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When I was asked if I wanted to do a gadget review my first reaction was that it must be a joke. While I’m not the most technologically challenged person in the world, I am certainly not someone you would ever categorise as the “techie gadget” type. My mission became clearer when I was told that the gadget I was to review was some sort of smart bracelet, clearly aimed at me, being a girl.
I initially resisted the urge to Google and research the ZeBracelet as I wanted to really experience the product fresh from the minute it was handed to me. I’m not going to lie, the picture I had in my head was of one of those coppery metal bracelets like the ones you get for your arthritic granny at the pharmacy. So when the ZeBracelet was revealed to me in all its black plastic glory, I was a little surprised and maybe a tiny bit disenchanted.
So, what is a ZeBracelet?
After spending some time with the gadget, I did eventually have a look at its website. So to set the scene, here’s a little info. The MyKronoz ZeBracelet is one of a range of smartwatches that are intended to keep you connected to your phone without you having to, essentially, touch your phone. The Bluetooth gadget is worn on your wrist and can be used to answer calls and play music. It displays caller ID when you get a call, it plays notification sounds when you get an SMS, and it vibrates when you are out of range of your phone, i.e. if it’s stolen or you leave the room without it. Oh, and it tells the time.
Now as a girl, a “techie gadget” thing should fulfil a few important expectations to entice me to purchase it, particularly the following:
- It needs to look and feel good
- It needs to be functional and easy to use
- It needs to work well.
Does it look and feel good?
At first glance, this thing could be any cheap fashion bangle from a discount store. It has no signs of the technology it holds inside. It was only when I started trying to figure out how to use it that I realised it had two buttons on the side, a display screen and a deceptive charging jack.
From the outset I was concerned that this bracelet wouldn’t fit my wrist. I have Germanic breeding which shows in the size of my bone structure. I battle to shove my meaty hands into most bangles and bracelets, so I was happy to find the bracelet to be somewhat adjustable and quite comfortable in its fit. The fact that it tapers under your wrist means it’s rather comfy to wear while typing away at your computer all day. And the fact that it’s black means it will match most outfits.
I did think, however, that the display screen was disappointing. It is very “eighties digital alarm clock” with, it seems, very little thought given to making it both attractive or modern. The minimal amount of information displayed in its rather boring font speaks to the lack of features as well. Other than the odd one word message of “disconnected” or “connected”, the screen offers you very little information. Only displaying the time, the battery life and a tiny icon that is supposed to show you when it’s searching for a connection or is connected.
The designers missed an opportunity here. They really could have improved the visual impact of the display screen. The wow factor of realizing this plastic bangle is actually a piece of technology is not carried through in the execution of its display screen design or functionality.
Is it functional and easy to use?
Syncing the gadget to my phone was a simple case of reading the instructions and following them properly, as girls do. After a few failed attempts to get it to pair with my phone, I realised that when they say “hold in the button for 5 seconds” they mean “Mississippi seconds”. After that it was really a waiting game for an opportunity to answer a call.
I discovered quite quickly that the buttons don’t always work. This led to me missing a call while desperately pressing away at the green button trying to answer it. And then later, me pressing the red button over and over again in embarrassment, during a meeting, trying to ignore a call. To top it off, it seems to have features that aren’t specified in the booklet, like the fact that if you tap the green button twice it redials the last person you called, which I discovered by accident, much to mine and a friend’s surprise.
Something I found really disappointing was the sound quality. This bracelet is marketed as a Bluetooth microphone and speaker that, not only takes calls, but can be used for playing music. While the speakers are fine for calls, playing your music through it produces a tinny mosquito-like sound that vibrates uncomfortably on your wrist. I would personally prefer to use my phone’s built-in speaker or earphones, so this selling point fails big time. Also, as the point of the product is having remote access to your phone without having to touch it, I thought it was silly that to play music on the gadget you had to initiate this on the phone.
It’s also a little frustrating that, once connected and in range, the bracelet plays any sound coming from your phone, albeit with very little consistency when it comes to SMSes or emails. You can’t easily turn this functionality off, which can be frustrating if you want to quickly use your phone in the vicinity of the bracelet. This includes when you are playing games, the sound is directed through the ZeBracelet. You can’t disconnect the bracelet from your phone without going into your phones settings and switching off your bluetooth or running ten metres away from it (while screaming).
The instruction booklet is overly simple and it doesn’t give you any information on specifications of the bracelet, such as the expected battery life or the speaker watts. I still don’t know if the ZeBracelet is water- or weatherproof or made of some sort of fancy hard-wearing plastic. The information provided in the box is very minimal and doesn’t give you guidelines on how and where to use it.
- If you put the bracelet on charge, it loses connection
- If you mute your phone the bracelet still rings
- You can’t turn the volume down while the bracelet is ringing, only during the call
- There is a delay between when your phone rings and the bracelet starts ringing
- It vibrates at least eight times in a row non-stop when you are out of range and you can’t stop it
I have to add that as a green eco-warrior type, I am also sceptical of the long-term effect this bracelet would have on the nerves in your wrist. I imagine any damage there would be far healthier than taking calls traditionally, near your brain, on a regular basis, but am concerned that wearing something that is permanently sending and receiving a signal may have some sort of negative effect on your body’s nervous system. But this might just be my weird hippy pseudo-science view.
Does it work well?
I felt like it needed more features or functions. It could certainly be much improved with better quality sound and a funkier display alone. What would maybe redeem it would be:
- A built-in MP3 player with a couple of gigs of storage
- A built-in flash drive
- An ability to link to wireless earphones for private calls
- A pedometer
- A heart-rate monitor (a girl can dream)
- A slightly further range (it only works over ten metres)
- A button to choose to disconnect or accept the disconnection when out of range
- Separate volume control buttons
This is a gadget aimed at girls, but it misses the mark in so many ways. The bracelet affords you no privacy when taking calls, so unless you are the type of person who likes to have loud and public conversations, or you work from home, or you use this solely as a hands free in the car, you aren’t likely to get much use out of it for calls. The quality of the sound rules it out as an MP3 player, so what you are left with is a very expensive plastic bangle that tells you the time and vibrates a lot.
The truth is that I wore it for two days and quickly grew bored with it and left it at home. It wasn’t making my life easier and my wrist had started to develop an uncomfortable feeling where the bracelet vibrates against it, not to mention the burning sensation from the earlier phone call. Having to make sure I was always within ten metres of my phone added stress to my day and sitting in meetings with my “jewellery” constantly vibrating and randomly making noises was rather embarrassing.
In conclusion, let’s review those important factors:
- Does is look and feel good?
It is a little cheap and plastic but wearable and comfortable. Display screen lacks oomph.
- Is it functional and easy to use?
Kind of. It’s easy to set up, but the buttons are cumbersome and its functionality is limited.
- Does it work well?
Verdict: You can’t hide from the fact that, other than it being in bracelet form and telling the time, the gadget offers you no more value than you could get from any traditional Bluetooth hands free kit, at a third of the price. At its current retail price of over US$120, I am certain I would never buy one of these, nor would I recommend it to a friend.
Thanks to Orange for supplying the MyKronoz ZeBracelet.