While most of the attention from smartwatches has been on Apple, Google and Pebble, the Vector Luna smartwatch could signal the start of a quiet revolution.
While established tech brands have attempted to pioneer smartwatches, upstarts like Vector and Olio are convinced they can do better than the likes of Google and Apple. And that's the belief behind the launch of the Luna.
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And Vector certainly has made a strong play. With executives from Timex and Nike sitting at the top table, it's coming to market with three versions of its Vector Luna smartwatch and a square version to boot. And with a promise of 30 days of battery life, it's hitting the Apple Watch right where it hurts.
But can it compete? We strapped up with the Vector smartwatch in August and again in November to find out.
Vector Luna: Design
With the CEO of Vector, Joe Santana, coming from Timex stock, there's no doubt that the company sees itself as a proper watch company. And with its range of designs to suit most tastes and wrists, it's acting like one too.
The round-faced Luna smartwatch comes in three flavours: Performance, which gets you a plain black case and a basic strap; Contemporary, which offers a metal case and stainless steel strap and Classic, which adds rose-gold and champagne detailing and polished leather bracelets. The leather strap on our Contemporary watch was marked very, very easily.
Each comes at a slightly different price point with the contemporary and performance models at $249 and the Classic version coming in at $399.
Wareable has now tried out both the Performance model in black, with a matching silicon strap and the metal Contemporary version with a leather strap. At the same price, they feel like completely different watches. The accents of the superior versions just make the build of the watch stand out and look and feel both premium and like a genuinely wearable accessory. Because of the screen design – which we will come onto shortly – it's extremely important.
As with all smartwatches, it's a question of taste. But for our money, the more vibrant designs put it among the best looking smartwatches out there while the Vector Luna Performance rates as one of the worst.
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Regardless of which model you choose, the watch itself is chunky, there's no denying that, and for all Vector's posturing about design, it's not managed to solve any challenges regarding size. At 12mm thick it's no thinner or svelter than the likes of the Moto 360 (11.5mm) or LG G Watch R (11.1mm). It sits prone on top of the wrist, and with the buttons to the right and the silicon strap, we found it didn't slip easily under the cuff of a shirt. There's also quite a big bezel around the display, more noticeable on the Contemporary than the Performance.
There are three buttons to the right of the Vector Luna's case – the top and bottom of which simply cycle through different watch faces and options within menus, and the middle acts as an action button, and enables you to cycle through notifications.
Vector Luna: Features
At its launch Vector made a big deal out of the need to tune out digital noise in our busy modern lives, and as such, the Luna isn't packed with the bells and whistles found on the Apple Watch.
It has just a handful of features: notifications piped over from a connected smartphone, calendar reminders, basic activity tracking and basic alarms.
The types of notifications you receive is totally up to you, and it's easy to control what you see from the Vector app. Due to the basic nature of notifications, it's slightly pointless having too much turned on, and the first thing we did was to pare back our selection to just text messages, WhatsApp, Facebook and calls.
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Interestingly, while Gmail was an option, there's no push notifications for the email app on the iPhone – which is a slightly odd omission, given that work email is likely to be a key notification for busy people. When we tried the Luna out with an Android phone in November, email alerts were on the list of compatible apps.
Notifications aren't that elegant on the Vector Luna's screen, which is the first sign that the operating system used isn't up to the levels of Android Wear or watchOS. At most you get three lines of text and the most annoying part is that there's no option to scroll, so often you'll need to pull out your smartphone just to finish off reading a message.
Messages are designed to be discreet, so when you receive a message you need to turn it towards you in order to read it. If you don't, it stays as a ring around the watch face, and you can press the middle button to summon it. The process is a good idea, but it was actually quite flakey to use.
Often we weren't able to view a notification without manually pressing the button, and then it often disappeared into the ether before we'd finished reading. After moving from the Apple Watch this was quite frustrating, and despite the company wanting to keep things simple, we'd urge a usability overhaul in this area. Just to be clear, the connection to your phone isn't the problem, it's the way Vector deals with them on the watch.
