I am a guy who doesn’t use smartphones much. I prefer cheap Android phones because I occasionally need to use some apps that are available only for Android and iOS. I never cared for large screen sizes because it only made the phone harder to fit into a pocket. Then I saw the opportunity. A phone fitted into a watch, with Android and everything. Such products by large companies currently use cellular network only for emergency calls or through LTE, but some shady Chinese companies offer fully featured ones. Because I have always worn a watch, it meant one less electronic device to care about. So I decided to try them out.
So I looked what was available. The biggest choice was on AliExpress. One that picked my attention was a smartwatch called Z01, with a decent battery life and a rather rare possibility to insert microSD cards. I picked a seller and bought one. It wasn’t expensive, so it was worth a try. When it came, my curiosity was quickly doused by disappointment. It was running on vanilla Android, with a collection of 5 watch faces replacing lock screen. None of them looked very good. Navigating through the app menu was annoying, because I was grabbing icons and moving them to other places too often, changing their order to make it harder to find what I looked for. The manual was written in terrible English, bordering on incomprehensibility. More disasters came soon, the microSD card became permanently read-only after saving one photo on it and it stopped noticing the SIM card forever one second after inserting one for the first time. Many apps failed to install with a cryptic error message. On the other side, its battery life was actually quite good, its display was sensitive enough for typing at such small buttons and browsing the Internet worked quite well.
- insertEditorsNote(“Here I was supposed to add in pictures of the fake Z01 smartphone, but since pictures were eyescratchingly bad, I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to imagine an awesome collage of low-quality Android crap… You know what? I think you can take it! Here you go:”);
Since it wasn’t doing one of its two primary purposes and sucked at the other, I returned it and got a refund (but I had to pay for mailing it back to China), as the seller was afraid of getting a bad rating. Later, I figured out it was a fake. There was a real Z01 watch that was probably much better (according to videos I found), this one just had the same name and the same appearance. Its brand wasn’t mentioned anywhere because it wasn’t the brand it was pretending to be and they could not write plain lies. Everything written there was true, but only literally. Lesson learned, China also makes fakes of Chinese products. Screw you and I hope you’ll bankrupt soon, RoYvShg Electroni c Store.
Second, more successful attempt
After reading guides about shopping on AliExpress and learning from my error, I decided to try again. I viewed only the shops whose products had enough reviews and the reviews made it clear they were really selling the product they seemed to sell. I viewed youtube videos how their UIs were supposed to behave. I checked if their reviews on Amazon both in English and German, sometimes even in French. Then I chose a smartwatch called KingWear KW88 Pro. Yes, its name is ridiculous. And surprisingly, it wasn’t bad.
- insertEditorsNote(“Again with the potato quality. I promise, further pictures will be of much better quality…”);
The watch comes with a MediaTek processor with four cores, 1 GiB of RAM and 16 GiB of internal memory, 2 GiB of which is taken by OS. It runs Android 7.0 (not AndroidWear). Screen diameter is 400 pixels, which makes the picture look sharp enough due to its small size. Battery capacity is 350 mAh. It has all the usual connectivity modules, WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS and can connect to 2G or 3G cellular networks using a nano SIM. It has its own kind of connector that connects to USB ports for charging and copying files. It can install regular Android Apps. Its camera has a 2 MPix resolution. It also has some kind of pedometer and a heart rate monitor. Its parametres except battery capacity and screen size are comparable to low-end Android smartphones.
The watch’s size is comparable to many other large smartwatches. Or large watches. The current fashion of large watches make its size quite acceptable. Its strap is oriented backwards, towards the arm, so it fits quite well even on my thin hand. Its appearance is quite good, but its quality isn’t superb – a piece of protective glass on its edge got unstuck and let a small bubble of air in shortly after unpacking. It’s not waterproof, but it can survive a bit of snowfall (and I wasn’t willing to make more experiments in this direction).
The version of Android running in the watch has a heavily modified UI so that it is usable when the screen is so small. Surprisingly, it looks quite good and it’s not choppy. Some things need more swipes to access, but it’s better than trying to hit diminutive icons. Internet browsing is a bit limited due to the small screen size, but it can be used in case of emergency.
