Dick Tracy Style Review: Atomic9 Bluetooth Wristband

Noah Kravitz
 from  Oakland, CA
| Published: September 9, 2010

We get a lot of requests to review all kinds of crazy gear. Cases, headsets, speaker docks, extended batteries, screen protectors and privacy filters … if somebody makes it and wants to sell it to a cell phone user, odds are we've been asked to review it at one point or another. And apps? Don't even get me started on apps. 

Unless you really think we should be doing more app reviews - then definitely let us know.

Anyway, we simply can't review everything that comes to our Inbox, but once in awhile something catches our eye for one reason or another. This time around it was Atomic9's Bluetooth Wristband Speakerphone that caught my eye. Maybe it's because I've been all into watches and wristbands lately, or maybe it's because I've been using speakerphones more lately, or maybe it's just because I see the value in Bluetooth but hate the way people look with "a Bluetooth stuck in their ear," whatever the reason, I decided to say yes to checking out the wristband.

The concept here is pretty simple: You get a wristband with an integrated speakerphone and limited media player control and text-to-speech functionality. The wristband pairs with your Bluetooth-capable phone (Bluetooth 2.1+ EDR), is powered by a rechargeable battery, and comes packaged with a mini-USB based AC adapter. A single button mounted on the face of the wristband (imagine where the time is displayed on a watch) and a side-mounted rocker switch combine to handle all functionality, ranging from call accept/cancel to volume to music player controls. 

In a nutshell, Atomic9 has come up with a kinda cool, performs pretty well, but very niche product that offers limited but solid functionality in a unique form factor. If you like the concept and understand what it can and can't do, you'll probably dig the Bluetooth Wristband just fine. I only wish it did a little more and was a little bit sleeker and more comfortable in doing so.

Atomic9 sent me the white version of the wristband, which is also available in black. The band is constructed of white plastic and rubber, with chromed silver plastic accents on either end of the band. I was easily able to fit the band over my largish wrist, but the unit definitely felt snug the entire time I wore it; never did I get to the point of forgetting I had it on because it was so comfy.  The band is thicker than a watchband, and the functional part of the unit is noticeably thicker than any watch I've ever worn. You won't quite achieve Super Stealth Spy status with the Atomic9 on, as there's no way to hide it inside a shirt cuff or sleeve, but if you're considering a gadget like this, the size won't be a dealbreaker either.

Pairing the unit to a phone was easy enough - I had no problems doing so with an iPhone, an Android device, and a Nokia featurephone. The text to speech functionality ("Text2Speech," as they call it) is limited to announcing the incoming caller over the speakerphone, and I had mixed results when it came to hearing the person's Caller ID name (as advertised) vs. their phone number only. I wish the wristband offered text to speech functionality for incoming text messages, similar to Motorola's latest earpieces, but alas it does not.

The wristband also offers audible and vibration alerts, the latter of which adds to the stealth factor. A "digital tether" function helps you keep track of your phone by vibrating when you move more than 30 feet away, which is kind of nice if you're the type who's always leaving your cellie behind at restaurants and such.

Call quality through the tiny speaker was pretty good considering the overall size and form factor of the wristband. This isn't the best mobile speakerphone I've ever tried, but it got the job done well enough. Noise and echo canceling technology helped with voice quality on both ends of calls, and in general I was able to hear the people I was talking to and vice-versa … except when I was walking and forgot to keep my wrist held up near my face. A waist-level wrist attached to a swinging arm doesn't make for a good walking-and-talking experience.

The wristband also features the A2DP profile for playback of stereo Bluetooth audio, which to me is more of a gimmick than anything else given the unit's single, small, monaural speaker. Yeah, you can stream music from your phone to your wrist, but no, it doesn't sound particularly good when it plays. The addition of a stereo headphone jack for music playback and privacy during phone calls seems like a no-brainer should the wristband make it to version 2.

Atomic9 advertises a 30-foot connectivity range and battery life rated at four hours of talk time and 160 hours standby. My actual usage more or less proved those specs accurate, though I'll admit that I didn't time a full four hours of talking, let alone 160 hrs of not talking. I used the wristband here and there, on the go, at my desk, and in the car (as a passenger, not while driving) and didn't have to recharge until early into the second week of testing. One note on recharging: The plastic cap covering the USB recharging point is a pain in the neck to open.

All in all Atomic9 has come up with an attention-grabbing gadget in their Bluetooth Speakerphone Wristband. While the speaker could be a bit louder and clearer, the functionality could be enhanced, and the comfort factor improved, I'd actually say that the biggest drawback here is the cost-to-longevity factor involved. Atomic9 is asking $99.99 for the wristband, and I frankly have to wonder how many buyers are going to use this thing on a regular enough basis to justify the cost. Sure it's kind of a fun idea, and it works well enough, but will the Dick Tracy effect of talking into your wrist last long enough to justify the C-Note it'll cost you? That, my friends, is the hundred dollar question.