Don't call Timex's Ironman One GPS+ a 'smartwatch' (hands-on)

Timex Ironman One GPS+

The last time we thought about Timex, we were still using landlines and adjusting the tracking on the VCR so that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze would display properly. Remember "Indiglo"? That's still a thing, apparently! Anyway, Timex is making a smartwatch, though it's not quite the same kind of smartwatch that the likes of Samsung and Apple are offering. It's more "fitness band" than smartwatch, though it does have the ability to make phone calls (emergency calls, anyway) and act as a GPS. I'm gonna call it a "crossover" smartwatch: it's got a ruggedized exterior capable of diving 50 meters (150 feet) under water, a 3G worldwide connection provided (free for one year, $40/year after) by AT&T, 4GB of internal storage (for music), and a tiny (1.5-inch, Mirasol) screen. It's also dramatically more expensive than other smartwatches/fitness bands out there at $399 for the base model. But maybe it's super rad? We visited Timex reps in New York City this afternoon to find out.

The first, most important thing to know about Timex's Ironman One GPS+ is that it's not really a smartwatch. Are people going to compare it to smartwatches? Yes, yes they are. Timex insists it's not a smartwatch. What is it? It's a really expensive health band. It's a "sports fitness" device. But it's not a smartwatch.

I can corroborate that assessment, as nothing about the Timex Ironman One GPS+ feels like a smartwatch. It's got a ruggedized exterior. It's got four appropriately rugged buttons. It's got a 1.5-inch Mirasol touchscreen, which looks and operates more Ironman than Galaxy Gear. The strap is tough rubber. Everything about the One GPS+ looks and feels like a sports device.

That unfortunately includes the software, which is sluggish and bare bones. If you're used to the world of GPS watches and health/fitness wearables, the One GPS+ will feel right at home in this respect. The software's functionality delivers; but the experience using it? Not so much. As such, Timex has offloaded much of the device's settings to a web-app, which then wirelessly pushes those settings to your watch via that 3G AT&T connection. This enables you to add contacts and subsequently set those contacts as "Angels" (people who can track you for safety purposes), to offload saved data, and to sync that data with a variety of fitness apps. This is really the story of most smartwatches/fitness wearables: limited functionality on the device itself, with a connected computer to handle fine tuning. It's a solid solution, but feels more and more like a workaround as these devices get more and more complex.

For instance! You can save up to 4GB of music on the One GPS+. But who wants to navigate that many songs on a 1.5-inch screen with finicky touch? Touch controls work fine on a watch when all you're doing is starting and stopping a timer. When it comes to scrolling through thousands of songs to find one, I'm more inclined to stick with my phone.

So, why does Timex's Ironman One GPS+ cost $400? An AT&T rep told me that this device should really be compared to other GPS wearables on the market rather than smartwatches. In that respect, it's priced competitively -- Garmin's equivalent is $450 for the base model. So, if you're in the market for a portable GPS fitness watch, Timex's new device may be a decent deal.

For the rest of us who compare this to the countless other wearable tracking devices, it's a very, very pricey smartwatch with relatively limited functionality. And that's fine -- this isn't really for us.