Phone calls are done through a loudspeaker, but a Bluetooth headset can be connected to overcome this issue. It pairs surprisingly well with it, unlike my Android 5.0 phone. It also has a rather minimalistic mp3 player, but I found it sufficient (it’s somewhat comparable to cmus on Linux or Groove Music from Microsoft).
Typing is surprisingly quite possible with my thin fingers. After a bit of practice, I don’t make many typos. Of course, I can’t type fast when I need to aim and can use only one hand.
The main limitation is the battery. While Amazfit Bip has a smaller battery and a month of battery life, running Android on a generic processor rather than a specialised OS on a low frequency microprocessor can’t allow a 350 mAh battery last long. If I use it only to check time and to be connected to cellular network, it might can last for 4 days. If I go outside with a Bluetooth headset connected for a few hours and occasionally check something, the duration is 3 days. Having the Bluetooth headset connected for 10 hours per day but not doing much else shortens its battery life to barely 2 days. It can last only 1 regular working day with headset connected most of the day, listening to music for about an hour and a bit of other usage and the battery is nearly empty when the day is over. Listening to music will discharge the battery in as little as 3 hours. Actively browsing the Internet might discharge it even faster, but it’s not what it’s made for.
Another battery-related problem is that the feature to light the screen when the hand is raised is implemented using software and it drains the battery quite significantly (if it’s doing nothing else, it doubles battery consumption) and so it’s not really worth using. Time has to be checked by pressing the button, which is somewhat annoying.
Charging the battery from a laptop USB port from dead to fully charged takes about 2 hours. The charging connector is some kind of group of four contacts attached using a magnet, which doesn’t hold particularly strongly.
While it has all the hardware features of Amazfit Bip, there is a lot of wasted potential in its built-in fitness app. It doesn’t even have an option to measure heart rate periodically. Maybe some other fitness app could be used instead of it, but it would probably drain the battery and would not be integrated into its UI so well.
It can also be connected to a smartphone using an app installed on the smartphone through Bluetooth, but I have not tried it. It’s reputed to drain the battery quite fast if not done properly.
The software bugs present in this watch are worth having its own chapter. I don’t think even Bethesda can leave a higher density of bugs than the team who programmed this watch’s UI.
The most annoying bug I discovered is that the step count on the pedometer sometimes changes randomly to absurd values. My step count is 3421, I walk into the kitchen to make some fruit tea, I look at the watch and… suddenly, I have 63741 steps. It looks like undefined behaviour. This doesn’t seem to manifest shortly after factory reset, but that hardly helps.
The USB connection is forbidden from transferring files by default, it can be changed in settings, but, annoyingly, this setting is always set back to default when the watch is disconnected. Silent mode has vibration disabled, making phone calls impossible to notice. The list of recent calls lists only phone numbers, not the names of the contacts. The option to synchronise contacts with google is inaccessible in the contacts menu and it has to be done through an unclear option in settings. There is no way to change the SIM’s PIN code.
There might be more bugs I have not discovered yet.
Its price was below 70€ (or 150€ at Amazon), so there’s no point in comparing it with high end smartphones. Its parametres are comparable with cheap smartphones, but the small screen size makes it less usable (which is, of course, physically impossible to avoid). The short battery life is a problem that plagues all Android wristphones, but it doesn’t appear to me that much effort was put into optimising it.
In one way, it’s awesome to have all the electronic devices fitted into a small watch as in those spy films and sci-fi, which was the dream I had when I was a kid. On the other hand, it has its downsides, not only related to the limitations of a small screen. Because of the poor battery life and bugs, my rating is 3/5.
Wristphones have been part of sci-fi for long and although they can do more than computers could do two decades ago, the technology still isn’t polished enough. It’s probably the reason why large companies are not interested in producing them. If it’s done, it has debilitating downsides, like short battery life. Some problems are unavoidable because of its physical shape and size, like small screen or impossibility to make calls without a loudspeaker or headset.
If you aren’t very fond of spending hours touching a smartphone’s screen, don’t mind recharging every 1-2 days and wear a headset when outside home, they can come handy at reducing the amount of stuff in pockets. Plus, making calls and checking out stuff online using just a watch is very cool. But I don’t recommend them to average smartphone users.
- insertEditorsNote(“You can play spy with this amazing feat of camera technology”);
- insertEditorsNote(“The app launcher is very similar to Android Wear, which is good”);
- insertEditorsNote(“And you can still get your 80s music fix even on the go!”);