Pebble set the pace with over $10,000,000 in funding on Kickstarter. Others took the baton and tried to run with it. Sony, Samsung, and even Pebble have all released a number of devices to build upon the wearables market. We’ve even seen second generation efforts from some of the big boys in the time it’s taken this $1,000,000+ funded Kickstarter project to get off the ground and deliver the product to its backers. Has it been worth the wait? Does a wearable device that can work completely independent of a companion phone really have a place in today’s market? This is the full review of the Omate Truesmart.
Overview & Specifications:
Before we get into the nitty-gritty it’s important to understand the background to such a product. Pebble was the first smart watch to really capture the imagination of the tech scene and bring the technology itself in at a reasonable price. Pebble launched its Kickstarter campaign in April 2012 and secured over $10 million in order to ensure the device could be manufactured by the bucket load and delivered in January 2013 to the masses. Pebble featured a 144 x 168 pixel LCD e-paper display (mono) with a Cortex M3 CPU and provided a lightweight polycarbonate finish. Pebble provided seamless integration to iOS and Android notifications with a battery life (5-7- days) that made it a viable product to fulfil its duty.
Pebble is rumoured to have shipped more than 400,000 units in 2013 and with the impact its new Steel product has had, it seems they are destined to increase their revenue further.
Despite the plaudits, Pebble is still relatively limited in terms of its functionality as a “smart” device. Notifications can be received with easy, but for the most part information is only one way out of the box. Couple that with the monochrome display and it’s not the sort of device you’d have seen on Star Trek growing up.
Omate sought to bridge this particular gap by introducing a product that could, potentially, provide the same functionality as smartphones in the market at the time, but with one specific inclusion that almost single-handedly helped the funding goal be reached within 24 hours of its launch.
“The world’s most advanced smart wearable lifestyle product” is how Omate describe their device. It stands apart from Pebble, Sony, Samsung and other offerings in the smartwatch market by having the ability to be a truly stand-alone product due to the introduction of a 2G/3G radio allowing for data/phone use.
The Truesmart itself arrives in a clear plastic case presented proudly on a stand with the bundled accessories and various paperwork hidden neatly in the bottom section of the case. It came well wrapped in bubble wrap to protect it on its journey from the Chinese factory and there were no issues with the packaging or the device upon receipt.
Included in the box is:
- Omate Truesmart watch itself
- USB charging cable (approx 1m)
- Charging cradle
- Truesmart quick start guide
- Fleksy quick start guide (keyboard software)
- Warranty information
- Omate sticker
- Small screwdriver and additional screws for removable back/SIM slot.
Design & Hardware:
The first thing you notice is the size of the device next to its competitors. Whilst Omate’s Truesmart watch houses a 240 x 240 IPS display vs the Galaxy Gear’s 320 x 320 AMOLED display, the Truesmart comes in at around 105 grams (including battery) in weight compared to the Gear’s 74 grams and the Pebble’s paltry 38 grams. That heft is not all bad however. It sits on the wrist well and the smooth curves don’t irritate anywhere close to that of its competitors. The silicone strap is easily manipulated to find a comfortable fit, and it didn’t seem to move during moderately active situations.
On the left hand side of the device there is a screwed slot covering for the Micro SIM card, whilst on the right hand side is where the buttons reside. A screen on/off button, and a back/home button can be found straddling the 3 megapixel camera. The buttons on the Truesmart are easy to reach, but lack the satisfying click of a mechanical button and do wobble in their slots a little which can sometimes lead to missing a press.
The 240 x 240 IPS display is topped by Sapphire Glass, and on the rear is a screwed metal plate which, when removed, unveils the 600 mAh batter and the Micro SD card slot for expandable storage. The GPS and Wi-Fi antenna are positioned on the bottom section of the silicone strap and protrudes ever so slightly from the band.
The rounded corners of the device make it look a bit smaller than it is and also helps with the overall aesthetic of the unit. It is a rather chunky however and it’s easy enough to hit on door frames and similar; something which the Pebble, for example, is more adept at dodging due to its thinner depth.
Underneath it all though, the Truesmart boasts some quite nice specifications for a wearable.
The stand out feature in this list is the ability to put a SIM card in the device and use it as a standalone Android unit, with all the freedom and configurability that brings. This is a double edged sword however. What Omate deliver in terms of connectivity with one hand, they take it away with the other. If you were hoping that you could, in the event of not having a spare SIM lying around, tether your device, via Bluetooth, to your smartphone and still have all the standard functionality you’d expect from a connected device, you’d be incorrect for the most part.
