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The eye-catching futuristic look of the Nubia Watch makes it stand out from the crowd of classic smartwatches. It wraps an impossibly large, bright, flexible OLED screen around your wrist, and it’s guaranteed to draw inquisitive looks and questions. There’s something undeniably surreal about that visionary expanse of curved glass, but closer inspection reveals a chunky watch that’s bulky to wear and shoddy software with limited features.
While the Nubia Watch does represent a vision of the future for smartwatches, it feels weirdly dated at the same time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on the wrist of Marty McFly in 1989’s “Back to the Future Part II.”
I’ve been wearing it for the last week or so to see how it measures up to contemporary smartwatches. It’s packed with the usual array of sensors and fitness tracking features, but the proprietary software that’s running on it has some limitations.
Should you consider dropping $199 for a discounted early model from Kickstarter, or save up $399 for the finished article due in October? Let’s take a closer look.
Nubia uses the words foldable and flexible when talking about the 4.01-inch AMOLED touchscreen in the Nubia Watch, but just to be clear, this is a rigid device. The screen is not designed to fold, although Nubia did partner with Schott to create this watch, the same company that supplied flexible glass for Samsung’s folding phones.
The AMOLED panel is bright and quite sharp at 960 x 192 pixels. You can see individual pixels if you look closely, because the density is only 244 pixels-per-inch (PPI), but it’s easy to read and attractive. Colors jump out and the screen really comes to life when you select one of the animated wallpapers. I went for one that’s heavily reminiscent of the green digital rain in “The Matrix.”
Looking past the screen, the frame of the Nubia Watch is distinctly chunky. A matte metal frame sports two shiny, beveled sections on either side, with a solitary power button, which also takes you back, protruding from the right. Look around back, and you’ll see the heart rate sensor and four pins for the square proprietary charger.
It’s a big device that will look positively enormous on smaller wrists, but at 98 grams, the Nubia Watch is not ridiculously heavy. I have worn heavier smartwatches, though it is double the weight of an Apple Watch Series 5.
No other smartwatch I’ve worn has provoked so many “What the hell is that?” questions. Unfortunately, it’s not very comfortable to wear, even for short periods, and I can’t imagine sleeping with it on, which is a shame because it does support sleep tracking.
Dimensions: 41.5 x 14.2 x 125 mm (1.63 x 0.55 x 4.92 inches)
Display: 4.01-inch AMOLED
Processor: Qualcomm 8909W (Wear 2100)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.1, GPS
Sensors: Accelerometer, gyroscope, pressure sensor, heart-rate sensor, geomagnetic sensor
Battery: 425 mAh
Water resistance: IP54
Setup and interface
There were a couple of hiccups with setup, as the Nubia Watch directed me to download a Chinese app, but after searching for Nubia Wear in the Play Store, I was able to install it on my Pixel 4 and connect with the watch. There is also an iOS version of the app.
It’s not clear what’s running on the Nubia Watch, perhaps a forked version of Android. It’s simple enough to swipe around, with quick settings coming down from the top, notifications accessible by swiping up from the bottom, and the app drawer to the left or right.
The Nubia Watch offers access to Call, Messages, Sports, Health, and a handful of other apps and features. The Chinese version allows you to add an eSIM for calls directly from your wrist, but that’s not an option on my review unit and I couldn’t get calls to work through my phone. There’s also a kind of find my phone app that is supposed to ring your phone so you can find it, a feature I find handy on the Apple Watch, but it didn’t work for me either. Turns out a lot of things don’t work on this smartwatch.
Part of the problem is that this is not final software and some things have been lost in translation. The animated wallpapers are a good example. I eventually found them bizarrely listed under Marquee Switch in the Barrage app. This poorly translated, barebones interface needs some work.
There’s no support for third-party apps on the Nubia Watch right now, so you’re stuck with the small preloaded selection.
Performance and features
Using the Nubia Watch is a strange experience. It feels a lot more like a small Android phone strapped to your wrist than a smartwatch. I found it was mostly quite responsive, but the quirky software is not intuitive. The extra screen real estate enables the Nubia Watch to display a lot on screen at once, but you have to turn your wrist to see it all. Some of the watch faces and animated wallpapers create interesting looks, but it feels like style over substance.
The watch uses an aging Qualcomm Wear 2100 processor with 1GB of RAM. This combination worked fine in my time with the Nubia Watch, but I feel that’s largely because it simply doesn’t do very much. There was an occasional stutter or freeze, but for the most part, it was smooth to swipe around.
The main features that are present and working relate to fitness tracking. For workouts, you have the less than impressive choice of recording a free workout, outdoor walking, and indoor or outdoor running. That’s it. The health app shows sleep, heart rate, steps, distance, calories, and sport time. It feels a bit janky to use and I was unconvinced about the accuracy. When I went to look at the Nubia Wear app on my phone, which claimed it was connected and synced, it only showed data from that day — there was nothing for previous days.
More than half of the 8GB of storage in the Nubia Watch is available and you can theoretically use it to load up some music, as there is a music app. Sadly, the option to add songs was grayed out in my Nubia Wear app, so I was unable to try it.
Although very little of the functionality worked as advertised, the Nubia Watch managed to chew through its battery quite quickly. Nubia suggests you can get up to seven days from a full charge, but that’s not remotely realistic. Just like most other smartwatches, this is going to need to be charged every night.
The Nubia Watch did a fine job of counting my steps, measuring my heart rate, and reminding me to stand up when I had been sedentary for too long. It also proved handy for weather updates and it can keep time, but there’s no way to spin this as a positive experience. I expect some of these issues will have been fixed by the time it hits general release, but it’s impossible to recommend in its current state.
The bottom line
The Nubia Watch has a distinctive design and an unsurpassed 4-inch AMOLED screen that will draw interested glances, but it’s also chunky and heavy. Worse still, the software is a mess and there’s no third-party app support.
Should you buy it?
No. The fact that Nubia is trying to innovate is laudable and it might turn out a compelling curved smartwatch one day, but the current model is not ready to buy now. You will regret paying for something that feels this unfinished.
What are your alternatives?
After the Kickstarter campaign ends, the Nubia Watch will cost $399. If you have an iPhone, that money would be far better spent on an Apple Watch Series 5. For Android phone owners, the Skagen Falster 3 is worth a look at $295 or you could check out the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 for $400.
Pros: Curved AMOLED screen is huge, futuristic design
Cons: Chunky and heavy, software is poor, no third-party apps, bugs galore