Whether or not giants like Apple, Google and Microsoft get into the game, the smartwatch market is heating up quickly. We looked at more than half a dozen smartwatches in May and June alone, and about double that so far in 2013. The Plus+ from UK-based Orsto is the latest to sprout its own crowd-funding campaign. Orsto claims the Plus+ is the first smartwatch to combine full smartphone functionality with smartphone tethering.
The first surge of smartwatches, led by the Pebble, constructed wireless bridges with smartphones, providing message and call updates on the wrist. This promised a little extra convenience in that you wouldn't have to grab your phone to check who called, but folks wanted more. Much like when we were carrying separate PDAs and cellular phones a decade ago, the first wave of smartwatches made us ask: "Why can't one device do it all?".
A second generation of devices rose more recently to answer that query with a resounding: "They can!". Watches like the Neptune Pine and Emopulse Smile don't just tether to your smartphone, they essentially replace it, giving you calling, texting and internet browsing capabilities from the comfort of your wrist.
The Plus+ does both. According to Orsto, it is "a first in the marketplace" thanks to the fact that it can act as a smartphone on its own or tether to a standard smartphone, giving buyers more flexibility in how they use it on any given day.
"Normally a smartwatch is just a Bluetooth device that needs to have a connection to a smartphone to work," explains Paul Gill, Orsto founder and chief engineer. "The PLUS+ Watch has that option, however, it’s a standalone wrist-mounted smartphone as well. This is a huge leap forward in personal communication and computer miniaturization. It’s truly the next generation in wearable technology."
In addition to the more standard tethering capabilities, pulling information from a pocketed smartphone to its 2-inch color touchscreen, the Plus+ has many of the capabilities of your standard smartphone. The Android 2.2-based watch can make calls, send texts and emails, navigate the internet, play videos and music, display books and publications, navigate with built-in GPS, play games and run apps. It includes voice control capabilities in addition to its touchscreen.
Orsto engineers essentially took apart the internals of a smartphone, miniaturized them and repacked them into a watch. Its spec sheet includes a 740 MHz dual-core processor, Android 2.2, GSM, GPRS, Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n), Bluetooth 2.0, NFC, GPS, a 5-megapixel still camera with video recording, a motion sensor, a microphone, a speaker, and an 800 mAh lithium-ion battery that Orsto says was specially designed for the watch.
Orsto launched an Indiegogo campaign this week, seeking to raise funding for Plus+ development. The Plus+ campaign is seeking a US$99 pledge, $100 off the planned retail price. Depending upon how much funding it is able to raise, Orsto may upgrade some of the hardware and software on the Plus+, including adding a 1.2 GHz processor and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
Orsto's original smartwatch, the X1, launched on Indiegogo in May. With only 10 hours left to go as of publishing, it seems that it will only reach about a third of its goal. While its elliptical shape is more traditional for a watch, the company received many requests for a rectangular shape, so it designed the Plus+ as a sort of "X2." The company did not respond to our questions as to what the future of the titanium X1 will be, but it sounds like it is moving forward with the Plus+ in place of the X1.