How this all comes together is somewhat hit and miss, but the biggest point to stress is the huge potential of platform. What the Strata does it does brilliantly though the experience can be inconsistent and ‘potential’ inherently means there is a lot to be realised.
First the good stuff. The Strata works wonderfully as a proof of concept for the smartwatch movement as a whole. Many have labelled the category a gimmick, but we found being able to see the context of the notifications coming from the handset in your pocket or bag to be extremely useful.
The best of these are the core elements of calls, emails and SMS. Being able to screen these while on the move is a joy and while it is easy to miss vibration alerts from your phone you never miss one around your wrist. Another useful aspect is keeping track of the battery life on your phone and we were rarely caught out by setting off anywhere with a low charge.
Furthermore while much has been made of smartwatches giving you yet another device to charge we found it easily lasted the working week. This is enough in our book to mean its usefulness isn’t countered by regular charge cycles. This is particularly pertinent given the Strata’s separate charge clip is bulky. A micro USB port with rubber cap would be better for future models.
As for the impact a constant Bluetooth connection on our phone battery life, it seemed minimal (less than five per cent) and was more than counteracted by the greater awareness we had of our phone’s battery life in general. That said if your phone lacks Bluetooth 4.0 support older standards are less energy efficient.
When it comes to the bad stuff, this is where the area of ‘potential’ rears its head. Social media and third party messaging systems (notably WhatsApp) have largely replaced SMS and email for many and their omission is significant. This is also true for third party mapping as we found Telenav Scout didn’t work reliably for us and third party music apps like Spotify and Rdio are also left out in the cold. Support for exercise apps is also thin on the ground with the likes of RunKeeper an obvious target.
If the potential of the MetaWatch platform and smartwatches as a whole is to be met it cannot be left up to third party developers to code access for each specific product. IOS, Android and other smartphone platforms must produce the APIs to help.
There are interesting social side effects too. While we found the Strata to be more convenient to check than our phones it is arguably even ruder to keep looking at your watch in a social situation. Again this isn’t the fault of the Strata, but it is something society as a whole will have to get used to if smartwatches and smart eye-wear are to gain traction.
Potentially, yes. MetaWatch has recently brought down the price of the Strata from $179 to just $129 (£83). This is a steal for the functionality, but suggests after a long beta period that a new model is in the works. In addition the Strata really does impact your day-to-day life for the better. At the times when you feel most hassled by smartphone notifications (rushing to work, carrying shopping bags, etc) it comes to the fore as a real stress reliever.
We also find the Strata a better proposition than the MetaWatch Frame - at least on paper. The Frame is $199 (£129) and while slimmer has a shorter battery life (circa 30 per cent less) and is less water resistant, being at home only with splashes rather than full submersion.
That said in the context of the wider market it may still be worth waiting. The much hyped Pebble’s $150 (£99) RRP means it will not be much more expensive at launch and with everyone from Apple and Google to Samsung said to be entering the sector in the not too distant future more polished products could be on the way.
Then again this viewpoint feels tough on the Strata and MetaWatch in general. The open source community should lap it up and its restrictions are largely because of the current API limits in smartphone platforms rather than shortcomings in MetaWatch’s nimble platform. Whether MetaWatch will become the latest runaway success in the tech sector remains to be seen, but it deserves to do well.
The Strata is a hugely promising smartwatch debut from MetaWatch. The asking price is low and its durability makes up for the somewhat uninspiring looks. It is early days for the open source platform and bigger fish will enter the market soon, but those of an adventurous nature should open their wallets.