MetaWatch Strata: Keep your phone in your pocket

Smart watches are starting to appear after years of discussions about them. The MetaWatch is the oldest of the current crop and is a good fit for those who like to tinker.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

The MetaWatch first appeared a few years ago, aimed at developers and produced by the folks at Fossil Watch. The team behind it at Fossil acquired the watch and the technology behind it and formed a company to take it commercial. Next came a successful Kickstarter campaign, and the MetaWatch line is now available for purchase.

Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

I first took a look at the early MetaWatch a couple of years ago, and while impressed with the technology, it was clear it wasn't ready for the general purchasing public. The folks at MetaWatch recently sent me a MetaWatch Strata to test and get familiar with the current line of smart watches.

The concept behind the MetaWatch is simple — it pairs with a smartphone via Bluetooth and displays notifications on the watch. These include incoming calls, SMS messages, weather conditions, and email messages. The current watches can be paired with iPhones and Android phones, and are controlled by free apps on each platform.

The hardware of the Strata has worked well in my short evaluation, and while big it's light and comfortable to wear. The reflective display only hits the watch battery when information is updated and is viewable in bright light with no issues. There is a backlight that can be activated with a press of a button for viewing the display in dark conditions.

MataWatch Strata Stealth
Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

The battery can run the watch for several days on a charge. That's good, because the charging clip provided is not easy to attach to the phone, even with practice. MetaWatch went with this type of charging arrangement as the watch is water resistant (down to 50 feet on the Strata).

The display of the watch is controlled by the smartphone app and the two platforms (iOS and Android) are quite different. According to MetaWatch the iOS app (and resultant watch capabilities) is better than the Android version. I use the Strata with my Galaxy Note 2, so the Android version is what I have been testing.

The MetaWatch Android app is indeed very basic, but the user community has stepped up to flesh out the watch capabilities. There are currently two user-developed apps that not only replace the official MetaWatch app, but greatly augment the usefulness of the watch.

I am using the Community Edition app in the Google Play Store, which adds customization options such as watch themes. These third-party apps also enable using the MetaWatch with other devices such as the FitBit to display information on the watch screen.

Noah Edition Android app for MetaWatch
Image: Screenshot by James Kendrick/ZDNet

The second third-party Android app is the Noah Edition, which takes the Community Edition and puts a nice graphical interface on top of it.

My MetaWatch has worked with no issues using the app above, but a stroll through the official MetaWatch support forums shows some folks are having issues. There are a number of hardware revisions of the watches and several different versions of firmware software. Reading the forum posts, it would seem that some hardware revisions have trouble with certain firmware versions.

These different versions lead me to believe that the MetaWatch is aimed at those who like to tinker with their gadgets. It can work out of the box but in limited fashion, so playing with the apps and customization is almost required to get the most out of the watch.

I'm still experimenting with different features of the Strata that tinkering provides. I am happy with the functionality of the MetaWatch so far and find it extremely useful to have the watch on my wrist. It eliminates the need to constantly pull the phone out of my pocket, and that is liberating as I go through my day. The vibrating notifications provide a discrete way to see incoming messages while in meetings by simply glancing at the watch.

MetaWatch Strata as reviewed: $179

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