The most interesting prototype at IFA this year was the Nubia Alpha, an Android-based device the company bills as a “wearable smartphone.” The Alpha tries to realize one of the enduring gadget dreams: having a smart device with a display that wraps around the user’s wrist. I checked it out at IFA in Berlin this past week, and, well, it’s still at the rough draft stage of development, but Nubia is confident it’ll have it ready to go on sale in China before the end of this year. If things work out, global distribution might also happen around the same time.
The demo units at IFA were behind glass, and it took a lot of cajoling to convince Nubia to even let me touch one. I was able to lay it on my wrist, but I wasn’t allowed to close it up entirely, hence the semi-open position in these photos. The surprising thing was that, as bulky as the Alpha looks, it’s really quite light and tolerable on the wrist. I believe fans of big watches will find this chunky beast attractive, while the rest of us should definitely be paying attention to the technological advancement it represents.
The elongated OLED panel of the Alpha sits inside a metal watch strap and a plastic case with a selfie camera attached. Its software at IFA was only running a demo loop showing basic functions like exercise tracking, accepting phone calls, controlling music, and, amusingly, a Find My (other) Phone function. With Samsung teasing a foldable phone for later this year, Huawei diving into the same race, and now this Nubia prototype, our flexible-screen future is looking closer than ever.
Nubia is cagey about disclosing any further specs such as resolution, processor, memory, or battery life, but the company did tell me that it intends to price the Alpha wearable at around the same cost as a smartphone. That’s going to make it a tough sell: the Alpha can’t run Android apps without each developer adapting the software for the extra-tall display, and the abilities it has shown so far don’t really rise above those of a modern smartwatch.
Photography by Vlad Savov / The Verge