One of the keys to success in the quest to convince consumers to buy a smartwatch is battery life.
Samsung’s (SSNLF) Galaxy Gear was lucky to get a day on a charge — one of the reasons its sales were disappointing. Apple (AAPL) has reportedly struggled with battery life on its rumored iWatch, a factor that has likely delayed the eagerly anticipated device’s release.The Pebble smartwatch manages 5-7 days on a charge, but to pull that off, it uses a black-and-white, e-paper display.
But Qualcomm (QCOM) also has a horse in the game — the Toq smartwatch. The Toq offers Android notifications, an always-on color display and week-long battery life.
QCOM isn’t exactly known for releasing its own consumer electronics. Instead, you’ll find its Snapdragon mobile CPUs powering many of the top-selling smartphones and tablets. However, just as Intel (INTC) showed off a slew of wearable reference designs and concepts at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Qualcomm also wants to show off its technology in hopes other potential smartwatch makers take note.
QCOM went a step further by going beyond the prototype to actually manufacture and sell its Toq smartwatch. Our Toq smartwatch review takes a look to see if the Toq is the best smartwatch available, or just another entry in a growing wearables market.
Toq Smartwatch Review: Mirasol Display Front and Center
QCOM’s Toq smartwatch covers the minimum functionality that we currently expect from a smartwatch. Besides telling the time, it serves as a second screen for a paired smartwatch, displaying key information like incoming voice calls, e-mails, social media notifications, stock tickers, weather and calendar events. It even lets you control music played on the smartphone.
The primary area where it stand apart is that display and the resulting battery life. Instead of a low-power black and white e-paper display like the Pebble (requiring pushbutton controls) or a backlit color touchscreen display (which eats battery life), QCOM is showcasing its Mirasol display.
It’s not as brilliant as LED or OLED, but it’s color, it’s always on and highly reflective (so you can read it outdoors), but it sips lightly on battery power. It also helps to contribute to the Toq smartwatch’s thin profile.
The other major innovation introduced by QCOM in the Toq smartwatch is wireless recharging, a much simpler process than having to hook a power cable to a hidden charging port.
Toq Smartwatch Review: Lack of iPhone Support a Key Design Flaw
Qualcomm got a lot right with the Toq smartwatch design, but there are several flaws that are going to impact its commercial appeal.
First is its lack of iPhone support. Yes, there are other smartwatches that play only in the Android camp, but they tend to be from a manufacturer with an Android smartphone of its own that it’s hoping to boost. So it only makes sense that Samsung’s Gear smartwatches ignore iPhone owners to focus on Galaxy smartphones.
However, if you don’t have that association to boost, then leaving out a big chunk of the smartphone market — one that tends toward early adoption and a willingness to shell out extra dollars on gear — is going to cut into potential sales.
The other puzzling design choice is the built-in watchband that’s not interchangeable. Again, other smartwatches went this route, but the Toq smartwatch actually requires the owner to cut the band to size. Asking customers to take a pair of scissors to a $250 device isn’t a great idea, and it limits the ability to pass this smartwatch on to someone else, or to resell it.
Unlike some smartwatches in its price range, the Toq smartwatch lacks voice input (so no making calls on it), fitness tracking capability and a dedicated app store. So in terms of extendability, it scores low compared to the best smartwatch competition.
Toq Smartwatch Review: Specifications
- 1.55-inch Mirasol touchscreen display at 221 ppi
- Compatible with smartphones running Android 4.0.3 and above
- Bluetooth 4.0
- Silent alert
- 240 mAh battery rated at “multiple days between charges” which translates to 5-7 days in most Toq smartwatch reviews
- Qualcomm WiPower LE-Magnetic Resonance wireless recharging
- Weighs 3.2 oz
- Available in black or limited edition white
- Wrist band fits wrists 6-inches to 8.7-inches in diameter
- MSRP $249.99 (at time of release in 2013 the Toq smartwatch was priced at $349.99)
Toq Smartwatch Review: Conclusion
If you’re an iPhone owner — or in Microsoft’s (MSFT) Windows Phone or the BlackBerry (BBRY) camp — the Toq smartwatch probably shouldn’t be high on your list. Without a compatible smartphone to connect to, it simply doesn’t do much.
Android owners who hate the idea of having to plug in and recharge every few days and dislike the compromise of a push-button black and white display may well find the Toq smartwatch is exactly what they were looking for. Especially now that Qualcomm has knocked $100 off the price tag, bringing it to $250.
If battery life, hassle-free recharging and a color display are at the top of your checklist, this may be the best smartwatch for you.
However, most consumers will probably be looking for a wearable that does more than the Toq smartwatch.
From the Qualcomm perspective, the Toq smartwatch is likely to be a miss when it comes to consumers, but the Mirasol display and wireless charging technology on display with the device may well attract attention from other smartwatch manufacturers and pay off in component sales for QCOM.
As of this writing, Robert Martin did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.