Review: Qualcomm Toq Smartwatch
December 31st, 2013
I’ve written about a number of smartwatches over the years, but the Qualcomm Toq is the first one I’ve had any extended period of time with. The Toq differentiates itself from other smartwatches through the use of Qualcomm’s proprietary Mirasol display, which provides ease of reading in daylight conditions, and minimizes battery use.
So why would you want a smartwatch? Well, in the case of the Toq, you’ll be able to receive text messages and notifications, check weather and stocks, and control music playback from your wrist without ever taking your phone out of your pocket. Sure, those are decidedly first-world problems, but once you get used to it, it’s rather nice to be able to have this sort of information available at a glance – especially if you’re driving, or involved in another activity.
While it contains quite a bit of technology, the watch itself is rather unassuming – with a slim 9.96mm thick case and matching rubberized band. Part of how Qualcomm kept the watch as slim as conventional timepieces was to move the battery to the other side of the watchband. This makes the clasp a little bit larger than I’d like but it’s a reasonable tradeoff for providing extended battery life and keeping the watch itself comfortable to wear.
When first setting up the Toq, you’ll need to adjust the band to your wrist size, then cut off any excess with scissors before placing the pin in the clasp. This setup means the Toq is customized to your wrist size, but it also means you won’t be able to resell or give the watch to someone with a larger wrist down the road. Also, since the band contains wiring for the battery and the battery itself is in the clasp, you can’t swap it with a band of your choice. I find this to be a minor inconvenience, as I like the style and comfort of the included band.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Toq is its transflective Mirasol display, and this is the first gadget to really show it off. The always-on display is easy to read in bright sunlight, but also offers backlighting for indoors and dark environments. I found the display to work best in under bright or directional light, whereas in low levels of ambient light, you might have to use the backlight momentarily. Though angling the watch can help you capture extra light in dim rooms. Here’s a look at the display with the backlight on.
While it is a color display, colors are somewhat muted, not vivid like you might find on an OLED or LED/LCD screen. That said, the Mirasol is much easier on the eyes in daylight, plus battery life is better. Unlike e-Paper displays, the Mirasol screen refreshes almost instantaneously, though I’m not sure you’d want to watch video on one. For those of you interested in understanding more about how Mirasol’s display technology works, head here.
Once the watch is on your wrist, you simply install the Qualcomm Toq application on your Android smartphone, and pair the Toq via Bluetooth. The Toq is currently only compatible with Android devices, and requires Android 4.0.3 or greater. I’m hopeful that iPhone compatibility will come at some point, though Qualcomm clearly has a deep investment in the Android hardware business, so I’m not holding my breath.
In the Toq application, you can send firmware updates to your phone, download new watch faces, icon sets, and arrange your favorite apps. The application also allows you to configure what applications send notifications to your watch, what calendars to sync up, which cities you get weather for, and what stocks to watch. One really nice thing about updates is that they’re done automatically, and wirelessly.
Having the ability to switch watch faces is kind of fun, and you can choose from a variety of artistic, typographic and functional displays. For my usage, I prefer the display which provide time, date and weather at a glance, but there’s also a display which shows a stock of your choice. To switch watch faces, you simply swipe your finger across the bottom of the watch face.
In addition to having a touch-sensitive display, there are areas on the watch band itself which provide touch-based interaction. Tapping the spot immediately above the display twice activates the display’s backlight, and tapping the area below the screen brings up the menu so you can select apps, check battery status and configure settings.
With a connection established between watch and phone, you will immediately start receiving text messages and other notifications on your wrist. In addition, any time the phone rings, you’ll get alerted, along with caller ID information and the ability to answer or ignore the call. All alerts are silent, but are accompanied by vibration by default. Assuming you’re wearing a Bluetooth headset, or connected to Bluetooth hands-free in your car, you can take the call then and there. Just keep in mind that the Toq doesn’t act as a speaker or microphone itself, but Qualcomm is offering companion headsets as an accessory.
Text messages work well, and you can even reply to messages with one of a number of canned responses you’ve stored ahead of time using the Toq smartphone app. You can also check your calendar from your wrist, and Qualcomm’s simple and clean interface makes it easy to scroll through your calendar by swiping up or down on the screen. However, it only seems to display calendar entries for the current day and tomorrow, so it’s not a full-fledged calendar.
In addition to the notification and calendar applications, there’s a weather app which gets its data from AccuWeather. The app lets you quickly scroll through current weather for multiple cities of your choice. The app is very basic though, providing only current temperature as well as the day’s low and high forecast. I’d really like to be able to drill in and get a forecast too.
There’s also a stocks application, which provides at-a-glance stock market data from E-Trade. Again, it’s quite basic, providing the current stock price, and the day’s change in points and percentage. Again, it would be nice to have access to more details, like business news or share history graphs, but for a quick update on stock values, the app does what it needs to.
Last, but not least, there’s the music app, which allows you to quickly see artist and title information for your currently playing music, as well as play/pause, track skip and volume controls. This is very handy if you happen to be wearing headphones and want to change tracks or see the name of an track without pulling the phone out of your pocket. The music app works with either the standard media player on your phone, or with DoubleTwist. I’d love to see Pandora or Spotify support at some point.
Charging up the Toq is about as simple as it gets. Just pop open the included charging case, flip up the charger panel, and set the watch over it. The watch charges wirelessly in just a couple of hours, and in my experience, you should be able to get between four and five full days of usage between charges. I found myself charging the Toq far less frequently than my HTC One phone. Those orange bins on the right of the charger are designed for charging up Qualcomm’s optional wireless headphones.
The wireless charging makes it as simple as setting your watch on the nightstand while you sleep and it’ll be ready for use when you wake up. Still, I’m a little surprised Qualcomm went with Bluetooth 3.0 instead of Bluetooth 4.0 wireless communications, as the latter would likely cut down on power consumption even more.
The Qualcomm Toq retails for $349.99(USD), making it one of the more expensive smartwatches on the market today. Overall, I’m happy with the basic functionality of the Toq, though I would like to see a larger app catalog, and more depth to the included apps. It’s most useful for at-a-glance access to notifications, calendar events, checking stocks and weather, and works fine for controlling music tracks. That said, I wish it offered some sports and activity monitoring, and chronograph functionality to round things out. Battery life is better than I expected, and the display is quite good – especially if you spend the majority of your time in well-lit environments.
The Toq is a solid first effort for a first-party Qualcomm device, and a strong demonstration platform for their Mirasol displays. I just wish it did a little bit more for the price.