February 8, 2007

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Watch this
Make your wrist game ridiculous
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

I thought I was so cool a couple years ago when I got a watch that doubled as a USB flash drive.

There was a short little USB cable built right into the rubber wristband, and I could hook it up to my computer to store up to 128MB of whatever right there. This was secret agent stuff.

Then it stopped working, because it was kind of cheap. But even before it conked out on me, it was obsolete. Already there were wrist-based gadgets with far higher awesomeness quotients on the market, and they’ve only gotten better since then. So if your watch only tells you the time, I gotta tell you, man, you are wayyyy behind.

• Music: Never worry about finding the perfect carrying case for your MP3 player again, because these things strap right to your wrist. The first models, appearing in 2001, had pitiful capacities when compared to the iPod, which came out at the end of that year. Now, MP3 watches can store up to 2GB of your music without breaking a sweat.

The selection starts to get decent around $50. That’ll get you a no-name analog watch with somewhat clumsy but serviceable styling and a rubber wristband sold by many online discounters. The specs: 512MB of memory, a voice recorder function and nine hours of playback on a fully charged battery. For a more elegant look and more music, NSTAR — not, as far as I can tell, the eastern Massachusetts energy company — has 2GB models for both men and women that sport metal wristbands and analog dials. Those run about $130.

• Video: Is the screen on your iPod Video just not tiny enough for you? Fret not, because watches that play video are here, and their screens can be as small as one inch diagonally.

Take the FreeWalker MP4 Video Watch. For just a little bit more than the classy, no-one-knows-it’s-more-than-just-a-watch watch costs, you can get a cheesy-looking and way-dorkier-in-every-sense video player on your wrist. The 1.5” screen supports 260,000 colors and has a resolution of 128 x 128 pixels, about the size of an instant messenger icon. While movies are a little crammed, the screen does make it easier to navigate your music collection, read lyrics and display album art.

• GPS: Again, your choice is between stylishness and utility. Smaller, more traditional-looking watches are less conspicuous, but can only give you so much information (like geographical coordinates, a compass and altimeter), while larger units stick out but can offer directions, calories burned, automatic lap timer and software you can run on your PC when you upload data from the device. Needless to say, these are marketed toward people who exercise, not nerds.

• Digital camera: This one no one’s really gotten right yet. There was a Casio model out in 2000 that took 160 x 160 pixel grayscale shots that you could view on the watch, but really weren’t useful anywhere else. A more recent generic watch can take 640 x 480 photos and store them on its 8MB of internal memory, but you can’t view them on the watch. It’s sold as a “Digital Watch Still Shot Spy Camera,” but it’s all blue and plasticky, so no one will mistake it for your normal watch unless you’re a 7-year-old boy.

There’s a whole Web site devoted to neato watches coming out, whether they’re uber-geeky or just special new designs. Check it out at www.WristDreams.com.



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