The $199 watch is almost exactly the same size and shape as the Pebble, which means it’s quite big on the wrist. Because it is made of metal, it feels much heavier and the leather strap is thicker.
I wouldn’t have chosen the white model. It’s a bit flamboyant for my tastes but it is also available in black and different form factors from the company shop. Also, I think the combination of glass and steel looks less elegant and more industrial than the Pebble’s sleeker plastic case. But this is a matter of personal taste: in watch design generally big metal cases seem to be very popular.
It comes in a nice box with the charging cable. It’s a standard USB cable with a strange alligator clip that actually hooks onto the phone when charging. Unlike the Pebble, you can’t wear the watch while charging it. The watch doesn’t come with any instructions, you need to look online.
Once I downloaded that, it was pretty easy to connect to the watch and configure the various screens.
Open vs. closed
However, my feeling is that while the Pebble is an iPhone – easy to use but somewhat restrictive – the MetaWatch is like an Android phone – open, flexible but harder to get to grips with.
Developers can download the API and start programming apps for it without so much as a by-your-leave from the company. Good for them. It should lead to a flowering market for innovative apps and watch faces.
Pressing buttons randomly
Six buttons should make the watch more flexible than the four-button Pebble. In reality, I just found it confusing.
Without any documentation, I struggled to figure out what the six buttons did. Backlights lit up and then didn’t. Music played on my phone and then didn’t. Screens changed, apparently at random.
I’m definitely from the school of ‘press buttons randomly until you figure out how it works’ and normally I get along fine. This approach certainly worked with the Pebble but I felt lost all the time with the MetaWatch.
There doesn’t seem to be any consistency about the button usage. For example, sometimes the top right button seems to act as a back button but if you wind up on the settings page and click it out of habit, the top right button switches off Bluetooth.
L gi l ty
The second problem is more serious. The screen is not very legible except under the very best lighting conditions. It’s a 96×96 pixel display with a mirror behind it. This unusual configuration isn’t obvious from the product shots on the website where the display is always shown with a strong contrast. But in some lighting conditions and at some angles, I could barely read it. For a watch, this is a big drawback.
Pebble’s back light comes on when you press a button or move the watch and it lights up the whole screen evenly. The MetaWatch’s backlight comes on momentarily when you press a button and it’s more of a spill light from the top of the case. You can also invert the display by pressing the bottom right button then the middle left button. That may help if you can remember the combination.
I really wanted to like the MetaWatch and I think it has huge potential (like the whole sector). It’s brilliant that you can download the API and develop applications for it. But as a watch, I think it has some usability problems that will hold it back from the kind of mass success that it deserves. This is a watch that geeks may love but Steve Jobs would never have put it into production.