Rory Cellan-Jones

The watchphone: Gadget or gimmick?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 20 Aug 09, 10:43 GMT

Whenever some shiny new plaything arrives on the scene, it's worth asking one question: is it a gadget or a gimmick?

a watchphoneAnd when a nice man from Orange turned up in my office earlier this week, I quickly decided that what he was carrying was little more than a gimmick - albeit an expensive one.

What he'd brought with him was described as "the world's first touchscreen watchphone".

It's made by LG and Orange has the exclusive deal to sell it in the UK on a pay-as-you-go deal for a mere £500.

You can make calls just by tapping on the watchface - I found it pretty awkward - but it comes with a Bluetooth headset which does at least make it easier to receive calls.

It's not really a smartphone - you can't, for instance, surf the web or navigate your way around town with it - but it does have video calling.

We tried it and I was reminded once again why this supposed "killer app" of 3G communications never took off.

You don't really want to stare at the person you're calling, unless you're sitting down at the computer for a long chat with someone far away.

Of course the video calling helps the watchphone achieve what must be its primary aim - to make the wearer feel like a rather retro action hero from a spy movie. James Bond? The Saint? Or maybe Austin Powers?

a watchphoneThe trouble is, that if you'd had one of these phones in the 1980s, you might well have been the object of wonder and admiration as you dialled up Mission Control from your wrist, or spoke to Miss Moneypenny.

But I can't help feeling that anyone seen staring at their chunky LG wristwatch as they make a call is more likely to be a figure of fun.

In short: a gimmick, not a gadget.

But just as I was explaining all this to the man from Orange - while he listened with a fixed smile - a colleague stepped in.

He was a cameraman, with a mild interest in gadgets, but a more pressing need to make his working life easier. "That's the future," he enthused. "I'm carrying all sorts of stuff with me, and just having the phone in a watch, rather than a separate piece of kit, would be a life-saver."

While he blanched at the price, he said he was sure that would come down, and that the watchphone would catch on.

So maybe I'm wrong. But I still think that, like the Sinclair C5, the internet-connected fridge and the Amstrad e-mailer, the watchphone will turn out to be a gimmick rather than the must-have gadget of 2010.


  • Comment number 1.

    So true. This would have been amazing 10 years ago, maybe more.

    I don't understand why it's branded as a watch phone. As a watch it looks ugly and anyone prepared to spend £500 on it would probably rather a much nicer timepiece. As a phone it is very limited too.

    So in conclusion, it's dated and for the price is a poor phone and a poor watch.

  • Comment number 2.

    I think it's a good idea which makes less work of carrying a mobile phone. Would be better with some sort of text function, as I assume it just makes and recieves calls?

    Maybe one day, they'll increase on this technology and make it much better.

  • Comment number 3.

    It seems things have goine in a full circle.

    I stopped wearing a watch years ago because I always have my phone with me which shows the time, I found watches annoying because they interfeared with my typing on a keyboard and they kept getting caught when I put my hands in my pockets.

    So years after using my phone as a watch they are using a watch as a phone.

  • Comment number 4.

    Looks like a mini phone with a wrist strap.

  • Comment number 5.

    I've just glued my iPhone to my arm. why would I need one of these?

  • Comment number 6. more scrambling around for your phone as it rings, but then again no more excuses for not answering it! :D

    I like the idea, I reckon my arm would get pretty tired after a half-hour phone call. I would certainly want one though it's very space-age! :)

  • Comment number 7.

    Why did they make it look so clunky? Whilst it might look cool if you are twelve I can't see them on the wrists of the nation's businessmen or women. Deffinately a gimic.

  • Comment number 8.

    This will fail because it misses people's expectations of what they want a phone for.

    For everyone:
    It must make calls - tick
    It must text - no tick (I suspect this can but it's more trouble than it's worth)
    It must be portable - tick
    It must have a good battery life - doubtful

    For some:
    It must surf the net - Nope
    It must have GPS - Nope
    It must be an entertainment point - nope
    It must play music - No idea

    In short, almost no one wants a phone that just makes calls and those that do (normally the elderly) want a simple phone with REALLY BIG BUTTONS and are usually only willing to spend £20 on the handset.

