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Featured Review: No. 1 Sun S2 Smartwatch

August 4, 2015 - Written By Nick Sutrich

One of the many Chinese upstarts that has been making waves in the tech news for a while now, No. 1 seems to pride itself on making devices that are cheap but well built.  Each device we’ve tried has been a worthwhile endeavor, from the No. 1 S6i to some of their other portfolio as well.  No. 1 also specializes in ruggedized devices built to withstand plenty of force and go for days without a charge, like the upcoming No. 1 X6800 for instance.  This time around they’re focusing on a more beautiful product, one that’s primarily designed to be worn as a fashion statement and serve as a productivity device second.  That product is the No. 1 Sun S2 smartwatch, and it’s designed to work with both Android and iOS ecosystems, so let’s see what they’ve put together and how well it works.

Hardware

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Since a watch is primarily still a piece of jewelry, it stands to reason that it needs to look good.  Many smartwatches out there look and feel a lot more like a smartwatch and not a regular watch, which is going to be a hit or miss thing for some people.  While some will want it to look different so that others can see it and know what they’re wearing, other people just want a nice looking watch that does more than tell the time.  This blend of desires from people has created plenty of smartwatches that fit one or the other description but rarely both.  In terms of form, the Sun S2 seems to fill the former description better, than the latter. Using a shiny chrome exterior to show off what looks like a more expensive product than it actually is.

The watch is an all-metal build on the top and sides, with the obvious round glass face being positioned underneath the bezel that goes around the device.  This protects the screen but can get in the way if you’re trying to swipe from a particular side of the screen instead of closer to the middle.  Underneath the metal face is a plastic back that rests on the wrist, housing both the 4 charging pins and the biometric sensor in the middle.  The charging pins don’t protrude from the body so don’t worry about them being uncomfortable.  The right side of the device features what looks like a traditional dial in the middle with a smaller button just below it.  As would be the case on a regular watch this button lights up the screen, and the dial above it is actually a camera much like you might find on Samsung’s Gear series of smartwatches.  The watch is rated as water resistant and comes with a magnetic charging dock so that there are no ports on the watch itself.

The build is light but solid and doesn’t feel cheap and while the chrome surface on the watch is almost too shiny for my liking, that’s certainly a preference thing.  The Sun S2 ships with a metal band that follows a standard pin design, with three push pins sitting inside metal spacers a centimeter or so wide.  Pushing these pins out to resize the watch was difficult and required quite a bit of force, which is likely a good thing since you’d probably rather not see your watch fall apart while you’re just walking around.  My watch also shipped with a genuine leather watch band that is applied via the same pin system, although resizing a leather band is quite a bit simpler since it’s designed like a regular leather strap or belt.

The display on the watch looks quite good, especially from regular viewing distance of half an arm’s length or so away.  Viewing up close reveals that it’s not quite as high resolution as some other smartwatches out there but it’s not much different than Motorola’s Moto 360 for instance, just a slightly smaller display and resolution.  There is a “flat tire” as it’s called on the bottom of the round screen which houses a number of ambient and UV sensors, all designed to give you readings of your environment, although there is no auto brightness function.  Colors on the screen are good and black levels look great on the dark watch faces, giving a clear contrast between the black background and the white and red face elements.  The screen also gets smudged very easily and it’s really obvious when it’s smudged, something a screen protector might help guard against.

Software

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Upon waking the device, you’ll be met by a series of 3 selectable analog watch faces.  All 3 of these represent a very different look on the watch itself; two are on black backgrounds and one is on a white background.  One of the dark faces features Arabic numerals while the other two faces use Roman numerals while all three display the date at all times.  All three faces really look fantastic on the screen, although the “flat tire” below definitely is a bit of a beauty mark on an otherwise great looking watch.  Clicking in the middle of the face quickly cycles between all available faces, while swiping in any direction takes you to a digital face with quick dial and messaging buttons.  From this point, you swipe again to open up the app drawer of the watch.  It’s here that the watch’s enhanced functionality over a regular watch is found, although the interface requires you to swipe around with the watch quite a bit.

This is where smartwatch software design differs heavily between manufacturers, and No. 1 has chosen to go with a more Samsung or Apple-like approach of making apps the front-facing way to interface with your device rather than voice dictation as Android Wear does through Google Now.  This isn’t a bad way necessarily, it’s just not as quick when you’re in a place that voice dictation makes sense.  Scrolling through the list of installed apps is done in a paginated fashion as would be expected, and out of the box there are over a dozen installed apps that range from a heart rate monitor to a UV sensor and everything in-between.  Visually it looks like a cross between iOS and Android, with bright round backgrounds to each icon and a long shadow for the content of the icon.

