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Hands-on: Neptune Pine smartwatch

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January 7, 2014

Gizmag goes hands-on with the Neptune Pine, a smartwatch that can actually replace your sm...

Gizmag goes hands-on with the Neptune Pine, a smartwatch that can actually replace your smartphone

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Every smartwatch we've used so far has played the role of companion device. They may allow you to leave your smartphone in your pocket a little more often, but they're still a ways off from letting you cut those smartphone strings altogether. At CES 2014, we just got some hands-on time with the Neptune Pine, a smartwatch that can actually replace your phone.

The Neptune Pine is easily the bulkiest smartwatch I've used, but it's also one of the most intriguing. While most smartwatches' screens are in the 1.2-in to 1.6-in range, Neptune Pine gives you a spacious 2.4-in screen. To get some perspective, that's 108 percent more screen area than the Galaxy Gear gives you. It's also half the size of the iPhone 4s' screen. It's very much a tiny smartphone that happens to live on your wrist.

Hands-on: Neptune Pine smartwatch

That size is a tricky balancing act. On one hand, you don't want it to take up too much space on your wrist (the Neptune Pine is very much toeing that line). But the flip side is that it's big enough to actually type on, using one of the many Android keyboards. Neptune CTO Aaron Wilkins told me that the 2.4-in screen was the smallest size they could make while still allowing for easy typing. Voice input may end up replacing typing on most wearable devices, but it's nice having the option of hammering out a text or email – especially if you're in public and don't want your dictated messages heard by everyone around you.

Neptune Pine has a VGA front-facing camera, meaning you can use it to video chat right from your wrist (Dick Tracy would be very proud). The lighting was pretty poor in our testing area, so the camera didn't exactly knock my socks off. But considering the conditions, it's about what you'd expect from a VGA front-facing camera.

Hands-on: Neptune Pine smartwatch

The Pine also has a 5-megapixel rear camera. Why would you put a rear-facing camera on a watch? Well, that's because you can actually pull the watch's main body off of the strap, as you can see above. At that point, you have in your hands what amounts to a mini-smartphone. Just point and shoot like you would with a full-sized smartphone.

Pine charges via a micro-USB port that reveals itself when you pull the main body off of the band. Neptune claims up to seven hours of internet use on Wi-Fi. Wilkins told me that, with regular use, he has no problems getting a full day of use out of it.

Hands-on: Neptune Pine smartwatch

Unfortunately the Android 4.1-running Neptune Pine doesn't yet have the licensing in place to include the Google Play Store and other Google services on the watch. That will be a bit of a bummer if it ships without Google's apps – especially if it's a case of Google blocking access to smaller companies until it can release its own smartwatch (purely speculation on my part, by the way). In the Play Store's place, Wilkins told me the company is working on its own app store for Pine. Hardly an ideal solution: yet another third-party app store layered on top of Android. But under the circumstances, it might be the best route they can take.

Even if those Google services don't ultimately ship with the Pine, though, the device is fully rootable. Having handled the watch, I can confidently say that developers and tinkerers won't have any problem sideloading Google's apps and services, as well as third-party Android apps. The process should be similar to how you'd sideload those services on, say, a hacked e-reader or a custom smartphone ROM.

Hands-on: Neptune Pine smartwatch

Based on the few minutes I spent wearing Neptune Pine, I'm eager to spend some more time with it. Having full smartphone functionality on your wrist might not sound like that big of a deal. After all, how hard is it to pull your phone out of your pocket? But it's still very cool having all of that functionality just an arm-lift away. I like the idea of skipping the smartphone altogether, saving some pocket space, and replacing it by popping a SIM card into your watch. Pine is the first device I've used that actually lets you do that right now. It's still early days – with a bulky design that won't be seen on a fashion runway anytime soon – but I still think it's pointing towards the future.

Wilkins says Neptune is hoping to start shipping Pine to its Kickstarter backers by the end of this month. He also mentioned that a 2nd-gen hardware revision is in the works, which he's hoping will be ready within the next few months. You can pre-order Neptune Pine now for US$335 from the product page below.

Product page: Neptune Pine

About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin covers consumer technology for Gizmag. He's previously written for Android Central, Geek, GottaBeMobile, Android Police, and The Huffington Post.
He lives in New Mexico, U.S., with his lovely wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
7 Comments

AT LAST! What every 'smart' watch so far had promised. The large size is not that important to me, but the functionality is! I've never liked the idea of smaller and smaller phones that disappear down to the bottom of a handbag, or hoodie pocket (which one is it in?!!!).

