Hands on: Practech UB

This quirky smartwatch scans barcodes to track your budget, and your calories

The U Band is an interesting idea, with several potentially useful features, but it’s too early to say if it’ll be successful – or even see the light of day.

The more smartwatches begin to crowd onto the market, the more manufacturers are going to look for unusual ways to differentiate their own devices. For Practech, a San Francisco company, that killer differentiator is the built-in barcode scanner on its U Band, or UB.

The scanner is fitted into the band, and at MWC 2015, we were shown it recognizing a few commonly purchased products. It’s early days, so the scanner refers to a Google Search after grabbing the number, but the final model will have a custom app ready to install on your phone. Barcodes can point to a wealth of information about a product, including ingredients and nutritional data for food.

This makes the U Band a convenient way of tracking what you eat, your calorie and fat intake, and even ensuring you don’t accidentally eat something you’re allergic to. There are apps which do this already, but the watch will combine it with fitness tracking for an all-in-one solution. Outside of food, the watch could be used to monitor shopping costs, compare prices between stores, and work in conjunction with an accounting app.

Additionally, it could also replace to those handheld scanners that are becoming more commonplace in supermarkets, the ones you carry round with you, doing the cashier’s job, and then using it to pay before you leave. The U Band could, with the right apps and compatibility, do all that for you.

Twisty, turny screen solves viewing frustrations

Practech has come up with an unusual solution to the problem of how to display information on a small, oblong display. The watch’s 1.8-inch, color touchscreen can be rotated through 90 degrees, because reading messages, emails, and websites is much easier in landscape orientation. That’s not all: There is a second screen on the side of the bracelet to display the time and other quickly accessed features, plus it’s a track pad for navigating the main screen, so your fingers don’t get in the way.

It could turn out to be the shopper’s best friend, thanks to a built-in barcode scanner

Despite all this complicated tech and multi-screen action, the 550mAh battery inside is expected to last two days, and will be charged with a USB connection built into the strap, so no external charger or cable will be needed. The watch has 8GB of internal storage space, and can act as a memory stick. The operating system is a gesture-controlled proprietary system, and is currently only compatible with Android smartphones.

The model we’ve seen is still a proof of concept, and wasn’t in operational order, so we can’t judge that side of the watch. However, the design is almost final. It’s made of plastic, and isn’t heavy, but it is quite large. It dwarfed the LG G Watch R I was wearing, and reminded me of a sleeker, more stylish Neptune Pine. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Twisting the screen was easy, and the concept has a pleasing feel and motion, although we’re not sure how comfortable the barcode scanner will be to use during a big shopping trip.

Finally, there’s the concept itself. The whole thing sounds a little confused, with too many functions stuffed into a single device. Take away the barcode scanning, but retain the twisty screen and secondary display, and it would probably attract just as much interest.

Practech plans to put the U Band on Kickstarter in the near future, ready for launch in early 2016, with a price tag around $250 to $300.

Highs

  • Interesting combination of features
  • Cool rotating screen
  • Handy secondary screen
  • No proprietary charger

Lows

  • It’s massive
  • It only works with Android
  • Not focused enough?
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