Qualcomm's Toq: The Wrong Smartwatch With the Right Parts

The Qualcomm Toq smartwatch Photograph by David Maung/Bloomberg

If only smartwatches had color displays, weren’t too thick or big, and could last at least seven days on a charge. Wouldn’t that be great? The Qualcomm Toq actually meets all three of these conditions, but some other aspects would keep me from spending $350 on it. That’s probably OK with Qualcomm, though: The company intends the device to be a showcase for its technologies, and in that regard, the Toq shines.

Two key elements help the company. First is the 1.55-inch Mirasol display. Mirasol has been around for several years, but Qualcomm can’t seem to get a device maker to use it. That’s partly the reason the Toq exists. Mirasol offers the benefits of a eInk—very low power consumption being the main one—but works in color. The technology makes use of existing natural light to help reflect the display, which keeps the power use down.

The Toq is very readable, as a result, without a backlight in most lighting conditions. It’s only after dusk that I’ve really needed to hit the backlight button. The colors aren’t as vibrant, however; they look muted compared with traditional display technologies, so there’s a trade-off. I’d actually take that trade, because unlike some other smartwatches, the Toq display is always on and can still last a full week on a single charge.

By the way, the battery is housed in the watch clasp, not under the display. I like this design because it keeps the overall watch thin on the wrist. Note that you actually have to cut the Toq wristband to ensure the clasp works to fit the watch on your wrist—another sign that this is more of a concept device.

Charging is the other main showcase item: The Toq uses Qualcomm’s wireless charging technology. In practice, it works really well, but the charging solution design is a bit bulky. Included with the Toq is a folding case with a micro USB charger. Open the case, press a button, and a small charging pad elevates. Here is where you put the Toq to charge. It’s a nice solution—and it clearly works—but I find it a bit large. In Qualcomm’s defense, the case also holds separately sold accessories, such as a Bluetooth headset.

As far as the Toq goes as a daily smartwatch, it’s fairly basic. It connects to Android devices over Bluetooth—iPhones need not apply here—and acts as a second screen for notifications, music playback controls, weather, stock quotes, and incoming phone calls, although you can’t use the watch as a phone. The Toq acts as a go-between for your phone and a separate Bluetooth headset for calls, telling you who is calling and having you take action on the call.

A companion app for Android is where you manage the notifications, and you can pretty much get any type your phone can provide. But the notification feature seems very one-way. You can view them on the Toq but really can’t take any action or even dismiss them. It appears that such action is done on the phone, not the watch. So the Toq is definitely more of a second screen than an actionable device. Swiping through the Toq interface wasn’t intuitive at first, but I quickly got used to it. Two touch sensors are in the actual band: one for the backlight, and one to return home.

Even as a gadget addict and tech enthusiast, I probably wouldn’t buy the Toq. The $349 price tag is a bit high for what you’re getting and when compared with other consumer-focused smartwatches currently available. For $149, I’d opt for the Pebble and have money left over. Yes, you give up a color display, but you gain more functionality, better app support, and iOS compatibility.

Still, I give Qualcomm credit. The company has some advanced technologies that just can’t find their way into consumer devices. Mirasol is a perfect example.

By showing and selling an actual product that uses this screen, the Toq is a great advertisement for device makers to use Mirasol in the future. I may not want the Toq in its current form, but after using one, I know that I’d be happy with a future smartwatch with Mirasol display. In the long run, that’s probably a far bigger win for Qualcomm than the $349 I might have spent on its wearable product.

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