Archos’ E Ink SmartWatch looks like a Pebble with a facelift

Prior to CES opening its doors in Las Vegas, Archos announced it would be showcasing a series of smartwatches at the show, although it declined to provide much information on the specs. It did offer up a single image, showing a good-looking, curvy watch with an E Ink screen. If there was one gadget not in short supply in Vegas, it was the smartwatch, but we still wanted to get our hands on the Archos models to see how they stacked up against the growing competition.

It wasn’t until the day before the show ended we visited the Archos booth. It turned out to be fortuitous timing, with our arrival coming just before the head of marketing jetted off. This meant we didn’t only see the flagship model, but we also caught a few moments with the two lesser Archos watches, too.

If you’re expecting a Galaxy Gear-challenging feature list, you’re going to be very disappointed.

However, the reason we were there was the E Ink SmartWatch. What makes the Archos watch exciting is its use of a curved 1.8-inch E Ink display, a rarity in the market despite its space-age looks. Plus, E Ink’s power-sipping technology ensures the watch returns a week’s worth of use between charges. So far, so good. The strap is a robust, rubber affair, with some basic detailing. The face is made from glass, and is mounted on a chrome metal body. The Archos branding is a little large, but that’s the only stylistic complaint we have with the E Ink SmartWatch.

If you’re expecting a Galaxy Gear-challenging feature list, you’re going to be very disappointed, and equally let down if you’re happy to make do with the level of functionality provided by the Pebble. Archos says it wants to offer only the basics. That means you’ll get notifications from all the usual apps, plus a display showing the time and date. No app store, no camera, and no phone functionality. It’s not the end of the world, and a similar approach attracted us to the Martian Notifier, but buyers will need to keep their expectations in check here.

The watch wasn’t connected to a phone and the display had seen some hard use, so our opinion of it so far can only be based on the build quality and its nuts and bolts feature list. Arguably, the best watches we’ve seen have been the ones which don’t try too hard, and we’re big fans of E Ink’s flexible screen. Archos will charge $130 for the watch when it goes on sale, and it’ll be compatible with both Android and iOS smartphones – considerable bonus, and something of a surprise given the company obviously only supports Android phones.

It’ll be good to spend some time with a final version of Archos’ E Ink SmartWatch, as it shows some promise, which is more than can be said for its cheaper devices. The next model down will cost $100, has a color LCD touchscreen, and therefore only two days maximum of battery life. It’s a chunky, plasticy slab that few will want to wear on their wrist. The strap is comfy though.

While the color touchscreen may tempt some to choose the mid-range model, not even the super low $50 price can save the last watch. Chances are you’ve won classier and more expensive looking watches at a fairground. It does have one thing going for it and that’s battery standby, which should be more than a week, primarily thanks to its basic 1.5-inch black and white screen.

So, ultimately it’s the top-of-the-range Archos watch which is worth a second look, and we’re sure the design will win it a few fans. As the software wasn’t set up for testing, we’ll have to reserve final judgement until its release. Archos says its smartwatch range will be coming in mid 2014, but frankly at this stage, it can keep all but one of them to itself.

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