- Excellent battery life
- Elegant design
- Short on functionality compared to rival smartwatches
The Vector Watch was one of the break-out hits of the Baselworld watch show this year. Created by a Romanian-British startup, the wearable attracted attention for two reasons: its 30-day battery life, and the elegant, un-techy design.
With the watches now on sale, buyers can decide whether the device has lived up to its early promise.
The designers of the Vector Watch have largely steered away from the design language of technology; instead, they've taken their cues for its look and feel from the world of analogue watches.
The Vector Watch comes in two versions: the circular-faced Luna and the rectangular-faced Meridien, with a choice of outer case and strap. The Meridien, available with a leather or silicone strap and black plastic or steel case is priced at £219, the Luna comes with leather, silicone, or steel strap and a case of gold, steel, or plastic, is priced from £299 to £349.
All models make a point of being unobtrusive -- at first glance, the Vector Watch may not appear to be a smartwatch at all, just a nice-looking piece of traditional wristwear.
One of the reasons for that is that it always displays the time, whether you're looking at the watch or not -- unlike, say, the Apple Watch, which remains dark if unobserved. And, unlike many smartwatches on the market, it has a black-and-white rather than colour screen, adding to its un-gadgety feel.
While its tech elements may be understated, there's no chance you'll miss the Vector Watch: the largest face is a rather chunky 4cm across. While that's no bigger than many men's watches already on the market, it may feel too large for some -- particularly female -- buyers, although the company is planning a separate women's range in future.
Screen size is a problem that the smartwatch industry as a whole is grappling with. In order for smartwatches to be truly useful, they need as much screen real estate as possible -- but the larger the watch, the less attractive and more cumbersome it becomes. The Vector Watch has struck a reasonable balance with its screen size, although reducing the size of the 0.5cm bezel would certainly help.
With no touchscreen, the device is controlled by the three side-mounted buttons -- the upper and lower buttons are for scrolling, and the middle button is for action. Pressing the upper and middle button together will bring up a menu of options, including reboot and factory reset.
The watch face is Gorilla Glass 3, which means it's tough enough to take everyday knocks without scratching, and it's also waterproof to a degree: you don't need to take it off when washing your hands, but leave it at home if you're going scuba diving.
The Vector Watch runs on the company's own OS, which is written from the ground up to be power-saving.
The watch is controlled using the Vector Watch companion smartphone app. The watch face can be changed by scrolling through the range of faces in the 'watch maker' section of the app, including digital and analogue styles, showing varying levels of information. The face can also be changed using the physical buttons, and additional watch faces can be downloaded from the Vector Watch 'store' within the app.
The faces themselves can be customised further by adding 'streams', such as weather, stock market information, and number of steps the wearer taken. Using the Vector Watch app, the streams can be dragged and dropped onto the watch face, so you can get a quick update on, say, your calories burned off, by glancing at the watch.
At the moment, there are only a handful of 'streams' available, all made by Vector Watch, although the company is making the system available to third parties to add their own. The stripped-back nature of the apps has its disadvantages: streams can disappear from the watch faces of their own accord, and there's a limited amount of information you can display -- a weather forecast is great stream to have, but it will only predict the temperature for a non-specific time (mine currently reads '14C city of L') when a 'rain tomorrow' would be more useful.
The Vector Watch relies on a Bluetooth link to a smartphone for information. There are both iOS and Android Vector Watch apps, and both are being regularly updated.
That lack of wi-fi and 3G or 4G radios helps Vector Watch make the most of its battery life, but there are drawbacks. The link between the phone and watch is lost more often than you'd expect, even when there's only a small distance between the two -- particularly when the phone hasn't been picked up for a while. Any significant time apart means going into the app and restoring the connection manually.
The watch's role as a smartphone companion also cuts down its usefulness: if the watch always has to be near to the phone, and most people keep their phones within arm's reach, then in many cases the wearer will see a message appear on both devices at once.
There are scenarios where it's still useful: if you're travelling and your phone is in your bag or pocket, for example, you won't miss a message. But for most users, it'll just mean the ability to check your email without picking up a phone that's a foot away and reading the notifications screen.
The Vector Watch alerts the wearer to new notifications with a gentle vibration.
By flicking the wrist around, you can bring up, for example, a list of incoming email message subjects or details of an incoming phone call, and dismiss them the same way. The wrist-flick needed in both cases is more theatrical than the casual rotation you might expect, which has the advantage of not showing notifications when you don't want them -- the watch won't automatically display that salaciously-titled email message while you're doing an important presentation, for example. Equally, when you do want your notifications, it's difficult to summon them discretely.
You can turn off notifications you don't need (for Google Hangouts, for example), but there's the same blanket on or off for email too. In an ideal world, the settings would be more granular -- allowing you, for example, to only receive work email during working hours and personal email outside those times, or to only receive emails rated as important or that come from your colleagues. It also has a tendency to notify you of the same unread email more than once, so leaving an email unopened doesn't mean you'll be able to ignore it.
Unlike the Apple Watch, the Vector Watch will only show you the subjects of messages you receive: you'll need to pick up your phone to see the content. That doesn't feel like a disadvantage given the size of the watch face -- who wants to scroll through a 20-line email on a 4cm device?. But there's no way to delete or star the email, so you're still forced to rely on your phone to action any of the messages you receive.
There's also no option to add in social media feeds, although given the volume of tweets you might see in a day, that may be no bad thing. Again, here's where a more granular approach to notifications would come in handy.
The Vector Watch will also give you a snapshot of your meetings for the day -- once when you wake up as text, and then as thickened bars around the clock face. This is handy for knowing whether you can nip out for lunch, but not so useful if you want to see when you're free to book in a sales appointment next week.
Fitness and activity
The Vector Watch offers the standard fitness monitoring functions. Once you've set up your biometric profile (age, weight, and so on), it gathers data on your steps taken and calories burnt. As with most such trackers, it's difficult to know how accurate they are, but one feels rather generous, the other a bit parsimonious.
There's also a sleep tracking function. While it's unlikely you'd wear a watch to bed, the Vector Watch can work out how long you've slept for from the amount of time without any motion -- where you've left it on a side table, for example. When you put the watch on again the next day, it'll greet you with the statistic and a cheery 'good morning!' message alongside your schedule for the day. The screen is strangely hard to shift, however, meaning it'll still be wishing you good morning even when you've reached your desk.
In the event you do want to keep your watch on while you sleep, there's also the ability to set an alarm. It's a more forceful version of the notification vibration, and may not disturb the heaviest of slumberers. However, you can add a title to the alarm that will appear alongside the vibrations, which is a nifty way of sending yourself unavoidable reminders.
Like many people, I stopped wearing a watch when I bought my first smartphone. I'm yet to be convinced that smartwatch vendors have cracked the secret of encouraging those people to swap back.
If you're attracted to the Vector Watch for its battery life, the device certainly lives up to its 30-day promise and then some, and it's quick to charge on the rare occasions you need to top up the battery.
However, in getting a long battery life and elegant look, you'll sacrifice some of the bells and whistles of competing devices. This isn't a smartwatch that's aimed at those who want the more full-featured Apple Watch-type experience: think of it more as a step up for those who still sport their executive analogue timepieces.