We're no strangers to watches here at Engadget, but smartwatches -- tiny wearable computers capable of running apps with SDKs to match -- are still a rare breed. The best known examples are probably Fossil's Meta Watch, Allerta's inPulse Smartwatch and WIMM Labs' WIMM One, all of which are primarily targeted at developers. We recently had the opportunity to spend some quality time with both the inPulse (over the holidays) and the WIMM One (during CES), and despite some similarities, each smartwatch takes a completely different approach to running apps on your wrist. While neither product is quite ready for prime time, both show promise as "fourth screen" devices, even for those of us who don't normally wear a watch. So go ahead -- hit the break and find out how these wearable computers stack up.
Allerta inPulse Smartwatch
The inPulse Smartwatch has been around for a couple years now, and is available for purchase to non-developers. It started life as a companion product for BlackBerry handsets, but now also supports select Android devices, including all Nexus and most Motorola models. Out of the box the watch runs a "default" app that displays notifications sent from your phone via Bluetooth -- i.e., calls, text messages, emails and calendar alerts. This requires your handset to be paired and running the free inPulse app. The watch also offers BBM integration and alarm clocks on Blackberry phones. Additionally, Allerta has just added Twitter integration on Android. Beyond passing along notifications, the inPulse app lets you tweak the watch's settings and appearance from the paired device. A basic one-button interface enables you to navigate and filter the list of alerts received on the watch. It's simple but gets the job done -- the only major omission is the lack of a proper battery level indicator.
Spec-wise, the watch features a single physical button for input and a 1.26-inch 96x128-pixel passive matrix OLED display, along with a vibration motor for output. Bluetooth and micro-USB (for charging) are the only connectivity options -- the watch is built on CSR's BlueCore4-ROM radio chipset combined with NXP's LPC2103 52MHz ARM7 processor, 8KB (yes, KB) of RAM and 1MB of SPI (Serial Peripheral Interface) flash memory. So yes, it can probably run Doom, but we're still looking at some pretty basic hardware. The sealed Li-ion battery charges in about 45 minutes, and usually lasts about a day and a half. At 50 x 36 x 12mm (1.97 x 1.42 x 0.47 inches), the inPulse is rather large for a watch, but the elegant aluminum chassis (natural silver for $150 or anodized black for $200) makes it look smaller than it is, and it's water resistant, too. The wristband and plug hiding the micro-USB port on the left side are made of black rubber. Silver metal is used for the buckle and the single button on the right side.
Things get a little more interesting once you realize the watch supports uploading apps over Bluetooth -- either from within the inPulse app running on your handset, or via the supplied SDK. While the watch only runs one app at a time, the inPulse App Store features watch faces (like a Nixie clock), games (including Pong) and others tools such as an iTunes controller, a Facebook check-in widget, a presentation remote and a weather monitor. More significantly, it's possible to write homebrew apps using a modified (and very Arduino-like) version of C on the watch and simple Python code to push notifications from a paired device. What makes development easier is that the SDK handles all communications -- the protocol is the same regardless of which app is running on the watch and what software is generating alerts on your phone. In fact, alternatives to Allerta's own inPulse App (like OpenWatch) are readily available on the Android Market.
Still, there are a number of issues preventing the inPulse Smartwatch from being a mainstream device. For starters, it's not rugged enough -- we started observing signs of wear (small scratches on the glass, dull marks on the body) after wearing the watch for only a few days, and this despite handling it with kid gloves. The black rubber plug covering the micro-USB port is poorly made and easy to lose. In addition to the aforementioned lack of battery gauge, the "default" app could benefit from some visual polish. Larger, more readable fonts would be welcome, along with a separate icon for tweets. We tested the inPulse app on a few handsets and it worked fine on the Motorola Droid RAZR, but suffered from connection issues on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus HSPA+ and caused random reboots on the BlackBerry Torch 9850. Also, instead of tapping into Android's notification system the app requires your email and Twitter credentials, which is cumbersome and insecure.
WIMM Labs WIMM One
The WIMM One has only been available to registered developers for a couple months. It's a tiny
$300 $200 [see update below] integrated module running Android that's designed to snap into various shells, including the supplied wristband that turns it into a watch (with other form-factors planned for the future). Built-in WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity allows it to function as a fully standalone device. It handles call notifications when paired with any phone and supports text messages after installing the free WIMM Companion app on your Android or BlackBerry handset. While there's no way of receiving email or Twitter alerts (yet), it's possible to sync various calendars over WiFi. The watch is easy to navigate thanks to a touch-based iPod nano-like swipe interface and comes with six pre-installed apps -- weather, calendar, world clock, timer, alarm and stopwatch. A personal account on WIMM Labs' website lets you manage the app settings remotely from a larger screen.
