A Year with Fossil’s Tech Watches — Part 2

by Reads (13,970)

This is Part II of this review. Part I should be read first.

Switching to Wrist Net

Prices dropped on the Abacus Wrist Net (Abacus is a subsidiary brand of Fossil) in mid-Summer, so I was able to buy one of those to give the other side a try. I didn’t think it was possible, but it was an even better experience than the Wrist PDA. It was lighter for one. Its band was a little fatter, with an odd latch mechanism, but the face was smaller, and looked less out of place on my slim wrist.

I found the watch faces on the Wrist Net watch to be more inspired and complete than the faces on the Wrist PDA. Most of the Wrist PDA’s built-in faces don’t take advantage of the larger screen area to convey the basic data a watch should: Time, Date, and Day. And Fossil never produced any alternate faces. Microsoft, on the other hand, produces new faces periodically to match the seasons. You just go online and select the two custom watch faces you want to add to the built-in set, and in a matter of hours the FM network delivers them to your watch.

Wrist Net Watch The service is administered entirely by the user through a special MSN online interface, allowing you to pick what channels you want to receive, down to the type of news, what specific stocks, and what local and regional weather you want to display. Just as I had with my Wrist PDA, the Wrist Net gives me news, sports, weather, and even the local movie times. Unfortunately, the news is more WAP-like, in that it’s only a few short 20-word stories. Where it excels is when it delivers and alerts you to important news as it happens, something the Wrist PDA can’t do. I especially like that the Wrist Net watch is continuously and quietly downloading the latest daily news and information so that when I do have time to look at it, I get the most up-to-date info available without having to think or sync. And the time is synced via FM-band as well, eliminating that worry.

Shortly after I activated my watch, MSN launched a new feature that would also prove valuable to my medically-mad year: the Traffic channel. Available in most major metro areas, this new feature allows you to bring up a map of your local freeway routes on direct.msn.com and pick which six problem areas you want to have sent to your Wrist Net watch. More often than I can count this channel has allowed me to plan departure times for important appointments, and choose alternate routes when I had to be somewhere in a hurry. The graphic that appears on the watch actually tells you which lanes are moving at a given speed, and whether they’re trending faster or slower over the previous few minutes. It actually made me feel empowered in a way that’s tough to give up. I don’t commute more than a few minutes most days, but that only makes this channel more valuable; while regular commuters would have a ready strategy based on experience, I can turn to my watch to help me build one on the fly.

You can actually add more personal functionality to the Wrist Net watch than I experienced by paying $20 more per year and activating Microsoft Outlook Calendar Sync. Those with your watch’s personal message address can even send you short messages with the enhanced account, straight to your watch. I didn’t try this, unfortunately, preferring to calendar and sync to my Mac these days.

Needless to say, I was extremely pleased with the Wrist Net and Microsoft’s MSN Direct service. I do wish they were more proactive at coming up with new features and watch faces more often, but at least they’ve been consistent, and the service has never failed to deliver timely information.

I should also mention that the charging base for the Wrist Net watch is superior to the Wrist PDA’s USB charging method. You just close the wristband clasp (so that the watch can continue receiving information while it charges) and set it on the base. All charging is done inductively with no physical electrical contacts. Excellent.

Wrist PDA Revisited

Prices dropped again with the falling leaves, this time on the Abacus Wrist PDA, so I bought one of those from Amazon.com for $50. Crazy. What a difference; not only in price, but in weight. The Abacus version sheds 20 grams of stainless steel compared to the Fossil version, which is enough to chase the pain away. I’m also happier with the nylon/leather combo band on the Abacus, while the Fossil wristband was too stiff and absorbed too much moisture.

Fossil Wrist PDA It was with the Abacus Wrist PDA that I realized the true potential of having a Palm OS device on my wrist. I’m actually carrying most of the same programs and data with me that I’d carried on the Fossil version, but several programmers have worked to enhance just a few key aspects of the Wrist PDA to make it more useful.

