When is a watch a smartwatch? When is a watch just a watch with a few gimmicks? And is there a middle ground for the latest wave of watches that mix personalization and apps with long battery life and traditional techniques and styling? Watchmaker Phosphor is answering these questions right now with the Touch Time watch.
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Following a successful Kickstarter project (which saw over $314,000 raised, comfortably passing the $50,000 funding goal), the Touch Time watch went into production late last year, and went on sale a few weeks ago priced from $159. Phosphor has provided me with a review unit and I’ve been looking at the functionality and practicality of this ‘smarter watch’.
With the recent wave of smarwatches and fitness trackers, there is renewed interest on the wrist in the mainstream. It’s important to set up expectations of the Touch Time. This isn’t s smartwatch by the definitions of Samsung, Sony or Pebble. While Phosphor go with ‘a smarter watch’ an easier way to describe the Touch Time is that it is a feature watch compared to a smart watch, just as the smartphones of the world have the comparison to feature phones.
Just like the feature phone, the Touch Time stands out against a field of smartwatches thanks to a limited but focused set of applications. Through these applications, and the hardware in the watch, the idea of a smartwatch is implied. The capacitive touch-screen, as well as contributing to the name, also allows a smartwatch like UI to be employed. Switching between the top level screens is accomplished by a swipe across the screen to either the right or the left; app selection is through a tap on the screen; and switching through views in each individual application is accomplished with either an upwards or downwards swipe.
The UI is consistent across the seven applications, the settings screen, and the clock faces. That’s important in a small piece of consumer technology, so congratulations to Phosphor for focusing on the UI to enable this consistency.
There are two problematic issues that I found with the UI. The first is that the Touch Time will ‘lock’ the screen to user inputs rather quickly for my liking. I would have liked an option in the settings that would set the auto-lock time to something that suited me. The quickly locking touchscreen meant I was very familiar with the unlock screen. Holding down on the white dot at the bottom of the capacitive screen brings up a ‘slide upwards to unlock’ control. I found this quite fiddly and inaccurate in use, requiring multiple attempts to unlock the UI in the first few days with the watch.
Even now I find myself having to concentrate to unlock the Touch Time, it’s not made the jump to my muscle memory yet.
With no buttons at all on the watch, everything is controlled through the touch interface, so every feature (bar one) requires the unlock feature. That solitary function is a double-tap at the base of the screen, which activates the backlight so you can clearly see the display in low-light or darkness.
The selection of applications are a step above the timers and alarms you would find in a typical Casio G-Shock watch, although you get a stopwatch and multiple alarms as part of the package. After some lobbying during the design phase, Phosphor also added in a countdown time to the application suite as part of the stopwatch app. It’s probably the app that I’ve used the most on the Touch Time watch.
You also have the ability to set reminders for future events by tagging a time and date with an internal choice of icons, and you also have a calendar application that shows you a month view for reference. What you can’t do is add any events or text to a date in the calendar.
And this is where the Touch Time is an interesting play for Phosphor. It has no connectivity options, it doesn’t talk to your smartphone or pull in any information from the Internet. And there are very limited options for you to customise the look of the phone or add your own content to it. You have these extra apps which add utility but not personalisation, and you have a selection of watch faces you can cycle through. And that’s it… all you get is what is in the watch when the Touch Time leaves the Phosphor factory.
If you are coming to the Touch Time, looking for a smartwatch, then you are going to be disappointed. But that’s not Touch Time’s audience. It provides a feature set that is larger than many digital watches on the market; it brings touch controls and applications to a wider audience while retaining many of the strengths of a normal watch. It has a quoted battery life of a year – which is far more than a smartwatch loaded up with power-hungry bluetooth transmitters, sensors, and processing power. It looks the part of a modern watch with extra features, and it’s a good first step from Phosphor into a new market space.
The advantage of Kickstarter with a design like the Touch Time is a concept is validated for a small group before production start. The Touch Time was not a ‘gamble’ for Phosphor. What the company gains is twofold – loyal customers getting the watch they wanted through the funding campaign, and raw data on sales and performance from the rest of the Phosphor audience after the costs are covered by the Kickstarter supporters.
The Touch Time shows a lot of promise in terms of design and UI. It looks the part of a modern and masculine watch. I wanted it to do a lot more than it does, and in time I hope that this is the start of a ‘feature watch’ platform from the company. It’s clear that there is a market for this level of product, and while questions remain about how large that market is, Phosphor is exploring that space with a well constructed and solid product in the Touch Time.
Disclosure: Phosphor supplied a review unit of the Touch Time for this review.