Straight-Up Android on a Smartwatch: Hands On with the Omate TrueSmart

No smartphone necessary.

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Jared Newman for TIME

Odds are that Omate’s TrueSmart is not the smartwatch of the future.

It has none of the technology advancements that we’ve been hoping for, such as a battery-saving screen or an ultra-slim design, nor does it have the contextual awareness we might someday get from a Google Now smartwatch. It’s essentially an Android smartphone wrapped around your wrist.

But you know what? In a geeky, tech-obsessive way, it kind of works.

Omate’s TrueSmart became a Kickstarter hit┬álast August, as one of the few smartwatches with a SIM card slot. This allows the watch to make and take calls and connect to the Internet without being tethered to a smartphone.


Jared Newman for TIME

As such, it makes sense for the TrueSmart to be able to run any Android application. You can read your entire Gmail inbox, play some games, get turn-by-turn directions, search the web, take phone calls and listen to music. When the screen is off, pressing a button on the side of the watch shows the time, and one swipe takes you to a traditional Android home screen, with room for four apps on each page. Swipe down from the top of the screen, and you’ll see the traditional Android notification bar.

In my hands-on time, the watch’s dual-core A7 processor was able to smoothly handle transitions between screens and apps, and tapping on the small icons and buttons on the TrueSmart’s 1.54-inch color touch screen wasn’t nearly as nightmarish as I’d expected. In fact, I made no errors in my first attempt at typing on the tiny software keyboard. The TrueSmart also has a microphone for voice commands, and the Google search app had no problems understanding my requests for directions.

The TrueSmart doesn’t include the Google Play Store by default, so Omate is putting together an app store of its own. Still, the demo unit had Google’s app store on board, so that’s always an option for users who are comfortable with sideloading. Users can also install custom watch faces built by the community, much like the popular Pebble.


Jared Newman for TIME

Omate says the TrueSmart lasts for one to two days on a charge. Similar to Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, the TrueSmart has a clasp-like charger that you must snap onto the watch face.

When I wrote about the TrueSmart back in August, one of my main concerns was the lack of any appropriate wireless plan for this kind of device, at least from U.S. carriers. If you were to own a TrueSmart now, your only options for mobile connectivity would be to constantly switch your SIM card back and forth from a smartphone, or pay for an entirely separate plan, effectively doubling your monthly bill.

But CEO Laurent Le Pen told me that he’s been contacted by 20 wireless carriers, including AT&T. The hope is that carriers can come up with a plan that makes sense for smartwatches. (Le Pen pointed out that unlike Pebble, which connects to smartphones over Bluetooth at no extra charge, the TrueSmart presents an opportunity for carriers to charge for more service.)

This is just speculation, but I suspect Google will eventually offer a version of Android that’s tailored for smartwatches, just as it did for tablets a few years ago. In that sense, Omate reminds me of a pre-Honeycomb Android tablet: a rough draft that might appeal to a few early adopters.

Omate has been fulfilling orders for Kickstarter backers, and is now taking general pre-orders for shipping in February. The watch starts at $249 with 512 MB of RAM and 4 GB of storage, while a $299 model (the one I demoed) has 1 GB of RAM and 8 GB of storage.