Although I’ve never been a huge fan of black and white E Ink-based reading devices, Phosphor’s E Ink watches have made sense to me. I’m a fan of digital watches, love the idea of user-adjustable watch faces, and appreciate the value of achieving such adjustability without radically reducing battery life. Apple’s addition of new watch faces to the sixth-generation iPod nano was definitely a step in the right direction, but even if you’re willing to swallow the price and the need to buy a watchband separately, it’s a pain to plug your watch in for weekly recharges—and to keep turning the screen off to increase battery life. E Ink offers some of the same benefits with only one major compromise: the loss of color.
With the World Time Sport Watch ($100), Phosphor has eliminated another major hurdle: high pricing. Past Phosphor watches were in the $150 and up range, which is close enough to an iPod nano plus watch band combo to weigh decidedly in Apple’s favor, but this watch sets a new entry level price for the family without looking cheap. The band is rubber with matte plastic clasps, a matte plastic body, and a glossy plastic face; it feels as comfortable as most of the digital watches we’ve used and liked over the years. Two touch-sensitive buttons are below the screen, which can alternate between white on black or black on white text as you prefer. At least as shipped—before the plastic screen gets scratched—the screen is hugely readable in reasonable light, though as with Kindles and other E Ink devices, this isn’t the type of display you can rely upon if you want to check the time in a dark room. There’s no backlight.
One nice feature of this watch is the array of screen modes you can choose from: a “big time” mode with only the current hour and minutes in large numerals on two lines, a “small time” mode with the same digits in tiny characters on one line, a “dual time” mode with separate big and small times for two time zones, a “time/calendar” mode with calendar date and time together, and a “world time” mode” with just the large-numbered alternate time and a city abbreviation at the top of the screen.
All of the modes take advantage of such a high apparent screen resolution that individual pixels aren’t obvious to the eye—a major plus—but they’re also unnecessarily limited by the use of a decidedly old-school LCD-styled font that really should be replaced with something nicer, as well as graphic designs that all look a lot more similar to one another than they need to with such a versatile display. E Ink offers developers the chance to really vary up their interface options, but World Time Sport looks a lot like a traditional LCD watch, for better and for worse.
The only other thing that’s a little bit off is the control system, though it’s not bad. Only two capacitive buttons are used for device settings, and you’re interestingly able to double tap or swipe inwards on the buttons to activate different settings. While it’s not terribly difficult to figure out how to use the controls to set the watch and then move through the different options, the controls definitely aren’t intuitive, and the timing of swipes will take a little getting used to. Additionally, if you screw a setting up (say, moving the calendar year forward accidentally), you may find yourself doing a lot of extra tapping in order to bring yourself back to the correct date or time.
It’s not perfect, but Phosphor’s World Time Sport Watch is definitely a step in the right direction for E Ink watches. The price point is right, the design is largely unobjectionable, and the core features—18-24-month battery life, 30-meter water submersibility, and a very readable clock—are all solid enough that we’d actually use this watch, something that we haven’t been able to say for most of the iPod nano watchbands and kits we’ve tested so far. Bravo to Phosphor for continuing to evolve its initial concepts, and hopefully we’ll see a next-gen version with new art options, as well.