Near the end of 2013, a company called Neptune came out with a crazy idea: build a playing card deck-sized smartwatch that could run without a smartphone. It accomplished that feat at the expense of being large and ungainly, making Android Wear behemoths like the Moto 360 look svelte by comparison. Now the company is back with a much more ambitious, yet equally crazy project to reimagine not just the smartwatch, but your phone and tablet, too.
Neptune is calling its new project the Neptune Suite. At its most basic, it's six different pieces of hardware that Neptune promises will work seamlessly with one another. Yet where every major company with a smartwatch (short of Samsung), has put the heavy lifting on people's smartphones for things like network connectivity and apps, Neptune wants to put it on your wrist.
In the middle of it all is a wrap-around, water-resistant smartwatch called "the hub," which has a 2.4-inch capacitive touchscreen, a 3G/LTE modem that works with nano-SIM cards, and runs Android 5.0 Lollipop. Joining it are a "pocket screen" and "tab screen," which expand the screen on the hub using super-fast, short-range wireless standard 802.11ad WiGig. Adding to that are three accessories: a keyboard that can turn the tablet into a notebook of sorts; a dongle with HDMI that will let you push what's on your hub to other screens (like Google's Chromecast); and last but not least, a set of wireless headphones.
The watch is the brain, not your phone
Neptune's big idea here is that you can jump from device to device, depending on what your task is. It's also putting task-specific hardware where you might use it, instead of trying to shoehorn it all onto the watch. That means that while you don't get any cameras on your wrist, you can use the ones that are on the pocket and tab screens, just like you'd expect to on normal phones and tablets. Neptune also promises that both those accessory devices could have better battery life and be cheaper, since they're effectively nothing more than an external display, and not fully functioning devices of their own. If Apple did this, it would be like being able to buy an iPad or iPhone that wouldn't do anything without the Apple Watch, yet might be smaller and cheaper as a result.
On that note, Neptune is promising all six of these devices for $899, and at a reduced price of $599 for early backers of its Indiegogo campaign where it's trying to raise $100,000. Both figures are strikingly low for all the hardware Neptune's promising. Especially compared to the $349 price tag of its previous smartwatch effort, the Pine. The company also hopes to get the entire package out the door by next February, which is less than a year away.
While possibly too ambitious, the idea of putting all the brains and power of mobile computing into something attached to your body (instead of in a pocket or bag) continues to be wildly attractive. Even so, there have been some very good technical reasons that products and platforms from major companies like Google, Microsoft, and Apple haven't gone that route: it's just hard to fit powerful, long-lasting technology on the wrist without making serious compromises, especially when it comes to battery life and basic usability. That might change someday, and at least in Neptune's opinion, we're not going to have to wait long.
- The Neptune Hub has a 2.4-inch capacitive touchscreen that's 36mm wide.
- This is what messaging could look like on the Hub.
- And widgets. Lots of widgets.
- This is the pocket screen, which is basically a phone without a phone (or most of its guts). There are two built-in cameras, and a 5-inch screen, but the device is getting its smarts from your Hub watch.
- The wireless headset is not a snake or a belt (or so we're told). It doubles as a charging cable for any of the Neptune Suite devices.
- This is the headset being used as a charging cable. Not pictured is your earwax, which is a consideration here.
- This is the tab, a 10-inch tablet with a 1080p display. Like the pocket-sized device, you cannot use this without the Hub.
- This is the wireless keyboard, which plugs into the tablet to convert it into a computer. Once again though, everything is running on your Hub watch. This is just a big wireless keyboard.
- The two together.
- A mock-up of the hinge, which cradles the tablet.
- The HDMI dongle for your TV.