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Featured Review: Razer Nabu Watch

February 3, 2016 - Written By Nick Sutrich

Once primarily a PC accessories manufacturer, Razer has slowly moved into other technology spaces over the past decade since their restructuring in the mid-2000’s.  As such we’ve seen them branch out from making just fantastic keyboards and gaming mice out to making Android TV units, smartwatches and fitness trackers.  At last year’s CES we saw Razer announce a pair of fitness trackers, that Android TV unit and even an open source virtual reality glasses kit, but this year at CES we mainly saw the Razer Nabu Watch.  The Nabu Watch is a different kind of connected watch that Razer doesn’t necessarily call a smartwatch, rather a digital watch with smart functions.  Let’s take a look at what makes this different from the swath of smartwatches out there and why someone who doesn’t necessarily want a smartwatch might want to pay close attention.

Hardware

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Out of the gate there’s no denying it: this is a huge watch.  That realization will come to you before you even open the beautiful packaging, and may even seem bigger once its on your wrist.  Starting with the packaging though you’re looking at another beautiful almost museum-quality design by Razer, a company that’s quickly become known for their brilliant and beautiful packaging for their premium products.  The actual contents of the box are fairly minimal though, as you’ll get a handful of manuals, a Razer logo sticker and a small USB charger that’s used to plug into a computer for charging the watch.

Looking closer at the watch you’ll immediately notice just how rugged and solid this watch feels.  It’s most certainly a watch meant for all kinds of activities and is definitely built to withstand quite a beating.  The mostly black design with neon green accents screams Razer all around, with silicone straps that are thick yet flexible and comfortable, and a solid metal body underneath that’s got some solid weight to it.  The straps can be removed via a standard push-pin system, but are designed so that only a small jewelry screwdriver can remove them, and not only that but the edges of the face will only look right with the designated straps because of the shape.  The included band has a strong dual-clasp system with an additional clip on the end, ensuring there’s no way this thing is ever going to come off your wrist unless you intend it to.

On the underside of that large body is a stainless steel plate and a charging port that’s slightly nestled in a groove to keep the back flat.  Along the sides you’ll find 4 buttons as you might expect from a rugged looking watch.  Set and Mode buttons reside on the left side, while Adjust and Light buttons are on the right.  The adjust button doubles as a start/stop button for the timer and stop watch, and you’ll also find what appears to be a home button on the front near the bottom, placed just under the screen.  This button actually works to wake the secondary display up and display any notifications pending, as well as cycling through steps taken throughout the day, miles walked, calories burned and total activity time.

All the magic happens on the face of the watch, where you’ll find what appears to be 4 different sections, all dedicated to different functions.  Much like a standard digital watch you’ll find the digital time right in the middle, with the date on the top right quadrant and current mode on the top left.  These three “screens” are all powered by a single coin-style lithium battery that’s rated to last one full year, and is replaceable the way a standard watch would be.  Underneath these 3 areas is an elongated screen that’s actually a single color 128 x 16 pixel OLED screen; and you guess it that color is green.  This secondary screen is where you’ll find all your fitness data and notifications, and it is rated to last around 7 days without having to be charged.

App

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Any good connected gadget must feature an equally good app to drive that experience, and the app that Razer has crafted is nothing short of excellent.  This is the same app that Razer uses for the other two devices in the Nabu wearables line, and that makes sense since this actually features Nabu hardware alongside the digital watch portion.  Connecting is as effortless as opening the app and selecting pair with watch, in which the Bluetooth seek and pair time was considerably quicker than I’ve seen from any other Bluetooth device out there that doesn’t feature NFC pairing.  Once connected the main screen will show you the dashboard of health information including all fitness and sleep data.

Clicking on the watch in the app will bring you to the full settings menu, including watch and app settings.  It’s from here that you’ll adjust all your preferences, which apps send notifications to the watch and so on.  Notification settings include blocking any app from sending notifications to a watch, a feature you’ll definitely want to use given the size of the screen on the watch itself.  In addition to this, you’ll find vibration and notification speed options for the ticker.  Under activities you’ll find which “apps” are displayed in the ticker including steps, distance, calories burned, active minutes, stopwatch and remote control.  It’s obvious Razer is intending to expand this phone remote control feature, as there appears to be a way to select more than one action, however only music control is possible at the current time.  Play/pause, next and previous track are all music control selections.

If you like seeing the secondary screen light up when you raise your wrist the wake gesture command is enabled by default, but can be turned off as well.  The Nabu Watch can sync time with your phone, ensuring you’ll never have to worry about setting your watch’s time again or having it out of sync with your phone and other devices.  Even alarms can be managed from the app, something that’s quite nice since you’ll be able to avoid needlessly scrolling through the watch modes to do such a thing.  There’s quickly send your contact information with other people wearing a Nabu by shaking their hand, although this will only work with other people wearing Nabu devices.  Lastly are connected apps that can access and share information with the Nabu app, a list that’s been steadily growing since the original Nabu’s launch last year.

Usage and Battery Life

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Having reviewed a number of smart watches and owning enough of them myself, I’ve taken the average battery life of a standard watch for granted.  Over the last week I had completely forgotten about even charging the Nabu watch, much less bothered to check the battery.  It wasn’t until a full week in that I was notified the battery had finally reached 15%, something that would easily get me through another full day and then some.  Sure enough by the end of that day, it was only down to 8%, and that was only for the Nabu portion of the watch.  If you forget to charge it and run out of battery mid-day, your watch won’t become a paperweight as other smartwatches would.  Rather it’ll still function as a watch with all the available modes, just without the Nabu features and app connectivity.

