Will.i.am's Puls smartband lets you leave your phone at home

The Puls smartband bundles built-in ceullar connectivity with a fashion-concious design.

Nate Ralph Associate Editor
Associate Editor Nate Ralph is an aspiring wordsmith, covering mobile software and hardware for CNET Reviews. His hobbies include dismantling gadgets, waxing poetic about obscure ASCII games, and wandering through airports.
Nate Ralph
4 min read

The watch can make calls without pairing with a smartphone. James Martin/CNET

Fashionology is not a word I'd ever thought I'd have to use, but here we are. The term is the guiding light behind the Puls smartband (pronounced pulse). It's a wearable device that aims to be equal parts gadget and fashion accessory. The device is the brainchild of singer-entrepreneur Will.i.am, and couples built in cellular connectivity with a bevvy of apps and features that hope to give the existing wearable tech ecosystem a run for its money.

Details on the timing of the Puls' release and price tag are scant, but Will.i.am's bold take on the wearable is poised to turn heads -- especially if the battery life can keep up with the promise of cellular connectivity.

Take a closer look at the i.am Puls Smartband (pictures)

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I'd be hard pressed to call the smartwatch competition stiff. The Moto 360 is arguably the biggest standout of the bunch -- owing largely to its circular face -- but the awkward state of Android wear and meager battery life make it a tough sell. While most existing smartwatches are content to be smarter watches, Puls yearns to be something more: built-in cellular connectivity is a big part of that.

The Puls isn't the first wearable with built-in cellular connectivity: consider the Samsung Gear S . Will.i.am would have us believe that it's the coolest, designed from the ground up to be as much fashion accessory as wunder-gadget.

Stop calling it a watch

And it's not a watch -- that's important. The battery is built directly into the band, as are the rest of the accouterments: 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage space for music and photos, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as a 3G radio. There's also a pair of speakers right on the face, so you can share your tunes with the world. The Puls also packs GPS, a pedometer, and an accelerometer. You'll also find four kilowatts of DAF: "dope-as-f--kness," for the uninitiated.

"Watches don't have SIM cards. Or Qualcomm Snapdragon chips" says Will.i.am. Because the Puls isn't a watch, it's a cuff. The Puls is no longer "big" or "bulky" when you compare it to a fashion accessory. It requires a data plan, which will be provided by AT&T. The Puls will be coming to the UK care of an exclusive partnership with O2.

The Minuum keyboard should make typing a bit less frustrating. James Martin/CNET

Will.i.am is a bit of a rambling orator, but at the Puls unveiling here in San Francisco he remarked that the Puls -- which has been in development for three years -- was born from a dream to change the industry. We spend our lives tethered, staring into smartphone displays as we go to work, idle about at home, or rock out at concerts.

All about the apps

A wearable device is only going to be as the apps that power it. At the Puls unveiling we got a quick glimpse at a handful of the features that'll be baked in. There's a Siri equivalent, called Anita. And that's "Anita, pronounced A-need-a, as in all the things you need." I'll admit, I chuckled. Anita is powered by Nuance, a proven name in voice recognition software. It'll do many of the things Siri does, and will power the voice control of many of the band's other apps.

There's the Humin app, that let's you just knock on the watch face: say "call that guy I met yesterday from Company X," and the app will pull the contact details up onto the face of the band. The app is already available on iOS, but its presence on the Puls should make communicating on the device far easier than competing wearable devices.

Music, unsurprisingly enough, is a vital part of the Puls. The tracks you load onto the device not stored in playlists, they're collections: hear a song you like, and you can ask Anita to store it in a particular collection. The Puls will also benefit from a partnership with Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, though details there are scant. And finally there's fitness: you'll be able to link up more Puls smartbands to help folks share their fitness goals with their friends (or trainers).

This is Fashionology

"Most of the things I've seen are ghastly. They look too much like technology," says André Leon Talley, the former America editor-at-large for Vogue magazine. And it's true: existing wearables aren't exactly glamorous, though many believe the Apple Watch will shake things up a bit there. Is the Puls better? I, frankly, am no fashion-savant. Without hands-on time it's tough to gauge just how bulky the device is and the fairly thick bezel around the display rubs me the wrong way, but simply stepping away from the watch discussion is enough to make the device stand out. It'll be available in Blue, Red, Pink, White, as well as variants that are made of gold, or studded with diamonds.

But Will.i.am and his team aren't stopping there: we saw a few extra ideas for apparel that's waiting in the wings. The Power Wear jacket, for example, packs about 4,000 mAh of juice, and can supposedly offer two and a half days of power just by touching the smartband. We also saw shoes that will tell you your weight, and a back pack that doubles as a power source and speakers.


The Puls is being developed by Will.i.am's company, i.am+, and funded in part from the artist's own coffers. It'll store your music, and connect to social networks like Twitter through bespoke apps -- there's also a Salseforce app, which lends some relevance to the smartband's announcement at Dreamforce. And you can of course make phone calls and send emails without relying on a phone: typing on this cuff doesn't seem like such an exciting prospect, but we did see it sporting the Minuum keyboard -- I did like it on a smartphone, but always thought it'd make far more sense on a wrist-borne device.

We'll have more coverage on the Puls soon, so be sure to check back for more!