What the critics think of the new Apple Watch

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Apple had two big announcements at its Cupertino event – the new iPhone, of course, and somewhat surprisingly, the Apple Watch. It’s been finished at last. Well, it hasn’t been finished – it’s not going to be available until early 2015 at the earliest, but it did have prototypes on show and successfully worked an audience from foaming anticipation through to raucous applause and tearful whooping with a rather cool video showcasing its smooth lines.

It’s the Apple Watch, not the iWatch, and in coming to market now (soon) with what could be the next big thing, Apple has done what Apple does – wait for someone else to create, market and sell a product, watch carefully from the sidelines and then come in with something bigger, better, sleeker (and more expensive). It’s a strategy that has worked well in the past but allows little room for error, as seen in the Smartphone market where it has been overtaken in both technical innovation and platform share.

While the job of the iPhone6 is to play a serious game of catch-up in this well-established arena, the new Apple Watch is well poised to take advantage of a (relatively) slowly building interest in wearable tech. Could it be the device to start smartwatch fever by perfecting that awkward blend of functionality and comfort?

TIME magazine seems to think so – its writer says that:“having gotten to wear and play with the device, one thing is for certain: The Apple Watch is a beautifully designed piece of technology with enormous potential”, and goes so far to say that “In fact, I’d say it’s the most exciting gadget since the iPad, from Apple or any other company.”  This seems to be a lot to do with the design, which feels solid yet lightweight and fits on the wrist naturally. It looks “more like a piece of jewellery” than a typical smartwatch due to the curved, bezel-less screen, which establishes a slightly feminine quality. Other platitudes include it not feeling showy or intrusive to the point where you could even forget you’re wearing it.

TechCrunch delves into the features. NFC and Apple’s new “Secure Element” for storing payment information will allow you to use Apple Pay (currently only available in the US) to make purchases. Other quirks include “the new paired communication mode that Apple demoed, which allows one user to connect directly to another for real-time sharing of hand-drawn messages, customized animated smileys, heartbeats and more”, and “Taptic” feedback, that makes it feel like someone is gently tapping your wrist – far subtler than “the jarring notification vibration of Android Wear smartwatches”. The range of bands available also get a mention, with the sports band appearing as though it’d be comfortable during exercise and the link bracelet offering quick adjustments for size.

When it comes to operation, Wired highlights the “digital crown”, a side-mounted dial used to control some of the functions. What’s interesting about this, it says, is the fact that “an analogue flourish blends a physical, and, in today’s Apple portfolio, unconventionally mechanical, interface into the otherwise high-tech digital proceedings.” Used to rotate through menus or options, or to return to the home screen at a push, it complements the touchscreen interface though early reports seem to indicate it offers little or no feedback response, spinning perhaps a little too freely. When it comes to the interface itself, it’s typically minimalist. For example, there are no words on-screen to help you recognise apps – “Logos for the applications each icon represents have had to be designed to communicate meaning without a helping hand from the alphabet.” The only potential issue with this, it suggests, is introducing a learning curve for techno-phobes. Other highlights here include the ability to use the screen as a viewfinder for an iPhone camera, an IR function for TV control and maps that vibrate left or right to tell you the way.

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Perhaps the biggest issue the Apple Watch will have to overcome is well described here – how “smart” is it really? The author suggests that for the high price of purchase:

I don’t want another screen to just see notifications on, or to pause a song, or to see whether the sun has got his hat on. I want it to be intelligent, decide certain things for me, disturb me only when it knows I’m likely to find a disturbance both convenient and necessary.

Alongside questions over battery life, an area that was deliberately side-stepped during the initial presentation, the fact that there’s no headphones port despite the ability to store media and no built-in WiFi (you’ll need to use a paired iPhone) it’s clear that this isn’t a feature-packed all-in-one, it is an accessory, and we’ve seen those already. Will comfort and looks be enough to convince people that a smartwatch is now a must-have? Sadly we’ll have to wait until next year to find out.

Samsung’s New Smartwatch, It’s The Year Of The ‘Wearable’

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Surely the worst kept secret leading up IFA was the launch of Samsung’s smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear.  Everyone knew it was coming, but what exactly would it look like, and how many features would they pack in? Well, these questions and more have now been answered. The Gear, available in Europe from the end of this month (September 25th) is designed to work with the new Galaxy Note 3 and an update will be available later in the year make it compatible with previous versions of the Note.

