A color smartwatch whose screen is easy to read outdoors and whose battery doesn't die after a day of use? What a concept! Qualcomm's Mirsasol display technology, which enables the above feat, has finally found a home inside the Toq. This wearable companion for Android phones delivers messages, alerts, weather, stocks and more to your wrist -- for a steep $349. Is Qualcomm's Toq really more than a concept?
The Toq (pronounced "tock") has a broader face than your typical watch, but the watch portion is fairly thin because the battery is housed in the clasp. That's the good news. The bad news is that you literally need to cut the band to fit your wrist during the setup process. Then you insert the spring bar pin and attach the strap to the clasp. It's not that difficult (and there's a YouTube video) but we'd expect less effort for a $349 device. The Toq also doesn't support other watchbands, which means you're stuck with what's included.
On the plus side, we like the gritty textured finish on the Toq's band, and the two small half-circle cutouts above and below the watch face give this accessory a sleek look. The clasp itself is anything but sleek, though; it got in the way when typing on our MacBook Air. Another strike against the design: Undoing the clasp takes more effort than it should. You need to pry your fingernail underneath a small lip.
Weighing 3.2 ounces and measuring 1.7 x 1.8 x 0.4 inches, the Toq is more than twice as heavy as the Pebble (1.35 ounces, 2 x 1.2 x 0.4 inches) and it also weighs more than the SmartWatch 2 (1.7 ounces) and Galaxy Gear (2.6 ounces).
The Toq's major selling point is its 1.55-inch color Mirasol display, which is reflective so it's easily visible in direct sunlight. Provided you have enough ambient light, you don't need a backlight.
The fact that the Toq is always on is another plus, as you need to bring the Galaxy Gear toward your head just to tell the time. While testing the Toq on a sunny day in Palo Alto, we had no problem reading incoming alerts, the weather and more. And, unlike the Galaxy Gear's AMOLED screen, the Toq's Mirasol display isn't susceptible to glare.
To be clear, we're not talking about vibrant colors here, but the muted hues delivered by the Toq's screen are a step up from what you'll find on the monochrome Pebble. The underlying Mirasol technology pulls this off using a technique called interferometric modulation, which interferes with color wavelengths so that you see only the color intended.
The backlighting is fairly bright, but it's uneven. We noticed some bleeding on the outer edges of the watch face.
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No buttons here. Although the Toq has a touch screen, interacting with the watch starts with the Home Lock touch sensor integrated into the band located below the display. There's another touch sensor above the display that toggles the backlight. For the most part, these sensors were responsive, but sometimes we had to hit them more than once to activate, especially the backlight.
To switch between watch faces, you slide your finger to the left and right over the Clock Face Slider located on the watch face, but underneath the Toq logo. We're not sure why the touch screen couldn't be used to accomplish this task.
Once you're in the main menu, you'll see a grid of choices, including Comm Hub, Calendar, Music Player and Weather. As you scroll down, you'll see additional options, including Stocks, Status, Settings and Notifications. Tap any option to open that item.
Scroll to the left and you'll see the Music Player applet (the Toq can serve as a remote control for your smartphone), Weather, Calendar and Contacts. (You can always change the order of these applets using the Toq Android app.) While the touch screen UI proved smooth and responsive, we found having three ways to interact with this smartwatch -- sensors, slider and display -- confusing.
At the moment, Toq supports 14 clock styles, including the businesslike Bold and Calendar options, as well as a weather grid option that shows the current conditions and temperature. You'll also find more quirky options, like Gauge (which reminds of the old arcade game "Tempest") and the cryptic Ring. The Pebble, by contrast, has hundreds of options for download. At least for now, what you see out of the box is what you get with the Toq.
Toq Smartphone App
Available from the Google Play Store, the Qualcomm Toq app sports a clean and intuitive interface. Think thin, but with large fonts. On the main screen, you'll find a Getting Started section with a link to the setup video, and beneath that is a button to launch the Preference menu. This is where you'll spend the bulk of your time.
