Samsung's TipTalk smart strap gives old watches some finger phone magic (hands-on)

Samsung has let employees play with crazy new ideas in its C-Lab, and TipTalk gives any watch a smart makeover with an amazing way to take calls by just putting your finger against your ear.

TipTalk smart strap

Put your finger in your ear and you're taking calls with the TipTalk smart strap.

Seamus Byrne/CNET

On show at CES 2016, the Samsung-backed TipTalk is a clever new "smart strap" for traditional watches, adding fitness tracking, notifications and calling features to any watch. Its greatest trick? Letting you take calls by pressing your finger into your ear like some kind of kids' make believe fake phone game has become reality.

The idea comes from a Samsung project called C-Lab, where over 100 projects run by internal staff have been initiated since 2012. TipTalk is one of nine to be broken out as a full external startup.

As smartwatches take hold, many horological hardliners are sticking to their traditional watches with renewed fervour. So the arrival of a smart strap that gives classic timepieces a smart upgrade could be just what the traditionalist has been waiting for.

It's the magical finger calls that make this strap truly unique. The representative said the call audio isn't transmitted via bone conduction, but vibrations are being sent from your wrist to your finger through your body. You can use it for taking calls or to have it read out your text messages.

I tested the TipTalk and it took a few tries to get the sound working (you can feel the strap is trying to vibrate sounds at you when you're doing it wrong). The sound was very muffled, but I could definitely understand what was being said even though I was standing on a busy show floor at CES. The strap was also a little loose, which could have contributed to the poor sound quality compared to setting it up just right with a tighter fit for my personal use. The strap has links at the ends that can be added or removed to get a better fit.

From that test, you wouldn't want to rely on your new magical finger phone as your primary way to make calls. But for a quick call somewhere you want a little extra privacy, particularly somewhere quiet where a normal call would be easily overheard, it's a promising working demo for a product that is looking to run a crowdfunding campaign in the coming months.

TipTalk works with Android and iOS, and while the project is an internal Samsung project, the team behind the strap say they are working toward an Indiegogo launch in coming months, with a target price under $80.

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