i’m Watch Review: I Waited 7 Months for THIS?!
Let’s just get this out of the way: the i’m Watch is a terrible product and one you should avoid at all costs.
I ordered my i’m Watch Black March 1st, 2012, and received in early September
Forget all the issues with questionable selling practices and product delays that have enraged purchasers (Blue Sky i’m SpA took people’s money for over a year without shipping a product), many of which accused the i’m Watch of being some sort of scam. Forget it’s stupid name. Instead focus on the complete lack of functionality that makes it next to useless.
The hardware itself is fairly attractive; I have a first-generation MetaWatch and while it is fantastic from a functional standpoint it’s pretty geeky looking on your wrist. I also have a Sony SmartWatch, which looks more like a plastic toy than a watch. In comparison, the i’m Watch has an nicely designed case with a curved glass screen (which the company touts up so much you’d think it’s a cure for cancer) and looks good on your wrist. While it’s somewhat bulky, the case is made from aluminum and is surprisingly light. The silver links that mate the case to the strap have the i’m Watch logo on them and are somewhat gaudy, but overall it’s a slick looking package.
From left to right: MetaWatch, i’m Watch, Sony SmartWatch
The 1.54 inch, 240 X 240 color display has a 220 ppi pixel density and looks sharp. The capacitive touch screen is very responsive. The watch case has openings on each side for the stereo speakers (which means it is no way imaginable water-proof, and “water resistant” is questionable) and there is a single button for power, waking up the display, and exiting apps, on the top right-hand side. The left side has the headphone jack, which also serves as the charging and data transfer port. A special USB to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter must be used to charge the phone and transfer data, such as pictures and music, to the watch.
The power/back button on the right side, speaker grill
That headphone jack is where stuff starts to go wrong. When I first received my watch I couldn’t get it to charge. Turns out the USB adapter cable really needs to be jammed into the headphone jack to make a connection. Transfer speeds from your computer to the watch over that connection are abysmal.
Headphone/data/power jack; speaker grill. Note the curvature of the screen.
When you power on the i’m Watch you’ll find all the available apps are pre-loaded. The main home screen shows the Android notification bar at the top, the digital time and date, weather info for the first city you’ve configured (more on that later), and three app icons at the bottom. You can choose what apps show up there (or any of the other app “slots” on the screens to the right) by long-pressing an icon and then selecting a different app from the pop-up list. From the main screen if you swipe left you get a system screen that lets you go into settings, the app drawer, adjust volumes, or display the analog-looking watch face. Swiping to the right lets you scroll through four screens that let you load four app icons per screen.
Access notifications by swiping down from the top of the screen
The key thing to understand about the i’m Watch is that it is actually an Android device, running a custom version of Android 1.6 (Donut), which is lightweight and runs in very little RAM. The i.Mx233 CPU has a maximum clock speed of 450 MHz with 64MB of RAM. My model has 4GB of onboard storage, however after the software is loaded it reports only 3GB available for my personal files.
The difference between the i’m Watch and devices like the MetaWatch and the Sony SmartWatch is that the i’m Watch is an Android computing device, running all of it’s apps locally on the watch. The MetaWatch and the SmartWatch are really just extended displays for your smartphone; apps run on your phone and the data is displayed on the watch. The MetaWatch and the SmartWatch don’t need to connect directly to the internet, all the heavy lifting is done by your phone.
The i’m Watch only uses you’re phone for two things: a connection to the Internet via bluetooth tethering, and acting as a wrist-mounted speakerphone (again via bluetooth). Through the Calls app you can initiate or accept calls from your phone and then if you choose you can hold your conversation by yelling at your watch and then straining to hear the other party through the watch’s speakers. I guess it would be useful if you used your phone a lot for calling and just wanted to leave it in your pocket or purse.
The first thing any device like this must be able to do is tell the time. Glance at your i’m Watch and usually what you’ll see is a black screen. The vibrant color screen sucks power from the 450 mAh battery at an alarming rate so by default the screen times out after 15 seconds. Through the settings menu you can set the timeout as low as 5 seconds to several minutes or “never”, however on anything over 30 seconds will impact the battery life dramatically.
So most times you’ll have to press the power button to see what time it is, which can be annoying if you’re hands are full. The i’m Watch doesn’t have an ambient light sensor so it can’t adjust the brightness outside automatically which can make it difficult to read in direct sunlight.
Oh, and that nice analog watch face that i’m Watch touts on their website? Well, it exists, but it’s an app. You can’t set it as the default, you have to go to the system pane, select the app, it loads up and whenever you activate the screen you’ll see it. However you can’t access any other watch functions or apps unless you quit the analog watch face app. So, kinda useless.
