Uno Noteband review

Doomed: Even brilliant speed reading tech fails to save this wearable eye-sore

Speed-reading tech is a genuine benefit, but the ugly Uno Noteband is a problem.
Speed-reading tech is a genuine benefit, but the ugly Uno Noteband is a problem.
Speed-reading tech is a genuine benefit, but the ugly Uno Noteband is a problem.

Highs

  • Spritz speed-reading tech is effective
  • Not very expensive
  • Tracks steps

Lows

  • Software disappoints
  • Too big
  • Strap isn’t very robust
  • Uninspiring design
  • Short battery life

DT Editors' Rating

Wearables are great for catching up with notifications you may otherwise miss, but the little screens aren’t so good for quickly reading a wall of text, or for getting the point of a message across speedily without resorting to looking at your phone. This, of course, defeats the whole object.

The Uno Noteband is a possible solution to this problem, thanks to clever speed-reading technology that makes the most out of the Noteband’s diminutive screen size. We’ve been trying it out to see if it’s the answer to our wearable woes.

Feel the need, the need to read speedily

The speed-reading technology comes from Spritz; it changes the way we read text and is optimized for small displays. Normally when we read, we’re looking for a particular focal point in each word so the brain can interpret its meaning, before it starts assembling them all into one coherent sentence, taking in punctuation as it goes. Spritz shortens the time it takes to find that focal point and cuts out the time needed to move your eyes from one word to the next. It presents a more efficient way of reading.

The Uno Noteband’s screen measures just under an inch and a half and has a resolution of 128 × 32 pixels, but thanks to Spritz, it’s quicker to read notifications on than any other wearable, phone, or tablet we’ve tried. Words flash up on the screen with seizure-inducing speed, yet it’s simple to read and understand each one, and we never needed to pull out our phone to clarify meaning. This is reading 2.0, an overhaul of a basic talent that we all tend to accept as unlikely to get much better. Uno says that with a bit of practice, 600 words-per-minute is possible, but we found a comfort level around 400 wpm instead.

There’s another twist to Spritz’s speed reading technology. You have to concentrate and really “read” every word, which meant we absorbed more of the information contained in a message the first time. This writer has a habit of skimming messages, especially those delivered on a wearable, but that’s not possible with the Noteband. It’s by far the most efficient and speedy way of reading messages on your wrist.

Not a wearable you’ll want to wear

You may have noticed we’re singing the praises of Spritz here, and not necessarily the Noteband itself. There’s a good reason. It’s not a great wearable, sadly, and certainly not the showcase Spritz’s tech needs. There are problems with the design and the software. If Spritz takes reading to the next level, the Noteband regresses wearables by a similar measure — and that’s a great shame.

It’s quicker to read notifications on the Noteband than any other wearable, phone, or tablet.

The Uno Noteband looks and feels like a first-generation product. The body is a large, black rectangle, standing off your wrist like back to back to back matchbooks might, and secured by a flimsy strap that feels like a reinforced elastic band. If the Huawei Watch and Apple Watch are the pinnacle of current wearable design, then the Uno Noteband looks and feels like a prototype. The overall style? You can have any color as long as it’s black, an oversight in today’s world where wearables are as much fashion statements as tech products.

It’s not heavy, but it is ungainly and doesn’t really fit under the cuff of a shirt (a complaint we raised about the first-generation Microsoft Band), and because it’s a bit ugly you’ll want to cover it up when the chance is there. The strap clips on to the body using a strong magnet, which hides the proprietary charging port. There’s another stud on the strap for adjusting the size. It’s fine once they’re on and properly sized, but quite often they both pop free of the strap and bounce across the room due to the elastic nature of the band, especially when you try and pull the magnetic closure free to top up the battery.

Software needs fixing

The Uno Noteband has a companion app that’s available for Android and iOS, and it connects to your phone using Bluetooth. Notifications on iOS rely on what’s shown in the Notification Center, which can cause problems depending on whether you use it or have configured it to show only the most important notifications. If you dismiss the notifications on your phone, they disappear from the Noteband. There is an Android app, but at the time of writing it was too bug-ridden to be operational. Not good news.

Gestures are the key to using the Noteband, which doesn’t have any physical buttons at all, and it’s a swipe to the left and right to view notifications, then an upward swipe to show the content. By default the app won’t show an entire message, and limits itself to a few kilobytes of data; otherwise it’ll be scrolling text from long emails for hours. The Uno Noteband displays the clock as standard, which oddly can be changed between 12-hour and 24-hour formats by swiping up on the screen. Why isn’t this an option in the app? We’ve no idea. The screen isn’t very responsive, and staunchly refused to recognize our swipes on a daily basis.

Uno Noteband
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Worst of all, you have to tap the screen and swipe to find a new notification. Raise your wrist when the Apple Watch or Samsung Gear S2 vibrates with an alert and it’s displayed instantly on the screen. It’s really helpful when your hands are full. The Uno Noteband’s OLED screen stays black until you prod it into life. It’s a major feature that’s missing from the Noteband, and one that lessens its effectiveness. A glance at the screen after raising a wrist to see the message flash by would decrease the time spent addressing notifications even further. If you’re concerned about the screen’s orientation — it’s vertical on your wrist — making it hard to read text, then don’t, because that’s not the terrible part of this thing.

Annoyingly, the Uno Noteband is supposed to recognize which wrist it’s on and adjust the orientation of the display accordingly, so it’s always facing the right way. Not only does this need a motion sensor — meaning a raise-to-view feature should be easy to implement — but like the screen gestures, it’s not very reliable. I wore it only on my right wrist to stop confusing it.

Aside from notifications the Noteband will count your steps but won’t track your sleep. It produced similar counts to my Jawbone Up2, but only recognizes steps rather than many different forms of exercise. The battery inside takes an hour or so to charge up, but only lasts for around three days, which is less than almost all other wearables outside of the Apple Watch and Android Wear smartwatches — and they have color LCD touchscreens and way more functionality.

Too frustrating

The Uno Noteband is frustrating. And that’s not because it’s too big or the software too sketchy but because the Spritz speed-reading technology is really excellent. It genuinely offers a tangible benefit that can’t be found on any other wearable, and despite the software’s shortcomings, it works well on the little screen. The frustrating part is that it’s all inside the Uno Noteband, which just isn’t good.

People aren’t convinced by classy, stylish wearables — persuading them to wear an ugly one that is a bit annoying to use just because of a single benefit is an impossible task. Even at $100, the Uno Noteband’s asking price, it’s hard to recommend.

We’re intrigued to see if the Uno Noteband gets a sequel addressing its shortcomings, because the basis for a great product is there. But this isn’t it. What’s more, we’d love to see Spritz speed-reading tech on the Apple Watch, the Samsung Gear S2, and any wearable with a small screen. Spritz is the breakout star here; the Noteband itself will quickly be forgotten.

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