The calendar watch face is pretty nice, with meeting times displayed around the edge of the circular display, showing you when exactly you have events, and free time, in your day. Vector is actually very business focused with an auto discreet mode for when you're in meetings, even tentative ones.
Vector also supports a handful of apps, that you can access through the companion app. Even as we took another look at the Luna in November the apps selection is no more than: activity, alarms, timer, stopwatch, The Economist, BBC News, CNET and ESPN headline readers. It also says a Nest app is coming, which we believe as EVERY smartwatch seems to have one but no sign yet.
To be honest, while apps have become key focuses of smartwatches, and certainly enable them to do increasingly diverse tasks, the lack of Vector apps is refreshing. The watch is there to tell the time and notify you of meetings and messages. It's a simple approach and one that works.
Vector Luna: Activity and sleep tracking
Still, fitness tracking is only so-so, even with the update with an improved step counting algorithm. The Vector will track your daily steps, and you can have a live feed added to some of the watch faces, which is a really neat touch.
In both our initial tests and our most recent time with the Luna, we found our daily steps to be about 100 steps shy of both Apple Health and the accurate Misfit Shine 2. It's still a good guide to your daily activity, though, and most people will be happy with this built-in functionality.
The sleep tracking, however, borders on the useless. It is simply a timer for how long you spent in bed and you still get a measurement if the watch is left on the bedside table – calculated from the period it spent idle. This was the case even in our most recent testing, after Vector's updates, as we wore it to bed one night then took it off halfway through the night as it wasn't terribly comfortable and the Luna still recorded 7 hours 45 minutes of sleep.
There might be some use in the app estimating when you were asleep based on the fact that the watch isn't moving but there's also no option to manually tell the Luna how long you slept for, or correct it is it's wrong.
Vector Luna: Screen and battery life
At this point in smartwatch evolution, the field is split into two camps: watches with nice screens and ones with terrible ones. The problem is that screen tech dictates battery life. If you want the lovely Apple Watch display, you'll get two days max. If you're willing to tolerate the screen from a 1980s Casio scientific calculator, your watch will last up to a month.
And that neatly explains the Vector. The company has chosen a whopping 30 days of battery life, but the display itself is grainy, dark and beyond simplistic. On closer inspection of the screen the veneer of a designer watch starts to ebb away. Curious and affectionate glances and comments from friends turns to uncertainty.
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Advocates of long battery life smartwatches will argue it does the job just fine – and it does, it's always on which is a big tick for us. For the most part notifications and the watch faces are easy to read, although with no backlight it's very difficult to read in low light conditions.
But not having to charge your smartwatch every day, or lug the extra charger on a weekend away, fighting for plug space in the hotel room on that business trip speaks for itself so it's worth considering.
Vector Luna: The app
Companion apps can be fairly mundane affairs, and in many cases – and we're looking at you here Apple – they're mostly simply glorified options menus. But the Vector app is one of the most elegant we've used.
The main Watch Maker tab enables you to hot switch watch faces, from a total now of 18 watch faces and eight information 'streams'. These streams have also been opened up to third parties but there's noting yet. It's easy to access the dedicated store to grab more watch faces and you can also browse the limited selection of apps, as well.
There are three other tabs at the bottom: Activity, where you can see information on daily steps, calories burned, sleep and distance; Alarms, where you can set multiple alarms all individually named, and a Settings tab, where you can filter notifications.
One extra niggle - there's no manual way to mute alerts or go to a priority mode on the watch itself. Auto discreet mode is all very well but, as with the auto sleep detection, these features need manual back ups too - at least for now.
Additional testing by Sophie Charara.
- Long battery
- Good looking (in the main)
- Always on screen
- Notifications a bit flakey
- Only get three lines of text
- Very poor screen