Editor's note: the following review was written by an AndroidPIT community member and doesn't necessarily reflect the views of our editorial staff.
A few years ago LG entered the market with its SmartPhone Watch, but decided to go for elegance and style over functionality, which ended up giving us a watch with a phone built into it with limited other features; it also came with a price tag that was way over the top. Now we have this beauty, called the "Rock, designed to have all the functions, bells and whistles of a modern Android Phone, but crammed into a watch. The question is, did they actually pull it off or is this another one of those funny gadgets the Chinese like to throw out into the market?
I have bought watch phones from the Chinese market in the past, they intrigued me, and the one I had was basic, it had a stylus (concealed in the wrist strap), a small screen, and the battery had to be charged every night; if it was used heavily it would not last the day. I ended up getting a replacement battery and having one on charge while I used the other. Even with its cheesy startup sound and basic WAP Browser (which was so small it was almost completely unreadable), this was a cool piece of kit for its time. The iPhone had not been out long, and many people in my area had not made the transition to next generation of mobile phones; but it eventually became too much hassle for me to keep up with battery swapping and the novelty wore off. I eventually sold it.
The closest thing I have owned to an iPhone (or any other modern SmartPhone) was a 2nd generation iPod Touch. I know how they feel and how intuitive they are; I know the joy of being able to easily breeze through the settings and music. I have also owned a 1st generation iPad, So i know about web browsing on the go, and all the latest apps and living connected to Facebook like many of us are. I say this to give you an idea of how connected I am with modern technology before I begin my review of what is in essence the first viable Watch Phone. I say this because all other Watch Phones have failed in most areas of actually being practical.
The Android 2.2 SmartPhone Watch has a really nice 2" screen, this is large enough to read and navigate the watch and the web with ease. It took me about half a day of using this device to get to grips with the touch screen keyboard, but now on my 3rd day I can type as fast as I can on any mobile device.
This Phone Watch comes in as many different colours as it does supposed manufacturers and prices. This device has many names, the one I purchased was known as the Rock, and was the cheapest to buy. The most popular one is the Z1, and there is no difference in hardware between all the names, the only difference is the outer packaging, price and the colour options (as mentioned earlier). So what are all the names?
- The Rock sold by ChinaVasion
- The Z1 sold by iBuygou
- The Vapirius AX by WatchMobilePhone
- The Vega by 3GWatches
- The Phaeton by DVIP
Now we have all the confusion out of the way, let me tell you about my experience with this device.
The Watch Phone may look chunky compared to other watches, but what do you expect, you have a computer on your wrist!
Even with its unconventional shape it actually works on the wrist. It sits well, and a lot of thought has been put into the overall design, a compromise between functionality and style which has hit the nail on the head. It has two buttons on the left which are the Volume buttons for the ringer and for the volume in other Apps like playing Games or Music. Two other buttons sit on the right, the top button is the Menu button and will call up a menu of options in any App, the lower button is used for switching on and off the device, and it also doubles up as a Back button, and will back you out of any App and go back to the previous page in the web browser. Surprisingly it is a lot lighter than it looks. I have been wearing this thing for several days, and it is easily concealed under the sleeve; even on display it works well, I never had anyone staring at me in public while wearing it unless I was actually using it; which only enforced the fact that they were interested in what I was doing rather than what it looked like.
You get looks of awe when people see you standing outside whilst browsing Facebook after taking a picture and uploading it with a few quick clicks from a watch; the camera is impressive, and is placed in a perfect position. Not only does it take pictures, but also records video. Once a picture is taken you can view it, and have the option right there to upload it to Facebook and write a comment, or attach it to an email. I get my email live, and can check and delete it on the go. I can browse the net and zoom in on pages that I find hard to read, but most of the time I don't have to zoom at all. The 2" display is really high resolution, bordering on retina display amount of pixels, and it shows, after all, if it wasn't this device would fall flat on its face right there. The Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are in there and working like you would expect, and it contains a gyroscope for screen flipping and games, and also has a fully working GPS which is good for Sat-Nav Apps. The test video on this device was an advert for Finding Nemo, and the resolution means that you don't lose anything when watching it. Music is loud from the speaker and very clear. The brightness on the screen goes really bright and the speaker goes really loud; this device has been designed to work out and about, which brings me to my next topic.
