Review: Qualcomm Toq

Wearables are supposed to be the next frontier for mobile. But as far as smartwatches go, that future is definitely not here yet.

And that’s OK. At least Qualcomm, the latest entrant to the space, isn’t deluded enough to think its latest offering, the Toq, is a mass-market device. In fact, the company seems keenly aware that only a select group of early adopters are going to be interested in wearing a smartwatch at this point. As such, the Toq is really meant to serve more as a reference design.

The Kickstarter-backed Pebble was the first major “smartwatch” to hit the market, making its major retail debut in July, while Samsung’s Galaxy Gear watch hit store shelves this fall. Sony is also dabbling in the smartwatch space. Qualcomm’s Toq comes in at top of this list. But that’s not necessarily a noteworthy feat at the moment.

The smartwatch is slightly less hefty than the Galaxy Gear, weighing about .2 ounces less than the Gear’s 2.6 ounces. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it makes a difference. The watch sports a 1.55-inch capacitive touch display that uses Qualcomm’s Mirasol technology, which reflects ambient light to brighten your screen without the use of a power hungry backlight. The Toq, which is designed to last days before needing a power up, charges wirelessly on a compact black stand that doubles as a carrying case for accessories like a headset (sold separately). The watch also houses an accelerometer and a mic, but no speaker. It pairs with any Android device running Android 4.0.3 or above (we used a Nexus 5).

Unlike other smartwatches, the Toq doesn’t have any physical buttons. Instead, a sensor just underneath the display lets you tap to get to the homescreen on the wristband. You can also double tap to illuminate the display, located on the band just above its face. This is a pretty elegant solution visually, but sometimes it takes an extra tap or two for the homescreen sensor to activate.

The smartwatch performs all the usual tasks you’d expect from a wrist-based smartphone aid. Over Bluetooth LE, you can get email, calendar, Hangouts, Google+, and a number of other notifications pushed to the device. You can also check the current status of the weather or your favorite stocks, and get an overview of what’s on your schedule for the day. You can’t type out messages from the device (which would be awful anyway), but you can send contacts preset, customizable quick replies, or initiate a phone call with the device. There’s a number of different clock faces the Toq can rotate between when you’re not using it for one of the above tasks.

All of these features work fine. It took me a while to figure out how to send quick replies to contacts though — you get notifications in the notifications applet, but you need to go into the communications applet and select a contact to actually reply to a message. Otherwise, the software experience is simple and straightforward.

One of the Toq’s potentially interesting features is its AllJoyn compatibility. AllJoyn is a communications protocol for the so-called “Internet of Things.” Feasibly, you could use your smartwatch to control or monitor your LG smart TV, for example, or other Internet-connected devices around the home. This sounds like it could be super useful, but we weren’t able to test it since aren’t that many AllJoyn devices out there yet.

However, the Toq’s battery life is superb. I think most people, using it here and there throughout the day, should be able to go at least a week before needing to charge, if not more. Qualcomm’s Mirasol display is largely to thank for this, since it’s so low power.

Unfortunately, the quality of the display is significantly worse than that of a backlit display like you’d find on a smartphone or an AMOLED display like on the Galaxy Gear. There’s a noticeable cross-hatching pattern visible on the top layer of glass. The color display is underneath that, but it’s colors are very muted and unsaturated. Still, this isn’t a device you’re looking to watch 1080p video on, or even view or take high res photos with (it does not have a camera). For the simple tasks it performs, the display is perfectly acceptable.

The premise of the smartwatch is that it will let you perform actions you’d normally do on your cellphone, but more quickly and discreetly. The thing is the Toq isn’t really that discreet, and it’s certainly not that much more convenient than whipping out your smartphone. It may be helpful to be able to check your calendar at a quick glance, or see who you got a text message or email from after feeling a light vibration on your wrist, but that’s not a transformative experience. Instead of freeing you from obsessive smartphone checking, letting you be more immersed in the real world rather than the virtual, you end up just feeling even more dependently tied to your smartphone. That is, if you even find a need to wear or check your smartwatch in the first place.

I know wearables are supposed to be the future of mobile, but right now, the idea and implementation are just not that compelling.

Photos: Josh Valcarcel/get-gadget

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