Smartwatches of the future will either fall into two camps: those that pack tons of features and are part of mobile ecosystems, like Android Wear, and those that just try to be everyday, slightly-smarter watches.
Count the Meta M1 in the latter camp. Curved steel. Funky lines. A leather band. On my wrist, it could be mistaken for some new Diesel or Fossil design.
That's no accident: Meta is a company founded by people who came from Fossil. The Meta M1 is an attempt to make smartwatches sexy, cool, or just an everyday item.
I've been wearing a pre-release Meta M1 for a week, using it on my wrist constantly. Like a watch.
So here's the question: does it work? Yes, and better than I expected. But it's far from perfect yet.
Design: Sexy, or overdone?
The Meta M1 has a look that might seem familiar: in many ways, physically and spiritually, it's like a brother to the. Meta's $250-and-up watch (in the UK, it costs £250 and up; Australian availability has not been announced) has an all-steel body, super-crisp always-on black-and-white non-touch LCD display, has swappable wristbands, works with Android or iOS, and is water resistant to 5ATM.
The Meta M1 has an all-steel body, super-crisp always-on black-and-white non-touch LCD display, has swappable wristbands, works with Android or iOS, and is water resistant to 3ATM, as long as you don't wear a leather band.
The funky metal body comes with bendable arms that give it an industrial semi-steampunk look. Designed by Frank Nuovo, who also designed Vertu phones back in the day, it's a look that's gotten me a fair amount of compliments. It's distinctive, and no one finds in unattractive. Is it good enough to attract someone at a crowded bar? It could. It's the most club-friendly smartwatch I've seen. It sort of looks like a Pebble Steel with a midlife crisis.
The design has a purpose: the bendable metal armatures connect to the leather strap instead of the body itself, making the watch hug the wrist more. It felt snug and very comfortable. And each side of the Meta M1 has three buttons to press: six in all. These take the place of a touchscreen. The Pebble Steel only has four buttons, but they're larger.
The Meta M1 comes in a variety of colors and wristband pairings, with prices ranging from $250 all the way up to a way-too-high $450. Some are chromed steel, some have a more gunmetal look, and bands range from natural rubber (it's vanilla-scented, by the way) to leather, to steel. If you buy one watch, you can replace the band later with one of Meta's, or any 26-mm band you can find.
The small LCD display looks exactly like the Pebble Steel's, and even feels a bit more vibrant in direct sunlight. But the backlighting on my pre-release unit wasn't so hot: a top-firing light barely lit the screen, while the Pebble Steel's night glow in comparison is crisp and bright. I was told the backlighting would be fixed in the final version -- I hope so, since backlighting is important.
The Meta M1's buttons, and the Meta's UI and software, are also work in progress. I found the buttons harder to press than on the Pebble.
No apps...just built-in features
While the Pebble has its own app store for watch faces and many sometimes-useful, sometimes-random other functions, each of which has to be downloaded and installed, the Meta M1 keeps things simple. Any features are baked right into the watch itself: calendar, weather, phone music remote control, notifications, and a countdown timer can all be cycled through by pressing the left and right-side middlemost buttons on the watch.