By now, it’s clear MWC 2019 turned into a breakout celebration for all sorts of bendy-screen devices. So after the appearance of Samsung’s Galaxy Fold and Huawei’s Mate X, I went on the hunt for more gadgets with flex displays. That’s when I remembered that Nubia—makers of weird devices like this dual-screen phone—brought a revamped version of its smartphone watch with a bendable screen to the Barcelona.
To be clear, the Alpha first debuted at IFA 2018 last fall, but now that bendy tech is in vogue, I was incredibly curious to see how the Alpha had progressed in the last six months, especially since the company has made some design improvements to the concept.
The Alpha’s awkward design appears to sit somewhere between the original Samsung Galaxy Gear and a Microsoft Band, but with the addition of a long, flexible display and two Coke-bottle glasses sticking out on either side. When I first heard about the Alpha, I clowned on it for having a super wide watchband and a clunky, bulbous case. But after finally getting the chance to put the latest model on, the Alpha revealed itself to be less offensive than I’d feared.
I would almost say the Alpha is more of a near miss than the outright disaster I was expecting. Really, Nubia’s big mistake was simply trying to do too much, because trying to cram traditional smartwatch duties like heart rate monitoring, and step-tracking onto a device that can also make calls, snap pictures, play movies, and more, was just asking for trouble.
Nubia has made several improvements since last fall, including redesigning the band to be slimmer, more attractive, and not much different than the metallic bands used on traditional watches. When I put it on, I thought it was it going to feel monstrous, but it didn’t.
Nubia also trimmed down the humps for the Alpha’s dual sensors and fitted it with more traditional buttons on its sides for navigating settings and menus. As for using the watch, the Alpha actually felt pretty snappy, and I was able to swipe and tap my way through menus with the kind of familiarity I rarely experience on devices this ambitious. But for some reason, regular touch controls weren’t enough for the Alpha, so Nubia added the ability to navigate menus by waving your hand above a motion sensor on the left side of the device.
The Alpha’s air controls are a neat trick, but in the end, I couldn’t help but think if they removed that sensor along with the Alpha’s 5-MP camera and tried to make a more traditional smartwatch with a bendy screen, the Alpha wouldn’t be far off from something I might want to buy.
The real star of the show, the Alpha’s 4-inch 960 x 192 flexible OLED display, looks pretty damn good. Featuring a pixel density of 225 PPI, text and videos look sharp, and even though the lengthy curved display sometimes means you can’t see both edges of the screen all the time, that effect adds to the Alpha’s futuristic tech appeal, as the display appears to fade to infinity as it bends around your wrist.
And despite being equipped with a somewhat outdated Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip, just 1GB of RAM, the Alpha generally felt pretty responsive. Nubia even claims that with its 500 mAh battery, the Alpha should last nearly two days on a single charge, which is more than even late-model Apple Watches can claim.
But what might be the most surprising thing is that with a price of just 450 euros (around $500) for the Bluetooth-only model, the Alpha isn’t wildly expensive. Nubia is also making a model with cellular data support by way of eSIM for 550 euros (around $625).
Now I still wouldn’t buy an Alpha when it goes on sale later this summer, but after checking it out, I was surprised to find out that Nubia’s bendable phone-watch hybrid isn’t nearly as ridiculous as I thought it would be. And in many ways, flexible screens might have even more to offer on next-gen wearables than phones.