A few years ago, in the days before Apple Watch, Samsung Galaxy Watch and WearOS, the default futuristic vision of a smartwatch was one of a giant, cuff-like, device with a screen wrapping around your wrist.
The early renders and design concepts we’d see were more like smartphones people could wear rather than the genuinely stylish watches we see adorned with cutting-edge tech nowadays.
But that hasn’t stopped ZTE from unleashing its second attempt at a smartwatch that nobody has asked for. And the Nubia Watch has just gone live on Kickstarter, a follow up to last year’s Nubia Alpha prototype.
I’ve had the Nubia Watch wrapped around my wrist for the past few days – here’s what you need to know.
Nubia Watch: Design and build
It’s massive. It’s chunky. It, in no way, resembles a regular watch. But that’s not really the point is it?
It’s all about that staggeringly large (for a smartwatch, at least) 4.01-inch, 960 x 192 (244ppi), flexible AMOLED display.
Unlike the Alpha, which curved the whole screen, it’s kind of split into three sections.
You have the front facing display, which is probably about 60% of the screen real estate in total and lies pretty flat for optimum visibility.
That’s joined by the top and bottom edges that you can’t really see at all, unless you bend your wrist around to weird angles.
It sort of works. The main, ‘flat’, bit of the screen is still much larger than you’d usually get on a smartwatch and so you see plenty of info on there; the top and bottom edges just compliment that.
It’s much less of an eyesore than its prototype brethren, the Alpha – thanks to dropping the front facing camera.
After a while you start to feel its bulk but the same can be said of heavy high-end regular watches.
On the side is a solitary button that you use to get back to the home screen. Everything else, control-wise, is done through swipes, pinches and drags. It’s pretty intuitive and is, in fact, much more like controlling a smartphone than a smartwatch.
The display, being so big, is clear enough to see with pretty vibrant colors – but it’s also super reflective, so isn’t all that useful on a sunny day.
Nubia Watch: Software and features
Like the Alpha, the Nubia Watch is referred to as a “wearable phone” in the app and all the documentation.
In China, where it is going on sale separately to the Kickstarter campaign, it works completely standalone thanks to 4G eSIM support.
I didn’t have a Chinese eSIM in my review model so I was surprised to see that the phone dialer option was still available.
Maybe it would work over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, piggybacking my phone? No such luck – the screen just froze when I attempted to make a call.
The screen froze a lot, it has to be said. Some notifications caused it to freeze and some screens flickered just before going blank. It all feels not-quite-ready.
The OS, which I’m guessing is some sort of proprietary Android fork, offers up all the basic things you’d expect on a smartwatch, including fitness tracking, heart rate monitoring and music playback; but I had trouble getting a lot of it to play nicely.
That’s maybe because a lot of the features are lost in translation – confusing as heck menus and names on both the watch and the app offer up things like ‘Watch Switch’, ‘Barrage’, ‘Marquee Switch’ and more.
The app is littered with screens that are a mashup of English and Chinese.
Marquee Switch, for example, has a flashing display that says ‘Music’ and bounces around in time with music that is being played. At least, I think that’s what it was doing. It may have hypnotised me.
I did manage to track a GPS walk, where I think the stats were pretty accurate (but no map data to back it up) but I had no luck getting any music on there using the ‘transfer channel’ method, which – according to badly translated help page on the app – seemed to involve tethering from my phone, rather than using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to sync.
Nubia Watch: Initial verdict
It’s hard to knock the Nubia Watch. Perhaps it deserves some ridicule and I don’t actually believe there’s a genuine market for it – especially in the western world.
But it kind of sets out to do and be exactly what it intended to be – a novelty, ‘futuristic’, smartwatch with a USP that no other smartwatch is offering; i.e. that mahoosive flexible AMOLED display.
It’s buggy as heck, the app still feels in the early stages of beta testing and the software feels familiar to 2013’s Samsung Galaxy Gear. But it’s also a real head turner.
People are going to ask you, “What the hell is that?” if you wear it out and about.
It’s up to you if that’s a good or a bad thing.
The Nubia Watch is on sale in China for 1799 yuan, which is around $260. On Kickstarter the super early bird price is $179 for the first 200 sold.