Review: Qualcomm Toq smartwatch
December 23, 2013
Manufacturers are still figuring out what exactly customers want out of smartwatches – if anything at all. So it kinda makes sense that a company like Qualcomm would make a device that's meant to showcase its design and hardware for future smartwatch-makers. Read on, as Gizmag reviews a consumer product that doubles as a reference design, the Qualcomm Toq smartwatch.
Look and feel
I think the Toq's design is pretty much spot-on. It sports a gorgeous Mirasol display (more on that in a second), its face is the thinnest of any smartwatch I've used, and it's plenty comfortable to wear. Qualcomm also snuck the watch's battery into the band's clasp, which helped to keep that face slim and trim.
The Toq's band is a permanent part of the watch, so there's no swapping with another one, like some of the other smartwatches let you do. The band is made of a textured and flexible plastic, and it feels much higher-end than the bands on some of the other early smartwatches.
You do actually have to cut the Toq's band when setting it up, though, to fit to your wrist. It can be resized again to a smaller size, but, once you cut it, it can never be sized bigger again. So you'd better not gain any weight around your wrist if you don't want your investment to go down the toilet. This might also give you some trouble if you plan on selling the Toq or passing it on to a friend.
Of all the early smartwatches, the Qualcomm Toq's screen is my favorite. The Mirasol display on this puppy is colorful, sharp (223 pixels per inch), and looks outstanding under direct sunlight. Even if the Toq is far from a must-have consumer product, it serves as a great showcase for Mirasol display tech in future smartwatches. I hope the makers of tomorrow's batch of watches are paying attention, and striking deals with Qualcomm to use the tech again.
One of the keys here is that the Toq's screen is always on, always ready to be looked at. And if you choose a clock face with a weather, stock, or calendar widget, then you have some key info that's never more than a glance away.
One thing the Mirasol display doesn't have is a wide range of colors. This isn't a nuanced palette like you'd find on a high-quality tablet, smartphone, or laptop display. It's more like black, white, and a couple varations each of blue, orange, yellow, red, green, and purple. There may or may not actually be more color variation than that, but that's the general effect that I see.
What the Toq's Mirasol display lacks in color variation, though, it makes up for in outdoor readability. It picks up reflections, but they never come off as distracting glare. It's also readable in moderate indoor lighting. If it gets too dark, you can double-tap its band just above the screen to fire up its backlight. And unlike the Pebble smartwatch, the Toq's display is a touch screen, so no need to fiddle with physical buttons for anything.
What it does
Like nearly every other smartwatch so far, the Toq is a smartphone accessory, not a smartphone replacement. You'll need to pair it (via Bluetooth) with an Android phone running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or higher. It isn't compatible with iPhones, Blackberries, or Windows Phones.
Smartwatches like the Samsung Galaxy Gear try, with varying degrees of success, to cram in long lists of features and functions. The Toq, however, has a much smaller feature set. Qualcomm describes the watch as a glanceable second screen for your smartphone, and I think that's a pretty accurate description. It's primarily a notification terminal for your wrist.
Fortunately the Toq handles its main job pretty well. It supports full Android notifications, so there aren't any apps that will be left out of the party. You can also customize which apps it shows notifications from, so your wrist doesn't get spammed with Candy Crush alerts. Like other smartwatches, of course, it vibrates your wrist to let you know when those notifications come in.
If you only get one new email, the Toq's notification center will show you the full message, no matter how long it is (the actual alert will be abbreviated, but the notification applet will show the full message). But if you have more than one new email come in, the Toq will cram short summaries of all of them onto one card, leaving longer emails cut off.
I find this to be an annoying limit. If I'm buying an expensive product just to get notifications on my wrist, I want to be able to read full emails – no matter how many and how long.
That notification center lives in the Toq's applet screen. From the watch's main clock screen (which you can choose from among fourteen options), tap the watch's band just below its face, and you'll enter the applet center. There you'll see icons for your recent phone and SMS history, calendar events, music controls, weather, stocks, and recent notifications. There's also a watch status icon and an applet for the Toq's settings. You can swipe to the right to back out of any applet, and you tap on the band below the screen again to return to the main clock screen.
The Toq doesn't have a microphone or speaker, so you can't do things like make phone calls or use Google Now voice control on your wrist. If you use a Bluetooth headset, though, you can use the Toq to initiate a call without pulling out your phone. There's also no camera, though it's debatable whether that's really an essential smartwatch feature.
The Toq's feature set is similar to rivals like the Pebble and Sony SmartWatch 2, but with one big omission: there aren't yet any compatible fitness-tracking apps. The wrist is a great place to show glanceable pedometer info from a run or walk, so I'm not sure why Qualcomm didn't bother partnering with someone for that. It could easily be added with a future software update, but so far no dice.
Charging and battery life
The Toq's Mirasol display uses very little power, which helps give the watch outstanding battery life. In my use, after six full days off the charger, the Toq still had about 25 percent battery remaining. Granted, this was mostly with light use, so it could drain faster if you use the backlight frequently or read tons of notifications. All in all, though, we're looking at insane uptimes, the best I've seen on a smartwatch.
It's a little ironic, then, that the Toq is the easiest to charge of all the current smartwatches. It ships with a wireless charging station, and it seems to be just about the ideal way to go for smartwatches. Open the folding dock, press a button to flip up a stand, and rest the watch on the sensors in front of it. No plugs, no cords (apart from the one that connects to the dock), just drop your watch on the station and go. The dock also has sections for docking Qualcomm's optional wireless earbuds, which will launch some time in 2014.
So is the Qualcomm Toq worth buying? Well, I can see both sides here. On one hand, I think its screen, design, and battery life are the best of all the early smartwatches. Its bundled wireless charger is a piece of cake to use, and the watch has an overall high-end aesthetic.
On the other hand ... well, the Toq doesn't really do a whole lot. It handles notifications well, but if you're trying to read multiple emails at once, you'd better hope they're all really short. You can check stocks, the weather, and calendar events, but you can forget about fitness tracking, phone calls, or voice control. Oh, and did we mention that its US$350 price tag makes it the most expensive smartwatch around?
So as a consumer product right now, the Toq is a mixed bag. It has a nice simple focus, but we wouldn't blame you for wanting more functionality for your money.
As a showcase device, though, I think Qualcomm hit the nail right on the head. I would love to see the company's Mirasol screens, design sensibilities, and wireless charging in the next wave of smartwatches. If smartwatch OEMs use the Toq as a starting point, add some new killer features and more fully-baked software, and get the price down closer to $200-250, then they could be onto something.
The Qualcomm Toq is recommended if you're looking for a simple, glanceable second display on your wrist – and you don't mind paying a premium for it. It's highly recommended, though, for smartwatch-makers who are seeking display, design, and charging inspiration for their future products.
The Toq is available now from the product page and Amazon links below.
Product page: Qualcomm Toq