The truth is, while the Wrist PDA is a decent PDA, it’s really not the best watch as it comes out of the box. It’s not that accurate without regular synchronization, and the alarms are practically inaudible. Worse, they sometimes go off late, or not at all. I’ve pressed the toggle in (which is how you wake the Wrist PDA into Palm OS mode) to be greeted by an alarm that should have gone off hours before.

If you dig online, you can find a few new watch faces for the Wrist PDA, and I recently found two that I love. One is called Doomsday, by David Zimmerman. It is so called because it uses the Doomsday algorithm to calculate the days of the year (not because it counts down to the end of the world). It features the date and time quite large, with a big battery indicator above the month and year, and still manages to beautifully cram a full month calendar that highlights the current date. At the very least, this is the vital information a computer watch should provide. Currently, this freeware watch face doesn’t support alarms, so though you can still set them on the Wrist PDA, they won’t sound off until you press the toggle to wake up the Palm OS. As bad as the buzzer on the Wrist PDA is, it’s no great loss.

However, there is another watch face that I like. It’s an inexpensive shareware app called Yotta, and it too features more information, this time integrating the PDA’s upcoming appointments and tasks along with the important time and battery status information. Better, it not only supports alarms, it uses different sounds from the default Palm OS fare, which somehow manage to stand out better. It can be made to chime on the hour as well. Best of all, you can use the toggle to see more information from your PDA without leaving the battery-saving “sleep” mode. Toggle up and you see a full-screen calendar display. Toggle down and you see a comprehensive listing of your upcoming appointments and To-Do items. This has to be the best Wrist PDA-specific enhancement to come along since the device was conceived.

Users on the Yahoo Wrist PDA with Palm OS Group have gathered a good set of photographs and a community of owners that continue to enhance the product and help each other with solutions. Though you can’t send and receive email with the Wrist PDA out of the box, you can find the software to make it happen, as well as applications to program your own watch faces and photos of modifications others have made to their watches.

Sadly, these enhancements come long after production of the smallest-ever Palm OS device has ceased. Had the Wrist PDA shipped a year or two earlier, the developer community would have embraced it sooner and programs like these might have saved it.

Fossil’s Palm OS Wrist PDA was an amazing first effort. Fossil managed to shrink what had previously filled the hand into something that fit comfortably on the wrist, shrinking it to less than one-fifth the size. To succeed it needs a second or third revision. But with current software being written for a new breed of processors, the Palm OS on an unsure course toward a Linux kernel, and current Wrist PDAs selling at less than a third of the original price, that doesn’t seem likely. Re-ramping development and production on a new device would take hundreds of thousands of dollars when they likely never reaped a profit on the initial investment.

Quandaries

As for me, I’m torn. Because the Abacus version of the Wrist PDA is more compatible with my arm it has earned a near-permanent place on my left wrist. But I miss the timely news and information delivered wirelessly to my Wrist Net watch. I do have another wrist, but I haven’t yet gone more than a few minutes with one on each wrist. I just feel too silly. But if I wear the Wrist Net alone, I miss the ready access to the Palm data that I rely on constantly.

I couldn’t end my conversation with Bill Geiser without expressing my wish that the two technologies be melded together into one watch. A Palm OS wristwatch that receives MSN’s FM data feed would not only solve my quandary and save my pride, it would make the watch more compelling.

But the writing’s on the wall, and I don’t have to be in the lion’s den to read it to you. If you were ever interested in the idea of a PDA on your wrist, this may be your last chance to get one with a proven OS that will run thousands of readily-available programs.

Amazon is the only place that has the Fossil Wrist PDA at a reasonable price, and that seems to fluctuate. TigerDirect carries the Abacus version. eBay also lists quite a few Wrist PDAs.

If you lean more toward news and information, I can heartily recommend the Abacus or Fossil Wrist Net models, old or new. They keep great time, and deliver a whole lot more for a small annual fee.

Though I’m a big fan of analog watches, I don’t know if I’ll ever own another “dumb” watch again. The wrist is a natural place to keep important data, and I hope Fossil Tech has another cool data watch I can put up my sleeve.

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