Make no mistake, wearable tech is on the rise. While it remains a niche market, there are good models available to buy, including the Asus Zenwatch, the Samsung Gear, the gorgeous LG Watch Urbane and, of course, the Apple Watch.
These big brand offerings are well-designed and beautiful to behold. But with gorgeous styling and a brand name to match, the price is steep. An Apple watch can cost upward of $600, and the competition is scarcely any cheaper if you‘re looking for a compelling offering. That’s a lot of money to pay for an invention that, at the moment, is more a novelty than a necessity.
Don’t fret, though, because there’s an alternative, and it heralds from China. Named the FIFINE W9, this cheap and cheery smartwatch arrives with few airs but a boatload of features. It eschews the Apple mantra for a “more is more” approach, cramming a laundry list of features into its bulky frame. The W9 is here to prove that you can pack a camera, a messenger and a phone into a device that fits your wrist.
The watch runs on Android 4.4 Kitkat. That‘s right, the full version of Android, not Android Wear. It has 1GB of RAM with 8GB of onboard memory ““ and space for more. The touch screen is small but easy to use, and the interface is intuitive, once you get used to depressing the chunky silver buttons on the side of the phone. Apple refinement this is not, but you can‘t accuse FIFINE of lacking ambition. The star is the battery, which can last as long as week on a single charge.
There‘s more. Unscrew the side panel and pop a microSIM into the watch and you can start making phone calls, a neat feature that has definite novelty factor. But once that novelty wears off, you realize you look like a chump holding the watch to your mouth and realize you‘re not James Bond after all. Phoning friends from your timepiece? It‘s an idea I‘m just not sold on. Having the ability to connect via Bluetooth to an earpiece does make it a better proposition, though.
In fact, there are a lot of options on the W9 that make more sense elsewhere. You can record videos and take pictures if you want, but the result is a grainy, low-quality image. Then there’s the decision to include a music player. In theory, you can download your favourite songs and listen to them over the W9’s speakers. But with tinny sound quality, why would you? Devoid of a headphone jack, you‘re forced to buy an extra pair of headphones that you can connect via Bluetooth. The music player, like many of the W9‘s features, feels like a concession to thoroughness rather than a feature tailor-made for a watch you wear on your wrist.
There‘s one exception, and it‘s called Codoon. Codoon is China‘s answer to Fitbit, and it counts your steps and the calories you‘re burning. It works a treat and you can keep track of your progress through a free trial mode. But to get the most out of the app you‘ll need to actually create a Codoon account. Unfortunately, I don‘t foresee many people in the West actually doing this, because the likes of Fitbit, UP and Apple have a stranglehold on the Western market.
Still, the availability of the Play Store means you can download your own favourite apps to your heart‘s content. It’s a guilty pleasure to be able to tap your wrist and order an Uber on demand. There‘s also a handy Google Maps option and the usual nuts and bolts, like a calendar and stopwatch.
All in all, the W9 has plenty on offer, but if I‘m honest, it doesn‘t do anything that mobile phones haven‘t already bettered. The real novelty, then, is the form factor, but as wristwatch the W9 is a disappointment. The principle offender is the strap, which is too small for a broad wrist. Then there‘s the butterfly latch, which is clearly intended as a striking embellishment but winds up being an utter nuisance. The screen is dull and low-resolution and far too small, wasting a great deal of space with a big black border, while the finishings feel cheap.
Then again, the W9 is cheap. This is a jack of all trades and a master of none, but as a value proposition it‘s impossible to ignore. It does nothing you haven’t seen before, but if you‘re looking to dip a toe into the world of wearable tech, it’s possible to justify the $139 asking price.