But the biggest problem with the i’m Watch are the apps. First off, there’s no way to display SMS messages or general notifications from your phone on the watch. Notifications could be considered optional, but I don’t know how you sell a device like this without text message functionality. i’m Watch doesn’t either; they advertised the watch as having SMS display capability, and now it’s “coming soon”.
Next, even thought this is an Android device, there’s no “app store” - no way to search for or install apps directly from the watch itself or via a web storefront. So far all app updates and new apps (i’m Watch recently added a calculator) have to be loaded via a firmware update. Again, the i’m Watch was sold to customers as having an app store - once again, it’s “coming soon”.
And while the apps themselves are “running” on the watch, you can’t setup or configure them on the watch. All data and settings for the apps are contained within the “i’m cloud”, which you access through a web browser. Not on the phone of course - the i’m Watch doesn’t sport a web browser itself. You need to log into i’m cloud using your Google account and then register your watch, linking it to your Google account. Then you can go to the Apps page where you can configure each application.
The basic premise of the system is you configure your information in i’m Cloud, which then connects to the services you specified and pulls information from them, storing that information in i’m Cloud. The i’m Watch then connects to i’m Cloud via bluetooth Internet tethering through your phone at either 15, 20 or 30 minute intervals (there’s no concept of “push” on the i’m Watch) to display information in each app stored in the i’m Cloud. If there is new data in the i’m Cloud apps when the watch syncs, it will display a notification. The notification panel is accessed just like the notification panel on an Android phone, by swiping down from the top of the display, and you can also invoke a manual sync from there.
It’s when you start configuring the apps you find the major limitations with the i’m Watch. Appointment can only sync with a single Google calendar. Use Exchange, Yahoo, or even Facebook for appointments? Forget it. The Appointment app will send notification alerts to your watch, however. The i’mail app is just as bad - it supports only a single email account and it must be accessible via a single “host” and port address. I was able to successfully configure i’mail to work with my Yahoo account, which is my primary personal account, but by doing that I can’t view my gmail or corporate Exchange account.
The Appointments app configuration screen in i’m Cloud
And actually I’d be uncomfortable connecting my Exchange account to i’m Cloud, because it seems that the i’m Cloud website is essentially caching information from the sites it connects to in order to enable the i’m Watch to display the information. None of this looks very secure at all.
i’m Mail email application
Anyway, if you tap an application like i’mail or i’m Tweet on the watch, it will open up and show you the latest information it has synced. For the i’mail app, this is usually the last 10 emails received, showing the sender, subject and maybe a line or two from the email body. There’s no option to set how much email is downloaded to the watch, nor can you “open” any of the emails and see the entire message. The same with the News app, which lets you configure three “topics” from different world regions, such as Nation, Sci Tech, Business, etc., but all you get is a headline and the source it came from.
The Weather app configuration screen
i’m FB, the Facebook app, is even more worthless - it can only display Facebook notifications that you have configured on the Facebook website. It doesn’t display the newsfeed, your wall, or anyone else’s wall. Again, once you see a notification like “so and so posted a new photo”, you can’t view anything related to the notification on the watch itself.
This is the big frustration with the i’m Watch - it’s an on-line Android device that can’t actually do anything with the data it receives. The Sony SmartWatch gives you the option to open emails, Facebook notifications or Twitter tweets on your phone so if the watch notifies you of something that piques your interest, you can view the details in their entirety. Since there’s no companion app for the watch running on your phone, it can’t actually communicate or “do” anything with your phone, other than use the standard dialer profile that other bluetooth speakerphone devices utilize. The i’m Watch is just a tease when it comes to your data.
You can display pictures on the i’m Watch in a couple of ways. If you’re a Google Picasa user (I’m not), you can enter your account information and a single specific album and you can use the i’mages app to display those pictures on the watch. Or, you can transfer pictures from your computer to the watch’s onboard storage and display those images via the i’m gallery application. i’m gallery is a decent app that supports zooming and panning, and while pictures look good on the watch screen I’m not sure what the value of that is if I already have my phone handy.
My Lynx B race car displayed via the i’m Gallery app
The i’m Tweet app was probably the most useful as far as the Twitter feed information displayed, other than it only shows you 20 or so tweets. You can’t click on links, see pictures or click through hashtags, however. You can’t filter the feed to specific Twitter users either, a nice feature of the Twitter app for the Sony SmartWatch. The other available i’m Cloud apps are Weather (track three cities current temperature and vague three day forecast for each, but has no idea of your current location), Stocks (tracks three stocks), and the bizarre i’music.
i’music is touted as a huge online music service exclusively for i’m Watch users. If you read the info on the website it sounds like you can select songs from an online catalog to download to your watch. i’m Watch is currently including the service for free, and after trying to use it I can’t imagine anyone ever paying for it.