This is the first sign that the Truesmart lacks some of the basics, integral to a device such as this.
The Bluetooth stack on the device is poorly implemented. Connections constantly drop, and sharing of internet connection via the medium is a non-starter. You can of course use Wi-Fi hotspot from your phone to enable increased connectivity, but you’re compromising the ability of your smartphone at that juncture and it all becomes a bit….well….less than seamless. Wearables should be an extension to the technology a user already owns, and compliment, and potentially extend its functionality, not a hindrance.
Moving on, the Dual Core Cortex A7 chip clocked at 1.3Ghz, along with this units 1GB RAM ensures that the device itself performs admirably. Applications are generally quick to open, and video consumption on the device is surprisingly decent if you want to catch up on your latest YouTube subscriptions for example. Due to the obvious size, and the aspect ratio of the screen however, you’ll always be looking at a much smaller video that would generally be acceptable on a device.
Along with its processing power, Truesmart’s battery is equally bulky in stature. A 600 mAh unit powers the device and with reasonable use, you can get through just about a day. That usage consisted of Twitter/Google+/Facebook/Gmail push notifications and general application use, a small amount of web browsing and a few uses of the camera. Not what was to be expected out of a battery twice the size of that found in the Galaxy Gear 2.
The 3/5MP camera is ultimately not a bad choice for this device and it can still be handy for a quick snap of something to be looked at later rather than needing to take out your phone. The issue comes when you attempt to compose the shot however. Generally, the wearer would need to point their arm directly at the subject. However, this can be difficult to engineer. Often you are left with your arm bent in some undesirable way in order to compose a shot that you can both see on the screen and press the shutter button. The result is often an angled shot that needs straightening in post. Even once you’ve snapped your subject, you’re left with a 3MP picture that the software attempts to up-scale to 5MP. It’s just not that good. What does one expect from a wearable device however, and with good lighting and a steady hand you can get some “okay” shots.
There are some configuration options in the settings menu for the camera including white balance, exposure controls, and a number of scenes. On a shooter of this particular calibre, many of the options have little to no effect in terms of improving the picture, but it’s not to have some variety. A burst mode is a particularly nice feature for ensuring you get a number of shots to choose from. Burst mode is only really applicable in perfect lighting conditions and with a relatively still subject due to the relatively slow shutter speed.
Strangely however, taking a recording a video on the device is a slightly easier and more enjoyable activity. Click once, point at the subject, and away you go. The resultant clip is still relatively poor despite it’s ability to record at 720p @ 30fps, but for playback on the device’s screen, it’s more than acceptable.
Finally on the hardware front is the charging implementation. Again, this is another strange one. Omate shipped with a charging cradle. That sounds all well and good, however the cradle uses proprietary charging pins to connect to the watch. The cradle itself houses a Mini USB port to enable charging. This means that you cannot use the device during charging as the buttons are no longer accessible. Some enthusiasts over at XDA Developers have managed to suggest a mod to the cradle to allow this to be used, but again, seamless this is not.
Software & UI:
With the hardware a mixed bag, what does Omate have up their sleeve in terms of the software? You guessed it, a mixed bag.
Upon turning on the device, you are greeted to the now familiar smartwatch clockface. There are many to choose from and you can always download more from the OStore if required.
There are two launchers out of the box. The default launcher, and Omate’s own OUI suite.
The stock launcher is a visual hybrid of the Galaxy Gear app drawer (4 to a page) and stock Android 4.2.2. Folders can be created on the various homescreens, with each folder housing up to 4 applications. New homescreens can be created by simply dragging an icon across to the edge of the current screen to deposit it on another. This stock launcher handles most everything the Truesmart can throw at it. It is after all a stock version of Android for the most part. With Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and many other applications all working well on the device, it’s hard not to get excited by the device’s potential.
Omate’s OUI 2.0 on the other hand is lacking anything different. It has some lovely animations when swiping from screen to screen (think parallax scrolling), however it’s largely similar to the stock launcher experience.
The stock Android experience is evident throughout with notifications, quick tiles, settings, and management functions all present, if hidden by the Omate software’s thin veil. The user interface is quite nice and the power of stock Android makes for a refreshing familiarity on a wearable.
