It tells the time, but it's not a watch. HTC's first foray into wearables was widely expected to be an Android Wear smartwatch, but the Taiwanese company has opted to focus exclusively on fitness with its newly announced Grip GPS tracker. It's a stiff, rugged wristband, lime green on the inside and matte black on the outside, with a monochrome OLED display that curves around the wrist. i tried the Grip out here at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and I still bear the scars to prove it.
The first time I put on the Grip, its metal clasp caught the skin of my right wrist. Not long thereafter, in spite of the original experience, I managed to do the same to my left wrist. HTC says the band's design is still undergoing final refinement, which includes the clasp, but it wasn't an overwhelmingly positive first impression. The Grip's stiffness also poses something of a challenge: there are three sizes and two resizing spacers in the box, but none of them fit perfectly.
The upside to its chunky construction is that the Grip feels extremely rugged and durable. It's waterproof and designed to withstand whatever a committed athlete throws at it. HTC is keen to emphasize that the grip isn't for the mainstream consumer who may be just getting into running and other exercise. The company is going after "truly athletic" activities and doing it with the help of Under Armour, whose UA Record system tracks and documents workouts, steps, calories, and sleep.
How useful is a touchscreen when you're out jogging in the rain?
I really enjoyed the responsiveness of the Grip's touchscreen, but the device's interface leaves a lot to be desired. Everything is in landscape mode, including the time, forcing most users to wear it on the inside of the wrist. Doing anything on the Grip takes a few too many swipes, plus I'm dubious about the convenience of a device that requires capacitive touch during strenuous physical activities. It's just too refined an input, plus you'll basically be unable to do anything with it when you're out jogging in the rain.
Though intended as a standalone device that will collect all its data without the need for a smartphone nearby, the Grip becomes most useful once connected to your phone. Compatible with both iOS and Android, it'll read notifications from your mobile device and even allow responses via a set of stock messages. It can also control music or plug into the calendar on your phone, though its alarm clock works without being connected to anything else.
The HTC Grip goes on sale in the US for $199 this spring. It is the company's "first toe in the water" with fitness wearables and therefore limited to a Stateside release, however the partnership with Under Armour is set to be extended by a series of global devices coming later in the year.