ALCATEL ONETOUCH Watch review: petite simplicity – at a price (Video)
I’ll be honest: when I first laid eyes on it at CES 2015, the Alcatel Onetouch Watch struck me as a poor man’s Moto 360. At the time there weren’t many circular smartwatches on the market, so between that, the steel casing, and the circular display –complete with the “flat tire” at bottom– it was tough not to draw the immediate comparison. It took wearing the Watch for over a week (paired to a Galaxy S6 and then an iPhone 6) to understand what it is, what it isn’t, and whether it might be for you.
ALCATEL ONETOUCH Watch review
Its round casing isn’t as rare as it once was, but one thing that sets the Watch apart from other wearables is its small size. The 1.2-inch display (240 x 204 IPS) is flanked by fairly minimal bezels, resulting in a casing diameter of just 41mm. But even though that’s wider than some of its Android competition, on the wrist it feels much smaller than any smartwatch I’ve used, with the possible exception of the original Pebble. It’s also IP67 certified, so you shouldn’t need to worry about dust or water intrusion if you’re an outdoorsy type.
Still, the Watch was made with an eye toward affordability, and that shines through at some points. Four big screws hold the ventral cover on, and they’re flanked by four more screws keeping the band in place. That gives the back of the watch a pockmarked, mass-produced look, and the unnecessary numerals and hash marks on the front don’t really do it any favors either (though it’s certainly not alone in this respect). Also the band attachment is a simple fold-over clasp with no safety tab or push-button release, which gives me pause about its long-term durability.
Once you figure out how it latches, the finicky clasp does a good enough job of holding the Watch to your wrist. While you might be inclined to chafe at the stiff, non-changeable band, you’ll change your tune pretty quickly once you realize what’s built in. Embedded in the rubber is an NFC contact point for easy pairing to your smartphone to the Watch, and at the tip of the band lies a concealed USB 2.0 charging connector. That means you don’t have to worry about carrying a cord or a charging cradle when you travel with the Watch; you can just plug it in to your computer or your smartphone’s wall charger to get the juice flowing.
Alcatel Onetouch decided to forego a common platform like Android Wear for the Watch, opting instead for its own proprietary OS. The company was going for simplicity here – and in this respect, it hits a home run. Raise your wrist, and (most of the time) the screen will light right up. Tap it and a ribbon of 14 boxes appears, most of which aren’t apps but single-purpose toggles that give the word “Onetouch” a whole new significance. There’s no settings menu, nor any need of one: if you want to turn vibrations on or off, find the requisite button and tap it. Same for airplane mode. Tap the heart icon to start measuring your heart rate; tap the watchface logo to change the look of the clock. The weather and health functions are about as complicated as things get, and all they require is a side-to-side swipe to see their different screens. Press the back button beneath the display at any time to go back to the watchface. And whether you sync it to an Android smartphone or an iPhone, the companion app is just as simple. You’ll have the Watch figured out two minutes after you unbox it. Give it another few minutes and you’ll be changing wallpapers and watch styles to suit your taste. Get too far away from your phone, and the Watch will remind you not to leave it behind. It’s all dead simple.
As with any bona fide smartwatch, the main purpose here is to pass phone notifications on to your wrist as they come in, and the Watch does this pretty well. Alerts are signified by a small bubble icon appearing on the watchface, accompanied by a powerful vibration that you definitely won’t miss, even if you’re not wearing the Watch. Swiping up from the bottom of the display brings up the notification view, with alerts accumulating to the right as they stack up. Some, like text messages, you can read right on the Watch. Others like Gmail only give you small sips of info, like the subject or the first few letters. It’s meant to give you a heads-up that you have a message, not necessarily act as a conduit to deliver the message to you.
While that’s a fine philosophy, it’s not always implemented well. Displaying an SMS, for example, carries an unnecessary extra step: on most other watches, the text pops right up so you can read it instantly; on this Watch, you only get a nondescript bubble on the face, which you need to tap in order to display the message itself. That makes the Watch more of a two-handed device than most of its competition, hardly a plus in a category designed almost entirely around convenience. There’s also no significant delineation between some alert vibrations: a calendar reminder will buzz just as loudly and insistently as a phone call, which gets annoying fast. The list of supported notification types is also fairly short at this point, and due to an Apple-specific API limitation, the Watch currently won’t buzz for an incoming call on iOS.
Hopefully we’ll see those capabilities grow soon, and hopefully we’ll get a few more features and bug fixes as well. A countdown timer would be nice, as would the ability to set alarms right on the watch (rather than using the app). Personally, I’d find those more useful than a remote camera shutter or a media player that only works with the stock music app, but those are here if you want them. I also found Bluetooth range pretty limited compared to what I’m used to on the Moto 360, but a new firmware update landed as this review was going to press; if there are significant fixes or changes contained within, we’ll update this review.
Probably the most impressive thing about the Watch is its endurance. The first time we took the Watch off the charger, it lasted over 76 hours of normal use on its embedded 210 mAh battery. That’s over three full days of heavy notification traffic, alongside all the extra fussing and fiddling that comes with reviewing a new gadget. After a full charge overnight, our second cycle easily matched that. We’ve seen other watches beat this figure, but few (if any) had a circular, color touchscreen. When the Watch does eventually run dry, it charges very quickly through that convenient integrated plug: in a hurry to leave the house one evening, we got it from empty to 68% in about 30 minutes when plugged into the Galaxy S6’s 2A charger.
The Alcatel Onetouch Watch has a lot going for it: excellent battery life, an attractive design, straightforward software, and robust fitness-tracking capability. It works with Android and iPhones and it lasts for days on a single charge. Plus, at $149, it’s cheaper than much of its competition.
But crucially, it also doesn’t bring as much value in light of recent developments. Google, for example, recently slashed Motorola’s Moto 360 to just $165. So for $15 more, you get a bigger screen, higher build quality, changeable bands, and all the power of the Android Wear ecosystem. On the other side, the black-and-white Pebble Steel seems overpriced at $199 … until you remember what it has in common with its Android competition: an ecosystem that developers can build upon to make the watch grow with you over time. Right now, the Watch doesn’t have such a platform, and it’s an open question whether Alcatel Onetouch has the clout to rally enough developers to help it build one.
This is a wearable specifically built to be simple and accessible, and it deserves kudos for succeeding at the former. But its price tag just isn’t low enough to make it worth the compromises it takes to get there. At $99 this would be a must-buy smartwatch. At its current price, it’s not.
See what we’ve got to say about the other smartwatches dotting the wearables field. Check out our reviews of the Motorola Moto 360, LG G Watch R, Pebble Steel, and Microsoft Band – and then see what else Alcatel Onetouch has up its sleeve with our CES preview of the Idol 3!