Omate TrueSmart Smartwatch 2.0, hands-on: A watch that's a full-on Android smartphone

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/ Updated: December 8, 2013 8:55 PM PST

Among the nascent gadget category known as smartwatches, the biggest problems to date have revolved around how they interact with cell phones. The issues are plentiful: the watch "goes dark" if it untethers from the phone; the watch can only handle a small subset of notifications from the phone's apps; the watch only works with iPhones or Android phones; and so on.

That's where the Omate TrueSmart Smartwatch 2.0 is unlike any other smartwatch we've seen so far. The TrueSmart doesn't pair to another phone; the TrueSmart is the phone.

Look at the spec sheet, and you'll note few things the TrueSmart doesn't have or do. Make phone calls? Check. Shoot videos? Check. How about a SIM card slot and full Android 4.2.2 -- soon to be upgraded to 4.3, according to Omate's website -- with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth? Done, done, and done. It is, quite literally, a shrunken Android phone that's strapped to your wrist.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Ridiculous, you say? Well, it was bound to happen, and I’ve been playing with one at CNET for the past day. This Kickstarter project launched earlier in the year, promising a full soup-to-nuts stand-alone smartwatch experience... with full water resistance, no less. The watch is now available for pre-order, costing a reasonable (for smartwatches) $249 or $299 -- one with 4GB of storage, one with 8GB. There's a microSD card slot, too. It's all as absurd as you'd imagine...and yet, it's also pretty damn cool.

One of the cooler watch faces: it animates. Sarah Tew/CNET

Smartphone on your wrist
The TrueSmart arrived in an unadorned box with few instructions here at CNET, and so far I’ve been technologically impressed...but often baffled as to what exactly you’d do with it. In a way, everything...if you can put up with staring at a microminiature screen.

The 1.54-inch IPS display actually looks really good, and a gently curved sapphire crystal on top of the TrueSmart’s metal body lends it a solid, reasonably attractive, but very thick and dense appearance. It’s no bigger, really, than the Samsung Galaxy Gear .

Sarah Tew/CNET

Google Play supposedly runs on TrueSmart, but it wasn’t installed on my unit. However, I was able to download and install Spotify via an installed OStore app, and even side-loaded an app via an e-mail sent to me by fellow editor Brian Bennett -- his idea, and it worked like a charm (it was an app for additional Omate watch faces). I sent tweets via a full Twitter app, and even attached a selfie. A 5-megapixel camera with 720p video recording is built into the side bezel between two programmable buttons.

A look at the camera. Sarah Tew/CNET

I connected to office Wi-Fi, and browsed the web. I loaded up CNET, and played videos via the browser. And I even slipped a nano-SIM from a Moto X into a micro-SIM converter and used it to make calls on the TrueSmart -- yes, it's a full-on 2G/3G smartphone. Call quality sounded good on my end via a loud speakerphone, but terrible to others...maybe I should try pairing a Bluetooth headset. The pre-order page, incidentally, mentions a TrueSmart-dedicated headset for $39, as well as two flavors of 3G TrueSmarts: one with 1900MHz 3G (for North and South America), the other with 2100MHz (the rest of the world).

Sarah Tew/CNET

Other wearables like Google Glass could potentially pair with it to make a truly wearable full-body experience, a use case mentioned on TrueSmart's Kickstarter page.

Of course, this much power in a tiny watch is ridiculous, especially when you consider how you'll actually control it. I had no tutorial guide, so I just noodled around. Navigating and using multi-touch was a weird mixed bag...sometimes hard-to-press icons, sometimes hard-to-pull-off gestures. Sometimes I controlled things by swiping, other times by tapping. A pull-down Android notifications and settings menu actually worked. An on-screen keyboard, Flecksy, handles input. It works as well as you’d hope on a 1.5-inch display -- most of the time, I felt like I was engaging in microsurgery on an atom. Fonts creeped down to microscopic. It could drive many people insane. But this Omate watch supports Bluetooth accessories. I paired a Microsoft Bluetooth keyboard and actually used it to write tweets. Then I logged into our office CMS blog-posting system via the browser, but was too terrified to try posting anything. The browser interface would have required nano-fingers.

Sarah Tew/CNET

One thing, oddly, that the Omate TrueSmart can't do? Video calls. The camera's side placement means that even if Skype is installed (which it was on my watch), you can't use it for face-to-face communication. Sorry, Jetsons fans.

An included Micro-USB battery charging cradle much like the one with the Galaxy Gear keeps the battery fresh. I’ve gotten a decent full workday of use so far, and counting.

Curious? Watch the video above. If you've ever dreamed of a true stand-alone super smartwatch, logic be damned, the Omate might be crazy enough to satisfy.

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Omate TrueSmart

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