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4 Smartwatches vying to be your “Dick Tracy” wrist accessory

10 Mar

How are those evasive “Dick Tracy” wristwatches we were promised coming along? Well, phone watches have debuted with some fanfare — but it’s 2012, and making “phone calls” is already passé. Lucky for us, we have truly connected wrist communicators coming around the bend: “smartwatches”. Here are four watches of interest, particularly for smartphone owners, and some thoughts on what’s coming next. 

1. Wimm One


VIMM is an ambitious new Android platform

The watch-of-the-future with the most impressive specs is the Wimm One, which is currently available as a developer pre-release. It’s a tiny Android device that can not only standalone as an internet device with wi-fi, GPS, apps, music, etc, but can also be your handsfree headset via a Bluetooth connection to your smartphone (including Android, iPhone, Blackberry, and Windows phone compatibility). The first release comes with a pretty ugly wristband that makes the Wimm One look like the nerdiest wristwatch ever, but the Wimm website features a gallery of concept designs that have plenty of style potential. Price: $200 and up.

2. i’m Watch

I'm Watch

I'm Watch

i'm Watch is the hippest option

More stylish but less fully featured, the Italian-designed i’m Watch is also Android-based. For wireless data, it relies solely on a Bluetooth connection with your internet-connected device. On the bright side, the lack of wi-fi likely contributes to its longer battery life and smaller size than Wimm One. Like Wimm, it delivers the up-to-the-minute social media, news, weather, messaging that your smartphone can to your wrist while also working as a handsfree headset. It’s compatible with iPhone and Android. Price: $329 and up.

3. Sony Smartwatch

Sony Smartwatch

The Sony Smartwatch is for Android users only

Sony has also released an Android phone accessory called simply Smartwatch (Sony MN2). This device will ship on April 1 (US) and pairs with any Android smartphone via Bluetooth. Like the Wimm One, it’s a little chunky, and apparently only interacts with certain Android apps. The Smartwatch replaces an earlier Sony Ericsson Live View product that got pretty bad reviews, but the new Smartwatch seems to be a higher end product with better prospects. Unlike Wimm One and i’m Watch, Sony Smartwatch will only be compatible only with Android phones. Price: $149 from sony, $119 and up elsewhere.

iPad Nano

iPod Nano is cool, but you can't chat your friends on it

4. iWatch (iPod Nano + wristband)

It can’t post a Facebook status — not yet at least — but the iPod Nano with the Apple wristband lights up a lot of wrists already and is the only watch by Apple. However, the iPod Nano has no wireless connectivity … unless you count FM radio. (Ha.) It is stylish, small, runs a number of apps, and syncs with iTunes via USB. So if you’re already iAddicted, an iPod wristwatch might be your thing. Price: iPod from $118, wristbands from $11.

What else is available? 

VIP Quad Band Stainless Steel FM Radio Watch Mobile Phone

Mobile phone, media player, FM radio, camera, and watch

I listed some of the most advanced smartwatches on the market, but smartwatches are an emerging gadget trend around the world, so you can find some others on the market from brands known and unknown.

The results of searching “smart watch” on Amazon show a number of watches that don’t have the all social media compatibility and connectivity of the above watches, but that are GSM mobile phones with touchscreen displays — some pretty stylish, inexpensive, and worth a look. But I can’t call all these gadgets “smartwatches”, because many aren’t “smart” in terms of apps or internet integration.

What’s next?

Flexible OLED Screen by Samsung

Flexible screens might make smartwatches bigger and more comfortable

I think that smartwatches have real potential to bridge the convenience gap between an actual phone and a “smartphone”, the ginormous little computer that sinks to the bottom of your bag when you can bear to put it down. But I wonder if these phones are trying a little too hard to look like wristwatches and not hard enough to make real strides forward in design.

For instance, I expect to see larger screens in these watches in the future, possibly using flexible OLED screens to increase comfort and wearability. A bigger face would enable the smartwatch to become thinner while making room for a larger battery and other good stuff, like faster processors and more memory.

And if these smartwatches become more powerful and have larger screens, fewer will need to depend on an outside smartphone or computer, like the above watches largely do.

