Android Smartwatch Review: I'm Watch
I am one of the "lucky" few who have managed to get the long awaited and much anticipated i'm Watch "smartwatch." The i'm Watch is one of several recent projects that are trying to bring smart, connected devices to the wrist watch. The i'm Watch is especially enticing to Android developers because it is at its core an Android device.
So how does the i'm Watch measure up for an Android developer like me? With Android as the OS, of course the possibilities seem endless.
The Good of i'm Watch
I'm always missing phone calls. My phone is in my pocket and I just don't hear it because of passing traffic or I don't feel the vibration. With the i'm Watch, this problem has been "somewhat" alleviated. At the time of this article, it appears that the i'm Watch is the first smart watch with both an integrated speaker and a microphone, which intrigued many people who thought of having a wrist watch like Dick Tracy's. During a phone call, the microphone's quality was more than acceptable; the person on the other end could hear me very clearly. However, the speaker is only passable and you probably wouldn't want to use it for more than the briefest of phone calls.
- RAM 128 MB
- Storage 4GB
- 1.54" TFT color display
- 240x240 resolution
- 220 ppi
In terms of preinstalled software, i'm Watch offers Gmail, twitter, Facebook, Picasa photos, Google Calendar, world news, weather, and stock prices. The i'm Watch team built in support for these services as well as the syncing mechanism to the i'm Watch device via a service they refer to as I'm Cloud. I'm Cloud is hosted via Google App Engine and the i'm Watch team keeps the settings for all of these functions on a Web page. Unfortunately, this means that you cannot tweak the settings (i.e. different gmail account, Google calendar, twitter account) on the watch itself.
Because i'm Watch is an Android device, my favorite pull down Notifications screen is available and works as expected. I get notifications for email, calendar events, Facebook, etc.
The i'm Watch worked well with an iPhone (5 and 4S) and with arguably the two most popular Android phones, the Samsung Galaxy S2 and S3. I'm sure it would work with other phones as well, but those were the ones I managed to test with it.
Overall the screen was fairly responsive. There was lag, but nothing so atrocious that I couldn't overlook it. However, you would notice a difference compared with a device like the iPod Nano.
Picasa and the ability to view your photos is more of a gimmick than anything else. Sure it was nice to view my Picasa albums on my watch, but after testing this feature initially I have since viewed my Picasa album via i'm Watch only when showing off the watch.
As far as size goes, i'm Watch is definitely plus sized. While it does not feel natural on your wrist, it isn't unwieldy either.
The Bad of i'm Watch
For a recently released product, it's a shame that i'm Watch runs on such an old version of Android (1.6). However, I'm sure there are potential hardware constraints and i'm Watch has had trouble with delivery so I can forgive them for this.
The i'm Watch firmware is not as polished as, say, the current iteration of a competitor such as Motorola MotoACTV. When pairing the i'm Watch to my phone or even when tethering for data, I would get constant Android Toast errors that looked more like Toast messages used for Android development than for users. So the i'm Watch development team have some refinement to do here.
Email is displayed by Sender and subject. I would like to be able to click on and read my email, or at least a snippet of the first 50 or 100 characters. However, the i'm Watch email app displays messages in what appears to be an Android ListView widget and onClick does nothing.
Battery life isn't great either. A full charge in the morning did not last me through a full working day. To be fair, I have configured i'm Watch to sync with the I'm Cloud servers every 5 minutes.
Another minor downer is the lack of a micro USB port. Charging is done via a standard USB-to-3.5mm-jack adapter with a short cable. It's nothing too problematic as both end points are standard and some other devices use this method, but this cable configuration is not exactly commonplace at present.
Another glaring omission is vibration functionality. When a call comes in, the vibrations of the speaker sounding the ringbone could be felt on the arm when I was indoors. However, when I was out and about in the city, I could not feel nor hear incoming phone calls. A notifications for email, Facebook, or twitter is a little beep that again is not audible in certain environments.
The i'm Watch's iPhone integration cannot use Bluetooth tethering, which means that when you have Bluetooth paired with your iPhone, your iPhone cannot use your home Wi-Fi for example as the i'm Watch-to-iPhone connection will require the iPhone's personal hotspot to be active. Of course, that's even if your carrier allows tethering. The Galaxy S3 did not have this constraint but that's more of a function of Android vs. iOS.
If you like to place protect covers on your gadgets, you'll need to wait. At the moment, no manufacturer makes screen / skin protection for i'm Watch. I tend to scratch up my watches and so I had to take a Skinomi skin protector built for a Motorola MotoACTV and did my own custom job.
As much I want my watch to be plugged in to all my various online services, as developer I am a bit cautious about entering my password(s) -- especially when an OAuth library is available. At the time of this article, the i'm Watch team had OAuth in place for Facebook and twitter, but to sync my i'm Watch device with Google services (Gmail, Calendar, Picasa) I had to enter my Google password (I did so, reluctantly). Personally, I feel that this is a fail.
In terms of performance, when the device was pulling a large amount of data from the network (e.g. pulling my photos down from a Picasa photo album over high-speed Wi-Fi) the screen would hang occasionally.
The Ugly of i'm Watch
Other smart watches have designed their user interface navigation differently than i'm Watch, and in my opinion most are better thought out. For example, the i'm Watch home button is a physical button located on the top right of the device. I have inadvertently rebooted my i'm Watch numerous times while walking because of this unfortunate placement.
On the customer service front, i'm Watch has had some trouble with fulfilling their delivery orders and have been slow to respond to people regarding customer support. Their Facebook page has many comments from customers who are not happy because they are not getting responses about when their watches will be available. However, in all fairness, this problem is not limited to i'm Watch. Even the mighty Pebble Kickstarter has been delayed. Anyone pre-ordering the Pebble being won't receive it before early 2013, according to their website.
Perhaps most disappointing to the Android developer is the fact that development is not available on the I'm Watch at this time. After all, i'm Watch does promote the fact that it is meant to be a developer platform as well as a watch. While i'm Watch does provide Emulator instructions, you are unable to develop and run some of your own apps on the device at the time of writing (I did not go as far as reflashing a different ROM). ADB (AndroidDebugBridge) was completely unavailable to the device. In my opinion, it might have been more beneficial for i'm Watch to release a developer preview before trying to release a consumer-grade product like many of its competitors. As we all know, developer previews are certainly useful for crowdsourcing both developers and testers.
Overall, the i'm Watch is a good idea (if you like the concept of Smart Watches) that perhaps was too ambitious with its first iteration. The i'm Watch team still have some wrinkles to iron out, but I'm looking forward to seeing more firmware updates as well as the i'm Watch team formally opening up their platform for Android development.