Swatch Paparazzi review: Swatch Paparazzi

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3 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Easy integration with Outlook Calendar; stylish and comfortable; water resistant to 100 meters; Swatch City channel provides content on local entertainment; affordably priced.

The Bad Requires a monthly or yearly service fee; backlighting washes out screen.

The Bottom Line While other MSN Direct watches are designed with business users in mind, the Swatch Paparazzi is perfect for younger users who need more entertainment-oriented information.

6.6 Overall

Swatch Paparazzi SPOT Watch

It's been a while since a seemingly benign consumer electronic device--Microsoft's MSN Direct smart watch--has had such a polarizing effect on the CNET staff. While several of us are excited about the technology, others are reluctant to jump on board. Microsoft's MSN Direct service is several years old and still experiencing growing pains, but it remains to be seen if it will stand the test of time. Of course, when the Redmond, Washington-based company launched the service, the variety of watches from which to choose was scant, with slim pickings from Fossil and Suunto. Now, with Tissot and Swatch joining the ranks, one of the barriers to entry has been removed: form. And Swatch takes it one step further by banishing another deterrent: the cost.

Coming in at around $150, the Swatch Paparazzi offers users a relatively inexpensive way to give the service a test run, whereas the Suunto N3i costs $300 and the Tissot High T runs more than $700. Young hipsters will also appreciate the company's proprietary channel, which provides them with local information about clubs and DJs, in addition to the stock, news, sports, and weather information that we've come to expect from MSN Direct.

The Swatch Paparazzi is most definitely not for the faint of fashion. The plastic timepiece ships in four color schemes: orange and blue, red and black, black and silver, and blue and beige. On the hardware side, the Swatch Paparazzi is light, thin, and comfortable, unlike the Fossil watches, which tend to be bulky and heavy. It also falls in line with the company's appeal to the younger market, as it rocks a sportier look and feel compared to the more-classic lines of the Fossil, Suunto, and Tissot. Like all other MSN Direct watches, the Paparazzi ships with several faces (seven, to be exact), and there's room to download two more. The large face makes it easy to read content, and you can turn on a green backlight for darker environments, but we weren't all that impressed by this as it tended to wash out the display. To surf through the various menus, there are five navigation buttons along the outer ring of the face.

The Paparazzi is water resistant to as deep as 100 meters, and it boasts a rechargeable battery. While the charger is nowhere as big and cumbersome as those that ship with the Fossil watches, you can't charge the watch's battery via a USB cable connected to a computer. This is a feature that sets the Suunto watches apart from the rest. Thankfully, we experienced fantastic battery life with the Paparazzi, lasting almost a week between charges, longer than the N3i. Other basic watch features include the time (with two time zones), two alarms, a timer, and a stopwatch.

We had no trouble getting a signal with the Paparazzi. In fact, on a family trip to Yosemite, our Paparazzi still received a signal. Once you establish a connection, the Paparazzi downloads content from the various channels. We received news headlines, sports scores, and daily horoscopes without a hitch. And for kicks, you can wax poetic with the Quote of the Day or sharpen your vocabulary with the Word of the Day (all found under the Diversions menu). Where Swatch differs from other MSN Direct watches is with its Swatch City channel. Sticking with its younger, hipper demographic, Swatch City, by partnering with Time Out, gives users entertainment information that's specific to their hometown. For instance, here in San Francisco, we were told about upcoming DJ and club events--but don't expect to get into the hippest clubs just because you're wearing a Paparazzi. If you're into this sort of thing, this feature is pretty nice.

Having your Microsoft Outlook Calendar sent to the watch is extremely easy to set up. You simply install an applet that hooks into Outlook, then pushes your information to the watch. The applet only works with Windows-based PCs, so unfortunately, Mac users can't benefit from the Calendar feature. In addition, you can set up the watch to receive instant messages from contacts via MSN Messenger. You can't, however, send messages yourself, thus limiting the true usefulness of this feature. Still, this feature had been slow in the past, but with the Paparazzi, we had no problem receiving messages.

As we've said before, the only real drawback to MSN Direct is that you have to subscribe to the service, which will set you back $10 per month or $59 per year. This subscription is what allows you to have your Outlook Calendar sent to your watch and to receive instant messages via MSN Messenger. Your subscription also grants you access to 12 channels that offer everything from stock information and sports news to weather updates and horoscopes. If you don't need the Outlook synchronization, Microsoft now offers a Smart Plan for $40 per year that gives you access to just the information channels.

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