I'm kicking off with this picture because like so many geeks in their 30s, Knight Rider is what I instantly think of when I hear "smartwatch." The concept of a smaller computer on my wrist linked to a larger, much cooler computer has been with me since I was a wee lad.
Back when Knight Rider was actually airing, I wanted a watch exactly like Michael Knight's—I badgered my parents into buying me a big Timex Ironman and spent my time on the playground yelling "KITT, I need you, buddy!" into it, pretending like I was summoning an invulnerable vehicular sidekick to take me away from recess and possibly run over the kids I didn't particularly like.
The good news is that three decades after Knight Rider started airing, smartwatches are happening. The bad news is that they're just not very good yet, and the Toq doesn't buck that trend. It hooks up via Bluetooth to Android devices—and only Android devices, so iOS and Windows Phone users will have to sit this out.
Once connected it can show notifications. It can also be used to answer phone calls, play music, or read and reply to text messages—though the replies must come from a "quick reply" list. It does not, unfortunately, connect to a hydrogen turbine-powered black 1982 Pontiac Trans-Am. If it did, you would be reading a very different, much more awesome review that would include benchmarks like "Number of walls I turbo-boosted through" and "Time from 0 to 300 miles per hour."
Unfortunately, though, you're stuck with this review instead—a review of a smartwatch burdened with a lot of really odd design quirks. Its most notable feature is its Mirasol display, an always-on screen based on Qualcomm's interferometric modulator display technology. Qualcomm characterizes the ultra low-power Mirasol tech as "color e-ink" and says that it provides high contrast images that are visible in direct sunlight.
I've got quite a few things to say about how the Mirasol screen looks, both indoors and out, and its effect on the Toq's battery life. However, first, let's talk about the form factor.
The Toq is nicely watch-sized. It's not an enormous wrist barnacle, nor is it a tiny, delicate, child's watch. It's big enough to house a 1.55-inch display, and it weighs 3.2oz (about 91g). The watch's face is slim, but that slimness comes from moving the battery out of the watch body and into a separate pod at the end of the strap. The strap also has a pair of touch sensors integrated into it, which leads to the first of a couple of big, head-scratching design decisions: the watch band is fixed. It is non-removable.
The bulky battery doesn't really look terrible on the end of the watch band; it actually looks like a large clasp. In fact, it is where the clasp is located, and opening the clasp to slip the Toq on and off your wrist exposes just how large the battery is.
How large is it? The compartment houses a 240mAh battery; this is more juice than the 130mAh Pebble smartwatch's battery but less than the Galaxy Gear's 315mAh battery. The Gear has gotten a bit of flack for requiring a charge at least once a day, and so a smaller-capacity battery in the Toq would at first blush appear to be a pretty heavy blow against its viability.
But it's not. Qualcomm has taken steps to ensure that in spite of its terrible placement and lower energy capacity, the Toq's battery is more than adequate for the task of keeping the smartwatch alive for days. Qualcomm's Toq specs page gives a battery life estimate of "multiple days," and this was absolutely reflected in our usage. We were able to spend five full days using the Toq, and it lasted the entire time from a single charge.
The graph shows that the Toq gets its longevity from simply not using much power at idle. The biggest contributor to that is the Mirasol display, which stays on all the time but only uses miniscule amounts of energy, thanks to how its individual subpixel elements work. The device's little 200MHz Cortex M3 SoC also contributes to the lower power usage, although the watch absolutely chomps through battery life when it's actually being worked.
For example, after charging the device up to 100 percent, I started setting it up, and it told me I had to install an update. I did this and the watch rebooted; I then got it connected to the Nexus 4 that I intended to test with and poked around a bit. After about 25 minutes of usage, I checked the battery life, and I was stunned to see that it had fallen to 89 percent. An eleven percent drop in just 25 minutes did not bode well for the battery life at all.
However, after the update, battery life leveled out considerably. At the end of five days of what I'd consider normal usage—which includes the initial 11-percent drop and a period of very heavy usage on the morning of December 5 when I took a lot of photos and spent a lot of time paging through the watch's functions—the battery was still at 30 percent when I dropped it back in place on the charger Sunday evening.
That wireless charger also deserves a mention. The charger takes the form of a small box, with two recessed orange holes in one side for the Toq Bluetooth earbuds—which we didn't receive to test—and a flip-up shelf on the left side to hold the watch. To charge, you simply set the watch down on its side in its little niche and press the button to flip up the shelf. The Toq's face changes to show its charging indicator. The charger uses Qualcomm's WiPower technology, which is a resonant inductive method.
The charger connects to your computer via a microUSB cable or to a wall outlet with an included adapter. Annoyingly, the provided microUSB cable is for power only—I couldn't get any USB devices to connect to any of my computers with it.