After more than a year since sending up a signal flair, HTC finally debuted its first wearable device, though its not exactly what we were expecting. All of its smartphone competitors are diving into Android Wear watches, but HTC has partnered with Under Amour to introduce the Grip, a rubbery, lime-green activity tracker targeted at fitness enthusiasts.
I went hands on with the HTC Grip at Mobile World Congress, and what I saw didnt immediately scream innovation.
Aesthetically, the Grip will speak mostly to sporty types, and thats about it. I can see hardcore runners and hikers wearing this during workouts, but unlike the Fitbit Charge, for example, its not the least bit subtle looking, nor can you swap in a different style band to match an outfit.
The Grip is chock full of features, but all of them will sound familiar to anyone whos been following the wearables space. The Grip has a 1.8-inch PMOLED display thats easy to see in bright sunlight. It tracks steps, monitors sleep, counts calories, and has built-in GPS functionality that can map out your morning run. Its also got controls for your music and a weather ticker, though these particular features require phone-syncing to work.
All in all, it looks to be a very targeted play at the runners market. Thats great, but with step counting, GPS and onboard music playback already folded into Android Wear watches (were looking at you, Sony SmartWatch 3), the Grip might have a tough time proving its relevance.
The Grip that I went hands-on with is still in development, but I tried it on anyway. Its certainly grippy, and I wonder what its going to be like when Im actually sweating. Will it stick to my skin? Will it be uncomfortable to wear over a period of time? Only real-world use will provide answers.
At least HTC will offer small, medium, and large sizes, though youll want to go a size up if you like it loose. It also employs a push-button clasp, which caught my skin a few times as I was putting it on.
The Grip is fairly intuitive to use. It has a home button you can tap to turn the screen on and off. You can then flip through four main menus, including one to start a workout and one to view various stats throughout the day. The iconography is self-explanatory.
Im still not entirely sold on the design of the band just yet, even if HTC is going after a niche subset of the already nichey wearables market. Since its partnered up with Under Armour, itll be mostly up to the fitness brand to drive sales of the device. But at least the app it uses is multi-platform, so it will work with both Android and iOS devices.
So who will buy the Grip? Granted, I only spent a brief time with the wristband, but I think it will only appeal to folks who want GPS, step-tracking, and music control for daily runs, and dont care about all the other features loaded into smartwatchesor even the super-accurate heart-rate monitoring offered by the Basis Peak.
Consumers still know HTC as a company that makes Android phones and tablets, and even if it is piggybacking on extremely popular brands like Under Armour, its wearable devices will have to perform remarkably well to get noticed. The person who buys a wearable just for running isnt necessarily an HTC fanboy, or general gadget enthusiast.
We wont be able to see how HTC fares in this new realm for a while. The Grip isnt due until later this spring, and should cost $199.