Intel's MICA smart bracelet has more style than substance (hands-on)

Everyone knew Intel would craft some wearable gadgets. Hardly any of us expected it to be, well, this insane thing. That bangle -- the MICA -- lives at the less-bizarre-by-the-day intersection between technology and high fashion. Intel and its design partners at Opening Ceremony finally let us pedestrian techie types get our hands on the thing, so take a stroll past the break to see what happens when high tech and haute couture collide.

I spent most of my morning playing with a white MICA, crafted of gold-plated metal and snakeskin, and swathed in semiprecious gems and a wooden bauble on the clasp. It looks handsome enough, but suffice it to say I'm not exactly the target market -- Intel and Opening Ceremony brass talked at length on stage about how they wanted to create a device that "women would really want" before conceding that guys could probably pull it off too. That's debatable. I've got a tiny, bony wrist, and I could just barely get that clasp to close around it. But what's it like to actually use?

Well, it's... fine. As a piece of technology, it's been very strictly limited by design to serve purposes demanded by the fashionistas and style gurus Intel and Opening Ceremony spoke to. The MICA's screen, which is meant to sit on the inside of your wrist, is bright and plenty responsive thanks in large part to Intel's homebrew software. Meanwhile, poking around a bit will net you access to calendar notifications and event reminders from your Facebook and Google accounts (up to two of the latter are supported). Intel talked up its partnerships with Garmin and Yelp, and the latter seems more interesting -- you can choose from a series of criteria (think espresso, Thai food, the works) and the MICA tells you what's good nearby.

That's really about it. Adding VIP contacts has to be done via a web interface. You can't even respond freely to incoming messages. Unlike the Gear S or any number of Android Wear watches, there's no way to input your own words via touch or spoken word. The best you can do is select one brief, canned response from a series and wait for the inevitable reply. Both companies eagerly admit that the limited feature set was exactly what they wanted, but I can't help but feel a touch shortchanged considering its cost (more on that later).

The thing to remember about the MICA is that it's not a smartwatch in the way Samsung's Gear Live or the Moto 360 is -- it's not so much a partner for your smartphone as it is a totally separate entity. There's an AT&T SIM nestled away in that thin frame for completely unfettered connectivity, and Intel's struck up a pretty intriguing deal for it -- two years of data service (including international data roaming) is baked into the cost of the device, though you'll have to re-up that deal when the time limit runs out. Oh, and since it's got its own SIM, the MICA has its own phone number too -- that means yet another one for your friends to keep track of. All of that back-and-forth could take a toll on your battery, but Intel says it's rated for about 48 hours of mixed use before it gives up the ghost. We'll be the judges of that.

Back when the MICA was first outed, Intel said the thing would cost less than $1,000. People balked; $1,000 for a wearable, luxury or not, is a big ask. In hindsight, the move seems like a classic case of under-promising and over-delivering -- the MICA will sell for $495 when it debuts at Barneys in early December, making it only a little more financially ridiculous than the less dramatic Withings Activité. We'll obviously withhold our final judgment until we get our hands on that consumer-ready hardware, but as far as first impressions go, the MICA has plenty of style and not nearly as much substance.