In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about the different form factors of devices (laptops, tablets and smartphones) converging gradually over time. We have seen Google and Apple trying to turn the tablet into a viable laptop with the iPad Pro and Pixel Slate. Samsung and Huawei are now merging the smartphone and tablet with their foldable smartphones, Galaxy Fold and Mate X, respectively.
The idea of using flexible displays to bring together the form factors of the smartwatch and the smartphone is less common. But that's exactly what Nubia did with the Nubia Alpha, a smart watch with many features of a classic smartphone. Last year, we saw it show an unreachable capacity, and at the MWC 2019, we finally had the opportunity to fix it to our wrists and try it for a full test.
The ambitious display of the OLED is at the heart of Nubia's ambitious attempt to redefine the smartwatch. Although the display measures only 4 inches of angle, it looks much larger because of its ultra-wide aspect ratio. The resolution of the display is 960 x 192, which, according to our calculations, gives a 5: 1 or 45: 9 aspect ratio if you want to compare it to a traditional display.
According to Nubia, the screen can withstand a flexion of 100,000 times, which should allow you to wrap it around your wrist without fear of damaging it.
The display of the Nubia Alpha is very wide, but its folded screen means that you can not see everything at the same time. Nubia's customized Android operating system lets you scroll through essential watch information so that it is readable from all angles. You can drag the clock down on the right side of the wrist if you're left-handed, for example, or scroll up so you can see more menu items at the bottom of the screen.
Otherwise, you navigate through the watch's operating system using a series of simplified icon menus, where all options are tiled from top to bottom. You swipe left and right to move through application lists grouped by feature, press to select the application you want to use, then use pinch to go back. There are also some physical buttons on the side of the device. One goes back to the main menu and the other seems to be designed for voice control, although it is not functional in the units we tested.
One of the most interesting features of the smartwatch is the gesture control, which allows you to move your finger on the device to scroll it up or down or left to right. We had to physically access a settings menu to enable the feature – which was clearly designated as an "alpha" feature – on our demo unit. To be honest with the device, we found ourselves in a dark room filled with occasional bright spotlights, but the feature was buggy and was clearly not ready to be used by the public.
So what can the mobile smartphone do? Many things, in the end. All standard smartwatch features such as fitness tracking, mobile payments (although only the AliPay Chinese QR code payment service was mentioned) and voice calls via its built-in speaker or connected Bluetooth headset .
But what sets it apart is the functionality that we find less traditionally on a smart watch. A 5-megapixel camera lets you take effortless selfies or normal photos with a little more member contortion. You also have the opportunity to watch movies, even if you have to hold your arm up at a right angle to see them straight. Even in this case, you will get a lot of cropping or black space because of the ultra-wide format of the screen.
Text messaging is also a possibility, whether via SMS or WeChat, a Chinese-language messaging service. In the end (presumably), most people will dictate their messages using voice commands because the alternative, an alphanumeric T9 dialer, was very difficult to use.
There is a decent amount of functionality for smartphones, but offering something more sophisticated may seem a little difficult as the Nubia Alpha runs on a Snapdragon Wear 2100, a portable chip that was first launched in 2016. a little more modern, with 1GB of RAM (equivalent to the Apple Watch Series 4) and 8GB of built-in storage (half of the 16GB of the latest model of Apple). All this is powered by a 500 mAh battery, which, according to Nubia, should last between one and two days with regular use.
Nubia plans to release two different models of Nubia Alpha. In addition to two different colors, black and gold, two types of connectivity will be available. The cheaper model will offer Bluetooth connectivity so you can pair it with a phone, while the more expensive model gets eSIM compatibility, so that the Alpha can truly be the Nubia mobile standalone smartphone that you want.
The Nubia Alpha is an ambitious attempt to increase the capacity of smartwatches by giving them more features for smartphones. However, while the flexible OLED screen allows this possibility, the fact that such a narrow screen is attached to your wrist means that it is not quite capable of providing you with much of this functionality. Messaging is easier with a phone and it's nice to take a photo with a device that is not attached to your wrist.
The first version of Nubia's mobile smartphone will be its black Bluetooth variant, which will be available in Europe and North America from April for an average overall price of € 449 (about $ 510). If you want an eSIM for data connectivity, you will have to wait a little longer and pay a little more. The eSIM version will start at € 549 (about $ 624) and will be available in Europe and North America in the third quarter of this year. If you want gold, the watch will cost you 649 €, or about 737 $.