The Gear is available in six colours, has a stainless steel bevelled face with a shape reminiscent of the beloved 1980s Casio and features a 1.9MP camera on the outward facing strap, which can also record video at 720p HD. All of this makes you feel rather like James Bond, being able to take relatively covert pictures with a simple swipe and tap of the screen via the device’s “Memographer feature”. It is aimed at taking quick visual memos – the sort of shots that are gone by the time you’ve taken your smartphone out of your pocket.

Another feature of the Gear’s camera was its ability to take advantage of augmented reality applications, presumably aimed to rival the Google Glass, but unfortunately this wasn’t something the company expanded on or demonstrated during the launch event. Instead they cited an example where you might take a picture of a wine bottle  and then discover more about the vineyard, grape type and price. It could also be used when abroad to help quickly translate signs, menus etc.

The Gear has a built in speakerphone which means to answer calls you just raise your wrist as if you were answering a hand held phone (or scratching your ear!). This appears to be a nice, instinctive movement, but we did wonder how well it would work if you were in the middle of a task, such as driving.  Users can also draft messages, create new calendar entries, set alarms, and check the weather, all via S Voice functionality.

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Other software features include the ability to browse, play and pause music (stored on your Galaxy devices) via the watch. The Gear also comes with Find My Device which helps users find the location of their smart devices by making them beep, illuminate and vibrate. Another application is the pedometer which uses a built-in sensor to monitor users so they can track key personal data such as calories burned, steps taken and distance covered.

Something that we don’t recall being mentioned during the company’s Unpacked Event is that in case of emergency, you can press the power button 3 times continuously and then your location information is sent to a nominated contact with a message.

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In terms of technical specs, the Gear uses a 800 MHz processor with 512MB RAM and 4GB of internal memory. The display is a 1.63 inch Super AMOLED with a resolution of 320 x 320 pixels. The watch is powered by a 315mAh Li-on battery which provides up to 25 hours battery life. This revelation certainly caused quite a murmur from the packed audience.  It has also been suggested elsewhere that ‘heavy users’ of the Gear’s features may need to end up charging their watch more than once a day.

The Galaxy Gear is touted by Samsung as the first in the new market of ‘wearables’. With the launch of Sony’s Smartwatch 2 earlier in the day, it appears that we’re going to enter a period where a lot of ideas and concepts are thrown at the wall to see what sticks. Assuming that ‘wearables’ are indeed the future, the next question is whether consumers will want to wear their tech on their wrist or on their face.

Samsung’s Smartwatch: What We (Might) Know So Far…

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Speculation, rumours and tech-entrenched chatter: recent leaks of Samsung’s possible smart watch patents have triggered gadget gossip on a scale last seen in late 2009 when talk of the iPad first surfaced.

But while Apple stormed the tablet race, the only evidence to suggest it’s making any ground in the wearable-tech race is the fact they’ve registered a trademark for the iWatch in Japan in June. In fact if this month’s rumour mill is anything to go by, Samsung may just clinch the win.

Granted, Sony Smart Watches, Pebble, I’m Watch and myriad sports watches have already hit the market… But with sales of only 330,000 worldwide in 2012 none have really made a big impact. And as Samsung have made serious headway in the mobile, tablet and TV markets in the past two years, they’re possibly the safest bet on who will take smart watches to the next level, too.

Official revelations are suspected to be announced at the IFA 2013 tech mecca in Berlin on September 4, but rumours first began in March when Samsung’s executive vice president Lee Young Hee revealed to Bloomberg that Samsung have “been preparing the watch product for so long.”

Developments then occurred in June when Samsung applied for U.S trademark for the Samsung Galaxy Gear, then again in late July when Indian logistics firm Zauba listed a SM-VL700WATCH on a shipment order from South Korea to Samsung’s Bangalore office. Listed with the description of “R&D purposes” its value was marked as 24,442 Indian rupees which – thanks to Revision3’s Rumour Roundup – is approximately $410, although in mass production this price tag is likely to decrease somewhat.

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Let’s hope so. If these speculative designs are anything to go by, it looks rather desirable indeed. Based on vague patent sketches revealed on Korean tech portal Moveplayer, money saving website Vouchercodespro commissioned a ‘patent and trademark insider’ to explore what the Samsung smart watch will look like.

With its flexible OLED gorilla glass screen that curves around the wrist, and the potential to personalise it with coloured strap, these concept images are certainly striking. What’s more, they answer the one concern that’s been mooted about smart watches all along… Can a potentially cumbersome smart watch design look good on the wrists of both male and female gadget freaks?

