The days of Dick Tracy are alive and well with watches like Fossil’s Abacus AU4002. With information delivered throughout the day via MSN Direct, the AU4002 serves as a time keeping piece which keeps you current on news, weather, stocks and other data which may serve some purpose in your life. The watch itself runs $129, with service plans ranging from $39.95 a year and up. The physical characteristics make the AU4002 a little too geek-chic looking for some, but the information you can get from it helps to offset that.
Microsoft’s attempts to get into every nook and cranny of our busy lives have produced some great hits and bad flops over the years. Remember Bob? One of their more recent endeavors is the MSN Direct service (powered by SPOT, also known as Smart Personal Objects Technology), which uses a large ranging network (in metropolitan areas only) based upon FM broadcast signals to reach customers with weather, news, stock quotes, movie times and other information which is perhaps relevant to your life. The device by which this information is delivered is a specialized watch produced in conjunction with well known watch makers such as Swatch, Fossil and Suunto.
In this particular review, we shall focus on Fossil’s Abacus brand of smart watches, specifically the AU4002. This take on the MSN Direct Smart Watch is currently retailing at $129 and has been in the market since late October of last year.
The Abacus Smart Watch AU4002 has its antenna in the leather band.
First Impressions and Setup
Out of the box, the Abacus AU4002 takes me back to the days of dreams of television watches on my wrist while in high school. While this particular model is reportedly less geeky looking then the previous generation, it still definitely sports that “I have a scientific watch on my wrist” type of feeling.
The AU4002 measures 1.8″ x 1.5″ x 0.5″ and weighs approximately three ounces. The watch sports a leather band which has a nice design and also integrates the antenna. The clasp is functional, providing an easy snap on your wrist approach which is adjustable for different sizes.
The face of the AU4002 is where all of the action happens. Five buttons (two on the left side and three on the right) provide all of the control: turning on the backlight, changing channels of information, navigating from one screen to another and entering into more detailed modes. The LCD, perhaps owing to the “geek chic” look of the watch, is just large enough to be easy to read.
Initially, the watch needs to be charged before being of any functional use. This is done by placing it on a charging unit which has an arm that swings up in some bizarre design idea. Charging is done through direct connection of the watch to the flat of the arm specific to a diagram which outlines how the buttons should be aligned.
Speaking of the buttons, they were extremely difficult to use at first. The watch, after charged, was in a “sleep” mode which required three of the five buttons to be pressed at the same time to wake it up. The buttons were very stiff, perhaps owing to the newness of the AU4002. After several somewhat frustrating attempts, the watch finally awoke.
Once past this issue, setup of the watch to receive its channels of information was relatively painless. A visit to the MSN Direct website provided easy to follow instructions which required getting the watch’s ID from the “Register!” screen, inputting it, selecting a payment plan ($39.95 a year plus taxes for channels only, $59.95 a year or $9.95 a month plus taxes for channels and Outlook synchronization) and inputting personal information including a valid credit card.
While MSN Direct is busy activating your service, you can walk through the personalization of your channels. The channels at the time of the review were as follows:
- Glance: Allows scrollable scanning of headlines from other channels without the need to visit that channel on the watch.
- Messages: Receive one way messages from MSN Messenger contacts.
- Weather: Local, national and international conditions and temperatures.
- News: Top, business, international, technology, sports, entertainment, weather, local and health stories. Also an option to receive breaking news alerts.
- Stocks: Quotes for up to 15 companies.
- Calendar: One way synchronization (for those who pay the $59.95 a year plan) of appointments from Outlook via a special application which you install and download.
- Watch Faces: Selectable digital faces which are mainly seasonal.
- Sports: Game times, scores, and standings for selected college and professional teams across several sports.
- Daily Diversions: Random facts and trivia.
- Horoscopes: Daily.
- Lottery: Numbers local to your state.
- Movies: Showtimes for local theatres.
Each channel, and the information options available to it, takes up a certain number of “blocks” of memory on the watch. With the AU4002, 1000 of these blocks were available which, for the average information hound, should be plenty. A nice feature for setup in this area was that the MSN Direct service helped you keep track online of how much free memory your watch had.
Usage and Operation
With the watch strapped on and receiving information over the course of several hours (reception strength and time varies upon where you are wandering – inside or outside – and the amount of data you are pulling down), I proceeded out into the world. The AU4002 was generally comfortable, not slipping or rubbing as I walked, but definitely feeling a little bulky. It drew comments from several of my friends when showed off, which were mainly of the “Hey, It’s Dick Tracy” vein.
Funny jabs turned to sounds of awe as sports scores and news of the day were read aloud. Navigating between each of these channels was relatively easy after a quick memorization of the watch’s functionalities. The primary channel button moved me through the main channels (certain channels have secondary options which first appear when you hit the channel button as well) while other buttons allowed me to navigate through headlines and proceed deeper in to read the summaries (full stories are not downloaded, which I suppose is a storage saving feature).
After double checking my next appointment which had been downloaded from Outlook to MSN Direct and on to my watch, a quick flick of several buttons brought me to reading about the hockey lockout and the Iraqi elections. As the weather started to change foul, a flip to the related channel showed me the near current temperature (all the information is fairly close to real time, providing you are in a local metropolitan coverage zone in the United States or Canada) and the fact it was due to rain.
Outside of the realm of a mobile information provider, the AU4002 also has some other neat features. Time keeping is extremely accurate owing to the fact this watch has an atomic clock feature and is automatically updated. Multiple watch faces are supported, with the ability to download up to two more. There is also a stopwatch which can record up to 99 laps, dual alarms and timer.
In terms of battery life, Fossil estimated at least two days of operating time under normal conditions. The amount of actual time I found could last up to four days, depending upon how you manage factors which impact battery drain. Recommendations to stretch your watch’s functionality between charges are included in the manual and basically put the responsibility on you for keeping track of battery life through the information selection of your watch’s settings (a notification icon luckily appears at around 30 percent of remaining battery life if you aren’t paying attention).
The Abacus Smart Watch comes with the following watch faces. You can add additional watch faces using the Watch Face channel.
The Fossil Abacus AU4002 makes itself standout as a solid contender for the right to be a source of mobile information delivery. The price tag of the watch itself is not too steep, though the cost of the yearly or monthly service (especially with regards to the Outlook expansion option) might make some raise their eyebrows at the need to pay additional fees. The physical look may turn off some as well because, despite Fossil’s best efforts at making the AU4002 look chic, it still maintains a high geek factor. For those who don’t mind this, the AU4002 may find its way to their wrist quite often for its interesting variety of channels.