"This is ridiculous". That was my genuine first reaction when I first picked up Nubia's 'flexible' Alpha smartwatch. I've seen my fair share of whacky-looking wearables over the years, and this is definitely up there.
The Alpha is a 'wearable phone' with a 4-inch flexible OLED touchscreen display that wraps around the wrist, with your choice of a black stainless steel band or a more garish-looking 18k gold strap keeping it in place. While the likes of Huawei and Samsung decided to do flexible smartphones, Nubia wants to flex it up on the wrist. Although all is not quite what it seems when you get up close.
The display, which extends beyond the usual cut-off on a smartwatch, is actually a pre-curved screen that's designed to sit more naturally around the wrist. You can't bend it, although the watch band connected to it can. So, not quite the flexible smartwatch I was anticipating.
The screen is at least of good quality, and it's big enough that you shouldn't struggle to read it. It's bright, vibrant and the icons are nice and big, so you'll have no problems tapping and swiping on it. This is a wearable that doesn't do subtlety though. It's a hulking beast of a thing, and while you can remove the links from the strap, this is clearly not built for those with slim wrists.
The watch body is wide as well, to accommodate features like the built-in camera and hand gesture sensor, letting you wave your hand in front of the screen to navigate displays. This worked (surprisingly) better than expected. On the side of the watch you'll also find a couple of twisty buttons. Twisting them doesn't do anything, but they can be pressed to turn the watch on or jump back a menu screen. Nubia even manages to find room for a surprisingly loud (and not tinny) speaker, so you can play music from the watch and take calls.
The software, which is Nubia's own proprietary OS, reminds me a lot of the kind you used to find on Samsung's fitness trackers and early Gear smartwatches. It's clean, but there are a lot of menus and icons to contend with. The main screen shows off some settings at the top and the bottom with the watch face sandwiched between them. When you swipe left on the screen you'll see the first raft of features, which includes voice calls, messaging, payment support (which is not yet live) and access to the camera.
This is a 5-megapixel camera that shoots stills and videos, and from my brief time with it, does at least serve up some surprisingly half-decent pics. Although, as proved with the Samsung smartwatches that could also do this, it's questionable how useful this feature is. There's also a bunch of fitness and sports tracking modes here, with a heart rate sensor on the back of the device, although I'm not sure who in their right mind would consider working out with this.
The best thing I can probably say about the Nubia Alpha is that its not-so-bendy screen is lovely to look at. Apart from that, I really don't know who in their right mind is going to want this on their wrist. It's big, brash and bulky. Yes, it might be jam-packed with features, but it's far from a slick operator as far as presenting all of those features in a really sophisticated and intuitive way goes. I applaud Nubia for doing something different and following through with the prototype version it showed off in 2018. I'm just not sure that the fully formed idea was really worth the wait.
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