An open source alternative to the much hyped Pebble smartwatch and much rumoured Apple iWatch. It pairs with an iPhone or Android smartphone over Bluetooth to deliver their notifications to your wrist. Like all smartwatches the theory is it will allow you to keep your phone in your pocket more often by giving you the context of received alerts. A particular benefit on the move or when exercising.
The Strata is the thicker of two models currently offered by MetaWatch and focuses on durability and value. The more expensive ‘Frame’ is slimmer and targeted towards the fashion segment.
At first glance the Strata appears to have a face only a mother could love. The design hasn’t changed since we previewed it in September (link in the tab above this review) and the wide bezel and relatively small 1-inch, 96 x 96 pixel display are a world away from what we expect from our smartphones. But the Strata turns out to look far better on the wrist than off and we regularly received queries and compliments.
Furthermore the Strata’s design is carefully considered. The body is double injection moulded polyurethane giving the Strata a 5 ATM rated water resistance (verses the Frame’s 3ATM) which is enough to swim in. The downside is this is achieved by omitting a standard microUSB charge port. Instead the Strata has four metal contact points on the rear and a separate microUSB charge clip clamps to them.
On the plus side the Strata is available in multiple colours (black - aka ‘Stealth’ - is the most attractive for our money) and its construction material makes it extremely durable. The screen itself is “polymer network LCD” and made from mineral hardened, scratch resistant glass lens while a strainless steel top ring also protects the screen from impact. Despite several heart in mouth drops during our time with the Strata it remained unblemished.
As for the display itself it has an anti-glare coating and adapts to light, looking monochrome in normal conditions and becoming silver in direct sunlight. As such we found it readable in even the strongest outdoor sun and should you be in darkness it has a backlight.
Inside the Strata is battery sipping Bluetooth 4.0 and MetaWatch claims it will last up to a week on a single charge. There is also a vibrating motor to give the wearer a gentle buzz when they receive alerts…
But what are these alerts? Much like the Pebble - which promised the earth but launched with limited service support - the notifications the Strata can deliver are a mixed bag.
The core supported services are accepting/rejecting incoming calls (with caller ID), SMS, emails, and calendar alerts. The handset can also display weather, replicate alarms and show routing information. In addition the Strata can play and pause music playback, which allows it to act like a remote control - useful if your handset is docked, you are swimming (or in the shower) or if your headphones lack dedicated music controls.
The caveats are there is currently no support for social media (though MetaWatch says this is in the pipeline) and to work with routing the apps need to be made compatible. In the case of routing this rules out Apple Maps and Google Maps at present (this should change with the expanded APIs of iOS7), but Telenav’s Scout app bales you out for now.
Meanwhile setup couldn’t be simpler. Since the Strata is a thin client, all management is done via official apps in the App Store and Google Play (Android version below). Install them, pair the Strata over Bluetooth and you’re ready to go. Customisation is easy. The MetaWatch has four homescreens divided into quadrants and each can be selected in the app to be filled by single, double (horizontal or vertical) and full screen widgets such as time, weather, email and so forth.
Interestingly because MetaWatch has open sourced its code there are also third party apps available. We found the most impressive to be ‘MetaWatch Manager Community Edition’ on Android which actually has more widgets than the official app (including dividing the screen into thirds) and greater customisation options. These include the ability to customise vibration types, download new themes, choose specific calendars and more.
We would like to see the official app offer support for these third party innovations (a kind of app store within the app) over time to tap into what seems to be a thriving developer community.