Amazingly powerful for a smartwatch, Responsive Screen, Excellent for making and receiving calls
Android 4.2, Low internal storage, No support for Android Wear apps
The Atomic offers an impressive degree of power and connectivity for a device you wear on your wrist, but the issue is that much of the phone functionality isn’t designed to work on a screen this small. If you’re a light mobile user it may make sense, though.
The arrival of the Apple Watch has kick-started another flood of interest in the whole wearables concept, but like its Android Wear rival Apple’s timepiece still requires you to have a phone to make it function. This has been a common trait for smartwatches, which piggy-back off your mobile’s connectivity and – at worst – are only a benefit to those too lazy to extract their phone from their pocket.
Unsurprisingly, we’re seeing some “proper” smartwatches appear which aim to provide a more complete solution, for better or for worse. Spur’s Atomic is one such product; it’s basically an Android smartphone on your wrist. It offers all the same functionality you’d expect from a phone and even takes a Micro SIM card so you can be truly liberated from your handset. On paper it sounds like a game-changer, but there are some caveats to consider which take the shine off what is otherwise an impressive technical achievement.
On the plus side, the Atomic really does supplant your phone entirely. It can make and receive calls thanks to the inclusion of a microphone and loudspeaker, and Bluetooth connectivity means you can pair a headset if talking to your wrist – Dick Tracy-style – is too embarrassing for you to do in public. Texting is also possible, and while the watch’s 320×240 pixel display is naturally a lot smaller than the one you’re used to on your phone, it’s surprisingly accurate – typing isn’t as much of a pain as you might imagine, and we were able to bash out messages at almost the same speed as we would normally.
Beyond that, the Atomic comfortably outstrips pretty much every other smartwatch on the market when it comes to features. You can install apps from the Google Play market (full apps, type out emails, watch YouTube videos, listen to music, browse photos and surf the web, all without the need for any additional hardware. You can even run games on the device, although the small size of the display does limit what titles are actually playable. Also, any game or app which doesn’t have landscape support is pretty much unusable, unless you’re willing to remove the watch from your wrist and hold it in portrait orientation.
Inside the Atomic’s chunky frame There’s a dual-core ARM CPU clocked at 1.2GHz and supported by 512MB of RAM – specs which hardly inspire confidence, but when you consider that it’s only having to deal with moving stuff around a 320×240 pixel screen, it’s less of an issue. The Atomic is reasonably fast and responsive, and only struggles when there’s a lot of stuff happening at once. 4GB of storage is included, although the end user only has access to around 2.5GB after system files and whatnot are taken into account. There’s a 500 mAh battery which provides around a day of use, so you’ll have to get used to charging the Atomic alongside your phone at the conclusion of each day. It comes with a standard Micro-USB port, but it’s recommended that you use the one that comes in the box, as it has a longer connector – the port itself is embedded quite deeply in the watch’s casing.
In physical terms, the Atomic is a lot bigger than other smartwatches, but if you’re used to wearing brands like Casio’s G-Shock, then it won’t feel too large. The bezel is made of metal but the majority of the watch is a combination of hard plastic and rubber. There are two physical buttons on the right-hand side of the face – one powers-up the watch and turns off the screen, while the other drops you back to the home screen. There’s no back button, which can be an issue in some apps and parts of the UI.
Android 4.2 is installed on the Atomic, which puts it way behind the curve as far as Google’s mobile OS is concerned. It’s also worth pointing out that because it’s a “proper” phone, Android Wear app support is not included. The unit comes with very minimal voice command support, but by installing a newer version of the Google search app and the latest Google keyboard, you can input text, perform searches and execute various other tasks using just your voice, which makes things a lot easier in the long run. The screen may be responsive and accurate, but it’s still too tiny for prolonged typing.
The Atomic’s prowess is beyond question – this really is a “smart” watch, in that it can exist entirely separately from a phone. But can it really replace your smartphone? It depends entirely on what kind of mobile user you are. If you like using your handset for watching movies, surfing the web, playing games and taking photos, then it’s unlikely that you’ll be content with just having the Atomic and discarding your phone.
There’s no camera for starters, and the screen simply isn’t big enough for consuming vast amounts of media and spending a lot of time on the web. If you want to keep your handset and use the Atomic, then you’ll basically have to have not one but two mobile contracts running concurrently – one for the handset and one for the watch – or tether the watch to your phone, which means WiFi is disabled on the former. Neither solution is really agreeable, and that’s the big issue with the Atomic – it’s not good enough to replace your smartphone completely, as such smartphone functionality was never intended to be shoehorned into such a small screen.
In this regard, the Atomic makes much more sense to those who begrudge having a phone in their pocket constantly and would rather jettison that weight in favour of a slightly chunkier watch. The lack of water resistance is an issue, but the Atomic’s rubberised casing means it can withstand more punishment than many of its rivals.
The Atomic is certainly an interesting prospect and has lots of potential, but we’re not sure that a smartwatch really belongs entirely on your wrist – too much functionality and usability is sacrificed as a result. Even so, it’s an interesting device, and one that is notably cheaper than many of its less-smart opponents.