Fossil Wrist PDA FX2008
From palm to wrist
Review Fossil's Wrist PDA has been a long time coming. Announced in November 2002, it was supposed to ship the following June. I heard it had been put back to January 2004, though Fossil denied the product had been delayed. But come early 2004, it still hadn't appeared, and Fossil was forced to confess it was returning to the drawing board.
And it was such a good idea, too: a wristwatch capable not just of telling you the time, but providing you with Madame Za-Za's phone number and reminding you to visit the Special Clinic a week on Thursday. It wasn't the first timepiece to do so - Timex's Datawatch probably has that honour. But the Wrist PDA was the first to cram a fully functioning Palm OS-based personal organiser into a case you can wear rather than carry.
Or not, as it turned out. In January 2004, the Wrist PDA seemed forever vapour. Skip forward to November 2004, however, and Fossil suggested the project wasn't dead. And in January 2005, it shipped. Had Fossil managed to get it right and to solve the "production complications" said to have hampered the device first time round?
The Wrist PDA is beautifully engineered. I'm not a fan of the styling, but with its leather strap and brushed-metal casing it's clearly a quality item. It's also a very large one. There are some chunky boy-racer watches on the market, but this one not only takes the cake but has clearly eaten a few too. Unless you have a particularly girthsome wrist, Fossil's device will make you feel like you've got one of those electronic tags they put on parolees, or make you look like you stepped off the set of a 1970s cult TV show.
The styling is certainly classic late 1970s or early 1980s digital watch, with push buttons on either side of the screen to control the PDA's functions. On the right-hand side are Page-up and -down buttons, and between them a rocker switch for information navigation and selection. On the other side, there's the Back button, recessed reset switch and, behind a rubber panel, the USB connector. Above the screen, a little way around the casing, is the IR port.
There's a stylus of course, cunningly located in the strap's buckle. Again, it's well-engineered, locking into place so you don't lose it and comprises two parts, a metal body and a plastic pointer, hinged together so the stylus opens out to a reasonable length. Cleverly, the pointer is slightly longer than the body so can still use the stylus when it's folded up.
The trouble is, the buckle and stylus were obviously developed separately from the strap. With the stylus locked in place, it's almost impossible to get it out while the watch is on your wrist, unless you have very long nails. You can navigate around the compact user interface using only the Wrist PDA's buttons, but even if you don't need to write on it, you're going to need to use the stylus sooner or later, if you want to see the details of an appointment or search for a contact, for example.
The display is a monochrome 160 x 160 job capable of displaying 16 shades of grey. Angled to catch the light it's eminently readable, and there's an old-fashioned 'indiglo' backlight for low-light conditions. If the standard text size is too small, there are five larger ones to choose from, though they're only applied to data, not to menus and so on. What's on the screen can be hard to read sometimes.
With the UI elements so small, selecting items with the stylus is hit and miss. To be fair, the touchscreen has a good resoution, so misses are caused more by shaky hands than poorly defined active screen areas.
There's no Graffiti 2 area - the Wrist PDA uses the whole screen for text-entry. Character recognition is reasonably accurate, but it's not a medium you'll want to use to enter all your information with. Fortunately, the gadget ships with a Outlook HotSync conduit, and I was able to get my Mac OS X iCal and Address Book entries in courtesy of Mark/Space's MissingSync.
If the screen were larger, I could forgive the Wrist PDA its bulk, but I can only assume it's the thing's battery that takes up all the room. Or maybe it's the electronics - it runs on an old-style Motorola 66MHz Dragonball Super VZ, and packs in 8MB of RAM and 4MB of Flash chips too. The battery, even if physically big, isn't very capacious. Fossil quotes 3-4 days' usage from a single charge, assuming the backlight isn't used, the IR is turned off and around 30 minutes spent each day looking up phone numbers and appointments.
My Wrist PDA ran down in four days, but with nowhere near 30 minutes' a day usage. True, I had IR receive on, but that's how the device ships by default, and how most users are therefore going have it set. Losing all your data is one thing - it's easy enough to reinstall it next time you HotSync - but when the battery empties the time goes too. Fossil should have included a separate Lithium cell just to keep the time. Even cheap MP3 watches have separate battery so you can tell the time even if you can't play any songs.
The timepiece is actually just an app running on top of the Palm OS. I'd have liked to it to be more flexibile. You should be able to choose whether the date and day are displayed. Instead, you get a choice of 12 immutable faces, none of which are particularly attractive. That's odd given the watch's overall design and Fossil's ability to come up with some funky faces on its standard timepieces.
The Wrist PDA runs Palm OS 4.1.2, so there are none of the refinements of later versions of the operating system. You can beam address book entries, for example, but you can't use IR to get your phone to dial a number. Without this basic feature, you have to resort to typing the number in on the handset's keypad, at which point you realise you're better off having all your contacts stored on the phone. Oh for Bluetooth, but Palm OS 4.1.2 probably doesn't support it and in any case there's not enough juice in the battery for Bluetooth communications.
You have to give Fossil credit for trying to build a PDA into a watch, particularly given the bad press it received - from this site too, it has to be said - after taking almost a year longer to ship the thing than it originally forecast.
Alas, the Wrist PDA makes it all too clear why Fossil took so long. Even with an extra year to get it right. It feels like the compromise the company was forced to fall back on when it couldn't get everything into a more watch-sized case. It's just too bulky with too small a display and too small a battery. Particularly when you can get the same degree of PDA functionality in your mobile phone, essentially for free. Your phone will also tell you the time.
As its name actually suggests, this device is best thought of as a PDA that fits on your wrist, rather than a watch that has a built-in PDA. But just as the traditional tablet form-factor PDA is being out-evolved by the smart phone, so the Wrist PDA lacks the features demanded of a modern personal data device. Released in 2002/2003, the Wrist PDA might have been a hit. In 2005, it just feels out of date. ®
|Fossil Wrist PDA FX2008|
|Pros||Palm OS. Plenty of memory. Good display. Nicely engineered.|
|Cons||User interface insufficiently rejigged for the screen size. Stylus tricky to use. Feels very big on your wrist.|
|More info||The Fossil Wrist PDA site|