hat’s the deal with the whole “smart watch” thing when it’s the phone in the pocket doing all the heavy lifting? I don’t need little apps dancing in an LCD window, the whole purpose of the original Dick Tracy watch was that it was a telephone. Now sure the 21st Century offers more than just talk-talk, but if connecting to your music library for on-the-go playing is your thing, then Bem’s Speaker Band IS your thing. And at $49.99 a lot more affordable too.
The band’s made of plastic and comes in different colors — whatever color the band is, so is the speaker that dominates the back of your wrist. And when I say “speaker,” I’m not talking about some keychain-sized audio, but one that’s almost the size of a silver dollar pancake from IHOP. Bluetooth pairs the Speaker Band to your iPhone or Android phone — the procedure is vanilla plain and just the same as any BT wireless speaker — and a digital female voice confirms it. There’s no app that has to be run to make it work either; it’s a wrist-wireless speaker and that means, obviously, that whatever music the phone’s playing is now coming off your wrist. Makes doing an air guitar a lot more audible too.
There’s a set of three buttons on the side of the Speaker Band: the outermost control Up/Down volume as well as forward/reverse, and the middle is the Play/Pause. Depending on whether you’re getting a phone call or listening to music, the buttons follow along. Giving the Play/Pause a double-tap will bring up Siri on an iPhone (iPhone 5 in my case), and then you just speak into the mic to command “her” for the weather or time or to send a message or run an app.
I belted the Speaker Band onto my wrist and headed out. I went to a Mall and used Siri to select some music to play. The speaker’s got a lot of volume, more than enough to cut through the surface noise of the people around me. And I wasn’t even getting looks because the Speaker Band looked enough like a big retro-watch that anyone wondering where the music was coming from didn’t think it was coming from me. No problem in being heard when I got a call either — the female voice first recited the phone number — but holding the watch up to my face was a novel experience.
So what about the sound quality? It’s monophonic but voices come through pretty clear when on the phone — although pushing the volume all the way up can bring on some distortion. I also found the Speaker Band making for a pretty good speakerphone while I was doing word processing — with the iPhone charging nearby, it’s easy to hear and more comfortable than wearing headphones all the time. As far as playing music, the vocals came through with better than decent bass, although I’d not recommend playing heavy metal and expecting to hear the lyrics. But for the average “pop” song, there’s nothing to complain about, even if it’s far from “audiophile” quality, it sounds more than good enough for the casual listening it’s intended to do.The battery life was fair also. Bem says you can get up to 4 hours of talk time on a single charge, but being realistic, since you’re doing different things besides and instead of just talking with the Speaker Band, I made sure to charge it up each morning for at least an hour through a USB adapter and it would last throughout the day.
Bottom line: Bem’s Speaker Band is pretty much a “smart watch” without the watch. What it does it does well. Think of it as wearing a “boombox” — boy could we have used this back in the day, not to mention the strain it would have taken off our shoulders for carrying around.