Razer loves to announce BIG, INDUSTRY SHAKING gadgets only to immediately scale them down. The company’s first laptop started life as a handheld game console. Its first tablet originally had handlebars. The Nabu X is Razer’s latest big idea, similarly shrunk down. It’s weird, but also kinda neat.
Okay, so originally, the Nabu was going to be a $100 wristband with two screens (one for notification icons and another to display text), the ability to track fitness data (step count, calories burnt, etc) and a bunch of cool social features. Meet someone else with a Nabu? High-five them or shake their hand and you’ll instantly send them a friend request on Facebook. Supposedly, we’d be able to use it with futuristic augmented reality-type gaming apps too.
What happened to the Nabu? It was downsized to a single-screen model and sold in super limited quantities, and only to diehard Razer fans. Now it’s almost impossible to find, and Razer is instead focusing on the Nabu X: an even-more scaled down version of the concept with a significantly lower price tag. That’s what we’re talking about today.
Everything I just mentioned above, but without any screen at all. It still tracks your steps, calculates your calories (sort of, I’ll explain in a minute) and tells you if you got a good night’s sleep—but now it costs $50 less and has three blinking LEDs instead of a screen. That’s not bad, but it definitely has consequences.
If you’ve seen any fitness band ever, you’ve seen the Nabu X. It’s a simple, hypoallergenic silicone rubber wristband with a tiny removable electronic module. One end of the rubber wristband has holes in it. The other end has prongs that poke into those holes to secure it on the wrist. There are some grooves in the rubber and a metal clasp at one end bearing the Razer logo, but that’s it. It’s dead simple and perfectly comfortable. There’s not much else to say.
Well, there is one thing to say: turn the band over and you’ll see its only major design flaw: a proprietary charging connector. The Nabu’s charging port doesn’t take up any less space than micro-USB, yet requires me to keep track of yet another cable. Sure, I only have to charge it once a week, but why make that task hard? I have a dozen micro USB cables lying around the house. I only have one Nabu charge cable.
On the surface, there’s not much to the Nabu X. It’s a fitness tracker and it does everything I expected: tracks my steps, estimates how many calories I’m burning and tells me if I’m getting a good night’s sleep. Most of this data has to be viewed with the Nabu smartphone app, but the wearable’s three-LED notification system can give you a hint of feedback. If you set a daily goal with the Nabu X Utility app, tapping the band will show you one, two, or three LEDs to tell you how close you are to achieving it.
The progress bar only works in thirds (one light = 33%, two = 66% and so on) but it’s surprisingly addicting. I found myself tapping the band a dozen times a day just to see it light up. My four year old nephews spent an afternoon tapping it over and over again for the same reason: it’s fun!
Okay, so the Nabu X is a pretty good fitness tracker—but Razer specifically avoids calling it that. The Nabu X is a “social wearable,” according to the company website, designed to “allow Nabu and Nabu X bands to ‘talk’ to each other in a specified proximity.” That means if you’re nearby someone else wearing a Nabu, it can potentially exchange fitness data, contact information and asymmetric gameplay data. It’s an awesome idea! It also only sort of works.
Right now, the Nabu X can natively pass Facebook and Twitter details to other users—either by using “handshake” mode for close proximity or “Pulse” for anybody in the same room. This totally works, but it’s not super useful: yes, the Nabu totally sent a Twitter DM “handshake” to my buddy Sean Hollister while we were testing the bands out last week, but it continued to re-send that handshake over and over for the entire time we hung out. One Twitter DM with contact information was useful. Seven seemed a bit excessive.
The Nabu can do more, but right now it just doesn’t. There just aren’t that many apps that use these features. Razer’s own app obviously does (and the company says more are coming, including some sort of augmented-reality zombie game), but the only other app I found that used the social sharing features was Nabu Gamers, a simple app that scans the room for other Nabu owners with Steam accounts. At least the band’s fitness features are getting more support: the Nabu can export your data to a handful of apps, including Google Fit. MapMyFitness support is coming soon, too.
Notifications. Right now, the band’s three LEDs can be customized to blink and vibrate when your phone receives a notification, call or alarm—but they only blink in one of three colors for three types of notifications. It’s painfully unspecific. Get a text message? Three green blinking lights. Someone favorites one of your tweets? Three green blinking lights. A new, important email? Three green blinking lights. Every notification your phone sends to the band looks and feels exactly the same, making the band almost worthless as a quick-glance tool.
You can make the lights a different color for calls or alarms, but all app notifications appear on the band in exactly the same way. If your phone is in your pocket, it’s really just adding vibration to your wrist. Something is happening with your phone, but you won’t know what until you take it out. Razer tells me that it’s working on an update that will allow you to create custom light combinations for specific apps: maybe blue, blue red is a new text message while green green red is a new Facebook message. It’s an update I’m eagerly awaiting—without it, the Nabu X feels like a half-baked prototype.
Don’t get me wrong, the Nabu X absolutely needs more robust notification customization—but I leave my phone in the other room a lot. Thanks to the Nabu X, I was able to answer a few texts and calls that I might have missed otherwise. It was nice.
I spent the week using two different fitness trackers, the Nabu X itself and a Wii U Fit Meter (don’t judge me, it’s better than you think). Both devices kept reasonably equal tabs on my step count, but calories were wildly different. After an average day, my Nintendo pedometer said I burned a few hundred calories—the Nabu X said I burned over 2,000. I definitely didn’t burn 2,000 calories puttering around my house.
I asked Razer what’s was up and was told that the Nabu X’s total includes an estimate of my resting calories. That’s fine, I guess, but not useful to me personally—and the Nabu X app doesn’t seem to offer a way to view just excess calories burned. I guess I won’t be leaving my Wii U Fit Meter at home any time soon.
- This thing has pretty good battery life: I’ve been using it for a solid week and it’s still at 35 percent. Not bad at all.
- The Nabu X syncs with the phone at least once every five minutes, which sucks down my phone’s battery. My OnePlus One used to get through a day with power to spare. Now I have to charge it.
- The Nabu X’s metal clasp looks cool, but scratches pretty easy. The black paint has already started to rub off of mine, revealing an unwanted silver lining.
- Double tapping the band for notifications only seems to work if the Nabu X is level. If I was lying on my back, holding my arm above me, it wouldn’t respond. Boo.
- I love having a silent alarm on my wrist: I can wake up early without bothering my wife.
- There’s a huge gap in app ecosystems: there are almost no third-party Nabu X apps on iOS, but plenty on Android.
Sure—but only if you completely ignore Razer’s marketing. The Nabu X isn’t bad, but it doesn’t yet live up to its own description. It’s a wearable, and it has a few minor social features, but it doesn’t quite qualify as a “social wearable.” It’s also not an incredibly smart wearable. The notification system seems crippled. It just doesn’t do enough yet.
On the other hand, it’s pretty cheap! The band’s $50 base price isn’t bad on its own, but Razer has put it on sale a couple of times. Right now you can buy two for the price of one—making it even more affordable and guaranteeing that you’ll be able to use its limited social features with at least one other person.
Is the Nabu X a revolution? No way—but it’s certainly a decent fitness tracker. If Razer can sell a lot of these, improve notifications, and get app developers on board, it could grow into something better.