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Hands-on: The Nubia Alpha is so weird it's cool
Half smartphone, half smartwatch, the Nubia Alpha is definitely a great conversation starter. It starts from 450 euros, and there are cheaper ways to get people’s attention. So, should you get it? Read on for our Nubia Alpha hands-on.
First teased back in September, the Nubia Alpha is supposed to be a smartphone that wraps around your wrist.
The phone functionality is there – thanks to the integrated eSIM, you can make phone calls from the Alpha, just like you would with any old phone.
However, the internal specifications are typical for a smartwatch. There’s a Snapdragon 2100 processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, and a 500mAh battery that should be good for a day or two of regular use.
That’s what’s conventional about the Nubia Alpha. Everything else is pretty wild.
I like to describe it as a “space-age ankle monitor,” but other people who saw it think it’s pretty cool looking.
I like to describe the Nubia Alpha’s design as a “space-age ankle monitor,” but other people who saw it think it’s pretty cool looking. The device is made of stainless steel and it’s available in two finishes, anodized black or real 18K gold. The former is a bit stealthier, or at least as stealthy as a thick metal cuff with a huge wraparound display can be. The gold model looks
ugly highly ostentatious, and you’ll naturally have to pay extra for it.
If you like large, blingy watches or jewelry, you’ll probably enjoy the Nubia Alpha. It’s made of stainless steel, so it feels quite nice and solid on your wrist. The link strap feels strong and secure, but you can’t easily adjust its length. You’ll have to remove links in order to do so, though at least you won’t need any special tools in order to do so.
The body of the Alpha is thick – it’s about 15mm thick from what I could tell, so it will stick out. It’s also quite wide, with “bezels” that accommodate a large motion tracker on the left and a 5MP camera on the right of the screen. There’s also a couple of big crowns that you can use to go back and forth in the interface.
Nubia Alpha felt clunky to me overall, but then again, I never really had a taste for bulky watches either and plenty of people love them. Needless to say, the Nubia Alpha is also quite heavy.
The big attraction of the Nubia Alpha is its 4-inch flexible display.
The big attraction of the Nubia Alpha is its 4-inch flexible display. It’s an OLED display of 192 x 960 resolution, giving it a pixel density of 245ppi. It’s bright and vibrant, but the relatively low resolution reminded me of early wearables.
The display, made by Visionox, easily bends to take the shape of the watch, though thanks to the design of the body, only the top and bottom of the screen bend heavily. Once you clasp the strap in, the watch is relatively rigid so the display is not really flexing too much in general use.
I can’t comment on the long-term durability of the Nubia Alpha display, but I didn’t see any red flags in my time with the product. You can tell there’s no glass protecting the screen, but Nubia say the organic compound it used instead is just as good and also waterproof. It does get grimy though.
The Nubia Alpha runs a custom operating system you can interact with in three ways: touch (taps, swipes, and pinches), air gestures (more about it in a second), and the crowns on the side.
The interface felt responsive, without jarring lag or major bugs. I could easily scroll through the main screen or the apps sections, with swipes to the left and right to move between the various levels of the interface.
The gestures work okay-ish.
The gestures work okay-ish. You can wave your hand above the device to scroll up and down or to move back and forth between the sections of the interface. This works most of the time; sometimes the watch doesn’t register the gesture and you end up waving back and forth like a lunatic. I found it easier to just use the touch interface, which is more reliable, but I am sure there are some use cases where touchless controls can come in, uhm, handy.
The device has a lot of functionality, giving some support to Nubia’s claim that the Alpha is actually a smartphone. Functions are organized by color – blue is settings, purple is utilities, green is services, and orange is fitness. The units we saw at MWC had a maps app, Alipay QR code payments, voice control, GPS tracking, heart rate monitoring, a step counter, voice and video calling. If you’re really proud of your watch-phone gizmo, you can even set it to display a scrolling marquee with the message of your choice.
Of course, the device is nowhere near close to a phone in terms of apps, and given it runs a proprietary OS from a small company, what you see is likely all you’ll ever get.
The Nubia Alpha starts from 450 euros, but that’s for the Bluetooth-only version that you’ll need to pair with a smartphone. If you really want a full-fat, phone-on-your-wrist experience you need to get the version with eSIM, which is 550 euros. That’s way more than I would personally spend for what is essentially a blinged-out smartwatch, but to each their own. The Nubia Alpha is scheduled to be released first to China starting in April and then later in the second quarter in Europe for the Bluetooth/Wi-Fi version. The eSIM version is due out in the third quarter of 2019.
It doesn’t take a lot of time with the Nubia Alpha to see why it’s a risky buy. The display is unproven, the software is unproven, the usefulness as a phone replacement is unproven. I will give Nubia points for trying though – there’s so much tech packed into the Nubia Alpha it’s crazy. It’s a really cool product to try out as a tech enthusiast, even if it’s not compelling for real-world use at all. Perhaps a few iterations down the road that will change, but until then, I’ll remember the Nubia Alpha as one of the more memorable devices from MWC 2019.
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Thoughts on our Nubia Alpha hands-on? Let us know in the comments.