(Pocket-lint) - Qualcomm has a smartwatch, and it’s called Toq. As in tick tock. It’s a nifty little wearable that serves as a companion device to an Android smartphone, and if you're based in the US you can purchase it right now should you so desire.
But there is one catch: the Toq isn’t really a true consumer product. It's more of a showcase for Qualcomm’s Mirasol display - a technology that the company developed and is looking to have other manufacturers use in their products.
Qualcomm, at its heart, isn’t a device maker. It ended that dream about 15 years ago, when it sold a cellphone business to Kyocera. With this in mind, we have come to think of Toq as a reference design or a prototype. It’s a first-generation smartwatch that’s about as bare bones as you can get, and it’s somehow more expensive than the other - and better - competition out there. And even most of those aren't that good at all.
That said, if you’re still interested in what this wrist-based wearable has to offer, or if you simply want to see what kind of display future smartwatches might have, then keep reading because that's what the Toq is all about. It's an interesting device, and it’s definitely worth paying attention to as the wearable space continues to grow and, we should hope, improve. Is the Toq a ticking time-bomb of wonderment or a hollow showcase of technology-to-be and nothing more?
First thing’s first: Mirasol isn’t new. This display technology has been considered a potential E-Ink successor for years, because it's a capacitive touchscreen technology with a superb refresh rate. It also uses practically no power compared to fancy LCD or OLED displays which bodes well for extended battery life.
Considered as an E-Ink successor we definitely enjoyed the Toq's 1.55-inch 288 x 192 pixel display. At the same time it also felt a little dated and made us yearn at times for something more crisp and smartphone-like. Perhaps that's why Mirasol has yet to find a home.
Add to that the technology’s limited colour range - it's just a step above E-Ink, really - which is capable at showing most colours, but that's broadly speaking. Every colour appears somewhat half-mast, so to speak, and lacks the true vibrancy or range of the screen's we're more used to in smartphones and other devices.
It's not an essential to have a full-colour display to use a smartwatch effectively, though, and plenty of the competition have gone down this route - just look at the Sony SmartWatch 2 or Pebble and you'll see what we mean. Toq is trying to tick ahead in this department, so we have to appreciate it from that point of view. As it's a wearable device that you’re only supposed to glance at occasionally and complement rather than replace a smartphone it makes sense to opt for the less battery-intensive solution.
READ: Pebble review
The one good thing about an E-Ink-like display with crystal-clear quality and bland colours is that it works in all sorts of lighting conditions: cloudy days, bright days, at night - you name it. The display lights up perfectly, making everything bright and easy to read. Our eyeballs felt no strain whatsoever.
The Toq is one heavy smartwatch. Let’s be real: it’s nowhere near like wearing a bag of flour on your wrist, but at 91g it’s much beefier than both the Pebble and Galaxy Gear. We found it awkward to wear most of the time, to be frank.
The Toq is also ugly in our view. We were very aware that we had a massive black chunk attached to our arm. We were even more aware when doing things like typing because it kept rubbing and scratching against our aluminium MacBook Pro, and, um, that’s a definite no-no. We had to take it off when working and that meant we couldn’t use it for like ten hours a day (yes, we have no life).
Another area where the Toq doesn’t win us over is with its ease of use. It's not hard to use, per se, but there are no physical buttons around the watch face. Instead Qualcomm has put sensors into the strap, right above and below the Toq's display, that enable you do things like double tap above to kick on the display’s backlight or single tap below to access the main menu.
There’s even a silver bar at the bottom of the Toq’s display used to toggle watch faces, and then you can also use the Toq's touchscreen to navigate. The touchscreen part always worked, but the sensors did not as we usually had to tap multiple times to complete actions. This was both annoying and tedious, especially if you have no patience.
We found ourselves really wanting physical buttons, like the Pebble offers, but this lacking was nothing compared to that big, cumbersome, and non-transferable watch strap.
Scissors not included
The Toq has two rubber straps on both sides with a bulky metal clasp that connects the two. When you first remove the Toq from its box you'll have to custom-fit the strap to your wrist by cutting off any excess strap. How? With a pair of scissors. No joke. Qualcomm provides a "Fitting your Qualcomm Toq" video tutorial on how to do this, though it’s a still a complete pain to have to do.
We, for one, have trouble working with one hand, because, after all, one hand was wearing the Toq and acting useless as our other hand made the manual adjustments. And the scary thing is you only get one shot. So, don’t guess and snip, snip, snip away. You have one strap and once chance to get it right.
Considering the Toq costs $349 in the US - it's not available in the UK - you more than likely don’t want to throw that money out the window due to a cutting mistake. That said, we did everything right the first time and got the Toq to fit nicely. However, we couldn’t let others try the watch, mostly because their wrists wouldn’t fit after we customised the strap. That makes the Toq hard to show off or even sell on. Bummer.