Charging it is as easy as connecting the 3-pin magnetic adapter and plugging the other end into any old USB port on your computer.  It’s not recommended to use a wall charger as the voltage might not jive well with the tiny battery in the Nabu Watch, but that’s not really a bother since it charged for me in about 30 minutes.  The box does say 2-hour charging time though, so your mileage may vary depending on how much voltage the port you’re plugging into delivers.  This sort of battery life is nothing short of wonderful and exemplifies the positives of making hybrid technologies like this.

For me it was a bit odd using the watch as anything more than a watch, as it really is just an advanced fitness tracker that can also help you filter out notifications.  By default the secondary ticker screen is set to scroll quickly, a feature I soon realized was a smart move.  Changing it to anything slower made me look at my wrist for far too long, and it became more annoying than useful.  Glanceable information is a buzzword with wearables for a reason, and it’s immediately obvious when a screen is this small.  All notifications will turn the screen on and quickly scroll to the left, however I found myself wishing it would hold the ticker on the initial section for just a moment longer so I could see who sent the email or text better.

This OLED screen is plenty bright for all but the brightest direct sunlight.  This is quite the opposite case for the digital clock portion of the Nabu Watch, and while there is a manual backlight here it is incredibly dim, and is obviously meant for use only in very dark areas.  Daylight viewability of the digital portion is super high, as the screen reflects like as you would expect a quartz display on a digital watch to do.  It’s the in-between lighting conditions that made me squint a bit, the ones that don’t light up the screen enough to really read, but since the backlight is so dim it was still difficult to tell the time in a split second.  This isn’t a deal breaker but I would like to see a firmware update bring this brightness up a bit, if that’s even possible at all.

Clicking the front button to cycle through notifications and simultaneously dismiss them worked well enough, but for some reason I found myself forgetting to even look at the notifications most of the time.  A maximum of 5 notifications are “stored” on the screen at a time, meaning only the 5 most recent notifications your phone has received will show up here.  Any new notification that comes through will buzz the watch and also show all previous notifications in a quick fashion, but even with this I constantly found my queue maxed out at 5 nearly every time I looked at the watch.  Culling the list of apps that deliver notifications would help, but then again this is supposed to be a device that helps me filter notifications that I want to see now, not those I never want to see.

Those that don’t want to click the button can change it to shaking the watch, which will dismiss the notifications in a similar fashion.  Cycling through the available “apps” is still done via the front button though, and works very well for quick fitness tracking information that’s incredibly useful.  Even moving over to the music control feature is easy by cycling through this menu until you get to the end, giving a quick way to play, pause or skip tracks with a single button press.  Since this is limited to a single function it defaults to next track skip, however if you prefer one of the other two settings you can easily change them in the app.

All the other digital watch modes work as you would expect them to on any other digital watch.  Cycle through modes via the mode button, toggle options with the set and adjust options, and long pressing most buttons will do something different depending on the mode.  The watch has both a loud beep that can be enabled or disabled, as well as a nice strong vibration motor that can have its speed and intensity altered for your comfort.

Health Tracking

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Since the Nabu line started as a fitness tracking band it would only make sense that the Nabu Watch has the same features.  Indeed, there is full-featured Nabu circuitry in here that tracks your steps and sleep cycles, and uses this data to estimate miles walked, calories burned and restless periods throughout the night.  The biggest downside is that there’s no heart rate sensor on the unit, which is something that’s incredibly helpful when you’re trying to track more accurate fitness and sleep data.  In fact, I found that if I took off my watch for long enough and sat it down on the desk while still connected to my phone that the watch would think I was sleeping.  This resulted in some erroneous data that had to be tossed, but it only happened once in the past week.  Other nights that I wore the tracker were comfortable enough, although having a watch this large on your person while sleeping will certainly irritate some individuals.

Having this tracking data makes sense without a doubt, but I can’t help feel only the daytime data is truly useful because of the bulk of the watch.  In addition to that, the lack of heart rate sensor makes this theoretically less accurate than a fitness band that includes such a sensor, as it can’t check whether or not you’re actually wearing the watch or cross check heart rate data with movement data.  Daily fitness tracking would also be immensely helped by heart rate data, which is one more statistic that can be used and accounted for on a day-to-day basis.  Since the Nabu can connect to any number of fitness apps out there, including Google Fitness and plenty of others, this data can be shared with your favorite fitness app or statistics aggregation service for later use.  Yes it’s even 100% iOS compatible, so Apple Health and other iOS-related fitness tracking apps can be used here too.

Conclusion

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There’s no denying the Razer Nabu Watch is one huge piece of equipment, but those that are looking for this specific look and style will likely love it.  It’s large but it’s comfortable, and with a look that’s designed to make you feel like a cool gamer rather than a suit-wearing businessman you know it’s going to set you apart from the crowd.  Razer’s addition of smart features and future plans for expansion on these features ensures users that their watch will be one that’s good to go for a long time.  While other smartwatches only have a realistic shelf like of 2 years or so because of the way they operate and are updated, the timeless chronograph features of this watch will only die when that standard coin-type lithium battery does, and even then it’s as easily replaceable as any other watch on the market.  Even the battery for the smart features is designed to last a week, and in my testing that’s absolutely the case.

There’s tons of options here and connected fitness data, so sharing between Nabu and your favorite service is absolutely a reality.  There’s some downsides here like no heart rate sensor and physical restrictions on how much data can be presented on a tiny rectangular OLED screen, but overall this is an excellent watch with connected features that give it added value.  Having a price tag of only $149 for the standard edition and $199 for the Forged edition, as Razer calls it, really helps things out too.  If you like what you see check out Razer’s official Nabu Watch page to get one for yourself, or you can pick it up from Amazon.

Buy The Razer Nabu Watch - $149.99