07
Sep
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We were lucky enough to spend some time with Qualcomm's upcoming Toq smartwatch this afternoon, and I left impressed. The Toq's primary value comes in the form of a Mirasol display. Mirasol was demoed in "production ready" form in 2011 at CES by Qualcomm, but the actual products never came.

If you're not familiar, Mirasol is a full-color e-ink style display without e-ink's terrible refresh latency. As its name suggests, Mirasol displays actually get better in sunlight, as they refract incoming ambient light to make the display more vivid. The Toq uses such a display, and it really is something else. After seeing Mirasol in action, it's hard to imagine that LED or LCD-based smartwatches will have much of a chance against a technology so clearly better-suited for the role. Even in the dark, the Toq's display is still fairly visible. And in those environments where there isn't enough light, a simple tap on the band above the display puts the watch in frontlit mode, at which point it is very easy to see.

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Mirasol is also so power-efficient that the Toq doesn't have an off button. The display is always on, though when you're not actively using the watch it goes into an low-power mode where it simply displays your preferred watch face. The Toq's battery (which is cleverly housed on the bottom of the wristband) has a capacity around 220mAh, hard to believe, until you learn the watch itself is powered by a single-core "off the shelf" Cortex M3 processor (Qualcomm doesn't even actually make the chip) with a max clock under 300MHz. It runs an extremely lightweight custom firmware, not Android, and it communicates with Android 4.0+ smartphones via Bluetooth 4.0 LE. It seems Qualcomm has used every available technology to reduce the power consumption of the Toq to the bare minimum, and while they aren't getting too specific, they estimate battery life to be in the "days" range.

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Sounds awesome, right? Well, while Qualcomm will be selling the Toq to the general public, you better be ready to drop your cash the moment it goes on sale - production is going to very limited. While no exact figure was provided to us, the number of Toq's produced will be "in the tens of thousands." It will also only be sold in the US, though that does make some sense, as Qualcomm doesn't really have any interest or financial benefit in opening up a very limited-run product outside its home market.

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We were also given a quick look at the accompanying Android app, which is going to be the primary means by which you configure the Toq's various features. Even the firmware is updated through the app, with all the data transferred over Bluetooth. You can tell the app which app notifications you want sent to the Toq on a per-app basis - no special SDK needed - and sync services like calendars, email, phone calls, and SMS. We had the SMS functionality demoed to us, and it seems to work great - while the Toq doesn't have a keyboard, the Android app allows you to set a large number of prepared phrases or words that you can then scroll through as a list on the Toq before choosing one to send.

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As far as speed, the Toq didn't feel unbelievably fast, but nor did it feel clunky or unfinished - the frame rate wasn't fantastic, but apps and menus seemed to respond very quickly and predictably, something I feel is not as true on Samsung's Galaxy Gear based on the time I've spent with it. The Toq also has no physical buttons - you tap on the watch band right below the display to go in and out of "app mode," and on the band above the display to activate the front light. Just below visible display area is a small aluminum band which is actually a tiny touchpad. You can use it to switch watch faces or toggle light / dark themes when in watchface-only mode.

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The one questionable part of the Toq, perhaps, is the charging system, which utilizes Qualcomm's proprietary WiPower standard. Each Toq will come with a WiPower charger, which is powered itself via microUSB. Simply set the watch on the small arm that lifts up out of the charger, and the watch will put on its charging face to let you know it's getting power. The charger folds up into a neat little box, too, for easy travel and storage. While I'm never a fan of needing a specific charger to power a gadget, Qualcomm's at least made an argument for simplicity here - no wires or plugs to deal with, just set it down in its case at the end of the day and forget about it.

Qualcomm has not announced pricing for the Toq, availability will likely be later in Q4 this year, and it will be sold exclusively in the United States. Qualcomm's real goal with the Toq isn't to sway consumers, though, it's to show other OEMs what's possible with Qualcomm tech like Mirasol and WiPower. I'd say they're making a pretty good case.