The only way to get songs is to enter a search criteria on the website, such as a song title or artist name. This will produce a “channel” of available songs that i’music thinks match your search parameters. I entered “AC/DC” into the search box and i’music returned a list of 5 songs from Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, Kiss, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Scorpions, and Iron Maiden (no actual AC/DC tracks, but it got the gist). Now when you open the i’music app on your watch those 5 songs are listed in the app and you can download them to the watch’s memory storage. Want to download some different songs? You have to go back to the i’m Cloud website, do another search, see if you get what you want, then go back to your watch and select the songs to download. No streaming via i’m cloud is supported.
Sound terrible? It is.
i’music configuration screen
I have no idea why anyone would want to store music on the i’m Watch and use it as an MP3 player, but if you really do, there’s a much better way to do it than using i’music. The watch has a decent media player app that will play any music you transfer from your computer via the USB adapter. You can list your music by song, album, artist or playlist, scroll through tracks, scrub through tracks by dragging the progress bar, etc. This is actually the most functional app on the watch, and the sound through the watch’s stereo speakers is surprisingly good, but there is some distortion at the maximum volume. Of course you can always use headphones for the best sound quality. It would be nice if the watch supported bluetooth headphones, but it only supports a single bluetooth device at once, and since you have to connect it to your phone for Internet …
i’media player app album view
Which brings up an interesting point about the i’m Watch - it really has nothing to do with your smartphone at all. If the i’m Watch supported Wi-Fi it would never need to be connected to your phone unless you needed a remote Internet connection. So don’t think of the i’m Watch as a “smartphone accessory”; think of it as a limited Internet appliance you can wear on your wrist that can only connect to the Internet via a bluetooth connection.
- To register your watch (which you must do in order to use any of the i’m Cloud apps) you have to enter in it’s product ID - the ID listed on the back of the watch is only the first 5 characters, and if that’s what you enter in the website you’ll get an error.
- I hate that the watch doesn’t use a standard microUSB for charging or data transfer. That means you have to have the special cable with you to charge or load files. The MetaWatch and the Sony SmartWatch also use special connectors, but it’s because they don’t want any openings in the watch case itself that dirt or water could enter. The i’m watch has two speaker holes and the headphone jack.
- The “clock” function of the i’m Watch doesn’t take advantage of it’s Internet connection to set the time; you must manually set it yourself. The i’m Watch does now have a simple world time app and it does update the time for daylight savings.
- The first time I setup my Google Account with i’m Cloud it took several hours for the watch to “link” to my account.
- A few days after receiving my watch a notification popped up saying the firmware was out of date. The i’m Cloud website also reported my watch’s firmware was out of date, but there was no new update to install on the watch. It did finally show up a few weeks later.
- Watch updates are not “over the air” - you must download a file from the i’m Watch support website, transfer it to your watch via the USB connection, then reboot the watch at which point it will install the update.
- Data transfer speeds over the USB-3.5mm headphone connector are horrendous, about 1MB per second. It takes several minutes to transfer a single MP3 album to the watch’s onboard storage.
- You can’t transfer any files via bluetooth to the watch.
- You can’t play videos on the watch.
- Many of the apps advertised on the i’m Watch website are still not available.
- There’s no vibration motor in the watch, so in silent mode you’ll never know you have a notification until you manually check the watch.
- While music sounds fine via the watch’s speakers, the sound quality of phone calls was poor, with voices cutting out constantly by what seems to be the noise cancellation software. Callers on the other end said I sounded fine; they said my speech was clear but there was a lot of background noise.
- There’s a bug where plugging the watch in to charge it activates the watch display, and it never turns off. This means it takes forever to charge the watch since it’s powering the display while charging.
- I never could get the Address Book to work. Theoretically it’s supposed to download all your contacts from your phone to the watch, so you can use the watch dialer to call people. Every time I tried to sync my address book info the app just spun forever, accomplishing nothing.
- Technical support is unavailable - you must enter your product code and serial number, but no matter what you enter you’re told you have an invalid ID. I also received no response via email or Twitter.
To sum it up, the i’m Watch is a $420 (in it’s cheapest, “i’m Color” configuration) Internet device that requires a smartphone (of near equal value) to provide its Internet connection, doesn’t notify you of SMS messages, and other than acting as a speakerphone you wear on your wrist, provides extremely limited data functionality of almost no value. It’s quicker to pull your phone out of your pocket then get information from the i’m Watch. Maybe the hackers over at XDA can figure out a use for this thing, but as it stands now I can’t recommend the i’m Watch for anyone.
If you want instant, glanceable information, check out the new Strata by MetaWatch. If you want an interactive experience, look at the Sony SmartWatch. Both of those options are less than a quarter of the cost of an i’m Watch but provide way more functionality.