  • Comment number 9.

    It's not very usefull unless all you do is call and look at the time.
    I can't see my self using this for anything, mobile phones are cameras,
    calendars and contact devices which has the option of sending text as
    well as calling those contacts. This does none of that, it's a expensive
    gimmick from Dick Tracy.

  • Comment number 10.

    But surely your camera man friend will have to have a bluetooth headset as well as a phone to make the thing usable for private conversations, thus negating the whole less-gadgets-to-carry thing?

  • Comment number 11.

    Gadget or gimmick?

    I don't care, I WANT ONE.

  • Comment number 12.

    A gimmick? Definitely.

    But it will make playing Thunderbirds so much more fun!!

  • Comment number 13.

    Holding a phone up to your ear tires your arm out after a while. That's why when you're on the phone you swap hands. A watch is strapped to one wrist and you have to hold your arm that little bit higher. Frustrating. That is assuming you don't want to walk around wearing a bluetooth earpiece, which makes you look either as though you are trying a bit hard or that you just finished work in a call centre and forgot to remove your headset.

  • Comment number 14.

    "What he'd brought with him was described as 'the world's first touchscreen watchphone'."

    Unfortunately, Swap have been selling pretty much the same thing for over a year (no video calling though). Sim free and half the price.

    I bought mine 6 months ago from Iwantoneofthose due to the fact that I always left my phone lying around and had lost 3 or 4 in the past. It too comes with a bluetooth headset.

    Yes, it's a bit bulky due to the battery but it does the job nicely and I have no complaints

  • Comment number 15.

    It's funny that I stopped wearing a watch when I realised I was always carrying a mobile phone on me which always knew the time. I suspect until someone finds a solution to the pathetically small screen size of the watch (maybe some sort of projection) the phone will win out.

  • Comment number 16.

    Don't think it will ever really catch on as primarily a phone.

    The real use is for all the other applications that modern phones have, surfing, apps, mp3 player (via wireless earpiece), GPS etc. I would much prefer something that I could wear as a wristwtch to having to carry about (and make sure I dont drop or lose) a pocket phone.

    But then I make very few phone calls from my phone.

  • Comment number 17.

    At £500 its a gimmick. But I'm sure in time the idea of a phone in your watch could catch on. They'll eventually get smaller and cheaper and be able to be housed within a watch without being too expensive.

    I would certainly rather have one in my watch than have to carry it around all day.

  • Comment number 18.

    It's hideous. These things have always been hideous. Ever since Bill Gates stood on stage, at CES, over half a decade ago with a vast ugly speedometer strapped to his arm, proclaiming it to be the Shape Of Things to Come, these things have been a continual source of ridicule (for those who don't remember it, that particular 'Smart watch' was called Microsoft SPOT: in marketing terms, it proved to be the brother of Microsoft Bob, and, sadly, like Bob, it also proved to be a dog). Looking at the interface on this one, it wouldn't surprise me if you told me you could play 'Pong' on it. I think anyone who thinks that not having to carry a phone around with him counts as a 'life saver' needs to get a sense of proportion - especially when the alternative involves looking like a dork.

  • Comment number 19.

    Totally agree. I think they'll see about five.

    Twitter: @ejcallow

  • Comment number 20.

    Gimmick ! Just like those watches that had a calculator on them or what about the watches that were also a remote control.
    I have heard that Mickey Mouse wears a Watchphone now !!

  • Comment number 21.

    Definitely a gimmick.

    How exactly are you supposed to use it? Hold your wrist up to your mouth when talking, and then move it round to your ear when listening?

    Sometimes I think the people who develop "technology" have completely lost touch with reality.

    Would only be worth having if it plays the theme music from Austin Powers as its ringtone.

  • Comment number 22.

    Sorry, but a watchphone is still cool. Would you rather look like a cityboy nonce (iPhone), or a 1950's sci fi hero? Possibly my immaturity coming to the fore here, but wristphones, for me are almost as cool as hoverboards.

  • Comment number 23.


    Splitting the difference, it looks like a very expensive gadget with the tendencies of a gimmick.....

    =Dennis Junior=

  • Comment number 24.

