Avid Watch sports smartwatch launches on Kickstarter: A first look

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Avid Watch sports smartwatch launches on Kickstarter: A first look

Avid Watch (left) and Avid Track (right)
Fitness wearables are the hot thing now, with a surprising number of new entrants rushing into the world where only Fitbit used to tread. Today, Vancouver-based AvidSport launched a Kickstarter campaign to get a new sports smartwatch called Avid Watch into production and in stores by April of 2015.

What's different about Avid Watch? A lot of things. Sure, the watch itself has connectivity to your iPhone and there's an app for tracking your activity and changing settings -- many sports smartwatches have that capability. But the Avid Watch has built-in functions not only for running and walking, but cycling and golf as well.

To enable tracking of your rides, runs, or golf rounds, Avid Watch comes with a separate wrist-borne device -- Avid Track -- so that you don't need to have your iPhone with you for GPS capabilities. With that short explanation out of the way, let's talk a bit about the pre-production device that I was able to test recently.

Design

The Avid Watch follows the tried and true design meme that seems to follow most smartwatches: it's a boxy little device, equipped out of the box with a flexible hypoallergenic silicone band. The band is about an inch wide and very comfortable on extended wear, and if you wish to, you can replace it with any other band you desire. The case of the watch is made of anodized aluminum, and there's a very useful display for telling you everything you'll need to know. That case is 1.48 inches wide at its widest point, and 1.67 inches high. It's about .48 inches thick.

There are four buttons on the device - one on the top left side, three others spaced equally on the right side. While the left button is used to power the watch on and off, the buttons on the right are used to navigate the user interface. This makes it much easier to move through the various screens -- that was one of the major problems I had with Wellograph.

Like Wellograph, the Avid Watch uses a monochrome display with a backlight that can be turned on with a push of the power button. The display is 1.26 inches diagonal, with 144 x 168 pixels resolution. The Avid Watch has a number of watch displays that you can choose from, and the watch is automatically set to your local time upon syncing it to your iPhone for the first time. The device also displays local weather by showing an icon (sun, cloud, etc...) and the temperature. I found the Avid Watch display to be much more readable under a variety of lighting conditions than the Wellograph.

Unlike the Avid Watch, the Avid Track has no display and features a bright silicone band (yellow on my test device) and case with a black top. There's one button on the device that's used to pair it with your iPhone or Avid Watch, and an LED to indicate status (red for charging, blue for on/pairing).

Both devices come with magnetic charging cables; the one for the watch is more like a dock, while the other simply latches to the back of the Avid Track. Let it be known that I am not a fan of magnetic charging cables ever since I had one latch onto another plugged-in USB cable, short out, and melt the cable... Let's hear it for inductive chargers!

The battery is designed to last up to 41 days between charges if you're just using the Avid Watch as a timepiece. Use Bluetooth, and the battery life goes down to 4 days. In GPS mode (which I don't understand as the Watch doesn't have built-in GPS but uses Bluetooth to communicate with the iPhone or Avid Track), you'll get about 14 hours of life.

Function

Due to the short amount of time I had to test the device prior to writing this review, I can't say that I was able to give it the full workout. However, I was able to test its functionality as a step tracker and smartwatch, and even try the Avid Watch / Avid Track combo.

I tested a pre-production unit, and on occasion it acted like one. For example, when I first tried to get the Avid Watch and Avid Track to pair via Bluetooth, they wouldn't connect. Other times, they synced almost immediately. My guess is that the first sync attempts were occurring inside my office where the GPS signal was nonexistent, and that was keeping things from working properly.

As a smartwatch, the Avid Watch works as a wrist-mounted display to provide notifications. You'll see who calls are coming from, notifications of new mail or text messages, what's happening on your favorite social networks, reminders, and what's coming up on your calendar. One thing I could not figure out how to do is call up a history of the notifications for review.

You can also do some rather fun things with the watch, like control music on your iPhone or use it as a remote shutter release for the camera on your phone. There's even a way to get your iPhone to buzz or chime if you've misplaced it, simply by pressing a button on the watch.

With the accompanying RW700 app (free) on your iPhone, you're able to get a view of all of the workouts you've gone through, change settings, and send your tracked items to the Avidsport cloud.

I was particularly fascinated with the golf function. According to the Avid Sports team, the watch comes with about 3,000 golf course layouts pre-loaded. For a specific hole, the Avid Watch calculates distance to the front, center and back of the green -- no more guessing. You can also use the device as an electronic scorecard by capturing stokes and penalties, then push the information to the RW700 app and on to the Avid Sport dashboard for further analysis.

Upon linking the Avid Watch and Avid Track, then giving the devices a minute to think, I was greeted with a very accurate and complete list of local golf courses. Had I been on one of the courses -- and on the first hole -- I would have seen the distances to the green as well.

What's the watch missing? As far as I can tell, there's no way for it to sense and track your heart rate (you can link a Bluetooth heart rate monitor to it, but that's yet another device). Although it can act as a notification device for a number of apps, it doesn't seem to have a developer API so that third-party developers can add new notifications -- perhaps that's done by the AvidSport team. There's also no sleep tracking capability, something that is popular with those who track their health religiously.

To be honest, I'm confused about the entire idea of having a second "watch" (the Avid Track) for the GPS function. That idea is based on runners, cyclists, and golfers not wanting to carry their smartphones with them, yet this is something that most fitness fanatics have no problems doing since they want to listen to music or even take photos while out and about.

By adding a second wrist device, the team is adding unneeded complexity to the design as the Watch has to be able to pair not only with the iPhone, but with another device as well. Although the Avid Watch/Avid Track combo is reasonably priced at CAD$189, not having the Avid Track would drop the price of the Watch alone into a realm that would be even more affordable.

The Avid team does point out that you can still run without wearing Avid Track or pairing the device with a smartphone -- you just won't get a route record.

Conclusion

Since this is a Kickstarter campaign and there is obviously some work left to be done prior to the actual release of the product, I'm not going to provide one of our "star ratings" at this time.

In summary, things I like about the Avid Watch include the easy-to-navigate user interface, the reasonable price point, the display clarity (especially in bright sunlight), and the multi-sport orientation. The main thing I'm not fond is the idea of wearing a second wristband to supply GPS, although that's a personal preference for me -- as we say in the blogging business, your mileage may vary if you don't always carry your smartphone with you.

I noted during my recent review of the Wallograph that I wondered how anyone could even think about developing a smartwatch at this time when the twin gorillas in the room - Apple Watch and Android Wear -- are getting ready to unleash much more capable devices. Well, the Avid Watch is less expensive, and for a number of athletes it may be all they really need.

As with all crowdfunding projects, the public will get to "vote" for the Avid Watch with their wallets. The team has a goal of raising CDN$150,000 in the next 30 days, and I wish them the best of luck - they're obviously talented, but just need a bit more time and money to polish up the rough edges. Especially if you're a golfer, the Avid Watch has a lot to offer.

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