If it did a good job, I would think about wearing one up to half the size of a motorcycle gauntlet - well, nearly anyway - remember Predator v Rambo? At that size, it would have room for the good chips giving large GB memory and useful apps, plus the battery power for a DVD player and a good size screen or Kindle lookalike.

The Skud
7th January, 2014 @ 04:55 pm PST

The basic problem with all of the smartwatches and other wearables is that there's no getting around the fact that they're useless unless there is some way to get data into them from, and out of them to, ourselves.

Either they have to have a keyboard to enter data (which instantly constrains their size), or they have to use voice input (which shares all of your communications with anyone in earshot).

Either they have to have a screen to display data (which instantly constrains their size), or they have to have something hanging off your face (which may or may not be cool).

Of those tradeoffs, I prefer the keyboard and screen combo; but our wrists, no matter how manly, just aren't big enough to do a good job.

So overall I like the Ciccarese design below, which, while not manly enough as it stands, has the right idea: forget our puny wrists, put that keyboard and screen on the _back_of_my_hand_! Yessir, that will do it:

http://www.ciccaresedesign.com/2012/07/06/iphone-5-new/

dalroth5
8th January, 2014 @ 12:17 pm PST

Just because something is strapped to your wrist doesn't make it a watch. The size of this thing is ludicrous. It looks bigger than my ipod touch.

Karl L
9th January, 2014 @ 06:11 am PST

This is hardly the first, there are dozens of them in China... and sure they are ugly as sin but they do exist. There is even one with twin sim slots.

Google search images "chinese watch phone" see for yourself. Even one with a stylus... probably the only way to use it as the screen is TINY

John McMullen
10th January, 2014 @ 12:22 am PST

If I were an idealist I'd say that this piece could have a bigger screen and its band is good for small watches rather than an ergonomic-wide-elastic one that can be fitted with accessories like extra battery it deserves. But it's already a proof that having both a smartwatch and a smartphone is a marketing gimmickry lots of people can do without. Good job guys!

YuraG
14th January, 2014 @ 08:08 am PST

Have been watching this on kickstarter for some time now. Agree its quite a large watch however you can remove it from the wristband and just place it in your pocket. There is also a belt clip holder and a cover that you can attach a chain to - kind of like the pocket watch. I'm kind of going against the trend in smartphones and wanting a much smaller phone these days. The pine clipped to my belt is going to be supurb I think.

Tempted
18th January, 2014 @ 11:44 pm PST

Karl L said: "Just because something is strapped to your wrist doesn't make it a watch. The size of this thing is ludicrous. It looks bigger than my ipod touch."

That is true but this is not a watch at all, it is a full smartphone with the added functionality of a watch on top of the MYRIAD of things that a smartphone can do. And of course the difference between a full smartphone and a watch is humongous to say the least. It is not intended as a fancy watch whatsoever, it never was, it is intended as it plainly is, as a fully modern smarthphone that has been shrunk as much as it is humanly possible with current technology so it can be placed on the wrist.

And that is a first generation device, give it time, with time it may become somewhat smaller, in a few more years, in a couple of generations it could shrink significantly, perhaps having a thinner bezel (at the edges) with the small but higher resolution screen covering much more of the top surface (a thinner frame) and overall lighter weight and also perhaps thinner from top to bottom. Or the functionality improving, the same as it has happen with other smartphones. Give it some time, it has to start somewhere.

I would buy it, I wanted to have something like this since I was a teenager and I used those Casio calculator watches with phone numbers databases, I loved them! I actually put them to good use. That was functionality that I REALLY used back then. I mean they had watch, world time, calculator, sports timer, alarm, schedule alarm, count back timer (like a kitchen timer) and a phone numbers database! Yes, back there in the 80's! And I really used ALL of those functions, YES I did. What I wanted was for Casio to continue to improve them and make them better with more functionality and perhaps somewhat better quality.

Back there that was innovative and those (and the G-Shock types) were considered big in that time but they became a fad and then after a while nobody cared anymore about their size and they became a normal thing. What happened to Casio is that they goofed cause they innovated when they introduced such watches cause they were selling pretty well (I saw a helluva lot of people with them back there) but Casio stopped improving them altogether after a few years!

I mean the phone database function only stored like 8 alphanumeric characters for the name and then the phone numbers which was very limited and I had to write the names with abbreviations but it was still something that I was able to really use. Computer memory and LCD screens continued to improve dramatically over the years but 15 years after that their phone memory was about the same with the same limited 8 alphanumeric characters! And it was able to store about 50 phones or 100 in the top model. And they were not water proof like the G-ShocK models but they were at least water resistant, again making them practical for everyday use.

