4/23/2015

VECTOR LUNA SMARTWATCH


There are very few startups innovating with phones. But the smartwatch market is different. Whether it’s the current interest that makes funding easier, or its close ties with the fashion industry — where small names can flourish — little firms with unique ideas are coming up with interesting, real products.
Vector is one of them. You may not know the name, but it has made quite a splash since its high profile smartwatch launch at the Baselworld watch fair in March. Why? Because it’s giving people what they want – long battery life. It’s not just a concept device with some eye-catching on-paper specs, either. The Vector smartwatch is a real product, and we got to try it out.


The headline-grabbing 30 days of use before recharging the battery is the minimum Vector expects its watch to return, and it’s an estimate based on heavy use, not a fictitious world of one notification every other day. It’s not a number influenced by the watch being turned off at night, either. How can we be so sure? Because it can’t be turned off at all. The Vector is a true, always-on smartwatch. As CEO Joe Santana said during our hands-on time with the device, “it’s not a watch if it doesn’t always show the time.”

Subtle and unobtrusive notifications

He wore the circular watch, called Luna, during the first minutes of our meeting, and it was difficult to tell it was a smartwatch at all. The body is made from stainless steel, and is waterproof, while the strap — not a final design — is made from pliant silicone, and was very comfortable. Vector branding is all over the watch, from the buckle to the underside of the strap, and below the display. It’s surprisingly weighty, but it’s a pleasing heft, and didn’t feel ungainly when strapped to the wrist. It felt like a quality timepiece.

You may be expecting a massive battery inside the Vector to return that standby time. The actual capacity’s a secret, but it’s smaller than the 410mAh cell inside the LG G Watch R. The other reason the Vector is a smartwatch-in-disguise is the operating system. It’ll deliver all the usual notifications, calendar reminders, and fitness tracking data, but it does so with the minimum of intrusion.

Message alerts show up around the edge of the circular screen, and it’s so subtle, any onlooker would be hard pressed to notice it at all. The wearer knows thanks to a vibration, and when the watch is turned and raised in a way that indicates you’re looking at it, the message shows up on screen, keeping everything private, low-key, and unobtrusive. There are three buttons on the side of the watch. The center button changes the display depending on the watch face, while the others are for scrolling through different messages. It’s very similar to Pebble’s layout.

No touchscreen, always-on display

The display is monochrome, and is surrounded by a relatively large bezel. It’s apparently the sharpest screen of its type on the market, but the watch hands are quite jagged. It doesn’t make anything unreadable, and isn’t a problem when the watch is seen from a distance, but up close it’ll disappoint anyone used to seeing a fancy full-color watch, like a Moto 360.

However, while putting on an Android Wear watch feels like wearing a piece of technology, putting the Vector on feels like wearing a watch, and that’s a good thing. There’s no touchscreen, no big twisty button on the side, and no proprietary strap. It’s comfortable, properly weighted, and has a classic design. In a way, it’s the anti-smartwatch smartwatch.
It still has the tech inside though, or rather, inside an app on your smartphone. Custom built by Vector, just like the OS on the watch itself, it’s beautifully presented and simple to operate. It shows everything from how much battery power is left to more in-depth fitness and sleep tracking data, plus there is an app store for watch faces. Vector expects to have 50 faces available at launch, including some that perform different functions. Nest has already contributed an app, for example.
Vector Watch phone scale Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
Vector’s fully aware how important developer support will be to the watch’s success, so it will offer both free and pay apps, and plans to hold special launch events in various cities around the world to build awareness. It’s only the beginning for Vector, which has some big plans for the future, particularly in the field of battery life, screen sharpness, and the continued evolution of its operating system.

The smart person’s choice?

Many smartwatches launched today are complicated and confusing, offering plenty of functions but few real benefits. The Vector strips the smartwatch down, even taking away an on/off feature, leaving us with what operates and looks like a regular, normal watch — just with the notifications and app functionality that should be at the heart of a smart device. It’s even priced sensibly. The rectangular-faced Meridian will start at $200 when it goes in sale towards the end of summer this year. The circular Luna you see here is $350.

Pebble was once a notification device before it got bogged down with games, apps, and everything else. The Apple Watch is shockingly expensive, restrictive, and undeniably a piece of technology before it’s a watch. The Vector fits somewhere in-between. It’s shaping up to be the mature choice, for someone who wants the convenience of a smartwatch without the inconvenience of endless charging.

Highs:

Long lasting battery
Classic style
Always on (No power button)
iOS/Android compatibility
Slick companion app

Lows:

Limited developer support
Low-res screen