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

The I’m Watch promises to bring the power of Android and smartphone data to your wrist, but it's fraught with glitches.

Brian Bennett Former Senior writer
Brian Bennett is a former senior writer for the home and outdoor section at CNET.
Brian Bennett
6 min read

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.


I'm Watch

The Good

The I’m Watch lets you view e-mail, calendar, social media updates, and other phone info in easily readable form.

The Bad

The I’m Watch is tricky to set up, is saddled by short battery life and shaky software, and is extremely expensive.

The Bottom Line

The I’m Watch smartwatch runs Android and custom apps, but weak software and quirky performance mean you should pass on this pricey gadget.

The multitalented I'm Watch (pictures)

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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.

The I'm Watch sports an LCD screen that's visible outdoors. Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

The right side holds a microphone and power/back button. Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

The I'm Watch's wristband is massive. Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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.

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.

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.


I'm Watch

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 5Performance 6