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David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • Tommy Thompson

    The Motoactv uses similar screen technology. Can't find exactly what they call it though.

    • pubmk

      The motoactv has an LCD display.

      This is a mirasol display which is like e-ink (think kindle) but in color. It's main advantage over LCD is battery life and its main disadvantage is refresh rate. That's why a watch maybe the ideal application for it because you're likely not gonna be playing games on it and therefore refresh rate is not as important.

      • Tommy Thompson

        Yes. I know this. I read the article.

        • nagi

          The Motoactv uses a LCD display, which might be transflective, (having a reflective surface behind the LCD so it doesn't become completely useless in direct sunlight) but it is certainly not an eInk/Mirasol one or anything "similar technology"....

          You either didn't read the article or simply don't know what you are talking about.

          • Tommy Thompson

            I never said it used mirasol or that the display used was Eink. If you read my entire comment you will see that I corrected myself. "Can't find exactly what they call it though. Or at least I thought it did. Trying to find what it does differently but I can't find anything. I know mine gets brighter in the sun." Maybe it's you that can't read? :)

          • nagi

            You started off with "similar technology", whereas they really are not in any way or form besides displaying information. The natural light is utilized in a different way, (and reflected in a quite different manner) the colors are used in a different way, (additive vs substractive mixing) the power requirements are just on a whole different scale, (one being a passive display, the other an active technology) and the whole technology is markedly different.

            I did not want to explicitly state this, but here, since you thought I did not read your comment (hint: I did): If you thought it was anything similar, it only shows you have absolutely no idea about either of these technologies, and most likely never saw an eInk display in your life, if looking at the Motoactv you thought it was "similar technology" to the eInk-variant Mirasol.

          • Tommy Thompson

            What part of "I corrected myself" Do you not understand? I wasn't referring to it being Eink when I said similar technology. I'm sorry you're confused and misinterpreted what I was referring too and continued to misinterpret even after I corrected myself. I was referring to it getting brighter in the sun, which I did mention in my comment. Thanks though. :)

  • Elias

    For $300? No, thanks. For $50 I'll MAYBE give it a try.

    • btod

      You can't even get a decent watch for that price, let alone a smart watch.

      • Emmanuel Buttigieg

        Maybe a basic Timex or Casio, but nothing special.

        I'm not sure you can buy a smartphone for $50 anyway (off contract).

        • JonJJon

          Well maybe the Amazon phone if it really will be free haha, but I doubt it will. I like the ideas put into this smartwatch, such as the mirasol display, I just hope they can keep pushing the battery boundaries and make them last even longer. They are never going to look as elegant as a quality timepiece nor will they reach the battery life of 25 years that the Citizen Ecodrives have. But hey, who knows where technology will reach still.

    • blast0id

      whatever you've been inhaling recently, might be affecting your ability to process rational thought, you might want to look into that... just a thought...

  • Emmanuel Buttigieg

    Not being able to swap out watchbands is an instant deal breaker. Pretty cool tech though, I'd much rather buy this than the Galaxy Gear.

    • Sean Lumly

      I agree with you. To be honest, it wouldn't be so bad if you could cover the watchband like a smartphone-case covers a smartphone. This could be easily done with a relatively slim (but sturdy) band, and band-cover accessories. This would allow them to continue to include the battery in the clasp, while giving the wearer freedom of personal style, weather wearing a t-shirt, a dress, or a business suit.

      I'm genuinely surprised at how short-sighted these companies are. It is virtually impossible to please 100% of your demographic when it comes to style. Not only that, but band-covers mean that can they would be able to charge more for accessories (eg. thick leather wristband cover, stylish cloth band cover, metal link band cover, etc).

      Band covers seem like a painless, and easy design decision that could have deep implications.

  • Sirwill

    Yeah, watchband is the only thing I have a problem with. I'm a big guy, with a big wrist. I haven't worn a watch in over a decade. I'd be tempted if I thought it would fit.

  • vs8

    I wish smartphones screens got brighter under direct sunlight.

