So, I've had my Abacus Wrist.NET watch now for 4 days and it's time for my review.

Executive Summary

The watch is cool. I'm finding it useful and am happy with my purchase. I find that the Atomic Clock Accuracy, Weather information and Outlook calendar appointments to be the most useful functionality. There are some problems with the watch though, mostly around coverage and inconsistencies in the user experience which I talk about below. Finally I don't find this to be a comfortable watch to wear. I can tolerate it, but the band is very uncomfortable.

I would add that I personally find the SPOT concept to be truly innovative. Microsoft unfairly gets a bad wrap for not "innovating" but geez, what company out there has gone out and licensed radio spectrum for 100 cities, built a watch that runs the .NET framework, can receive data that is public and private (encrypted with your public key) and get things like alerts from MSN Messenger etc)? You may or may not like the watch concept, but we just built a freaking low bandwidth pervasive data network using a technology that's been around forever and exists in probably every country on the planet. The DirectBand technology could be used to send small bits of data to any device out there (cars, handhelds, appliances, computers, alarm clocks etc). I think this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Out of Box Experience

Unlike the more expensive Fossil Round watch, this one came in a real simple cardboard box. It took me 1 minute to unwrap and start charging. I wonder if the $50 price difference all went into the case? The watch was completely powered down and it took about 10 minutes of charging before it came to life. At one point I thought I had a dud because the manual said nothing about it not turning on.

After charging it for a few hours the time still wasn't set, so I figured I needed to activate it. I did that on the web site, and found that very easy. However, my watch still didn't kick on. It turned out that while I live in San Francisco, and you'd think I'd have good signal, I don't. It's pretty horrible in my apartment. So I left the phone in the living room, and a few minutes later I got a welcome message and my clock was set. Cool.

MSN Direct

You need to got to MSN direct to select channels to subscribe to, select your local city, as well as weather cities, stock alerts and news alerts.

Stock, News

Pretty basic, you set the stock alerts and News alerts you want. You can optionally chose Breaking news and you'll get important news. I found most of the functionality here pretty satisfactory. Stock alerts are cool, you get some history and high/low etc. However, on Tuesday my stock alerts stopped updating mid-day and I didn't get any updates till that evening (I had lousy signal on Tuesday, things got better when I called MSN and they told me to add a travel city).

The Stock alerts mean that I no longer need to look at the MSN Messenger Stock tab or receive SMS alerts to my phone which is great. News is marginally useful. You only get about 2 lines from the headline

Weather

The weather web UI isn't obvious at all. It took me a while to figure out what I actually needed to configure. I was also confused as to weather or not I would get local weather alerts for my work location (Mountain View) since it's not listed as a city. The granularity of the cities is no where near what any web based weather service offers. My closest choices were San Jose, or San Francisco. So I just stuck with San Francisco. Of course anyone that lives in San Francisco knows that the temperature difference between San Francisco and the Peninsula is like 20 degrees in the summer!

A neat weather feature though is that if you add visiting cities, you get the weather for the city you are closest to when you are there. This is good and bad. Since I am commuting back and forth now, I would sometimes like to see more detailed weather for the city I am not currently located in, but I can't. You need to view that weather in My Cities which just shows current conditions.

My Location

This is where you tell MSN where your home city is. Mine is San Francisco. You can add travel cities, and as I mentioned, I was unsure if I should do this since Mountain View is in the San Francisco map. So I didn't add any. The following day I found out from MSN Direct Customer service that I should add San Jose as a Travel city to improve my reception even though Mountain View isn't really that close to San Jose. And funny enough I can't select San Mateo at all as a city although I can set my home city to San Mateo in Weather. Again, some inconsistencies between the concept of location and weather alerts. I'm not sure why adding San Jose would improve my signal unless it some how told the watch to tune to different frequencies or different stations that have a stronger signal.

Coverage

Here is where I am greatly disappointed. You would think that coverage would be better than say my cell phone, cause it's FM and all and heck, I can listen to the radio almost anywhere. Well, unfortunately there are a lot of factors that contribute to your watch's ability to get data. For the first two days with my watch I found that coverage was poor. To make maters worse, the weather data gets nuked around midnight, so some mornings when I awake my watch doesn't pick up weather conditions till after I am well on my way to work. Things got better in the last two days though after adding my travel city for work. When I called and said I was getting no signal at work the customer service folk told me that there may be a building shadow etc etc. Well my office is a corner office with two windows and I'm as close to outside as you can get at Microsoft without walking outside. So if you can't get coverage in my office, I feel bad for the folks who don't get window offices, or who are stuck in a lab etc. Also Silicon Valley is mostly flat and our building is 2 stories… I should have no problems right?

Calendar

This is probably my favorite channel because it's got the best user experience. The reminder and notification experience is way better than Outlook + my Smartphone. You get a countdown till a meeting starts, a beep when it begins, and information about where it is. And best of all, you get information about how late you are ;-). As a Program Manager I spend about 2-4 hours of my day in meetings. I usually get up to go but then forget where it is. Or even worse, I forget to go to the meeting cause I'm not in my office. So for me the user experience is just perfect.

Right now you have to install a little add-in for Outlook and have it running to sync the appointments. I'm hoping that they get this wired up to Exchange directly like for my Smartphone.

Time

The last "channel" thing I will talk about. It's set to the Atomic Clock in the US which supposedly gives you the most accurate time. If you are used to setting your watch ahead or behind you can set an offset. Personally I like that I finally have a watch that is always set, unlike my other timepieces that are always wrong. I'm not crazy about many of the time faces, but there are at least two that I like.

Customer Service

I've called twice and a human has answered within 1 minute. Both individuals were helpful, courteous and pretty useful. They both answered my questions.

Battery Life

I've found it to be pretty good. I've been using it for 2 days w/o a charge and my watch is at 74%. The charging device is rather bulky but it uses induction, so there isn't a cable to insert which is cool! It's like my toothbrush.

Comfort & Size

The watch is larger than my old watch, but it's not huge like I thought. However, it's not comfortable. The granularity of the band size isn't small enough and the clasp is digging into my skin. Not cool.

Final Remarks

I dig the watch. It's added some incremental improvements to my life (not quite as dramatic as my Microsoft Smartphone). I think Traffic Alerts will bring more. The end to end experience is amazing for a v1 product. The team must have worked tirelessly to ensure such a smooth launch. The problems, warts, and small bugs will all be worked out, but for the $129 I spent I am really happy. Service is $59 a year, which sucks because I now have like 5 geek related subscriptions in my life and 3 of those are from Microsoft (Xbox Live, MSN Direct, MSN Internet Access). So I'm forking out about $130 to Microsoft a year in subscriptions… hmmm, then there is Netflix, Napster etc… and now Newsgator Subscription.


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