W PhoneWatch Review: The Epitome of Convergence

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The $200 W PhoneWatch from Kempler and Strauss is not new. It debuted a little over a year ago and went on sale earlier this year. But if someone asks you if you want to review a watch that’s also a cell phone, you say yes. That’s a good rule for life in general. Once you’ve reviewed a watch that’s also a cell phone, you can pass on future inquiries if you like.

While Dick Tracy romanticized the idea of a wrist-worn cell phone, the reality is that the general public in 2010 still isn’t ready for such a thing. You’ll get weird looks while wearing it and talking to your wrist and, presumably, even weirder looks if you’re doing the same while wearing a trench coat.

So the W PhoneWatch does two main things and several other not-as-important things. First, it’s a watch. As a watch, it’s fine, but the fact that it’s also a phone means that you have to worry about battery life. What you’re left with, in the watch department, is a timepiece with a face that turns off to conserve the battery. There’s no such thing as a quick glance at your wrist to check the time because you have to wake the screen up first. Holding two ice cream cones? Good luck. An ice cream cone and a bible-sized book? Nope.

As a phone, it’s also “fine,” in the sense that it adequately performs phone-like functions. You will not—repeat, will not—want to replace your primary cell phone with this device. You may, however, want to use it as a backup phone or for times when you don’t want to carry a phone around. It’s a true convergence device that showcases the inherent drawback of convergence; it serves two functions not normally associated with one another, though it does neither as well as two separate but dedicated devices would.

You can speak directly into the phone itself a la Dick Tracy, which is the coolest yet worst way to make calls. My wife repeatedly told me I sounded like I was in a wind tunnel, yet I don’t even have access to a wind tunnel. Most of the time I was sitting quietly at my desk trying to think up cool new pen names since nobody can pronounce my real last name.

The other, far better way to handle calls is with the included Bluetooth earpiece that doubles as a stylus. Call quality is much improved this way, though you’ll have to carry the earpiece around with you everywhere.

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Thankfully, it has a belt clip and is small enough that nobody will notice that you actually clipped something to your belt. The headset can be held up against your face like a tiny phone receiver or you can attach an included ear loop to wear it like a standard headset. You can also use your own Bluetooth headset instead if you have one you like.

All the other “features” aren’t really features worth crowing about. You can send text messages, but you’ll want to block off at least an afternoon for each one since the watch’s screen measures only 1.5 inches. For the first time in a long time, I found myself actually calling people who sent me text messages.

There’s a digital camera that takes photos and videos, though images are captured at 640×480 resolution and MPEG-4 videos at 128×104. The watch can play video and audio files, too, but the 128×128 screen resolution seems only suited to watch 128×104 videos and audio files have to be played through the tiny speaker or a Bluetooth headset.

The device is sold as an unlocked cell phone that uses either AT&T or T-Mobile SIM cards, which are inserted underneath the battery in the backside of the watch. Quickly swapping your SIM card between the watch and your primary cell phone isn’t a super streamlined process but, hey, you’ve got a phone on your wrist. These things are complicated.

The battery lasts about a day with moderate to heavy use, and the company thoughtfully includes two batteries in the box so you can charge one while you use the other. The watch itself is bulky enough that people will wonder what the hell is wrong with you at first but then marvel at how something that size has all that technology stuffed into it. Basically, it’s bulky for a watch but svelte for a watch that makes phone calls.

Overall, I enjoyed using the W PhoneWatch but I don’t know if I’d regularly use it for anything other than working out or rock climbing. I’m not into rock climbing, so that leaves working out. I don’t really work out for long enough at any given stretch to necessitate having a phone with me, so I’m really in a pickle here. The PhoneWatch did come in handy on several occasions when I didn’t want to bring my phone with me for one reason or another. So if you find yourself constantly wishing you didn’t have to stuff your phone into your skinny jeans or maybe you want to buy even tighter skinny jeans but have been hampered by having to pocket your phone, this one’s worth a look.

It’s certainly got a cool factor about it, but it does neither the phone thing nor the watch thing particularly well. As a $200 unlocked backup cell phone that you can wear on your wrist from time to time, though, it works quite well.

More on Techland: Great Moments in Geek History: The Timex Datalink Watch

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