The ultimate test, taking calls out and about. Although in this day and age SmartPhones are used for everything but calls, I decided to give the phone a go. The built in speaker is big, and loud, so I figured it can take calls without the need for the bluetooth headset. Upon receiving a call the speaker rang loudly, but upon answering it was quiet, until I hit the loudspeaker button on the screen. Now given that I had screaming kids around me, I could actually hear the call, and it was set to general settings. Talking does not require that you hold the mouthpiece too close to your mouth, but the speaker does need to be close to your ear if the other line is not particularly loud. Luckily this device comes with a set of bluetooth headphones which double up as a headset for calls, and I took the initiative and bought a JABRA BT2045 in-ear headset. This connects easily and you can answer the call by pressing the button on the headset. Personally I prefer to communicate via text or online so calls are at a minimum, but there are those times when you need to speak to someone and this works really well in both situations.
Battery and RAM
Unlike my other Watch Phone, this device's battery can last a few days without needing to be charged. I had been constantly downloading and installing Apps for the first day, and this drained the battery, but following a subsequent charge, the battery is still going strong, and it looks like it will last for a few days more. When setting up I downloaded a few essential Apps, one App allows you to move installed Apps onto the SD card to free up internal Ram, another App frees up RAM by flushing inactive closed Apps from memory, I installed a few game also, like Angry Birds.
Checking the Apps, there are all the essentials preinstalled. It has a Browser, a Mail App, Facebook, Twitter, Messaging, Music, Photo Gallery, Gps Status, a Word, Powerpoint, Excel compatible package, Alarm Clock, Calendar, Contacts, Calculator, Camera, Sound Recorder, Wireless Keyboard, Search, SimToolkit, Phone, Setting, Dev Tools, Spare Parts and Aptoide.
Setting up Facebook was just a case of signing in, which on a small 2" virtual keyboard was surprisingly easier than I thought it would be. The Keyboard is too small for even one digit, but never pressed two keys at once, and by the second day of using it I was actually becoming really fluent at typing, a lot better than I would have anticipated. Also, what added to the ease of typing in Facebook was the addition of a predictive word list; this displayed a list of possible words as I typed, and increased the speed of writing a message by allowing me to select the completed word. As Facebook loaded up it was a very familiar sight, the layout was almost identical to that of the web version, the photos of all my friends faces besides their posts, embedded pictures, videos and links all displayed well on this amazingly tiny screen.
After playing about with the phone for the first day I decided to configure my emails using the generic Mail App. Unlike Facebook, using this App was a different story altogether; that is not to say it was difficult or that the App is at fault, I was simply trying to set up my Hotmail email, and this was a program for standard emails. After much frustration I decided that this was not going to work with Hotmail emails, and in the end it was easier for me to just download the Hotmail App which worked like a charm. New incoming emails make a ping and a notification displays on the task bar showing the number of new emails you have, you can then swipe down the notification menu from above any active App and tap on the notification; this takes you directly into your emails and is amazingly intuitive. You can read, reply, compose and send emails, also it is easy to delete multiple emails at ones. Simply the ability to have emails pushed to you on your wrist while out and about is just priceless, especially if you are like me and rely on them a lot.
The Music Player came with a sample track or what I can only describe as Chinese Rock. So I decided to take the opportunity to test the data connection. Now unlike other devices which have had USB Ports, this device has none; this device has ingeniously incorporated the USB into the wrist strap, giving a connection on the end of the strap that is concealed in a sheath while wearing it. When I plugged it into my iMac two notifications came up, one was for debugging and flashing the firmware, if you have the software installed on your computer (which it does not come with), and the other allows you to put the device in data mode, which gives you access to the devices SD card as a drive. I decided to bin the Chinese song and uploaded one of my own (which I thought would work well as my ringtone) Fuel By Metallica from my Greatest Hits Album. Amazingly the music player not only played the song with loud volume and crispness for a watch, but it also recognised the album and incorporated the album cover and Metallica backdrop behind the song. This really impressed me and showed that it wasn't just a basic player; I can customise song lists or set shuffle for the songs, I can browse by Artist, Album, Genre or Song, and can even leave it playing while dealing with other Apps, and can easily return to it by using the notification menu from any App.
One preinstalled App caught my attention more than any other, which is called Documents To Go. The version preinstalled asks you to register, and it is not the pro version, but I skipped the registration and dived right in. This package offers many things, like the ability to read and write Microsoft Word, Power Point and Excel compatible documents as well as view PDF files. This is a complete office suite, and works really well. I uploaded a few document I had and they all displayed fine, I even edited them and sent them back to my iMac. Typing on the keyboard will take some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it you can type away at a reasonably fast pace. For the writer who wants to continue their book on the go or just wants to jot down notes as they come to them out and about, this is a handy piece of kit.