    Is it waterproof? I can't imagine not wearing a waterproof watch. I'd forget and do some washing up and ruin it.

  • Comment number 25.

    Was it really a man from Orange Rory or were you just watching The Gadget Show on Five. Hmm. Lol.

    Dick Tracy had a similar watch decades ago...

    11. At 12:28pm on 20 Aug 2009, gibbon_plinth wrote:

    Gadget or gimmick?

    I don't care, I WANT ONE.


    I sincerely hope that's sarcasm. Unfortunately I believe it wasn't as their are many people like yourself who would be willing to spend £500 on a pointless gimmick.

  • Comment number 26.

    All it is in my eyes is a gimmick.
    I dont wear a watch as i find that straps can be too weak and the only place i would really need to wear a watch is at work, but thats because we cant take phones in with us anyway.

    That said - to #22
    i would rather be myself than either of your 2 options :-)

    i dont have an iPhone and would die rather than buy one as it would probably explode against my ear and kill me anyway and the watches just arent appealing

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 28.

    Well I'll admint to actually having bought one of these at the launch in London this week. I bought it as a backup phone and would not really have considered it for a primary device. Backup because my current phone (an iPhone) is not always available due to network coverage, battery running out, or the phone software playing up. Yes, I could just replace that with a more reliable phone/network, but then I would lose one of the smoothest devices for mobile browsing.
    I have always worn a watch and I don't notice the extra size or weight at all while wearing this device, so nothing has changed for me in terms of what I have to wear or carry with me. I am just more reliably contactable, which having an elderly parent living alone with diabetes is reassuring to me.
    The phone itself is more useable than I expected, and the tech in there is actually surprisingly advanced. For example, I doubt I will ever use the voice dialling but the phone's ability to recognise the name of a contact, never having heard you speak the name before is astoundingly accurate.
    The phone does incidentally have a music player and I can stream that music to a pair of Bluetooth speakers with no problem at all. The phone also sends and receives text messages using T9 text input on a standard 0-9 keypad. Admitedly I don't have big fingers but I have no problems at all hitting the right key.
    Anyone ever had a missed call when their phone was in a bag or pocket and they didn't hear it? That's never going to happen when you have a watchphone on you and it vibrates to let you know you have a call or text.
    Of course this kind of thing is going to be the future. When I bought my first mobile phone back in 1992 (a surprisingly compact one) I used to get stared at by people in the street. When I bought the very first Bluetooth headset on the market I also got stared at when using it. People will stare at me if I use this thing in public, but in 10 years time it will just be normal and totally uninteresting. I'll live with being a figure of fun for now.
    And no, I doubt I will ever use the videocall feature. But that's just human nature.

  • Comment number 29.

    Interesting that most of those posting negative responses haven't actually seen one so aren't actually in a position to comment on the capability of the device.

    I haven't seen one either so I'm not going to comment on the battery life, screen resolution, features as I simply don't know.

    What I can say however is that since I'm right handed I wear my current watch on my left wrist. If I got the LG it too would have to sit on my left wrist so where does my watch go? I don't find it comfy to wear a watch on my right wrist and so I suspect I'm supposed to leave my watch at home in drawer? and when you've spent £2500 on a fine time piece you really want to wear it...

    Result : Gimmick

  • Comment number 30.

    I'll stick with the iPhone - just need a strap for that.

  • Comment number 31.

    Say what you like; I'd have loved a Sinclair C5.
    What these mobile phone companies have to remember is that they have no say in what will be popular; all they can do is build their products to suit a specific consumer demand. Remember those arcade video games built into coffee tables? Did anyone actually say to themselves "I know exactly what will complete my interior design dreams"? No. As the arcade bug bit, companies tried every variation of the theme in order to shift some units. It's the same with mobile phones.
    As a fan of their other gadgets, it's disappointing to see that LG phones have become as off-task as this. They're clearly at the forefront of their field; just one look at their Pop model confirms this. In future they need to stick to what they do best: sophisticated smartphones for a wide audience. More of the grand designs, less of the gimmicks.

  • Comment number 32.

    Looks Cool.. but the price is a bit steep!!


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