Musician, producer, and just generally positive dude will.i.am has dipped his toes more than once into the personal technology world. His latest venture is a wearable smartphone called the Puls, sold under his i.am+ company. The Puls is a fully independent smartwatch — it has its own SIM card and doesn't rely on being connected to a smartphone to work. Will.i.am introduced it to the world on a stage at Salesforce's Dreamforce conference last month in front a bunch of devotees to CRM.
I got a chance to use an early production model earlier today. It's objectively the worst product I've touched all year.
The Puls is a stiff cuff that you wear around your wrist. It has a curved touchscreen on its surface and sensors to measure your activity. Instead of Android Wear (or a full version of Android), the Puls runs its own operating system that relies on swipe gestures to navigate. It's a thick and inflexible device that is not comfortable to wear. In fact, the unit I used didn't even close around my wrist and needed another spacer to do so.
The Puls feels like a Kickstarter project that never should have made it to production
The screen is small and grainy and the operating system is neither responsive or intuitive. There are a few preinstalled apps for Twitter, Instagram, contacts, and more, and the Puls has a full dialer for making phone calls. It also has a full QWERTY keyboard, which requires two presses to type a single letter (one to zoom in, a second to actually input the letter). It's unsurprisingly terribly frustrating to use. The Puls' feels like a Kickstarter concept product that never should have made it to production.
The Puls' main pitch is that it can determine your emotion and mood via your voice. It comes with an app called Vibe+ that listens to you for twenty seconds and then determines your emotions based on the intonation in your voice. It works with 32 different languages and is the result of 20 years of research and development by Beyond Verbal, the company that makes the app. It rewards you for being positive with different gems that display on the Puls' screen and points that can shared with other users to "spread positivity." Beyond Verbal will be bringing the Vibe+ app to iOS and Android devices early next year. It's pretty awkward to have to speak random things to your wrist for twenty seconds (the app doesn't require you to say anything specific) and I'm having trouble picturing anyone using this in the real world.
That's probably fine anyways, since nobody should really buy the Puls watch. AT&T and O2 in the UK are going to be selling it in the coming weeks for an unspecified price, but it's safe to say that you should probably just spend your money elsewhere. Will.i.am will get over it.
Update, 6:23PM ET, November 5th, 2014: Will.i.am's representatives have reached out to note that the version of the Puls watch shown to me was an early developer model, and that retail units will have newer software with improved usability. We will have to see if those claims are true once the Puls hits shelves later this year.