As a kid, you might have dreamed of the day where you could own a smartwatch like the ones you used to see in old Dick Tracy comics, or on “The Jetsons.” Well, that day is here: Wearable wrist computers are finally a reality.
But they’re not quite ready for primetime yet.
Qualcomm is the latest company to join the likes of Samsung, Sony and Pebble in releasing a smartwatch this year. Qualcomm’s entry is called the Toq (pronounced “tock”), and it serves as a companion to an Android smartphone. It displays any notifications you might receive on your phone, provides access to weather and stock information, and allows you to perform a limited number of tasks, such as controlling your phone’s music player. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy Gear, however, it does not have a built-in microphone, so you can’t use it to make phone calls, and there’s no integrated camera.
I’ve been testing the Toq with the Nexus 5 Android phone for the past week, and it performed its functions well. It also showcases some cool technology from Qualcomm (the company is best known for making the chips that go inside smartphones and tablets) that could be useful in future smartwatches, the most notable feature being the always-on display that’s readable even in sunlight, and doesn’t drain battery life.
But you do not want to buy this smartwatch. Not just yet, anyway. The Toq suffers from a bulky design with somewhat temperamental controls and limited functionality that doesn’t make it worth the hefty $350 price tag.
The first issue I encountered with the Toq was figuring out how to put the watch on (not a good sign). The Toq features a rubber strap that you actually have to cut with scissors in order to fit your wrist. Once cut, you insert a spring-loaded pin into the strap,and then attach it to the watch’s clasp. Then you can slip it on like you would a metal watch, and secure it by closing the clasp.
There’s a how-to video on Qualcomm’s site that walks you through the entire process, but it seems a little ridiculous that you even have go through all these steps for something that should be so simple. Plus, this means you can never readjust the size of the wristband — unless you want to go smaller.
Once on, the fit and feel of the Toq reminded me of various fitness watches and heart-rate monitors I’ve used in the past. It’s large and not very fashionable. At 3.2 ounces, it’s also heavier than the Pebble (1.34 ounces) and Galaxy Gear (2.6 ounces), but I found it generally comfortable to wear. The only time it really got in the way was when I was typing, since the clasp, which houses the watch’s battery, is rather bulky, and kept hitting the base of my laptop.
There are no physical buttons on the watch at all. Instead, there are sensors built into the watchband, right above and below the Toq’s display. Double-tapping the strap above the watch face turns on the display’s backlight, while a single tap below it brings up the watch’s main menu. You can then use the touchscreen to navigate between the different screens. There’s also a silver strip at the bottom of the display that you can use to cycle through the different watch faces.
Most of the touch controls worked fine, but there were numerous occasions where I had to repeatedly tap the watchband in order to find the right spot to activate the Toq’s main menu. I’d prefer having physical buttons, like the Pebble smartwatch, to avoid such situations.
The Toq’s 1.55-inch color touchscreen is one of the highlights of the watch. It uses Qualcomm’s Mirasol technology, which has similar benefits as an E-Ink display (namely, low battery consumption), but does so while offering color.
To be clear, the colors aren’t all that bright, and the screen isn’t as sharp as the Galaxy Gear’s display. But it was nice to be able to read the screen in all sorts of lighting conditions, even in bright sunlight. The only time I really had to use the backlight was at night.
The Toq works with any smartphone running Google’s Android operating system, version 4.0.3 or higher. You will also need to download the free Toq smartphone app from the Google Play Store.
I had no problems pairing the Toq with my Nexus 5 via Bluetooth, and the app provides a simple way to customize the appearance of the watch menus and manage what type of notifications I wanted to receive.
Once I set up all my preferences, the watch soon started vibrating to alert me to new text messages, emails, Twitter mentions and more. With text messages, I liked that I could respond by choosing from a list of preset replies, such as “I’ll text you back soon” or “In a meeting, will call you back later.” This was especially nice when I was on the go, since I didn’t have to dig through my purse to find my phone in order to reply. (You can also create your own quick replies using the Toq app.)
Beyond that, though, the watch is pretty basic in its functions. If there’s an incoming call, you can choose to ignore or answer it, but if you choose the latter, you’ll actually have to pick up your phone or use a Bluetooth headset. The rest of the notifications just serve as previews, and you can’t take any action from the watch itself.
I found battery life on the Toq to be decent, though not significantly better than some of the other smartwatches out there. I was able to go about four days before needing to recharge the Toq. My colleague Lauren Goode got about the same result with the Samsung Galaxy Gear.
The watch can be recharged wirelessly — another technology Qualcomm is touting, and, admittedly it looks pretty cool. It comes with a little stand where you can place the watch to juice up, though the accessory itself needs to be plugged into an outlet.
While there are some bright spots to the Qualcomm Toq, at this point, it’s much more of a demonstration of some of the technology that could power future smartwatches, rather than a viable product, so for the time being, save your money.