They even had a model that had an infrared remote control built in that really worked but again it was somewhat limited (I had one of those too and the remote really worked). With the tremendous and super fast improvements in electronics they could have improved their calculator database watches or their calculator remote control watches a helluva lot but they stood still and did NOTHING!

With the aforementioned advances in electronics they could have easily produced in a few years after that a watch that had SEVERAL of those functions combined into a single watch! They could have produced a watch that had more memory with enough alphanumeric characters for full name and last name and more numbers memory and with alternate phone numbers for each name for example such as work and home phone numbers and eventually for cell numbers and they could have combined the remote control functions into the mix with the database functions. Also they could have added the function of storing other things such as people addresses for example, Nope, none of that.

I remember them also having one watch with a 80 decibels alarm that was much louder than the regular alarm that the calculator watches had. They could have put many of those functions into a single watch easily after a few years. And another thing is that the plastic bezels didn't last more than a few years so I was hoping that they would produce a calculator watch model with all those functions but with a stainless steel bezel and a more scratch resistant glass.

I mean the bezels lasted like three years or a little more of continuous use so I replaced them about every 3 or 4 years cause they were not that expensive (about $40) so it was very doable, nothing to it but I would rather have them also have a somewhat more expensive model as an option that had a more higher quality and longer lasting bezel but they never did anything like that and the bezels was gone in 3 or 4 years but the electronics were working like a charm! The exception was the calculator buttons that were starting to break at about that time too which again were part of the inexpensive bezel design.

I had this picture in my mind of Casio one day producing this Superwatch (yes that is the generic name that I gave it) with the remote control functionality (but improved), with all the other calculator and databank (as they were called) functionality but improved too perhaps combined with the 80 decibels alarm too. And it coming in two versions, a more affordable plastic bezel version and one more expensive with a stainless steel bezel and wristband. No, definitely not those that were metal electroplated but that were still plastic underneath, those had the metal layer corrode quickly with sweat and only the wristband that was truly made of metal kept the look, those were a pity. I mean one with a REAL stainless steel bezel and scratch resistant glass.

I would have easily paid Casio $200 (really gladly) for such a watch but they never did it or anything like that and they COULD have done it. I kept waiting, and waiting but they goofed, THEY GOOFED BADLY. Talk about a missed opportunity to produce a truly outstanding watch that back there would have been the equivalent of a Swiss Army knife of watches, something that nobody else had and that would have been truly useful. Timex had cheap copies of their calculator watches but they never were anywhere as good as the Casio ones and Casio lost the opportunity to produce a watch that would been as big a sensations as their calculator watches originally were or even bigger a sensation but they lost their edge, completely.

To this day I'm still waiting for that watch but I think that it could be too late for such a thing now, these new smartwatches is were I think they are going to go but I want one with full phone functionality, that is what interest me.

I do not mind the somewhat large size because having all that functionality at the wrist works for me. And I do not care about some people that comment that something like this being so big feels like you are attracting too much attention, I would not buy it for what others would think about it, I couldn't care one freaking bit about that. I DO care about all the functionality in a relatively compact package that is easy to carry around and that doesn't keep you having your attention on where the heck did you place your phone.

One thing that I strongly believe they will need is more protection just like with any other smartphone, I mean you see how many people buy cases and transparent screen protectors for their smartphones. I'm afraid that these devices need the same kind of protection just the same. Actually I think that they need it even more because as a wrist device they are far more susceptible to withstand a hit because in everyday use one moves the arms rather swiftly in many occasions and sometimes one hits something with the watch by mistake. That happens with watches pretty often and I remember how my Casio watches had sometimes paint from the walls in them that came from me hitting them against the walls when I was sleeping. Simply these wrist devices will probably be exposed to hits more than smartphones cause those are usually kept in a pocket or in a purse.

The exception to that is that it will be far less probable for them fall to the floor, it can still happen when you remove them for any reason but it will be less probable. But anyway the issue of the constant hands motion will more than balance it out and expose them about the same or more to damage so they will need protective gear just the same for both the bezel and the glass and I'm afraid that that can only make them even larger but I rather have them protected even if it means that.

That would be definitely way better than the Superwatch that I always wanted Casio to produce but failed to do. The heck I would buy one.

David Guzman
27th March, 2014 @ 09:17 pm PDT
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