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Nubia Alpha is a phone you wear around your wrist that no one asked for

But that doesn't mean it's not intriguing and a welcome change to phone design.

Lynn La Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones
Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.
Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Lynn La
Kent German
3 min read
Andrew Hoyle/CNET
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With Samsung's Galaxy Fold Phone, Hauwei's Mate X and the FlexPai from Royole, phones with foldable displays are grabbing attention for their novel designs and innovative screen technology. But Nubia, an associate company of Chinese phone-maker ZTE , is taking it a step further with its Nubia Alpha. Debuting at MWC 2019, the Alpha is unique in that it's a phone that wraps around a user's wrist, similar to a smartwatch.

We don't blame you for being skeptical about the concept. We were, too. But after a short time using the Alpha, that feeling changed. You know what? The Alpha is cool, fun to use and let's just say it: Finally, we're seeing something different in phone design. You probably won't ever buy it, but that's OK. 

The Nubia Alpha looks like either a house arrest bracelet or Batman's phone

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The flexible OLED display is 4.01 inches diagonally. You can navigate through it using your finger. Swipe back and forth between four different menus, each in a different color, and swipe up and down to scroll through each menu in a loop. The screen was responsive and just large enough to select individual items. To move back, press the bottom crown.

The Alpha also lets you move through menus by gesture controls. Wave your hand in front of the sensor to get it going. It works well enough, but it was hard to really tell in such a short time. But even if it was perfect, using your finger feels like the better option for Alpha owners. You'd look a bit silly standing in the street waving your hand over your wrist. 

The Alpha is water-resistant and feels durable. The gold is certainly showy but even the black version is far from understated. It comes in two variants -- Bluetooth and eSIM -- the latter of which has 4G capabilities. It's powered by a Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor from Qualcomm along with a 500mAh battery. The phone has a wealth of sleep-tracking and health-assistant apps, a music player, Wi-Fi and a 5-megapixel camera for taking photos and video recording. 

On the eSIM model, you place calls using the numeric keypad. Then use a Bluetooth headset to talk. There's not room for a full keyboard so you have to use an nine-digit alphabetic keypad that's straight out of 2005. That's one feature we'd skip. Fortunately, the Alpha also has voice controls.


The Nubia Alpha in gold and black.


The Alpha isn't the first time we've seen a phone that look like this before. In 2016, Lenovo showed off a concept device called CPlus, which had a 4.26-inch display that you bent over your wrist. And TCL, another Chinese phone company, is working on a similar device and sent out preliminary images of a phone that curves into a cuff.

Unlike previous wraparound phones, however, the Alpha isn't a concept. Though the company did not release any pricing or availability dates, it will make the Alpha commercially available to users. Whether or not users actually want a phone with feature limitations around their wrists is another question. But for now, it's a nice start to something new. Nubia deserves a pat on the back for that, at least.

For more information, check out CNET's full coverage of MWC 2019 here.

MWC 2019: All the phones and gadgets we cared about

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