerts you when something’s happening.
Not this watch phone. While it has all the parts required, the implementation is so poor and complicated to use, I would advise anyone against buying it.
On the plus side, changing the things that don’t work isn’t hard. That’s the genius of Steve Jobs: to realize that the last 10% or work make 100% of difference to users. The company that makes these watches would have a winner if they just tried harder. If not, someone else will, and will create a product worth three or four times the price of this one.