Wearing a watch on the inside of the wrist

People may prefer smartwatches designed for the insides of their wrists

Another design stride that smartwatches could make is moving to the inside of the wrist. This might not sound convenient at first, but many of us are most comfortable reading and interacting with devices in the palms of our hands, so “digital natives” (who didn’t grow up with wristwatches) might feel most comfortable having a screen inside their wrist. It’s also much easier to keep the inside of your wrist private from onlookers when you’re in a meeting or riding the subway.

I also think smartwatches could take some design cues from the Smart Cover accessory for iPad.

iPad Smart Cover by Apple

iPad's Smart Cover could inspire some smartwatch designs

A smartwatch (or small, wrist-friendly tablet) come come with a similar folding cover to use when you put the device in your bag or pocket, but that unfolds to magnetically wrap the device around your wrist, and can just as easily stand the device up on a table in front of you.

The feature I thought was most glaringly missing from every smartwatch I looked at in detail is a front-facing camera for video chat. Maybe the idea of video chatting someone from a wrist-mounted camera watch doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I think it may be less awkward than chatting on a tablet or video phone. This feature can be found in some wrist phones outside the US market, so it might soon appear in smartwatches stateside.

I hope I’m right about some of these things, but it’s possible that smartwatches will never really catch on. After all, most of us are still so amazingly primitive that we still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

Five Unique Android Phones

30 Aug

After spending years with an iPhone, I decided I’d step away from iProducts and try something different. Unfortunately, most of the smartphones I found had the iPhone’s same basic form factor: a big, shiny slab. Big screens are great, but surely there are other cool smartphone designs, right? What’s a nonconformist to do? After days of shopping around for distinctive Android phones, I found five that really stand out.

One: Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro SK17i

The Xperia Mini Pro SK17i is the smaller scale version of the high end Xperia  and Xperia Arc phones. For a tiny phone though, the SK17i has better specs than almost any other miniature Android phone on the market. The phone has a 1 GHz processor, 500 MB of RAM, and a 480 x 320 pixel resolution in a tiny little 3 inch touchscreen. The biggest difference between the “mini” and the “mini pro” is the slide-out QWERTY keyboard. This phone ships with Android 2.3.

Two: Kyocera Echo

The Kyocera Echo has something inside you may have never known you were missing: another big touchscreen. With dual 3.5 inch touchscreens, you can look at items on one big display, open an on-screen keyboard on the lower display while reading the upper display, and other fun stuff. This phone is pretty new (released April 2011), has a 1 GHz processor, a 5 magapixel camera, wi-fi, GPS, and ships with Android 2.2. Even for all that, the Echo won’t get 4G data speeds, but runs at 3G speed on the Sprint network.

Three: T-Mobile Sidekick 4G

Like many long-term gadget fans, I’m happy to see the T-Mobile Sidekick come back to the market, which was always a very distinctive and innovative smartphone. Its Android OS reboot has been well received. The new Sidekick 4G is large, relatively slim, and has the same unusual form factor as its predecessors, with a big screen the swivels out to reveal a particularly roomy QWERTY keyboard. The 3.5 inch touchscreen has a rather high resolution of 480 x 800 pixels. The Sidekick 4G has includes all the rest of the best performance features as well, such as wi-fi, GPS, and a fast with a 1 GHz processor with 512 MB RAM.

Four: Umeox Apollo

While the Umeox Apollo is not yet released, this very rugged, distinctive solar powered Android phone should be hitting the market in Q3 of 2011. Whether it will officially be on the US market is not clear, but it will be GSM compatible for some US carriers. Still, this phone can last on 2.5 hours of sunlight per day using its built-in solar panel (cool, but don’t lose the power cable if you live somewhere like Seattle or England.) It also has a bulit-in 3 megapixel camera, wi-fi, a 3.2 inch touchscreen, an FM radio, and color scheme that doesn’t resemble an iPhone a bit.

Five: Motorola Flipout

Although it was released last June 2010, the Motorola Flipout is a really unique, square Android phone with a rotating touchscreen and QWERTY keyboard. With a 600 MHz processor and 512 MB RAM, this phone shouldn’t be terrible slow either. Reviewers complain that the phone’s 2.8 inch touchscreen is just too small, but those of us with smaller hands can probably make it work, although small screen’s 320 x 240 pixels resolution may also feel a bit tight. The Flipout ships with Android 2.1.