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.