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Alcatel Onetouch Watch review: A cheap smartwatch with training wheels

Jon Phillips | April 16, 2015
It's not a great smartwatch. It's not even a good smartwatch. But it will put notifications and activity-tracking on your wrist, and give you an idea of what smartwatches are all about.

Activity tracking for people who barely care

The activity tracking features key into the watch's built-in accelerometer. The system tracks steps taken, calories burned, miles walked, minutes active and hours slept. You can set goals for all these activities, and the data seems sufficiently accurate for a $150 watch that's not being marketed as a health and wellness platform. Just don't expect a lot of data. Again, Alcatel opted for a simple, bare-bones approach, and the sum-total vibe it exudes is, "Yeah, it can do activity tracking too," instead of, "We'll show you every nook and cranny of your quantified self."

Other built-in apps include weather (which shares a simple five-day forecast); a heart rate monitor (good for only moment-in-time spot checks); a stopwatch (meh); and remote controls for your smartphone's music player and camera shutter (meh and meh). Your granddad may think all of this is magic. But your granddad was also the last man on earth who still shopped at RadioShack, so consider the source. Indeed, the Alcatel Watch often feels like the $19.99 remote-control car of the smartwatch scene.

The watch's 1.22-inch display is bright enough in direct sunlight, but has a "dead" area at the bottom, just like you'll find in the Moto 360. It makes for an inelegant presentation, but Alcatel uses the dead spot for a back button, which you'll need to exit the notifications screen, as well as built-in apps. The U.I. responds quickly enough, and it's relatively intuitive--because it doesn't have much to do.

Swipe upward to see notifications. Tap the center of the screen to launch the app menu. Tap the back button to exit out of anything you've entered. It's all easy to master, but I never found a way to dismiss specific notifications entirely. They just disappear on their own after a while, and if there's a way to manually control dismissal, it's not shared in the Android and iOS app help menus.

Alcatel's "turn wrist to wake" motion performed inconsistently, forcing me to wake the display with a press of the watch's physical power key. But that's a problem with many smartwatches. I was more disappointed in Alcatel's watchface customization. You get to choose from just three dial layouts (all unremarkable), and a selection of cheesy wallpapers. The aesthetic vibe is miles behind Android Wear, and light years behind what we've seen from Apple.

A smartwatch entry-point at best

After five days of testing, I found myself appreciating Alcatel's battery life, but not much else. I much prefer Android Wear's robust notification engine, and while I'm concerned Apple's approach will be too busy and complex, I'm excited to try out all its surprise-and-delight Digital Touch features.

 

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