Functionality and App

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For the watch to interface with your phone on Android you’ll need to download the MediaTek Smart Device app, which can be found on the Google Play Store.  This app serves as the way to deliver notifications and other content from your phone to your watch, however it simply doesn’t work with Android Lollipop no matter what phone I tried.  I ran into this issue on the Oukitel A28 Smartwatch as well, but thankfully No. 1 is moving toward an app that actually works.  It’s called Fundo and is found via QR code on the watch under the “Quick Response” app.  The app is a mix of material design and some sort of odd looking iOS mashup, but most importantly it actually works properly on Android Lollipop.  This app provides quite a bit of functionality including control over what apps deliver notifications to and from the watch, fitness and sleep tracking stats that are more easily viewable than on a small watch interface and the ability to find the watch if you lose it.  If you like your battery though, turn off the ability for Fundo to get your location if your phone or ROM has the ability to do so.  It seems to have a nasty habit of checking location constantly; see screenshot below.

The Bluetooth connection sets up two channels for audio, one for phone and the other for media.  This means that all media and phone audio comes through the watch itself, so when the phone is in a bag or pocket you’ll probably hear the audio coming from the watch better than your phone.  Notifications come in as a nearly full screen box normally with two actions: view or clear.  From here you’ll be able to view a full-screen version of the notification that’s scrollable, with most notifications giving you the full content of the message.  Replying isn’t quite as easy and it’s possible from most of the apps I’ve tried, but without good voice dictation it’s extraordinarily difficult to communication on a small watch anyway.  There are quick replies for text messages and the like that can be customized though, so if you want to respond to SMS or a few other apps this way you can.

The two main functions of the watch, outside of reading the time or date quickly of course, is the dialer and messaging sections.  Both of these are fully functioning segments of the watch, but the dialer is ultimately the only useful one since the watch tries to rely on a T-9 type keyboard to type, which quite honestly is impossible at this size of screen.  The dialer is much more useful though since it has both the regular numeric pad for dialing plus your full list of contacts synced from the phone.  You’ll also recall that the sound from the phone goes through the watch itself, meaning you can both make and answer phone calls from the watch without ever having to use your actual phone.  This is incredibly handy and works quite well, as the volume is easily adjustable and the speaker is very loud.

Some other useful apps are the camera, which can take a super quick snapshot or video of sufficient quality to get the point across.  The only way to transfer these seems to be via hooking up the watch to the charging cradle and plugging the USB cable into a computer though, making them a little inconvenient to get to.  You can also use the watch as a remote shutter for your phone to take pictures with a viewfinder right on the watch.  This is super convenient and makes it easy to line up group shots without having to set a timer and run back to the group, although it uses the Fundo app’s camera so the quality is likely to be reduced from what your phone’s built-in camera software would normally produce.  Anti-lost gives you an audible alert on the watch when you’ve left your phone somewhere, say a table at a restaurant or elsewhere that it may be sitting and no longer connected to the watch.

There’s an absolute slew of fitness apps here including a pedometer, sleep monitor, sedentary reminder, heartrate monitor, body temperature sensor, echocardiogram (ECG) and a UV sensor.  Just about everything you can think of doing to monitor your health is here and it all works extremely well too.  Local apps include a video player and image viewer to see what you’ve taken pictures or video of via the watch’s camera, as well as a sound recorder, file manager, alarm, stop watch, calculator and even audio profiles that can be customized.

Battery life as a whole isn’t too bad, but the watch will definitely drain more quickly if you’re constantly getting notifications and using all these health features in a single day.  Power saving mode helps quite a bit and should probably just be kept on all the time, as it reduces brightness and screen timeout and keeps the watch from being awake too much.  The wake gesture also consumes extra CPU cycles so if you’re having a hard time getting through the day this might be a good feature to turn off after battery saver has been activated.  I found that getting through most of the day wasn’t a problem, although I couldn’t get through the whole day of work and lots of extracurricular activities in one fell swoop.  This sort of thing can always be improved with software updates, if they happen.

Conclusion

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For $60 you’re getting hardware that looks great, works quite well and even functions on both iOS and Android.  What’s to be learned most here isn’t just that good hardware is key, but that the software backing that hardware is what pulls the whole experience together.  Some other cheaper smartwatches rely on the poorly designed MediaTek Smart Devices app, which quite simply just doesn’t work right on Android Lollipop while No. 1 uses another app altogether.  This app is what makes the experience of the No. 1 Sun S2 so much better than some other cheaper smartwatches out there, and the reason I can recommend it in the first place.  If nothing, the health measurement functions are top notch and provide tons of information, although tracking these in the Fundo app seems to be a bit hit or miss at this point.  Fundo is still in beta though so it’s possible that’ll get fixed before too long, however for the time being all this information can still be viewed on the watch.  For $60 this is a great budget smartwatch that’s worth the entry price and even includes extra bands and goodies in the box to sweeten the deal.  If you’re interested in picking one up, head on over to the No. 1 website to pick yours up today!