Omate include their OStore marketplace with the device which allows the download of specifically developed Truesmart applications. As expected, the marketplace is fairly sparse, however the main social media players are present. Other notable inclusions are versions of Apex Launcher to give the user experience some additional functionality, Endomondo and Runkeeper for the fitness fanatics, and Skype, WhatsApp, ShaZam, Spotify, Soundhound, Dropbox, and even Flappy Bird to keep you entertained. There are many other independently developed applications to keep you fiddling, however they vary wildly in usability and polish.
The OStore experience is a mixed bag however. Whilst looking for, and downloading applications is relatively easy, one fundamental of a marketplace is the ability to look at the application features and understand exactly what it aims to do. Sadly, the Truesmart I am reviewing fails to obtain information from the OStore and simply hangs attempting to download it. This may well be a firmware issue on this unit alone.
Luckily, it is possible to download an APK of the Google Play Store and start using that to find your Truesmart applications. This is where the Truesmart ultimately begins to shine. Using the device to navigate through streets whilst walking, and voice control via Google Search/Now is a joy. This doesn’t come out of the box however due to a wrangle between Omate and Google over whether their device was ultimately verified to use the Play Store. It wasn’t and as such, the Ostore became the de facto marketplace for the Truesmart. This lack of out of the box functionality hinders the device from the outset.
As mentioned in the hardware section, bluetooth connectivity is intermittent at best. Omate do offer a Master and Companion application suite which should allow notifications to be pushed from your Smartphone to your Truesmart upon receipt, however in practice, it’s very hit and miss. Whilst you can view the notifications, you can do nothing more with them. Couple this with the fact that the suite of applications that the push notifications operate on is very, very narrow (SMS and Phone calls are the standard fare), and it becomes next to a useless feature very quickly.
Using the phone application on this device was an interesting combination of emotions. Star Trek meets Trigger Happy TV. Users will love the fact they can talk into their watch; something many would have been waiting to do since they saw Penny from Inspector Gadget do likewise. However they’ll also find themselves shouting, and constantly enquiring as to whether the recipient can hear them, a-la Dom Jolly and his exploits! If you’re in a jam, and need to make a phone call, the call quality suffices and the speaker is reasonably loud and crisp.
The jewel in terms of software on this device is the software keyboard choice. Fleksy is a very intuitive keyboard that comes bundled with the Truesmart, and thankfully suffers fools gladly. If you have ever been accused of sausage fingers when typing, Fleksy just might save your bacon. Its ability to predict, based on context and letter placement, the actual word that was attempting to be typed is, in short, outstanding. Couple this with its gesture based system to allow the keyboard to be hidden, and it makes it the perfect companion keyboard for a smaller device. Excellent software choice.
The Truesmart made the brave and bold prediction that it would change the game in terms of smartphone devices. It attempted to deliver the functionality of a phone, in the footprint of a smartwatch, with the functionality of both, and it ultimately failed to deliver on its promises. It just falls short on many levels, but you have to credit the vision.
The ability to use a watch, which despite its heft, is still a nice unit to wear, as a pure Android device is something any enthusiast would drool over. Using a separate launcher, utilising Play Store applications, and using an application such as SWApp might just provide you with enough functionality to get by with this device. If so, it will be barely.
There are so many missed opportunities here. There is little excuse for the diabolical implementation of Bluetooth on this device which makes the ability to use this device as a companion to a smartwatch almost inconceivable. The camera, whilst not overly important, if it is to exist, should be of a standard that delivers superior shots to the ones found on this device.
Finally, there’s Omate. The review couldn’t end without a brief mention of their inability to embrace a community to which they are deploying a device into. Constant, yet inconsistent, hardware revisions meant that developers were ostracised from day one, leaving little in the way of 3rd party development to attempt to fix some of the issues Omate failed to address. There is some development here and there, some ROMs and some applications specifically designed to overcome obstacles, however the good ones are few and far between.
If you have the time to get to grips with its foibles then you could grow to enjoy this device. However with so many other wearable devices and smartwatches in particular in the pipeline for 2014, would it get the patience it requires?
What you might be picking up from the above is a specific emotion. Frustration. As mentioned, the Truesmart could have been; should have been, a much better device. You see it’s not all bad. There are some good design aspects. Some good choices in terms of the built in applications, and user interface, but the compromises required for a user to fully appreciate some of the nuanced brilliance of this device, and more importantly, its vision, are ultimately too great to overcome.