In terms of specs, the WIMM is equipped with a 667MHz ARM11 CPU with 256MB RAM and 2GB of flash storage. It features a 1.41-inch 160x160-pixel bi-modal glass capacitive touchscreen, a recessed power button, a vibrating motor, a piezo speaker, some sensors (accelerometer, compass) and a row of 14 contacts in back for data transfer and charging. The Pixel Qi-like display provides an ultra-efficient monochrome reflective mode and a backlit color mode. In addition to the WiFi and Bluetooth radios, the watch incorporates a GPS receiver which is currently disabled for performance reasons. Battery life is decent considering the size and capabilities of the device -- the sealed Li-ion pack lasts about a day and a half per charge. The splash-resistant module, which is made of metal alloy, only weighs 22g (0.78 ounces) and measures a scant 32 × 36 × 12.5mm (1.26 x 1.42 x 0.49 inches). When secured in its black rubber and glass-reinforced nylon wristband it transforms into a rather large yet attractive watch.
Of course, what really sets the WIMM One apart is that it puts the Android platform on your wrist, meaning it's capable of running multiple apps. Beyond the six aforementioned stock apps, our watch came preloaded with a few additional ones specifically geared towards CES -- feed reader (a fully configurable RSS aggregator), balance ball game, tips calculator, virtual Starbucks coffee card, WIMM demo, Las Vegas monorail schedule and CES news (select CES-related Twitter searches). At some point in the future, apps are expected to become available for download from the WIMM Micro App Store within the WIMM Companion app running on your phone, but until then a USB cable is required to install apps. The module supports micro-USB connectivity (mass-storage and debugging) via the supplied paddle charger, a magnetic dock with a row of 14 contacts matching those in the back of the device. Developing for the watch is really just a matter of installing the Android SDK plus the WIMM Add-on (which adds WIMM-specific APIs).
Making apps for the WIMM is similar to writing apps for any other Android device, but requires a few tweaks to accommodate the unusual screen resolution, the periodic nature of the network connection and the basic swipe gestures (down to scroll up and exit, up to launch and scroll down, right to go back, left to go forward). The SDK also provides some traditional UI elements, including single buttons, modal dialogs, spinners and a letter picker (used to enter WiFi passwords, for example). Apps never run in the background since the watch essentially hibernates when it's just showing the time, but it's possible to create custom watchfaces. Other than forwarding text messages over Bluetooth and acting as a portal for the WIMM Micro app Store, the WIMM Companion app for your handset displays your account on WIMM Labs' website allowing you to remotely change app settings.
We spent many days wearing the WIMM One (including most of CES) and only the matte finish on the wristband straps showed any signs of wear. The module itself is quite rugged except for the contacts in the back which tend to gather dirt, resulting in connection issues when placed into the paddle charger. While the display looks reasonably good overall, it offers better viewing angles in backlit color mode when looking at the watch from the bottom left (i.e. it's optimized for left wrist use). The touchscreen sometimes lacks responsiveness -- this, combined with the occasional sluggishness, detracts from the experience. Beyond the existing Bluetooth-based notification system for calls and text messages, the WIMM Companion app could be vastly improved with email and Twitter alerts. It would also be nice if the module implemented Bluetooth DUN / PAN as a more efficient way of tethering to a phone for data connectivity.
The inPulse Smartwatch and the WIMM One are both wearable computers with wireless connectivity that run apps and display notifications. Each device offers an SDK and provides an app store, yet these are two radically different beasts -- the inPulse is more of a companion product while the WIMM is a totally standalone unit (
and costs twice as much [see update below]). Still, we think WIMM Labs is onto something here with its modular design and powerful specs, especially once you factor Android into the equation. Allerta gets an A for effort but ultimately, the inPulse Smartwatch is starting to show its age -- the WIMM One is just a more polished and sophisticated smartwatch. That being said, it's difficult to recommend either device at this point unless you're an intrepid developer or a die-hard watch enthusiast.
Update: WIMM Labs just dropped the price of the WIMM One to $200.