The Philippine Star states that the U.S trademark application described the device to be “capable of providing access to the internet, sending and receiving phone calls, electronic mails and messages and keeping track of personal information”. And if the name Galaxy Gear is anything to go by (also mooted to be called Altius in the earlier Bloomberg report) the Android-based operating system will be based on the existing system used in Samsung’s successful Galaxy Note tablets.

Roll on IFA 2013 to find out how much of the speculation is can truly be verified, but one thing is for sure… Smart watches are about to explode onto the market. Tech analysts Canalys predict a 900 per cent rise in forecasted smart watch shipments in 2014 taking smart watch sales up to 5million units globally. Will Samsung take the market share? Time will tell. Expect plenty more speculation, rumours and tech-entrenched chatter in the meantime…

Cookoo Smart Watch: Helping Early Adopters Stay Punctual

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Smartphones are great but why should intelligence devices stop there? The smaller and more efficient we make technology, the more things we can cram it into. I’m shocked more shoes don’t have embedded sensors. And I’ve been wanting Google Glasses (especially the camera function) since I was about 14. With Apple rumoured to be getting into the wearable tech in a big way and the Pebble smartwatch being a poster child for Kickstarter the smart money (another invention I’m waiting for) is on wearable tech being the next big gold rush. Enter the Cookoo Watch.

Launched via gadget shop Red5.co.uk, the Cookoo’s analogue clock face belies its complexity and range. It may not quite be a Dick Tracy watch-phone, but it’s definitely more futuristic than the classic Casio calculator combo.

The Cookoo Watch connects to your iPhone or iPad via Bluetooth smart or Bluetooth 4.0, and like all modern smartwatches alerts you whenever you get an incoming call or message. However there’s a lot more at work here than notification laziness (you could just look at your phone to see if you have a message. After all it’s what I do to tell the time).

The Cookoo Watch and your Android/iOS smartphone have a proximity-related relationship. If either device is too far from the other it can be set to emit a noise so you know if you’ve misplaced your watch – or more importantly if you’ve left your phone behind. There’s also an alert that goes off if your smartphone battery is low (the Cookoo is powered by a CR2032 button cell battery with a life of around a year so the inverse shouldn’t be a problem).

There are reminders, alarms, music controls and the and contains a camera with a one button trigger, so you can capture action on the move – much like Google Glasses without looking quite as dorky.

It’s not quite as stylish as my favourite feature watch at the moment – the Nike TomTom running watch, which tracks your runs, can be slapped to mark laps and has a USB strap hidden in the wrist. But it’s a close second until the iWatch is unveiled.

The Cookoo Watch is available now from Red5.co.uk, for £109.95.

Keypad Watch: The Perfect Solution for Twitchy Fingers

Forget what you think you know about watches, the Keypad Watch by RED5 is a time piece with a difference. If the buzz surrounding iPhones, smart watches and the latest all-singing all-dancing tablet leaves you yearning for something a little more retro, the Keypad Watch adds a unique aura of geek chic to your wrist.

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The watch consists of a funky retro keypad, available in either Amiga 500 white (i.e. keyboard white) or ZX Spectrum, a slick, black matte colour. To tell the time, simply hit any number of keys and the time will flash up in sequence. So if it was 8.30, the 0,8,3 and 0 keys would flash in sequence.

This handy little gadget can also remind you of the date in a pinch. Simply press the # key and you can find out today’s date using the same method of blinking keys. You can customize the watch to display the time according to the 12 or 24-hour clock.

With this device, makers RED5 have gone for quirk appeal over ease of use. If you know someone who can’t stand to be away from a keyboard for longer than it takes to say, look at the time, then this is the perfect solution. The watches come in one size, but you can easily adjust the strap length by cutting off links.

Gadget geniuses RED5 launched in 2005 and have grown into15 physical shops, concessions at Hamleys and Selfridges and a thriving online store. Created by the team behind The Gadget Shop (remember those?), RED5 search far and wide to bring the most original and eye-catching gadgets into your life.

An excellent gift for those for whom timing is the key, the Keypad Watch is available now for £59.95 from RED5.co.uk.

Casio unveils Bluetooth enabled digital wrist watch

Just as mobile phones went from convenient personal calling to inseparable lifestyle companions, the humble wrist watch is set to follow in their footsteps. No longer will we be using our watches to just tell us the time, they will have far more important things to do.

