The majority of wearables work with your phone to help you, or at least try to. They capture data about your exercises and sleep to help you be your best self. In some cases, wearables just want to protect you, maybe by sending distress calls to loved ones.
For the longest time in science fiction, wearables weren't just about improving ourselves, they were a way to interact with the world. You'd just press a couple buttons on your arm and a door would slide open, or you'd enable some sort of magical UV light that let you solve crimes, CSI Batman style.
That hasn't happened yet, but the Nex Band Evolution certainly wants to get us there. It's a wearable band that you can 'hack', triggering things and receiving notifications via customisable light patterns and haptic feedback.
It's certainly an intriguing an idea. A band on our wrists that we can customise commands to, controlling our services and smart homes? Utilising the fun of customised light patterns for certain alerts? It's an idea that has a ton of potential, but how does it fare in reality?
All of the lights
The first thing you'll notice about the Nex band is that it looks like a Fisher-Price knuckle duster. Each of these little segments is extremely sensitive to touch. It's instant. And when you touch them, they light up. It's actually a little too easy to treat this like a weird, colourful piano, spending the more bored minutes of your day tapping around the lights.
These five lighted areas can be used in conjunction with the Nex's haptic engine to alert you to various things, from sports scores to text messages to phone calls. You can even light it up when you leave or enter a geofenced area.
Setting this stuff up is super easy. You open up the companion Nex app and click the little painting logo near the bottom. Here, you can create your own customised light and haptic feedback patterns. You can use a spectrum of colours, with plenty of varieties of blue, yellow, red and green. You can easily create blinking lights and long lights and flickering patterns that quickly run through as many colours as possible. Plus, you can pair them with a haptic feedback pattern to make them even more distinguishable.
While it's incredibly fun to put these patterns together, you'll have to learn how to set them up in a way that's useful. The Nex band basically gives you a canvas to do whatever light patterns you want, but with that freedom to do something cool comes the freedom to do something useless. For instance, when I first set up the Nex band, my first instinct was to make a nice colour pattern with haptic feedback and I'd be good to go. In practice, not so much.
I'd be sitting around doing my normal thing. When I received a notification, the haptic feedback and and lights started at the same time, so when I actually moved my hand to look at the pattern I couldn't tell which one it was. After some tinkering, I quickly figured out that it's better to trigger haptic feedback before the lights, adding in a short gap that allowed me to see the full customised pattern. Of course, the Nex band has some default patterns that are little easier to see, like all green for a text message or pulsing blue for Facebook messages. But you're not getting the Nex band for default patterns, you want it because of the freedom it gives you to tinker and explore.
These lights can be used to notify you of a host of things, similar to how Philips Hue lights work. You can set them to go off at certain times, or for certain notifications, or for sports scores. You can even trigger them when you get home. I must say, it's absurdly cool to have a little party light pattern trigger the moment you enter your home, for no reason other than it's just fun. You can even have it set off when a friend with a Nex band is in range of you.
Hack your life
What you can't see on the Nex band is that each of the five segments has two functions: double tap and long press. Each of these triggers, as Nex likes to call them, can be used to activate something. You can set off a light pattern, sure, but you can also control your smartphone's music, play sounds, alert a friend with a Nex band, and other Nex-specific features.
Those Nex-specific features are built for a community of Nex band users, which I wasn't able to try as they haven't rolled out yet. You can post your location, drop gifs, beat box, send memorised patterns to friends, poke friends and post a message in a feed.
Of all of these things, the music controls are the most convenient. It's just easy to quickly double tap to raise your smartphone volume, or skip a track, or pause. More than that, though, is IFTTT implementation. This is what makes the Nex band something special, and what gives it the most potential.
Basically, you can arrange it so a double tap or long press activates an IFTTT applet. You just have to create a keyword in the Nex app, go to the IFTTT app and set up a custom applet and link it to the keyword.
This opens up a whole world of possibilities. You can use your Nex band to control your smart home, create notes in Office and Evernote, keep track of hashtags on Twitter, post things on Facebook and a host of other things. Now, some of those are hard to find a use for. It's a bit difficult to see why someone would want to automate Facebook link sharing or creating blank Evernote notes or send stock emails. So that makes it all a little overwhelming, but if you take the time to sort through you can find useful things. Controlling your smart home appliances, for instance, is wonderfully convenient. Controlling your services isn't as convenient, though quick creating a new note is nice.
The one problem with the IFTTT integration is that it's clunky. If you try to create it within the app, it boots you into an in-app web browser that's prone to crashing the entire app. And if you just go to the IFTTT app yourself, you're bouncing between two apps. However, Nex tells Wareable that the two companies are currently working on better integration within the Nex app.
Should you buy it?
Good question, you tinkerer you. The Nex Evolution can legitimately be useful, especially if you've invested heavily in smart home appliances. It's also a convenient way to control your music on your phone, especially if you have Bluetooth headphones, which lack wires with attached music controls.
There are some problems with the Nex band right now. The community stuff, and the Nex-specific features tied to it, are useless without friends who also have the Nex band. And even if they do, are they good enough or interesting enough to take your communication away from Facebook, WhatsApp or iMessage?
There are also several features that the Nex band is gaining in the next month or so. Developers have just received a Nex band SDK, which will allow them to build games and other custom recipes and triggers for the wearable. IFTTT's now clunky integration will apparently become much more streamlined and easier to use. And finally, you'll be able to use your Nex band to control your Maker projects.
Nex Evolution also has some basic activity monitoring. It can keep track of your steps, calories and kilometres you walk or run. It's nothing to write home about, but I found step tracking on par with the Apple Watch. The Nex doesn't have a heart rate sensor, so it's not able to do anything too advanced, but if you want light activity tracking you'll certainly get it here. Nex also told us it will consider more activity features if that's what users want.
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And then there's that hole left by Pebble, the 'geeky' wearable that had a strong community of hackers and tinkerers that was left with nowhere to roam once the company was purchased by Fitbit. Those users are unlikely to wander into the closed garden of Apple Watch, but the Nex and its fascination with tinkering and hacking may give them the home they've been looking for.
The Nex band is worth buying if you're into tinkering and customising your own thing – but not yet. Once the Nex band's features are all up and running, and there's more of a community and development support, the Nex band, at its $79.99 price, will be more worth the purchase.