As far as smartwatches are concerned most of the bigger companies such as Samsung and Sony have taken the accessory approach to the category. None of the bigger companies have to date tried to make a device that runs full-fledged Android and work standalone. So is there a market for a smartphone the size of a watch that runs full-fledged Android? That’s the question Androidly, a smartwatch that is being sold by a team based out of India is trying to answer.
Androidly runs on a 416 mHz MTK processor that powers the two-inch display of 320×240 pixel resolution. It has 256MB RAM to support Android 2.2 and all the apps that it is stored in the 8GB SD card that comes with the device. It supports WiFi and EDGE (more on that later), Bluetooth 2.0 apart from having a 2 megapixel camera, GPS and an accelerometer. It weighs only 160 grams, but is quite bulky with dimensions of 6.4×4.2×1.4 cm. It is priced at ₤110 and is a rebranded version of Z1 smartphone watch that hit the market in 2012.
Unlike a smartphone which has hardware or software buttons in the front that help navigate the Android interface, Androidly has none. All the buttons are on the side like with most wristwatches. On the left side we have the volume up and down keys and the right we have the menu and power keys. The power key also acts as back and screen on/off button depending on how long you press and hold it. A gentle tap takes you back on screen, while a slightly prolonged normal press turns off the screen. If you hold the button for longer then the device will present you options such airplane mode, silent mode and power off. It takes a while to get this right and I spent a few hours before I was able to turn off the screen without bringing up the power off options. The team needs to work on this as it makes the device quite difficult to use for normal people who might not want to spend a few hours like I did to figure out how buttons work.
Display: The display quality is okay for the price it comes for and we were able to see the time on it even in bright daylight. However it’s not bright enough to browse the web or for other smartphone-like functions.
Sound quality: It has speakers below the screen, just where the wrist strap starts and a microphone on the bottom edge of the watch. Speaker is not loud enough which makes it difficult to hear what the person on the other end is saying while on a call. Since it’s a watch, it is very difficult to keep it pressed to your head. This means you will not be able to hear anything even in a slightly loud environment. You do have the option of turning on the loud-speaker which technically makes it louder, but in this case, it also creates a high-pitched noise very often, affecting the quality of the call. The microphone however worked pretty well and those at the other end was able to hear me clearly.
Camera: The 2 megapixel camera is on the top edge of the device and takes very average shots of anything in front of your hand. There’s nothing to write home about the camera apart from the fact it can take photos and record videos.
The worst part of the device is that it does not have a port to plug in earphones, so you’ll have to depend on bluetooth earpieces to listen to music and make calls. The tail end of the strap also doubles as a USB cable which makes it very easy to connect to a computer and transfer files. The same USB can be plugged into a standard charger or a computer to recharge the battery.
It runs on Android 2.2 aka Froyo which made me feel like I was using a device that came out three years back. It also reminded me how much Android has evolved in that much time. Androidly uses an older version of ADW launcher and there is no button in the dock bar to bring up the app drawer; instead you need to swipe up from the bottom. Like in all versions of Android you can swipe down to bring up the notifications bar.
Instead of the default keyboard Androidly comes with Flit Keyboard that makes it easier to type in such a small screen. I tried both the default keyboard and Flit and the latter is definitely faster and more accurate on such a small screen. In case of default keyboard, your index finger can end up pressing one of the five keys it hovers over and there is no guarantee that it’ll be the one you’re trying to press. Overall, it was a smart decision to go with this keyboard instead of the default one. However, It needs to be noted that most of the development and ideas on the software front came from XDA.
The device is supposed to support mobile internet connectivity but I wasn’t able to get it to work on 3G, EDGE or GPRS network. The GPS signal worked well enough, but I couldn’t use it for navigation while on the move as the data connection wasn’t working. The WiFi had limited range and I had to be very close to the router to get a signal — WiFi dropped off when I was 10 metres away. To put things in perspective I was getting good WiFi signal on my phone, iPod and laptop at that distance.
Since the WiFi signal is poor most of the time and since the device was unable to connect to the Internet using a data plan, the battery lasted a couple of days without an issue. The device was only used for a few calls and internet use was limited to proximity to the router. When it was used strictly as a watch, it had 43% charge left after two days. The 800mAh battery also doubles as the backpanel and once you remove it you will see the sim card tray and the slot for SD card. Due to space constraints, you’ll need to remove the SIM before you can take out the micro SD card.
The thing we need to keep in mind about a watch is that, it is not just a utilitarian device, it is also a fashion accessory. Those who wear watches regularly try to keep a few options around to suit their style of dressing — casual, formal, sporty — or colour combinations (especially among women). That being the case, Androidly fails the test in the current iteration as a lot of non-geeky people I spoke to said they wouldn’t want to wear this watch because of the way it looked. That said, I got a lot of curious glances and a few people even asked me about the device while travelling via metro.
The device is light, but looks bulky and is available only in three colours — black, grey and white. Due to the bulk it also becomes really inconvenient when wearing formals as it becomes impossible to button the shirts around the wrists.
The device is available only with rubber straps which a lot of people might not like as it looks too casual. However, this is an issue most smartwatches face and I hope manufacturers grow out of this mentality and release straps in metal and leather instead of waiting to see what Apple will do whenever they enter this industry.
Do we need such a device?
The popularity of tablets and lack of success of concepts such as Asus Padfone shows that there is a definitely a market for watches that run full-fledged android.
The difficulty with reviewing a gadget that falls under a new category is that it more or less ends up being a prototype that hints at the various possibilities such a device can offer in the future and Androidly is no exception to this theory. It is underpowered, bulky and runs an outdated version of the operating system, but the advantage of such a device does shine through now and then.
For smartwatches to go mainstream it needs to have an interface that makes sense for a device of this size instead of vanilla Android. While all the low-resource apps on the Play Store runs on the device, the interface was not designed with a such a small screen with horizontal orientation in mind making them very difficult to use. So we will need more apps that are custom designed for smartwatches. For that to happen a bigger player like Google or Samsung will need to approach developers and give them enough incentives to re-write or adapt their existing apps for such smaller screens.
This category also needs more powerful devices that do not compromising on the style factor or battery life. These issues are not easy to solve, but let’s hope they will be taken care of before this whole segment is written off as a fad.
As far as Androidly is concerned, it will disappoint anyone who uses a decent smartphone now. However from what I have heard, the company is working on a version that will be powered by a faster processor, that will run on the latest version of Android aka KitKat and should have 512MB – 1GB of RAM. That device will be available in several colours and is expected to be in the market in six months and in that much time we can expect a lot more companies bringing such Chin-dian (Made in China, branded Indian) devices to the market.
So if you’re a gadget freak who has ₤110 lying around, you can order the device here; on the other hand if you’re looking for a device that will be behave like a watch and a smartphone you should wait around for six months more. This market is still evolving so it’s best to wait and watch.