About four years ago, Microsoft's
Research and Development team came up with a new technology
called Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) that uses FM radio signals to broadcast
news, weather and other information to wristwatches. The first
Smart Watches leveraging SPOT were first launched last
January at the Consumer Electronics Show however it did take
them a few extra months to get the wireless service running
with all its features and have wristwatches available more
According to the software giant, the
technology is comprised of three pillars: the computing
platform (SPOT), the wireless service (MSN Direct) and a new
FM radio-based network (Microsoft DirectBand network).
Over the past few months we were given
the opportunity to review Microsoft's SPOT service. The
service costs either $39.95 per year or $9.95 per month,
On the market today, there are four
companies producing SPOT enabled watches that users can
choose from: Suunto, Fossil, Tissot and Swatch. Something
potential customers should take into consideration is that
the watches are not cheap. The watch we received for
testing the SPOT service was the Suunto N3 which currently
retails for about $200 at Amazon.
It would seem that something Microsoft
understood from scratch was that users don't want to spend a
long amount of time trying to figure out how to activate the
watch. They actually did a pretty good job making the
registration and activation of the watch painless. As long
as a user has a credit card, internet access and a SPOT
ready watch, no problems should surface. Once logged in, a
user is able to customize everything that will be sent to
First thing that we noticed is that the
Suunto N3 does not have a battery like ordinary watches.
The Suunto N3 comes with a USB charger that will let you
recharge the watch using your computer, or a wall charger
which can be plugged into a standard wall outlet.
MSN Direct is a wireless service that
delivers personalized information to the watch using a FM
network. All watches that are connected to MSN Direct use
an atomic clock (one of the most precise time readings
available). Once the watch was activated, the time was
automatically set by the wireless service.
Another of the features of MSN Direct is
that you can have content sent to your Smart Watch, at the
time of testing I had available: Weather, news, stocks,
calendar, downloadable watch faces, sports, daily
diversions, horoscopes, and lottery results. Throughout the
day, the watch will constantly receive updated content for
users to browse. You can also have text messages sent to
your watch via MSN Messenger.
Although the weather covers many major
metropolitan areas, it doesn't cover many of the mid-sized
towns across the continent, which is disappointing. I did
find that when leaving a certain area, the watch would
automatically adjust time and weather accordingly.
Something I did not enjoy however was
how often the watch had to be recharged. Although this
should vary from watch to watch, our Suunto N3 had to be
recharged about every two and half days, something that can
be troublesome. According to specs, the Suunto N3 is slated
to proficiently operate up to four days with no problems,
depending on how much use the watch occurs.
One of my favorite features about the
watch was the ability to view the information available on
it while not being blatantly obvious about it. During class
or a meeting, it is much easier and less obvious to glance
at the watch over reading something from a cell phone. As a
side note, I found the Suunto N3 to be rather bulky compared
to a normal wristwatch, this was to be expected and I have
seen other models that are definitely worse. I thought I’d
mention Suunto offers a slimmer version called the N3i which
cuts the fat considerably but is more expensive, too.
The SPOT watches also are something that
people don't see everyday so you still call this a tech
gadget despite of the fact the technology has had constant
delays, products are still fresh in the market. It was
unbelievable how many people asked to see the watch or just
wanted to see the different features that I had enabled on
the watch. Even a few people were going to do further
research on the watch to see if it was something that would
be a good present.
Unfortunately however, SPOT and the idea
behind Smart Watches suffers from certain shortcomings that
not necessarily have to do with the service itself, the most
important is perhaps that many of the services currently
offered by MSN Direct are now commonly available on cell
"Unlike cell phones or PDAs, MSN Direct
is on your wrist is 'glanceable' information you select to
receive and is discreet," said a person close to SPOT
The MSN Direct Service is available in
more than 100 metropolitan areas across North America but
our international readers will be disappointed to hear that
SPOT watches do not currently work outside of North America.
Last June, the MSN Direct Service was successfully launched
in Canada, while the service will be expanded to more
locations in the near future.
Smart Personal Object Technology is an
innovative enough product and certainly still a work in
progress so consumers can expect more watch styles and more
content categories to be available as time passes, adding
more personalization features to the watch.
MSN Direct service is something unique
in regards that users are able to get different services
sent straight to a wristwatch. Unfortunately nowadays we can
no longer call the technology to be earth shattering and
many people can easily get the same features sent directly
to their cell phones. Still, we are the kind of people that
like having choices and SPOT might be a very appealing
option to many of you.
Easy to use
Discreet watch viewing
Many cell phone services
offer same options as SPOT