Strap it on and you’ve got names, addresses, phone numbers, memos and appointments — to go. That’s the concept behind Fossil’s new Wrist PDA ($145), a hybrid PDA/watch that’s compatible with Palm handhelds (there’s also a Pocket PC model).
It’s not a new idea. Timex and Casio have previously walked the same path, with limited success. Several other manufacturers, including Samsung and IBM, in conjunction with Citizen, are also currently working on wearable PDA-like devices. Problem is, while the idea of data close at hand may be interesting, the implementation of the Fossil Wrist PDA simply leaves a lot to be desired.
Data close at hand
The Fossil Wrist PDA is an attractive gadget, albeit a tad bulky. Its smooth lines and integrated black wristband offer a comfortable fit.
It has a 1.3-inch, 102 pixels by 64 pixels monochrome display, with a backlight for use in dark and low-light conditions. It displays either three menu items or up to five lines of data at a time, in clear, easy-to-read text. For navigating the menus and data fields there’s a small five-way navigation pad and two action buttons, one for returning to the home screen and the other to toggle through menus or go back to the previous page. While the buttons are "thumb capable" and attractive, they must be pressed directly in the middle to activate.
The Wrist PDA is powered by two 3-volt lithium coin batteries (about $5 a pair), which are inserted into the back of the device. Our watch cames with eight batteries, which made us a little uncomfortable. However, according to Fossil, they’ll last between six weeks and three months, depending on how much you use the watch. Another cool thing about the Wrist PDA is that it is water resistant to 30 meters, which means that you can get caught in a downpour and not worry about it.
Overall it’s an eye-catching device at first glance, but did we mention that it’s bulky?
It’s beam or nothing
The most glaring issue with the Wrist PDA is that there’s only one way to get information into it: beam it from a Palm Powered device. This has several significant repercussions. For one thing, it means that you must already own a Palm handheld. The only way to load up your Wrist PDA with your contacts and calendar data is by using infrared to beam that information from your current Palm handheld — there’s no desktop synchronization mechanism.
But there’s another practical limitation to this "beam only" approach. Sure, it works great for exchanging electronic business cards with other handheld owners (the watch allows you to store up to 20 cards in its memory), but what about the colleagues you encounter who either don’t have Palm handhelds or don’t have their PDA’s with them. You’re now back to swapping paper business cards since there’s no alternate method for entering even a name and a phone number.
So, if you were thinking that the Fossil Wrist PDA might be a nice gift for someone who doesn’t currently own a handheld but wants to replace their paper-based planner with something electronic, think again.
Now, if you’re an owner of one of the 20 million Palm Powered devices out there and still think this is a cool idea, despite the "beam only" limitation, here are some other caveats.
First, it’s slow. There’s a noticeable delay when scrolling between days in the Date Book, sometimes up to ten seconds. Whether this is due to an underpowered processor (it uses an 8-bit Epson processor), the overall electronics of the device, or its software (no, it doesn’t actually run Palm OS, it’s just compatible with it) is anyone’s guess, but it’s certainly slower that accessing data from your typical handheld.
Second, it’s got limited memory. The Fossil Wrist PDA has 190KB of available memory, which enables you to store a maximum of any one of the following items: 1,100 contacts, 800 appointments, 5000 to do’s and 350 memos. This may or may not be an issue for you, it all depends on how much data you’ll need to house on your wrist.
The good news is that the Wrist PDA’s Address function supports two phone, two fax, and two other contact numbers, and an email address, as well as notes. And the Date Book supports daily, weekly, and monthly views, plus repeating appointments, complete with alarms.
Finally, it’s bulky. Even compared to a multi-purpose sports watch, such as the Timex Ironman Triathalon pictured below, it’s large, measuring nearly 2 inches square and more than a half-inch thick. In our independent weighings, the Fossil Wrist PDA tipped the scale at 3.0 ounces, while the Timex weighed 1.8 ounces.
(left to right) Timex’s Ironman Triathalon Speed + Distance, Fossil’s Wrist PDA and Peugeot watch (for size reference)
There are several shortcomings to the Fossil Wrist PDA, from the inability to enter data into it (except via IR) to its sluggishness retrieving data. While this is an excellent first step for Fossil, we’ll wait for the next iteration.
Oh, and did we mention it was bulky?