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Casio has just unveiled plans for a new watch that will be Bluetooth low energy enabled using recently developed technology allowing it to communicate with our smart phones. All new smart phones will shortly carry Bluetooth low energy wireless technology allowing them to pair up with networks of other devices. At first glance putting this on a watch may seem a rather wasteful use of development resources; after all, a watch just tells us the time right?

Wrong. This technology will transform our digital watches into highly useful smart phone aides. For example, once your watch is paired to your smart phone it will be able to perform many useful jobs including:

  • Checking with the smart phone to maintain the correct time automatically
  • Notifying us of any incoming calls or emails sent to our smart phone
  • Answering our smart phones ring alerts or vibrations through a single button press
  • Setting new smart phone alerts or alarms through a single button press.
  • Doing all this without any loss of battery power. In other words, the button-cell battery life of the watch will be unaffected by all this new connectivity.

The plans for the new watch were released at the International Consumers Electronics Show, recently held in Las Vegas and Casio is looking to have a prototype ready this year.

Look out Q, here comes the W Phonewatch

Miniscule, inconspicuous and with its real identity masked, even James Bond’s “Q” would be proud of Kempler & Strauss’s W Phonewatch.

As the name suggests, the W Phonewatch is a cellphone, disguised as a wristwatch. Although unlike the torrent of wrist-watch phones that have saturated the market in recent years, which awkwardly lie on its owner’s wrists and become more of a hindrance than a help, the W Phonewatch is the world’s smallest, fully-featured, GMS unlocked cellphone available, offering discretion with a multitude of features.

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It is mind-boggling how such a slim-line and unobtrusive device can host such throng of facets, including a built-in camera, multimedia stereo player, Outlook contact sync, video recorder and games.

Because the W Phonewatch is Bluetooth-enabled, it allows for seamless communication when used in conjunction with existing Bluetooth devices. But particularly, Kempler & Strauss insist, when it’s used with their own micro stereo Bluetooth headset, known as the Communicator. Keeping up the W Phonewatch’s ‘emissary’ theme, the Communicator is proudly advertised on its ability to be stored in the most hidden of places, like a shirt pocket. There is even a micro USB port incorporated that connects to a charger and a PC, giving frustrated and tired eyes some respite from squinting at the W Phonewatch’s diminutive screen.

Although pioneering in its aesthetical and dimensional advances, a phone offering this amount of feature diversity in such a condensed product, there are bound to be some drawbacks. Its tiny menus rely on the most perfect of vision, whilst its micro-touch user interface relies is most delicate of touches. Positioning such a petite viewfinder accurately results in the ‘happy snapping’ conventional phone cameras proudly offer, being replaced by more ‘haphazard snapping’.

In short, Kempler & Strauss’s W Phonewatch is designed as an accessory – a secondary phone for whenever the urge arises to wear a phone on your wrist. Although as this undeniably intuitive gadget costs just 119.48 GBP, the prospect of wearing a real-life Bond-style phone, watch and camera on your wrist is obtainable, and consequently Kempler & Strauss may be on to a winner.

Shipping for this sophisticated, slight and stylish machine starts in the US on December 20th but won’t be available in the UK until 2010.  So unfortunately unwrapping a W Phonewatch on Christmas Day will not be possible, although the novelty could have worn off by Boxing Day anyway.

Nu-M8 GPS locator watch for kids

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These days, as a kid, you’re lucky if you’re parents let you go more than a few feet out of their view. Gone are the days, for most kids at least, of jumping on their bike and ensuring they’ll be “back in time to tea”. Unfortunately we now seem to live in a world where parents are just too afraid of the dangers of letting their children out of their sight.

One company that is trying to use tech to help solve this problem is midlands based firm, Lok8u, with their slightly awkwardly named “nu-m8” GPS locator for designed for kids 3-12 years old.

Designed to look like a standard watch (although we’re not 100% convinced it does) the nu-m8 is securely fastened to the child’s wrist and stays there unless deactivated by the parent. It even has a nifty feature whereby if the watch is forcefully removed an alert is sent to the designated email/mobile phone address detailing the child’s location. In this situation the locator will also turn to a “live track” mode allowing the child’s location to be continuously monitored, which Lok8u states is accurate to 10 feet.

Another feature which sounds interesting is the setting of ‘safe zones’ by establishing a virtual boundary. If the child strays outside of this zone the parent is notified by a priority alert.

The nu-m8 comes in black, blue or pink, priced at £149.99 and is available to buy now from www.lok8u.com and Amazon.co.uk. In addition, there is a monthly subscription charge starting from only £4.99 dependent on the selected usage tariff.