Monday, June 8, 2009

LG Touch Watch Phone

A tiny video chat-enabled phone is just too cool

Pardon me, will you? I think my wrist is ringing.

Even if you're not old enough to remember comic strip cop Dick Tracy's two-way wrist radio, there's something about combining a phone with a wristwatch that seizes the imagination and doesn't let go. Surely flying cars and robot butlers can't be far behind.

But even Dick Tracy -- or for that matter, James Bond -- would probably be dazzled by the LG Touch Watch Phone, which not only functions as a mobile phone, music player and simple organizer, but can be used for face-to-face video calls. Can you see me now? Good.

It's the first device of its kind to meld all these functions into something that can be worn on the wrist, with a simple, intuitive touchscreen display. Now, we just have to hope it comes to Canada sooner rather than later, at a price that won't break gadget-lusting consumers' bank accounts -- and hearts.

"If we had full control over this, we'd like to see this priced for the masses," said Frank Lee, public affairs manager for LG Electronics Canada. The 3G-capable Touch Watch Phone will debut this July in the U.K. -- Europe always gets the cool stuff first -- but LG is in talks with Canadian mobile phone carriers and hopes to launch the device here sometime late this year or in early 2010.

We had a chance to go hands-on with the Touch Watch Phone this week and came away impressed. While it's certainly larger than the average wristwatch -- about 1.4 cm-thick, with a 3.6-cm screen that occupies most of the watch's face -- it doesn't feel uncomfortable or obtrusive on the wrist.

By default, the touchscreen shows one of several watch face layouts that users can switch between at will, ranging from traditional analog timepieces to artsy digital designs. Most of the Watch Phone's functions are accessed either through a set of three buttons on the side or by swiping a finger across the touchscreen to flip through virtual menu pages.

While it's possible -- and probably more sensible -- to use the Touch Watch Phone with a Bluetooth headset, especially since it supports voice-activated dialing, I couldn't resist making some test calls with the watch alone. The video calling functions weren't enabled on this prototype, but that's just as well . . . when I took a few test pictures with the built-in camera, I was a bit horrified by the unflattering angle that results from holding the watch at a natural chin height.

The voice quality on the calls was great, though, even if it meant enduring stares from passers-by wondering why I was talking into my wrist and grinning like an idiot. They were probably just jealous, right?

Hey, you'd be surprised. At the recent LG Innovators' Ball in Toronto, Lee was approached by a man who spotted the Touch Watch Phone on Lee's wrist. Lee explained that it wasn't on the market yet, and the man asked how much the one he was wearing was worth.

"I said, 'Well these are the working prototypes. As a research and development sample, they're a hundred grand each,' " Lee recalled. "And he goes, 'I'll take it.' "

Needless to say, Lee was in no position to sell the company's prototypes. But it does show how certain gadgets can skirt around our cynical "been there, seen that" attitude towards technology, and make us simply say: "I want it."

So hands off, Dick Tracy. I'm calling dibs on this one.


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