Polish startup uBirds is seeking funding on Kickstarter for Unique, a discrete, handmade, and highly customizable "smart strap" that can fit nearly any wrist-worn timepiece and add smartwatch-like functions to it. Where similar products have gone all-out in the features department, arguably at the cost of style and comfort, the approach for Unique is to blend in through a minimal footprint and a barebones, single-LED interface.
Even though smartwatches of late are not as bulky and gimmicky as they used to be, those who own and appreciate a high-end wrist watch will almost surely find most smartwatches a step back in look and feel over their treasured timepiece. And yet, smartwatches offer functionality that traditional watches can't.
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A number of "smart straps" have tried to marry function and style by adding smartwatch-like features to a regular watch, but results have been mixed at best. The angle has ranged from using extra displays for your inner wrist, to adding components that either try to blend with the strap or are tucked behind it. The unfortunate truth, however, is that none of these approaches will go easily unnoticed and can look out of place on your wrist, even more so when paired with a good watch. At first glance, they also don't give the impression of being particularly comfortable to wear throughout the day.
The Unique strap sports a limited feature set compared to other smart bands: it has no second screen, and despite this battery life is still somewhat disappointing (reportedly two to three days, compared to one week from some of its competitors). Its real strength, though, is that it blows away the competition in terms of both elegance and discreteness, managing to pack a host of useful functions in a very tight space without turning into an unnecessarily flashy gadget.
A hand-made leather strap encases a number of sensors including an accelerometer, actuators, a multi-color LED, a programmable NFC tag, and a small inductively-charged battery to offer functions like notification handling, activity monitoring, gesture-enabled call rejection and a phone loss prevention feature that makes the watch vibrate if it thinks you've accidentally left your phone behind. All of this is achieved in a band that, according to uBirds and the images we've seen, is only slightly bigger than your standard "dumb" leather strap.
Unique connects to iOS or Android devices via Bluetooth, and users can configure the strap's functionality through a free app. uBirds lists options including programming the NFC tag with your business card or gym membership, setting up gestures for functions like rejecting a call or sending a prewritten text, monitoring physical activity (the band stores up to five days of accelerometer data before syncing) and tracking fitness goals.
With regard to notifications handling, which is probably one of the most common uses of a smartwatch, uBirds tells us you will be able to choose exactly which notifications are sent to the strap, so you can filter out the noise. You'll also get to pick a different LED color, frequency of flashing and lighting intensity for each notification type.
The other standout feature of the Unique strap is the high level of customization, with a great deal of personalization offered through a comprehensive interface on the company website. This allows tweaking of size, color, stitching and the design of the strap buckles, among other things. The idea is to let users design the strap that best fits their existing wrist watch.
Unique is currently at the working prototype stage. Although we can't verify battery life, all-day comfort or the blend-in factor first hand (we'd need to get one on the review bench for that), the concept does seem promising, and we would like to see more fully-fledged smartwatches make as tasteful and intelligent a use of their strap as the Unique promises to do.
The strap is available for backing on Kickstarter, with early-bird pledges starting at US$139 plus $10 for international shipping (optional express shipping will come in select regions for an additional fee, and will be announced once the campaign is over). If the strap reaches its funding goal of $50,000 and everything else goes to plan, uBirds is aiming to deliver the final product to backers in April next year.
You can watch a promotional video below.