Although there's now quite a lot of variety in smartwatch designs, depending on whether you're sporting a running watch, fashion accessory or everyday piece of wristwear, the usual premise is the same. Most have a touchscreen where the watchface should be, a couple of buttons on the side, maybe a touch bezel.
Tearing up the book on smartwatch design is Chinese company Haier, whose Asu smartwatch builds in a projector to display information onto the user's hand, as well as on the device itself.
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The watch won't be available outside of China when it launches in May, we're told, and there's currently no price assigned, but we were on the show floor at MWC 2018 in Barcelona to get a better look at the innovative smartwatch and just how well the concept works when on the wrist.
Is this something you'd like to see come to more watches in the future? Let us know in the comments below.
Haier Asu smartwatch: A bulky customer
While the projection element is the key innovation here, let's talk a little bit about the overall design of the Asu smartwatch. Powered by a 1.2GHz internal processor and packing in GPS, 4G LTE support, a big 650mAh battery and heart rate monitoring, it would perhaps be a bigger design achievement if Haier was able to pack all these sensors into a more svelte package. Alas, it doesn't, and instead this watch is a verified beast when on the wrist.
Surprisingly, it's not overly uncomfortable to wear, but this is still a watch that makes the designs from the likes of Diesel look like weak sauce. On the left side of the bezel, you'll be treated to a 1.54-inch, 240 x 240 pixel touchscreen, which displays Haier's software running over Android. Resting alongside is a dead spot which harbours the projector underneath. This isn't the best display we've ever seen on a smartwatch, but it's certainly not one that lags too far behind more mainstream smartwatches, either.
In terms of what's on offer through the watch itself, users will have access to a lot of the basics - step tracking, activity tracking, notifications - while some more advanced smartwatch features, such as making calls and sending texts, are also available. We found making our way through the watch was a slightly laggy experience at times (though the odd interaction, such as sketching, was very responsive), but we're told some aspects of the watch are still in development ahead of the impending launch.
Haier Asu smartwatch: Project those views
So, while it's all fairly standard on the screen itself, and the design isn't exactly one you'll want to be sporting on dates, it's the projector that will turn people's heads here.
But what exactly is beamed onto your hand from the watch? Well, during our demo, we were able to get a look at running stats, sketch out some drawings (we promise these were kept sensible) and type out a phone number. Haier says that plenty more things, such as texts, the weather and the time itself can also be beamed onto the user's hand.
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And it does so at a resolution of 480 x 854 pixels, with a brightness of 18 lumens (as a reference point, the typical lightbulb spits out around 700 lumens). This was strong enough for us to get a clear projection on the showroom floor, but we can't say whether this is bright enough to, say, view your running stats in bright sunlight.
There's no doubt that Haier's Asu smartwatch draws out an initial reaction of, 'Hey, that's neat', but it's also fair to question just what the practical use is here. We can definitely see how it'd be handy to view activity data on the go without having to direct the screen into the shade, but what else is there?
Perhaps you could make the case that the feature would be a nice, albeit gimmicky, addition to a rounded smartwatch experience, but the compromise it appears to be forcing upon the wider design means it's pretty hard to imagine people ditching their everyday smartwatch for.
Maybe in a decade or so we'll find ourselves running around projecting things here, there and everywhere, but we're not convinced just yet.
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