By Todd Bernhard updated on 10/15/2013
Everyone expects Apple to release an iWatch some day, and until then, several players have tried to fill that void. The most publicized player in the SmartWatch field is Pebble, and I was one of their early backers. I have been using mine for several months now and have come to rely on it. My phone can be in my pocket, backpack, or downstairs, and I can still get my Caller ID displayed on my wrist. I can even reject a call and send it to voicemail. But I can't answer the phone.
To actually use a watch to receive phone calls, it needs Bluetooth headset/speakerphone functionality, and the Pebble simply doesn't offer that. I also have a Martian Watch, which does work as a BT speakerphone, and allows you to access Siri commands at the touch of a button. It's very cool, and useful, as I ride a motorcycle and the Caller ID can help me decide if it's worth pulling over to take the call. And with the speakerphone, I can easily take the call, without struggling to get to my phone.
However, the Martian Watch is bulkier than the Pebble, requires more frequent charging (daily versus weekly), and has a small, albeit color, display. The Martian Watch is also not water resistant and it's a bit of a pain to plug the micro USB charging cable in compared to the waterproof Pebble's magnetic charging.
I have been hoping that Apple would merge the best of the $150 Pebble with the best of the $250 Martian Watch. So I was surprised to find the ZeWatch from Kronoz, which not only does almost all of the above, but it does so in a smaller, more fashionable form factor, and at a lower price—a much lower price! The ZeWatch starts around $100. Indeed the Swiss-made ZeWatch might be the most affordable watch to come out of Switzerland since the Swatch!
But the price shouldn't fool you. The ZeWatch does more than many watches at twice the price. Let's look at the feature set:
The screen is a one-line bright OLED display, unlike the Pebble. Like all of these watches, you get vibration and Caller ID number, or name if transmitted.
The ZeWatch lets you reject calls with a button, as do the other watches, but like the Martian, you can actually answer calls using the built-in speakerphone. You can also listen to music, since it's a Bluetooth speaker, but don't expect the same sound as your home stereo. Still, it's fine for keeping you company while you run or workout! I was able to hear callers quite well, but they did have trouble hearing me. You have to speak closely to the microphone, like Dick Tracy. But I suppose that's the charm of a SmartWatch.
As with all of these devices, you can be alerted when the watch and phone separate. I suppose this is a nice feature, but I found it annoying. The whole point of such a watch is that you don't have to always be so close to your phone. Walking around the house, it would disconnect and reconnect. It doesn't appear to have the ability to turn that alert off, as the Pebble and Martian Watches do.
Both the Pebble and the ZeWatch use a novel and proprietary charging mechanism. The Martian Watch uses a standard microUSB port, coverered by an awkward little rubber flap. Pebble went with a MagSafe-like mechanism that makes it easy to set down the watch and charge it without leaving any ports open. This enabled them to make it waterproof. The ZeWatch uses a mechanical clamping charger, which I found to be awkward, and you have to really make sure a reliable connection is made. The ZeWatch is definitely NOT waterproof, so you will want to be careful. Still, for the price of a Pebble, you could buy two ZeWatch devices!
That brings me to another point. You could buy one for yourself and one for your partner! The ZeWatch is stylish and less bulky than the Pebble, while doing more, but it is also available in a more feminine 'baubel' design that looks like a high-end bracelet. Women will love the ZeBracelet, as it's known. The gold version might be the ideal companion to a new iPhone 5s in gold!
The Pebble still has some advantages. The Pebble lasts about a week on standby, but the ZeWatch offers two to three hours of talk time and 72 hours on standby. With the Pebble, developers can create their own watch faces and even apps that integrate with the watch. Eventually, Pebble apps will be more plentiful, but for now, it's more promise than reality. The Pebble is always on, so you can tell the time at a glance. The ZeWatch saves battery by turning off the screen after a few seconds, which can be frustrating if you just want to check the time. The Pebble has an accelerometer that turns on the brightness display when you shake your wrist, and you can reject a call with a shake as well. But to actually answer the call, you need a watch with a Bluetooth speakerphone, like the ZeWatch, not the Pebble.
Ultimately, the ZeWatch is an affordable way to get started with wearable technology. Google Glass, at $1,500, is out of reach for most of us, and it's awkward. I wear prescription glasses, but wish I didn't. I'm not sure how many folks who don't need glasses will voluntarily wear them. A SmartWatch makes a lot of sense, and for $100, the ZeWatch makes a nice, affordable, and useful accessory. Kronoz actually makes a higher end full-color SmartWatch called the ZeNano, which looks a lot like the square iPod nano that kicked off the Apple iWatch rumors. I haven't had a chance to play with that, but it offers a lot more functionality, at about $175.
If Apple does release an iWatch, they would do well to investigate the watches from Kronoz. Until then, so should you!