Next on my list was the Sound Recorder. This built in App was basic, you can record your voice play it back and save it, at which point it is only accessible from other sound playback Apps like the Music Player. What did impress me however was not the Sound Recorder App, but the length I could keep the watch away from my mouth and it still pick it up load and clear, I could easily dictate with the watch on my wrist with arms by my side while standing; and this still records clearly.
The Gallery displays all your picture and video files you have stored on the device. As I mentioned earlier there was a Finding Nemo video clip already present on the device, and you have your standard play, pause, and a slider bar to set the position through the video. The gallery holds up to its name when dealing with media; you can set it to do a slideshow of all you media including video, or you can just isolate pictures or isolate video. I went into the gallery and played a slideshow of all the pictures I had taken, it was quite impressive that they had bothered to enable you to stop on any picture and send it via Bluetooth, as an MMS or email, or even post it on Facebook. It even had a multi select function so you could select a bunch of pictures at one and share them or delete them. Its little things like this that make using the device a breeze.
Intrigued by the genre of SmartPhone users who take pics with their mobiles and upload then to Facebook as they are out and about, I thought I would give it a go, not as though I had anything particularly interesting to report, so I took a picture of my dog. Surprisingly the camera is actually quite good, and the functions in the camera App help improve this, with day and night setting, zoom functions, lighting effects and the option to record video. The camera is placed in a perfect position on the watch, as you angle your arm to view the screen it lines up perfectly with what is in front of you, and only a slight rotation of the wrist allows you to get things in shot which are higher or lower than your wrist hight without having to tilt the screen out of view. My previous Watch Phone, had a camera on it but the quality and the positioning made it difficult to use practically. This however is a breeze to use without being too obvious.
I was asked if this had Text-To-Speech capabilities, and the answer is yes. Although the installed engine would not find the English voice packages, so I downloaded Svox Classic Text To Speech, and bought the UK Oliver Voice Pack for £1.99, which is not a bad price, given my watch can now speak to me in a non computer sounding voice. I set up the engine, but had nothing that used it, so I came across an App called TalkBack which is designed for the visually impaired which reads back to you everything as you navigate the SmartPhone. Another less vocal App was a free one called Talking SMS, this reads your messages to you without needing to do anything, it ever tells you who it is from. There are other apps that take advantage of voices, some kids Apps and Sat-Nav Apps which all work on this devices.
Given that this device can now talk to me, I wanted a way to talk back, so I found an App called Cyberon Voice Commander(UK) which allows you to dial number call contact, access and access other Apps via voice command, I installed it withVoice Action Pro, this App allows you to do everything via voice, you can write and send emails and SMS messages, browse the web via voice, write documents, access Apps, you name it, it does it apart form voice dialling. This is an amazing tool to have on a wrist watch, because you can have one of the most futuristic seeming pieces of technology, a watch that reads your emails and documents to you, and will do this with voice command!
Now that my device is hands free, and its strapped to my wrist it is actually more practical to have these pieces of software on this devices than it is to have them on any other SmartPhone, because I don't have to get it out of my pocket and hold it in my hand, I can just talk and listen, without having to do anything other than bring the Watch Phone closer to my face. The only problem with these packages, or any other voice command App, is they require a connection to the net, which is a shame.
There are many many more features I tried out, and all worked fine. I installed a 3D Launcher App which was akin to the Linus Cube 3D Desktop, and that was impressive. I installed some Games that used the gyroscope which worked well, but took skill tilting my wrist, and I checked out the GPS with several trial Sat-Nav Apps all of which worked.
The only real setback of this device (and that is not a real big problem as it is speedy enough) is that it is EDGE/GRPS rather than 3G, which means that it is a little slower at connecting to the net than 3G outside of Wi-Fi range. Fortunately for me, I don't really intend to use this device outside of Wi-Fi range that often, and in this day and age there are plenty of free Wi-Fi areas you can use it. This setback will be overcome in the next version however, which I am looking forward to reviewing when it is released.
I was impressed because so far this device is turning out to be more of a wrist worn computer with a phone built in than a SmartPhone Wristwatch. But this is my first ever SmartPhone and the fact that it is built into a watch makes it all the more cooler. As for practicality the design really works. Overall thoughts on this device is (given that it is the first of its kind) it is truly amazing, and the next version is being released mid next year with a much faster processor, better screen, more ram, the latest OS and (as I previously mentioned) 3G. I for one am going to be on the band wagon come Christmas 2013 to see this device in action, but for now this is perfect for taking care of the things I need it for.
Editor's note: you can buy an Android Phone Watch over at Chinavation.com for around $200.