    • Mkvarner

      Let me guess, you have a amoled display?

      • vs8

        It's irrelevant. No smartphone screen gets brighter under direct sunlight.

        Imagine a screen that doesn't need to use its light under well lit conditions and only used it's light automatically on dark places.

        That would end our bad battery life woes.

        • http://twitter.com/anishbhalerao Anish Bhalerao

          Remember the old Nokia? :D
          Did exactly what you mention. LCDs working with the sun directly, albeit with lower colour fidelity. But did the job.

  • João Luís

    US only...? Damn...

    • http://AndroidPolice.com/ Liam Spradlin

      Qualcomm told us they were only going to produce "tens of thousands" of these, so I wouldn't expect a broad launch, though after playing with the device, I'd definitely be interested in one.

      • PhilNelwyn

        Did they actually say "US only?"

        • http://AndroidPolice.com/ Liam Spradlin

          They didn't explicitly say "US only," so there's hope, but since there are supposedly going to be so few it'll be hard to get one.

      • João Luís

        This is the first smartwatch I've really wanted (Pebble wins the second place). First the display, then the hands-on videos around.

  • http://wave-france.blogspot.com Supercopter

    Qualcomm's official video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzTrqifCOhs

  • Phill_S

    Lol, ironically this may be the best smartwatch yet and its being made by a semiconductor company that has no interest in a wide commercial release of it.

  • Gigum

    Hi, its 2013. only hipster dufas rejects wear watches.

    • Alex

      lol wut

  • gadgety

    The Toq is cool. I suggested putting the battery in the wristband for the second generation of the MotoACTV, when gen 1 was suffering from its hard charging processor (unfortunately it was never to be seen). Someone else seems to have the same thought. BTW this why the watch band isn't interchangeable. It's part of the watch, with touch function in the band as well. I also remember commenting on the Mirasol display that it ought to be right for smart watches, because the then current MBW-150's oled was completely useless outdoors, even without sun, after about 3 months of usage.

    Finally, Qualcomm's watch impresses because it has been thought through with the wireless charging case containing the bluetooth headset. Completely wireless stereo. I think I want the watch for this feature alone. Wouldn't mind if the carrying case had an extra battery built in, so that the headset could be charged on the move, while in the carrying case, no cable plugged at all. I wonder how long one can listen to them before they turn off. I need more information. I also assume they use APT-X tech to avoid differing delay to the two earphones.

    Looking forward to the first review.

  • Asphyx

    LOL I know it's just due to the limited graphics possible but two of those stills (the screen grab of the video and one of the static pics) looks more like something you would see on a Windows Phone than an Android device...TILES!

    • jhtanglewood

      Like you said it's mainly because of the display limitations, but the "modern" UI is being adopted all over.

      • Asphyx

        I'll reply to both here....
        Besides Qualcomm is not exactly a software driven company anyway...So if this ever did see release it would probably run and look very different than what we are seeing here.
        It's was just the Phone Icon that looks almost EXACT like the original from Windows 7! LOL

    • http://AndroidPolice.com/ Liam Spradlin

      The watch doesn't actually run Android, so that's another reason the interface isn't exactly holo-fied. Still, if they weren't tiles they'd just be icons. For the form factor I think that kind of UI can make sense.

  • ssj4Gogeta

    I hope it becomes so popular they have to make it widely available.

  • zuuuz

    I'd buy this over the Samsung

  • didibus

    Does WiPower have any advantages over Qi? Does it charge faster, or require less hardware to do so, or is it cheaper? Or they really just want a pie of the cut for no good reason except greed?

  • http://corink.ie/ kaka0

    I like it ...

    But still waiting for apple I-watch :)

  • firethorn

    A very nice gadget and I'm hoping for the Pebble successor to include Mirasol tech.
    I wish they didn't waste ten percent of the screen with a bright white always-visible swipe bar though. Hopefully they add a user setting to hide it.

  • _ThaNerd_

    Funny, not one picture of the watch on someones wrist...

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