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Alcatel OneTouch Watch smartwatch review – hands on

A custom OS means Alcatel's smartwatch will work with any smartphone, but can this £100 wearable beat the Apple Watch?

Wearables are big business at this year’s CES and MWC shows, but we were still surprised when smartphone manufacturer Alcatel announced in January that it would be bringing along one of its own. The Alcatel OneTouch Watch might have borrowed its simple monicker from the Apple school of product naming, but it’s Motorola’s slick Moto 360 that springs to mind when it comes to design. Even better, Alcatel has announced that it will cost just £99.99 when it launches in the middle of June, making it much cheaper than the competition. Ahead of its official launch, we strapped one on to find out if it’s the smartwatch impatient Apple fans (and Android owners) have been waiting for.

Whether you opt for the red and volcano black colour scheme seen on our demo unit, or the classic chrome, metal-white or dark grey colours, there’s no doubt the Alcatel Watch is a fairly sleek wearable. It’s slightly thicker than a Moto 360 at 10.5mm, but the stainless steel body, brushed chrome and circular shape are more than a little reminiscent of Motorola’s device.

It doesn’t actually have a circular screen, however; the outer edge of the watch face is fixed in place, while the screen in the centre is actually square. The 1.22in display was clear enough to read at half brightness, although Alcatel wouldn’t confirm what display technology it was using or what the resolution was. The glass was relatively free of light reflections too.

If you’re used to Android Wear’s swipe and tap gestures, it can take a little adjustment to get used to Alcatel’s watch. The operating system is one of Alcatel’s own creation, which allows it to pair with both Android and iOS devices (from Android 4.3 or iOS 7 and above), but that means adapting to the UI before the Watch comes into its own.

A crown on the side of the watch wakes the screen, or it can be set to wake automatically when you raise your wrist. You tap the bottom of the screen to open the menu, which is presented as a series of Windows 8-like tiles. You can control multimedia playback, remotely trigger the camera on your smartphone, force your phone to ring if you can’t find it, and do all the usual time and stopwatch features you would expect, plus the watch will vibrate if you move too far away from your phone and it loses connection. It’s a shame that the interface wasn’t particularly responsive, sometimes failing to recognise our inputs, and the small interactive area at the bottom of the dial was often fiddly to hit first time.

Watch is fairly useless in isolation, but comes to life when paired with an iOS or Android handset through a companion app. Any app that can send notifications can push them to your watch if you’re running Android, but for the time being only Apple’s official phone, messaging and mail apps appear to work when paired to an iPhone. 

An optical heart rate sensor on the underside of the watch will measure your pulse, while the integrated accelerometer, gyroscope, altimeter and e-compass will count your steps and daily exercise. It’s also rated as IP67 water resistant and dust-proof, so you can immerse it in up to 1m of water without it taking damage. There’s even an NFC tag built into the watch face as well. 

Alcatel has clearly been paying attention to smartwatch user complaints about charging docks; it has built a USB connector right into the strap for instant charging, wherever you are. It should only take around an hour to fully charge up the Watch too, so you won’t be waiting around for it to refill, although it means you won’t be able to swap out the watch band for a different strap. 

Battery life, which has been the major failing of most of the wearables we’ve tested to date, is apparently rated for between 2-5 days. That seems rather high, particularly as the Watch uses a 210mAh battery; that’s smaller than the Asus ZenWatch, LG G Watch R and the Moto 360. We’ll have to wait until we get hold of one to give it a thorough test and see it it holds up to those lofty claims.

We were impressed with Alcatel’s debut wearable effort; despite a few questions around battery life and responsiveness, it could be a viable smartwatch for anyone that doesn’t like to be tied to a specific operating system. The price sounds great too; at just £100, that’s between £60 and £90 less than other smartwatches, which could go a long way to make up for its shortcomings. We’ll be giving the Alcatel Watch a more thorough review a little closer to launch, but in the meantime it’s another one to add to your wearable shortlist.

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