Running Android 2.1, the $349 I'm Watch from Italian company I'm promises to be a perfect smartphone companion. Its small screen showcases useful info like appointments, e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter updates in real time. The watch also boasts big, bold styling you'll likely either love or hate. But like many gizmos in this emerging space unfortunately, the I'm Watch has plenty of flaws ranging from a tricky setup to glitch-prone performance. All of which render this pricey gadget more a curiosity than truly compelling consumer product. Other watches such as the Motorola Motoactv and Pebble offer a better smartwatch experience at a much lower price.
The I'm Watch is anything but inconspicuous. With a large, 1.54-inch, color LCD screen (240x240 pixels) encased in a sturdy aluminum housing, the device weighs a substantial 2.9 ounces. That's a lot more than the petite Sony Smartwatch (0.55-ounce) and even the sizable Motorola Motoactv (1.2 ounces). The metallic I'm Watch also has greater heft than the Pebble, which is constructed mostly from plastic.
That said, I have a soft spot for hardened personal electronics that use high-grade materials. The I'm Watch certainly doesn't disappoint in this regard. The device even comes in a limited-edition gold-plated version, though it costs an eye-popping $1,500.I also appreciate the curved glass of the watch's face which gives the timepiece a sophisticated appearance and helps fingers scroll across it. There are some aspects of the I'm Watch's physical design, though, that take some getting used to. The first is its superwide wrist strap that looks more like a gladiator armband or even waist belt than a traditional watch band.
The second questionable design decision are two "I'm Watch" logos placed on either side of the watch strap. I find them to be extreme eyesores that detract from the device's overall luxury aesthetic. I do like the metal strips, attached to the band by sturdy hinges, on which the logos sit. They give the rubbery band an extra degree of articulation as well and create a comfy fit around the wrist.
Watch controls are at best spartan. In fact, there's just one circular button on the right side, next the microphone. On the left sits a 3.5mm headphone jack which serves both to charge the watch's 450mAh lithium polymer battery and to output audio.
Sadly, this headphone jack charging method means the I'm Watch relies on a proprietary cable to power up. A Micro-USB port such as the one found on the Martian Watch and Motorola Motoactv is much more convenient.
At its core, the I'm Watch is a smartphone accessory. Besides being able to tell the time and date in numerous ways, the I'm Watch reaches out to your iPhone or Android handset to fuel its applications with fresh data. Onboard you'll find apps for checking Facebook and Twitter updates, e-mail, stocks, and weather, along with Instagram and Picasa images.
A News app aggregates a basic list of headlines under 10 different categories including Sci Tech, Nation, World, Business, and Entertainment to list just a few. Sources and headlines are pulled directly from the Google News service.
Basic applications that provide rudimentary PIM functions are installed as well such as Appointments, Address Book, Calculator, and even a digital compass. When linked to your phone, the I'm Watch also uses a Phone app to let you dial phone calls without laying a finger on your handset.
One big letdown, though, is the I'm Watch's shallow watch-face selection. There's only the digital clock on the main home screen, an analog Watch app that also plants a cheesy I'm Watch logo in its center, and an I'm Time world clock application. In my opinion, this world clock with its neon blue digital readout is the nicest looking of the three.
The I'm Watch's vault of downloadable software isn't deep either. At my last count, there were just 44 apps contained within the I'market, most of them unappealing. Do I really need a Futurama hypnotoad app? Nope, don't think so. The most compelling software I spotted is the LCD Pack 1 application from Raken Studios. It promises to add three lovingly rendered retro LCD watch faces to the I'm Watch. The trouble is, it costs 1.49 euro, and paying with my American credit card was a no-go.