BARCELONA — As soon as I heard that Chinese smartphone maker Nubia was unveiling a “wearable phone,” otherwise known as a smartwatch, at Mobile World Congress, I knew I had to see what the company behind the Red Magic Mars gaming phone had up its sleeve.
Nubia’s Alpha is a pricey smartwatch with a 4-inch-long flexible OLED display and stainless steel link bracelet, and it’s the weirdest wearable I’ve seen in quite some time. Trying on this smartwatch is like driving past the scene of a crime. You want to look away, but you just can’t.
What you get
To start, this thing weighs an absolute ton. Nubia has packed everything but the kitchen sink into the Alpha, starting with the always-on, water-resistant 960 x 192 OLED display. There are two crowns on the right side of the stainless steel case, which was both longer and wider than my wristbone has ever dreamed of being. The display didn’t even curve around my arm because of the massive case, though I was able to test its bendiness by, uh, bending it. Repeatedly.
Then there’s built-in GPS, a heart rate sensor, 500 mAh battery (which claims to deliver two days on a charge), a Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip (which is so two years ago), 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, a 5-megapixel camera lens and eSIM technology for connecting the Alpha to a cellular network. And that’s before we get to the proximity sensor to the left of the watch face, which is used to recognize hand gestures for swiping and pinching your way around the watch’s many menus.
Perhaps Nubia will fine-tune the gesture recognition when the device starts shipping in China this April, but I found it consistently finnicky. In my hands-on time with the device, the sensor always recognized my swipes left and right, but almost rarely acknowledged swipes up and down. A gesture-driven interface isn’t any easier than actually touching the watch screen — especially when it’s only occasionally functional.
Like many other smartwatches on the market today, Nubia will offer a cellular model. Perhaps that’s why the company call it a “wearable phone,” which is a silly term that should be retired immediately. Nevertheless, cellular connectivity enables all the usual features: untethered phone calls, mapping, text messages and more.
Back to that camera lens. There’s a reason that most smartwatches don’t have built-in cameras, and that’s because it’s extremely awkward to photograph anything but your own face from that angle. I tried it with Nubia’s Alpha, and it’s...weird. Inspector Gadget come to life? Yes. But...weird.
Pricing and availability
With all of the features it offers, the Alpha is expectedly expensive. The Bluetooth model is €449 and goes on sale in China in April, with a European launch a short while after and a North American launch slated for the fourth quarter of 2019.
The cellular model will launch first on China’s Unicom network in April and in Europe and North America later this year. The black stainless steel 4G model will be €549 and the 18-karat gold-plated stainless steel cellular option will be €649.
Nubia Alpha is a perplexing device. It’s futuristic, there’s no doubt about it. A display that wraps around the wrist is truly wild. But I have to wonder: Why would I need a screen to extend around my wrist when there’s only one area that’s viewable unless I contort my wrist in such a way that it’s uncomfortable?
The Alpha is a solution in search of a problem. We don’t need bigger smartwatch hardware. We need better smartwatch software.
Credits: Tom's Guide