The era of the smartwatch may be upon us, but it seems there's always a place for paper. Sony's e-paper FES Watch is part of the Japanese multinational's New Business Creation Department, and is a device that was successfully crowdfunded utilising the company's newly launched First Flight e-commerce site. It's more of a hit than a miss, merging the clean sharpness of e-reader paper with the function of a watch in a unique and eye-catching way.
Set at the reasonable price of ¥29,700 ($240, AU$335, £160), the FES watch aims to bring a new level of style and versatility to wristwatches rather than the new levels of function introduced by devices like the Apple Watch or the Samsung Gear 2. Currently released only in Japan, the FES watch will be available for purchase internationally from December 10 via the Japanese Yahoo! shopping website.
As far as watches go, it does exactly what is expected; it tells time. It's how it does it that sets it apart from regular digital timepieces. Functionally, it cannot compete with a smartwatch or even a fully digital counterpart -- at it's core, this is a minimalist wristwatch with just the one time function. This, of course, may put people off, but there's a wow factor that just might draw others in.
The entire front face and straps are made from one continuous strip of e-paper, backed by a hard-yet-forgiving polycarbonate that fits snugly around the wrist, and is held together by a typical fold-over clasp. With a case thickness of a slim 7.5 millimetres and a weight of 43 grams (most of which comes from the metal clasp itself), the FES Watch is a drastic change from the bulky, all-metal affair of normal wristwatches. The battery will last you approximately 2 years of regular use, though the 'watch action' of activating the display by turning your wrist can drain the battery slightly faster. It is waterproof, though only to the extent of daily life usage such as rain. So no swimming.
With a single press of its side button, the face wakes up to display a minute hand that moves as it should around the watch face, as well as a number denoting the hour. Subsequent presses of the side button will rotate the watch and its straps through 24 different display settings, such as faux metal links, alligator hide and stitched leather for the straps and minimalist, hour-marked or minute-marked display for the face.
Each look has its own variant of black and white, giving optimised options for daytime and night-time wear. I find myself swapping the display to a minimalist all-black, though to take advantage of the design variations, I might occasionally opt for the faux metal links, which blink to life at the press of a button.
So the big question is, does it satisfy? It works perfectly as a featureless watch (you can't go wrong with time function, after all) and has a simple-yet-durable build. There are some issues with the FES Watch, though. They're not about what it can't do, but rather what it could do but doesn't. One feature that I'd like to see is custom designs for the watch and perhaps firmware updates for new a unique faces or straps. If an e-reader can display text or monochrome comics, then I'd like to see the same from the FES watch. Another is a rotating display mode. While the versatility of the many styles is impressive, they could be a little more active with the watch cycling through its modes.
Barring that, should you decide to take the plunge, you'll have a simple timepiece that can match almost any social situation -- and easily offer a great conversation starter.