Image: Hugh Threlfall
September 11 2009
Ever since the cartoon American detective Dick Tracy sported his celebrated “2-Way wrist TV” in 1946, we gadgetistas have been waiting for such a device to be invented in real life. I’ve never been wholly confident that I’ll find myself one day writing on this page about rocket backpacks, thought transmitters and the like, but a wristwatch video communicator should be do-able, it’s always seemed. Dick Tracy’s was even the subject of a US Mail postage stamp in 1995, so keen has been our anticipation for the development.
And blow me down, the Koreans have finally done it. A big hand and a sturdy wrist, please, to LG – formerly (even though it refuses out of embarrassment to admit it) the Lucky Goldstar corporation of Seoul, now manifestly one of the most innovative and stylish electronics manufacturers in the world.
I got my hands on the first working sample of the LG Watch Phone, which Orange has the exclusive on, and I made one of the first ever authentic Dick Tracy-style video watch phone calls on it. It’s every bit as mindblowing as you would imagine. The handmade “watch” is remarkably sleek and stylish, and mounted on a good (but not leather) strap. It is big and quite heavy, but not comically so. The picture, being postage-stamp-sized, is sharp and clear. The sound, even though LG recommends using the phone with a Bluetooth earpiece, was audible out loud in a noisy Mayfair street without a headset. The whole experience was simply hilarious. I cannot recall being as excited by any gadget ever. It was almost a bit emotional; the most futuristic gadget ever is also weirdly retro and, well, nostalgic. Most odd.
What’s the watch phone got, features wise? A huge amount for its minuscule size and quite reasonable price (Orange plans to hold the first consignment down to £500, although it’s expected to cost £1,000 – and be in short supply – later in the year). The final spec was being worked on when I played with the gadget, but it looks as if by the time you read this it’ll be splashproof, quad band, with upgraded HSDPA 3G for those all-important video wrist calls, Bluetooth and even an MP3 player. The user interface has been optimised, furthermore, for the small size of the face, and the touchscreen somehow manages to work with a fat finger.
Will you find it useful? Absolutely not – unless it’s to impress people in offices, bars, airport lounges and everywhere else on the planet. I can’t see a time in the foreseeable future when an LG watch phone won’t be the coolest thing to have. It’s the Bugatti Veyron of gadgetry: pointless, impractical, sublimely silly but impossibly desirable. Could it be a rebirth for the most unwanted technology in gadget history, the video phone call? Of course not, don’t be silly. But you know you want one. I most certainly do.