The Appearance section houses multiple clock styles, as well as various Icon Styles for the watch's menu screen. For instance, the Luminous option forgoes labels for things like Calendar and Weather and uses diagonal stripes for the background color.
The Favorite Applets menu lets you choose the order of the applets as they appear on the smartwatch. So, for instance, you could make the Calendar the first option you see when you scroll to the left on the watch, as opposed to Music. Unfortunately, making these kinds of alterations forces the Toq to reset itself, taking a total of 17 seconds. That's not terribly long, but it's annoying.
The Toq app does have some other things going for it. You can customize with Android apps will sync notifications with the watch, from Facebook and Twitter to Google Hangouts and Messages. However, you can't decide which recipients get priority.
Other features include the ability to create and edit quick replies, as well as change their order. You can also change the default music player, the location for the weather and add stocks to follow.
If you open Advanced Settings, you'll be able to customize everything from the clock timeout period to the backlight duration, as well as how many recent calls and texts to display (up to 40). You can also toggle the watch vibration if you find that your wrist is buzzing too much.
Alerts and Applets
At least for now, Qualcomm isn't offering an app store. That's a big strike against this device, given that the Pebble (100 apps), Sony Smartwatch 2 (300 apps) and Galaxy Gear (more than 60 apps) all have a market of some kind. You're essentially limited to the measly 8 options already onboard the Toq.
Don't expect to glean much from your alerts, either, as Gmail notifications show the sender, subject line and about 120 characters of text. On the Galaxy Gear, you can see more of your messages and even respond via S Voice (although it can be sluggish and inaccurate). Facebook notifications deliver even less info; you'll only be notified that a certain person has posted to your wall.
The Toq's Music applet is pretty bare-bones, allowing users to pause, skip or go back in a playlist. You can also raise and lower the volume, which can be convenient if your headphones don't have in-line controls. When we selected DoubleTwist as our default music player, the Toq displayed the artist and song, but it didn't do so when we choose Spotify.
The Communications Applet lets you place calls to contacts using your phone or send the same canned replies from your watch; there's no built-in speaker, so you'll need to use a Bluetooth headset or your smartphone itself to make calls. The Calendar app, predictably, shows upcoming appointments.
Third-party apps are limited to Weather and Stocks. Powered by E*Trade, the Stocks applet tells you how your companies are tracking for the day, while the AccuWeather applet only displays the current temperature, high and low and current conditions. The app is smart enough to tap into your location.
Thanks to its power-efficient Mirasol display, Qualcomm rates the Toq for multiple days of use on a charge. That's not very specific, but we can tell you that the smartwatch battery meter showed 48 percent juice left after nearly 2 days of frequent use. The Galaxy Gear is rated for about a day of usage, but the Sony Smartwatch 2 lasted about 3 days in our tests. The Pebble can last 5 to 7 days between charges. It takes about 2 hours to fully recharge.
When it's time to recharge your Toq, the included dock will make for a nice conversation starter. The clamshell design unfolds to reveal a pop-up holder stand for the smartwatch, which uses magnetic induction to deliver juice. (A microUSB cable plugs into the back of the entire accessory.) The right side of the dock will be able to accommodate Qualcomm's upcoming stereo Bluetooth earphones.
The $349 Toq succeeds on one level. It's a very nice showpiece for Qualcomm's Mirasol display technology. We could easily see the likes of Pebble or another smartwatch maker taking full advantage of this screen to add color without compromising battery life or outdoor readability. We also like the intuitive design of the companion Android app, although we wish the Toq worked with the iPhone, too.
Unfortunately, the Toq's functionality trails every other major smartwatch. Both the Pebble and Sony Smartwatch 2 offer lighter, water-resistant designs and much larger app selections for considerably lower prices, while the Galaxy Gear boasts voice capability and a built-in camera for $50 less than the Toq. If you don't want much more than alerts and a music remote on your wrist, the Toq may satisfy. But unless more developers come calling, we'd wait for Mirasol to find a home on another timepiece.