Alcatel Onetouch Watch review: A cheap smartwatch with training wheels

15 Apr 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Alcatel OneTouch SmartWatch looks smart for the price.

But at only $150, it’s one of the cheapest smartwatches you can buy—and that might seal the deal if you’re merely smartwatch-curious instead of smartwatch-confirmed. But while the Moto 360 is a full Android Wear-powered smartwatch, the Onetouch Watch runs on a proprietary platform that works with both Android and iOS devices.

Consider it Baby’s First Smartwatch, a disposable purchase that can that give you a taste of what a $350 Apple Watch or $300 Android Wear watch is like to use. I’m not sure if it makes a whole lot of sense to launch a new smartwatch at the moment, given the understandable excitement over Apple’s Watch launch. It’s round, much like a traditional watch, isn’t as thick as most Android Wear devices, and has a design that can work with a wide variety of outfits or personal styles. Yet that’s exactly what Alcatel is doing with their new OneTouch Watch, which is available for preorder now, for $149, and starts shipping later this month. The Alcatel Watch—which pairs with any iPhone from 4S to 6 Plus, and any Android phone running 4.3 and later—can put you in the smartwatch game without a major investment.

It doesn’t look like a computer on my wrist nor does it attempt to make a fashion statement like the Apple Watch — to most people, I’m just wearing a generic digital watch. Alcatel’s metal case is unremarkable but inoffensive, and from 10 feet away, its circular design doesn’t read “nerd” as loudly as the square-shaped Apple Watch. As an owner of the $100 Pebble (the original Kickstarter Edition) I’ve grown accustomed to the square, plastic, and – dare I say it – cheap look of my smartwatch. The USB plug at the end of the strap might be the smartest part of the Watch’s design: you can plug into any USB port to recharge the watch, no clumsy adapters needed. I dig smartwatch simplicity, but Alcatel’s approach feels underbaked, especially because trivial, lightweight utilities like a brightness selector and airplane mode switch are given just as much U.I. weight as built-in weather and activity-tracking apps.

Facebook notifications merely report the highest-level activities (e.g., a friend has commented on your status), and email notifications only render subject lines once you have a few stacked up. You can set goals for all these activities, and the data seems sufficiently accurate for a $150 watch that’s not being marketed as a health and wellness platform. But the Watch’s display does not light up automatically when notifications come in, nor does the notification drawer pop up by itself, requiring me to touch the watch with my other hand to see what just made it buzz.

That said, the watch charges fully in an hour and only needs to be plugged in every couple of days under normal use. (Take that, Apple.) My only other complaint with the strap is the rubber retaining loop. Again, Alcatel opted for a simple, bare-bones approach, and the sum-total vibe it exudes is, “Yeah, it can do activity tracking too,” instead of, “We’ll show you every nook and cranny of your quantified self.” Other built-in apps include weather (which shares a simple five-day forecast); a heart rate monitor (good for only moment-in-time spot checks); a stopwatch (meh); and remote controls for your smartphone’s music player and camera shutter (meh and meh).

Further, the Watch only supports notifications from select apps (calls, messages, email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, Google+, Google Hangouts, and Gmail), so there was no way to configure it to see alerts from my email app of choice (Outlook) or get alerts from Google Now. Alcatel tells me that it will add support for more app notifications in the future, but it will be relying on feedback from users for what apps to add. With its limited support for notifications and lack of these extra features, it’s better to think of this as a fitness device with some smartwatch features rather than a smartwatch with fitness features. It makes for an inelegant presentation, but Alcatel uses the dead spot for a back button, which you’ll need to exit the notifications screen, as well as built-in apps. I can set my goals and see charts of my activity in the companion app, but unless I’m consciously checking my progress throughout the day, the watch doesn’t actively encourage me to get up and work toward hitting my goals.

That’s actually a huge disappointment, because most fitness trackers at this price give you the added benefit of participating in some kind of ecosystem. I much prefer Android Wear’s robust notification engine, and while I’m concerned Apple’s approach will be too busy and complex, I’m excited to try out all its surprise-and-delight Digital Touch features. I’ve been able to get a full two days between charges with it, and even more if I take it off at night and forget about the (questionably useful) sleep tracking. And who knows, if the Alcatel Watch drops below $100, it might be just too cheap to pass up—assuming aesthetics and deep functionality just aren’t your thing. Once the display is brought to life via the power key or movement detection, you use a series of taps and swipes to navigate through the watch’s on-board options.

It’s attractive, lasts long enough between charges, has reliable and accurate step and activity tracking, and is less expensive than similarly equipped devices. You tap once in the middle of the face to select an app or confirm an action, while a tap on the bottom of the face immediately below the display area but above the “6” numeral acts as the “back” function. A “classic” face with minute, hour, and second hands, plus hour and minute indicator lines that line up with the permanent marks on the watch’s dial and a day/date display A “digital” face that shows the hours and minutes in big, easy-to-read digits, with a seconds indicator showing dots around the circumference that go from dim to light as time progresses (oddly, these do not begin at the “12” marker, but instead go left-to-right in an arc around the visible portion of the display) and day/date The analog watch faces are slightly hampered by the fact that all three hands and the hour/minute indicators are the same color (white), which can make it a little tricky to read quickly. This would be helped with a setting to alter the hand colors. [Update: The latest firmware fixes this somewhat: The second-hand is now blue.] What it lacks in face styles, it more than makes up for in face backgrounds: any of 16 predefined images or textures, 16 predefined solid colors, or a custom setting that lets you pick from any photo on your phone or take a photo immediately. It’s an in-between wearable device that doesn’t have the platform support of Apple or Google, nor the fitness tracking chops of Fitbit, Jawbone, and the like.

A note on the OneTouch Watch’s water resistance: Rated as IP67, the watch can certainly withstand casual dunking like having a shower, but oddly, when the accelerometer detects sufficient movement, it activates the watch face. You’re going to see a lot of devices like this on the shelves at Best Buy, because it turns out that making a basic smartwatch and making a basic fitness tracker is getting to be pretty easy.

The Pebble’s biggest draw for me was the ability to keep my phone in my pocket and be able to see who’s calling (or that I’m getting a call at all!) or texting or emailing. I’d much prefer to have a choice over how these notifications work so that I can tell the difference between a calendar reminder and an incoming call. This distance is remarkably short — as little as 12 feet, by my reckoning, a much shorter leash than the one that Pebble uses (often the full 32 feet Bluetooth is capable of). While this is a good thing when you’re out and about, at home or the office, where you might be in the habit of parking your phone and then go wandering off, it can be a hassle, constantly reminding you with a vibration that you’ve gone too far. There is no progress bar or timer to show you where you are in the song’s timeline and no information about the album — just track title and artist.

Using five screens (Steps, Calories, Distance, Duration, and Sleep) plus a dedicated heart rate area, you can quickly see how you’re doing against your goals. It’s hard to say how accurate these readings are compared to any other watch, but it at least gives you a way to measure them, and that’s the most important thing.

At $149, the Alcatel OneTouch Watch is an attractively priced, good-looking, cross-platform smartwatch with a competitive set of features and a battery that can last several days on a charge.

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