Microsoft-Based Timepieces: Watch Out!

Posted by bink on March 4 2004, 5:34 PM. Posted in SPOT (MSN Direct).

'Smart' watches may not be as smart as they think they are.

The wristwatch I usually wear has been telling time--accurately and attractively--since 1939. What it doesn't do is deliver data wirelessly to my wrist. That is the promise of two new "smart watches" featuring Microsoft's MSN Direct service. Yet the preproduction Fossil Wrist Net and the shipping Sunnto N3 I tried proved so impractical that I quickly strapped my trusty Hamilton back on.

MSN Direct service, which costs $59 per year, piggybacks on FM radio signals in 100 U.S. and Canadian markets to broadcast bite-size chunks of news, weather, and other timely information. You can also view your desktop Outlook calendar and receive messages sent from the Microsoft MSN Messenger client.

However, gleaning that data takes more than a glance, as both watches have murky monochrome screens and unwieldy interfaces driven by five unmarked buttons.

Charge times aren't great: The Fossil's batteries are rated to last two to four days; the Suunto's, from six to eight. And if you leave your home city, you need to reconfigure your watch on the Web to continue to receive your personalized data. Also, MSN Messenger messages are one-way, meaning you can't reply.

Still intrigued? The water-resistant Suunto's strong suit is its compact charger, which draws juice from an AC outlet or a PC's USB port. But this hefty watch comes with an equally hefty price tag of $299.

Fossil's $179 Wrist Net--also marketed in computer stores as the Abacus Wrist Net for just $129--recharges on a bulky docking station that's a pain to travel with. Still, I found it more tolerable than the Suunto, owing to its more-legible screen. Until smart watches get a lot smarter, though, my wrist will remain a Microsoft-free zone.