When we covered the Neptune Pine watch earlier this year, our first thought was that it looked like the smartwatch that tech lovers have been waiting for. That was immediately followed by a second thought – is this set of rough renderings ever going to lead to an actual watch we can buy? It hasn't happened quite yet, but things are moving in the right direction. Neptune has developed a working prototype and launched a Kickstarter campaign that has attracted a half-million dollars in pledges in just over two weeks.
There is a small but growing range of smartwatches that are available to buy this holiday season. The fact that nearly 2,000 backers have thrown down dollars on a smartwatch that doesn't quite exist yet suggests that there's an unsatisfied yearning for something more. Something that's stuffed with cool hardware and features and doesn't need to be tethered to a smartphone. Simply, something that's basically a smartphone on your wrist.
The Neptune Pine certainly looks like it could be that something. The brainchild of 19-year-old entrepreneur Simon Tian and the first product for 2012-founded Neptune Computer, the Pine does virtually everything a smartphone does. While it can tether to a smartphone, Neptune's approach is really about making the "only device you'll ever need" a watch. It really looks to be the emergence of watches that can replace, not just complement, smartphones.
The Pine handset measures 66 x 53.5 x 14.2 mm and weighs 60.8 g (2.14 oz), withe strap adding another 35.4 g (1.24 oz) to the weight on your wrist. It gets things started with a 2.4-inch QVGA (320 x 240) capacitive touchscreen, which is tiny by phone standards, but fairly gigantic by wrist standards. The size allows the Pine to give you a virtual QWERTY keyboard for familiar thumbing. The watch also packs a serious line-up of hardware in its thick casing, starting with a 1.2-GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor, micro-SIM-powered 2G/3G and Wi-Fi. With those, it offers all the core functions of a smartphone, including phone calls, texts, emails, internet access, etc. And it can also serve as a Wi-Fi hotspot for other devices.
Because the Pine supports both quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE and quad-band UMTS/HSPA+/WCDMA, Neptune says it is compatible with some 80 percent of worldwide mobile carriers, including AT&T, T-Mobile and Orange. The company also says that if it reaches CAD$300,000 (US$281,000) on Kickstarter, which it already has, it will develop a quad-band CDMA version for use with Verizon, Sprint and other networks.
On the software side, the Pine is powered by Android Jelly Bean. Neptune is careful to stress that the watch packs the full version of Jelly Bean, meaning it will work with hundreds of thousands of existing apps. The Android OS also powers voice recognition capabilities.
The Pine has gained some new goodies since the first time we looked it over. It still has the rear 5-megapixel camera for stills and 720p video, but Neptune has added a front-facing camera for video calls, saying that the watch will be compatible with popular Android-offered services like Skype and Tango. The front-facing LED light, which Neptune claims as a first, provides some strategic lighting for video calls in dark rooms and doubles as a small flashlight.
With a GPS, accelerometer, pedometer, gyroscope and digital compass, coupled with the fact it straps to your wrist, it promises to work more naturally as a fitness monitor than a smartphone. It will be compatible with existing apps like RunKeeper. With its integrated Bluetooth 4.0, it can also pair with accessories like heart rate monitors.
Other miscellaneous hardware specs include buyer's choice of 16 or 32 GB of onboard storage, a micro-USB port and a 3.5-mm headphone jack. Those transform it into a portable entertainment center for music, video content and more.
With that long, power-hungry list of hardware, the Pine needs more than Swiss-engineered winding to keep the lights on. It's powered by an 810 mAh lithium-polymer battery, which Neptune claims can provide up to eight hours of talk time (2G), seven hours of Wi-Fi internet usage, 10 hours of music, or 120 hours of standby.
Perhaps more important than the fevered Kickstarter response and spec upgrades is the fact that the 101-level renderings Neptune was circulating earlier in the year have given way to a working prototype. The watch has changed a little in appearance, but it still has the same form factor of a watch case that docks in the strap. Users can remove the watch body for two-handed texting, photo-taking, etc.
The Neptune lags behind current smartphones in terms of its level of features, and one day masses of folks clad in pliable, paper-thin computer-bracelets will no doubt laugh about what an antiquated electro-brick it looks like, just like we laugh at how huge original mobile phones were. But for now, it might just be the first smartwatch that gives consumers a reason to think about dropping the smartphone entirely. It looks to blow other smartwatches out of the water, and at a competitive price.
The goal of CAD$100,000 (US$94,000) is already well in the rearview, and some of the lower pledge levels are sold out, but the CAD$249 (US$234) 16 GB version (MSRP: CAD$335 (US$314)) and CAD$279 (US$262) 32 GB version (MSRP: CAD$395 (US$370)) are still options. Neptune says that it will be ready to begin manufacturing this month, and while the watch won't make it to your front stoop in time for the holidays, Neptune plans to start shipping in January.
Check out the hardware design and slick interface a little more closely in the video below.
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