I'm Watch review: A smartwatch that's not quite intelligent enough

There aren't many watch faces to choose from, but the world clock is nice. Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Another disappointment is the I'm Watch's lack of a vibration motor for haptic feedback. This is a critical feature for smartwatches since buzzing wrist alerts are the only reliable notification you'll likely receive when your phone is sitting deep in your pocket. The device can't display text messages from your phone, either, which is mysterious since that's a common way people use phones to communicate. Both the Motorola Motoactv and Sony Smart Watch offer these features.

A music player app lets you play tracks stored directly on the watch itself, but you'll have to connect a headset through the headphone jack or listen to music via the tiny speaker. You're also limited to 4GB of onboard storage.

Performance
I wish I could report that my experience with the I'm Watch went hitch-free. Sadly, the device fought me from the moment I charged it up and strapped it on. You would think linking an Android watch to an Android phone would be a simple affair. Not so, since the I'm Watch setup is a complicated, multistep process with little explanation provided.

Recharge the watch's battery via a 3.5mm headphone jack. Sarah Tew/CNET

First, I had to create an account through the I'm Cloud Web site, then link my watch to it. After that, I needed to configure the apps installed on my I'm Watch unit within this Web interface, since there's no actual I'm Watch mobile app. Thankfully, users can view the I'm Cloud site via mobile phone browser as well as through desktop software. That means the I'm Watch is compatible with both iOS and Android devices. Honestly, though, it's a chintzy way around having to develop true OS-specific applications.

To link the I'm Watch to phones, you must pair then connect it via wireless Bluetooth. The final step, though, is to make sure you enable Bluetooth tethering under your phone's wireless settings menu. If you don't complete this last procedure, your handset may say the I'm Watch is connected but no actual data will flow between the devices.

After properly linked to my LG Nexus 4 handset, I was able to read e-mail, view calendar meetings, and see recent tweets via the I'm Watch. Its screen was also bright enough to be legible outdoors, a function that has stymied other wearable gadgets such as the Sony Smartwatch.

No matter how hard I tried, however, the Facebook app refused to funnel updates through to the watch. Additionally, the I'm Watch's appointment and e-mail apps support only one account at a time. That frustratingly forces you to choose between accessing personal and work info, hardly an ideal solution.

The I'm Watch runs numerous apps, but setup isn't easy. Sarah Tew/CNET

I also didn't have much luck with the phone-dialing application. While I really dig the ability to initiate or screen calls from the I'm Watch, it was hit-or-miss whether my calls went through. Often the watch failed to transmit or receive audio. And on those occasions when sound came through the speaker, the audio was extremely choppy and practically useless for purposes of communicating. It's the absolute opposite of the experience I had with the Martian Watch. Keep in mind, I suffered the same glitches when linked to either an LG Nexus 4 running Android Jelly Bean or a Sony Xperia T equipped with Android Ice Cream Sandwich.

Large logos on the band detract from the luxury look. Sarah Tew/CNET

Don't expect much longevity from the I'm Watch's 450mAh rechargeable battery either. I'm claims the the device will last 24 hours on standby when linked over Bluetooth, but a mere 5 hours under "generic" use. I'm assuming that means heavy operation with the screen fired up constantly. This is in line with the run time I personally observed, and I certainly would have to charge the watch overnight to avoid it conking out the next day.

Conclusion
It's clear to me that the smartwatch market is still maturing and has plenty of growing pains to endure. A product like the I'm Watch is a perfect example of how far devices need to improve before the average consumer will bite. While the gadget is more useful than, say, the Sony Smartwatch, which was barely functional when left the factory (although it does offer more features), the I'm Watch's flaws all add up to a foolhardy purchase. At $350, it's extremely expensive, especially when you consider its paltry app store, difficult setup, and anything but rock-solid performance. Also, while I haven't reviewed the Pebble, my hands-on time with the device has me convinced it's currently the best smartwatch deal around. It offers a smaller size, more apps and software, plus seven times the battery life of the I'm Watch at just $150. The $149.95 Motorola Motoactv is still a compelling alternative, with its stable operation, built-in GPS, and rugged construction.

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

I'm Watch

Part Number: i'mWATCH

MSRP: $449.00

See manufacturer website for availability.