The strap's metal clasp is also annoying for people with long nails. This obviously isn't a concern for all, but given that we can put a normal watch on no problems, the Toq just highlighted how much more fiddly it is to put on and take off. And finally - the real clincher - is that the watch strap just isn't very comfortable. It's stiff and impossible to swivel around your wrist if you cut it too snugly.
Although a lot of the hardware points were touched upon above, there are a few other things worth mentioning.
For instance: the Toq comes with a wireless charging stand. You can place the watch on it and power up wirelessly - as the name obviously suggests - although the accessory needs to be plugged into an power socket.
Because Qualcomm is using its WiPower LE standard here, which is like magnetic-resonance charging, the Toq charges super-fast. We went from 16 per cent to 98 per cent in about 75 minutes. Also, the charge lasted about six days with moderate use which is impressive.
The Toq doesn’t have GPS capability built-in though, nor is there Wi-Fi or 3G or LTE connectivity. And it doesn't use the latest version of Bluetooth either. All of this makes the Toq very limited, mostly because app developers can’t make apps for products with non-existent hardware.
Unlike the Samsung Galaxy Gear, the Qualcomm Toq has no camera. Zip. Nada. This really takes the potential fun factor away and highlights how devices such as the Gear are more enticing.
Setup & pairing
The Toq is compatible with any smartphone running Android 4.0.3 or higher. We paired the Toq with a Moto X via Bluetooth.
To do this we also needed to download the free Toq smartphone app from the Google Play Store. The app has preference options for switching watch faces, customising watch menus, and managing notifications and applets. We found this app easy to figure out, and it streamlined the Toq setup process.
There are just a few watch face options - one, for instance, displays the temperature and the time, while others put stock information or calendar stuff up front - which can be toggled through via the silver bar at the bottom of the watch.
Once we got the setup process finished the Toq immediately started vibrating. It notified us of new texts, emails, Twitter mentions, and more. The Toq doesn’t use apps though, so there's no software app store, instead it uses applets which are like minimal apps with minimal functionality.
Among these we really liked being able to respond to texts by choosing from a list of quick default replies. This is a star feature for the Toq, considering it doesn't have many input options. You can also input and save your own default replies within the Toq app.
The Toq also comes with a communications hub, calendar (through Google Calendar), music centre for controlling music on your smartphone, a stock applet, and, well not much else upon launch. It took an update to deliver an Activity applet to monitors your movements over a 24-hour period, positioning Qualcomm in the tech-fitness market a little more.
The Activity applet awards points based on your activity level, and eventually logs all this data. In the end, you can see your daily point totals in an ongoing history file on the screen. It’s handy and makes the Toq much more useful to people addicted to their Nike+ FuelBands and such, but we'd still rather wear a Nike device because it's less of a visual eyesore.
Toq also serves up notifications on weather information, battery life, Bluetooth connection status and such like. Notifications arrive via your Android phone which means your phone and the Toq will get the same notifications, and you will have to deal with duplicates all day, everyday. Most Toq-based notifications are just previews that won’t let you take action - essentially making the Toq more glanceable than interactive. While most notifications were useful, reading an email notification preview seemed cumbersome, almost claustrophobic on this screen size.
Another downside to the Toq is that it doesn’t support voice commands. If there’s an incoming call you can ignore or answer it, but you’ll need to use your phone or a Bluetooth headset to talk. This is where the Toq really loses out to Galaxy Gear once again. It’s also annoying because the Toq has no native keyboard.
In short the Toq is pretty much just a push-notification gadget; a glanceable screen device. You can receive information all day, but you can’t do anything about that information apart from the Quick Reply function within the Text applet.
The Qualcomm Toq has way too many cons to be considered a finished product. Primarily it's not very pretty for something that's designed to be worn and therefore seen at all times.
It also doesn't have much in the way of hardware, there aren't many applets, notifications are handy but limited due to duplication on paired device, and connectivity is limited. You get the picture, the list goes on.
Toq is really just a demonstration product for Mirasol. It's a way for Qualcomm to show us what smartwatch displays could look like in the future and the tech that, in some respects, puts the device ahead of the competition. Even though the screen's refresh rate is comparable to an LCD screen, the muted colours are a little underwhelming. The benefit of the tech comes from the visibility of the screen and longevity of a charge: with around six days use it's a step ahead of some of the competition in this department. There's potential here.
But the big stake in the heart is the price point. Why would you pay so much for such a display when you could get the cheaper and more feature-rich Samsung Galaxy Gear or Kickstarter-darling Pebble for less? And those are just two alternative smartwatches. The market is brimming with new, affordable, and approaching-exciting wearables with the promise of yet more to come.
Qualcomm has done something different here, but it just doesn't feel ready or like a complete consumer device should. For now we say save your money. It's probably only a matter of time before Qualcomm offloads the Toq or Mirasol technology anyway. Then this showcase might flower into something of far greater interest.