The whole smartwatch category is pretty new, but we already have the first of the budget devices, with SmartQ delivering Android on a wristwatch for $99. Is it worth your money, or should you just spend the extra?
Cast from a similar set of specs as many a phone, the SmartQ Z Watch aims to start the budget smart watch category off with something like a device you may already own.
Like other smartwatches, the Z Watch is built to be small, and provides a screen just big enough to provide the time, updates, and a little control over your phone from afar.
To make this happen, there’s a 1GHz processor inside the Z Watch, supported by 512MB RAM and 4GB of storage, with only two gigabytes available to you.
A smartwatch isn’t meant to replace your phone, and as such, there is no microSD slot here, so you’re stuck with the storage capacity you’re given, though you can attach the watch to a computer to move files to it by way of a USB to 3.5mm cable, which also charges the handset.
Wireless support is built into the Z Watch, as it wouldn’t be a “smart” device if it skipped it, and includes 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 with support for Bluetooth LE, while the wired connections are all handled through the 3.5mm headset jack.
A vibration motor provides alerts in a tactile haptic form on your wrist, and you can even take the Z Watch into water, with IPX7 resistance capable of taking up to one metre of water for as much as 30 minutes.
This technology sits under a 1.54 inch touchscreen, capable of running a resolution of 240×240, accompanied by two physical buttons for power and back, both of which sit on the right edge of the wrist watch.
The SmartQ Z Watch runs on a 300mAh battery which is not removable.
Are we really there yet, in a place where smartwatches are coming in below the $150 price point?
It seems we might be, with Australian e-tailer Millennius getting its hands on the SmartQ Z Watch, one of the first budget wrist-based wearables, relying on a 1.54 inch screen sitting atop what basically constitutes a modem-less Android phone, except for your wrist.
Design-wise, you’re not looking at something where a classy fashion designer has given it the look a lot of time and pride, unlike Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, which is shiny, special, and looks like it could blend in with the company’s smartphones.
Rather, it’s a basic black square on an even more basic rubber band, and brings to mind the sort of aesthetic that would be churned out by someone who wasn’t thinking about looks, and only concentrated on functionality.
Unfortunately, that part isn’t well handled either.
But before we get to that issue, we need to talk about the box, which is pretty barebones.
Open it up and you’ll find the watch around a cushion, and a 3.5mm to USB cable underneath. That’s the entire package, so if you’re the sort of person that needs manuals, look elsewhere, as there’s none to be had here.
Grab the watch and switch it on, and you’ll be greeted to a very customised take on Android. Using the watch requires using your fingers, which given the touchscreen display makes a lot of sense.
To get around, you’ll be swiping from left to right, tapping on apps to enter them, and using two fingers in a broad stroke down to leave them.
There are two physical buttons for you to use, with the first acting as a power button, and the second working for a back button, though as soon as you press that physical back button, the Z Watch’s software will politely remind you that you should be swiping down with two fingers to go back, not using the button that you so pleasantly pushed.
The apps provided for you are reasonably limited, and include some pretty obvious ones such as a timer, weather app, file explorer, music, and links to applications that rely on your phone, including SMS, notifications, call logs, calendar, and contacts.
“Sleep” seems to be one of the most reliable apps, tracking your sleep patterns as long as you keep the app open, which could prove interesting if you start to toss and turn. Close it and it turns off, so just don’t close it until you’re awake.
“Recorder” is exactly what it sounds like, providing a voice or sound recorder on your wrist, with the files available as soon as you plug the Z Watch into a USB port using the special 3.5mm to USB cable that comes with the watch.
There’s even a fitness tracker, limited as it may be, calculating your calories and distance travelled from your steps, height, gender, and age.
But some of apps just don’t seem to work, and we couldn’t get any of our calendars synchronised with the ones on our phone, nor could we link our contacts for one of those easy wrist initiated phone calls.
You might have better luck, but outside of notifications from Gmail, the HTC One we were testing it with just wouldn’t maintain a decent conversation with the Z Watch, ignoring half of the functionality provided by the phone.
To get the Z Watch taking with a phone, though, you need the software, and SmartQ won’t really win any awards in this department, as it really doesn’t feel like you’re getting a finished app for your hard earned dollars.
When installed, it doesn’t offer much more than screen timeout settings, what you sync, and which apps will talk to the watch. It’s not like either the Pebble or Samsung Galaxy Gear, which offer apps you can install, and even let you change the watch face to something of your choice, not just the ones provided by the manufacturer.
SmartQ has a selection of watch faces that you can select, but they’re the only ones you get at the moment, with no way of deleting ones you don’t want, or easily replacing them with your own designs.
We’re sure someone will at one point hack it open (or already has, even) to let you install your own apps, but right now, there isn’t a lot you can do with the Z Watch outside of what Smart Q has provided which, truth be told, isn’t much at all.
Add to the fact that it’s next to impossible to find the Z Watch synchronisation app for Android unless you Google it, and Google pretty hard.
There’s no software in the box or on the device itself. There are no links on any documentation in the box, which is fitting, because there isn’t a manual or a sheet of paper in the box at all.
In fact, there was no listing of the required application on Google’s Play Store at the time of publishing, and there was nothing on the SmartQ website for the watch.
All up, SmartQ doesn’t make it easy to install the app needed for its smartwatch.
Colour us confused, but after heaving searching on Google, we eventually found it on the XDA Developers forum (and there’s a link in this sentence for anyone looking), a place we didn’t expect to be the only location where one could find the app that would make the SmartQ Z Watch work.
Apple users can, however, find the app on their equivalent, the Apple App Store, but that’s hardly surprising, since most of iPhone and iPad owners can only install apps using the aforementioned Apple app marketplace.
WiFi is even built into the handset to get apps like “weather” talking with the internet, but good luck typing in your WiFi password on a screen that is so tiny, you’d need a capacitive needle to get the keys noticed. It took us several tries to get our password in using the Z Watch screen, and the whole process made us ready to throw the watch out the window.
Speed and performance isn’t fantastic either in this smartwatch, despite the 1GHz processor used here. We’ve seen quite a few bugs that crash the unit, and there seems to be a good second delay minimum between finger swipes and button presses.
On the whole, it’s not an efficient unit, and we hope SmartQ can fix this in time with better firmware releases (we used 3.2 in our review).
There does appear to be one positive thing for the Z Watch, and that’s its water resistance, which is pretty decent.
We don’t recommend you go snorkelling, scuba diving, or taking it for a long shower, but its resistance to the elements is decent at IPX7, and sitting in a glass of water, it didn’t die at all, which is more than we can say for some of the so-called rugged water resistant devices we’ve seen in the past.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to recommend the Z Watch over any of the other smartwatches out there, even though the category is new, and the SmartQ offering certainly provides the concept at the lowest price point.
Between the bugs, the lack of speed in the unit, and the software just not being very good, we just can’t find a compelling reason to choose the Z Watch over anything out there in the world.
For $99, it’s certainly a cheap entry into the new world of smartwatches, but honestly, we’d rather spend a little more for a better smartwatch, and with so many coming on the market this year, there will be plenty to fill that space shortly.