Wearable Tech

Sci-fi fantasy nears reality: A full-on phone on your wrist

Epic Watchphones hopes crowdfunding is the ticket to introducing a smartwatch that has absolutely no need for a smartphone buddy.

Epic watchphone
It's a full-on phone on your wrist. Epic Cellular

I have a dream inspired by too much science fiction as a child. My dream is to have a smartwatch that doesn't need a phone to work. It's a sleek, functional device that sits on my wrist and lets me make phone calls, send messages, and connect to the digital world. It's like a Dick Tracy watch on steroids. Unfortunately, this smartwatch doesn't exist yet, but the Epic Watchphones on Indiegogo are trying to head in that direction.

Most smartwatches aren't meant to be stand-alone devices. They need a smartphone in order to be useful, so you end up with an expensive accessory that moves things like notifications onto your wrist. But what if you could ditch the smartphone so that all you would have to think about is putting on your watch in the morning? You would have one gadget to keep track of, not two.

epicmini.jpg
The Epic Mini can be worn as a necklace. Epic Cellular

Epic Watchphones look like fairly standard men's wristwatches, but with a squared-off screen hiding inside the circular watchface. Epic says it has working prototypes and is looking to raise the funding to go into full production.

The watchphone runs on JavaOS and can make and receive phone calls with no need for a smartphone. It includes a 1.3-megapixel camera, GPS, and Wi-Fi functionality. You'll miss out on the extensive iOS and Android app stores, but you will essentially get a tiny wearable GSM smartphone for a $249 early-bird price. If watches aren't your thing, then the Epic Mini Pendant Phone going for a $200 pledge can be worn like a necklace.

This isn't the first attempt at making a smartwatch that doesn't require the crutch of an existing smartphone. Timex gave it a shot with the Ironman One GPS+ earlier this year, a smartwatch with built-in GPS and the ability to send and receive messages over the AT&T network. What it lacks is any sort of voice calling, a shortcoming the Epic Watchphones are hoping to address. The Timex is also a bit clunky, looking like Boba Fett crossbred with a Hummer and a Swatch.

An Indiegogo project may not be the most likely place for a new direction of smartwatches to emerge to take over the market. It may take a big name like Motorola or Apple to make the sci-fi move and introduce a completely stand-alone watch that doubles as a phone, rather than a watch that assists a phone.

Samsung's upcoming Gear S takes a big step in the phone/watch direction. It has 3G built into the watch, but it still requires a Samsung phone running Android 4.3 or later in order to download and install apps. It's not quite the fully realized dream of a untethered smartwatch, but it should be interesting to see if customers feel the need to have it or if it gets sucked into the undertow of an indifferent marketplace.

Since smartwatches are still fairly new devices, there seems to be some uncertainty as to what users really want out of the gadgets. Epic could shape up to be a test case for gauging interest in smartwatches with its own phones. Currently, Epic has raised $0 towards its $50,000 flexible-funding goal, though the freshly launched campaign still has 30 days to go.

Would you want a smartwatch that works all by itself, or do you prefer to connect to a smartphone? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Epic watchphones
Smartwatch + phone = watchphone. Epic Cellular