Exclusive: first look at the Noodoe Watch, the cheap, customisable 'anti-Apple Watch'

Construct, code, or paint your own watch face on this simple, affordable band

Noodoe Watch

The Noodoe Watch looks like a fitness band, but it won't count your steps or track sleep. And it'll pair with a smartphone over Bluetooth LE to display notifications, but you'll never tap or swipe the display, play games, or speak into it. It doesn't even come with a default watch face.

Seriously, it's effectively useless out of the box. You might call it a "dumb watch" in comparison to the current and coming crop of extravagant smartphone companions, but the Noodoe is not dumb – just intensely focused.

Instead, the startup of the same name sees its debut wearable as a blank canvas that lacks purpose without user input. The device is very much spartan in design, but draw or code your own watch face and it becomes personal.

"This is an empty vessel. You infuse your soul into your Noodoe and it comes alive," says creator John Wang. "Every Noodoe will always be unique."

So what does this have to do with the Apple Watch

A different philosophy

Noodoe Watch

Wang was formerly the chief marketing officer of HTC, establishing its Magic Labs division and helping grow the company from a factory into its own device brand. 

His business card once read "Chief Innovation Wizard," but he left in 2011 to start his own company with Noodoe. And now he may need a bit of wizardry to convince people to buy a minimal digital watch amidst tech-packed contemporaries.

Noodoe claims its watch is the "opposite of Apple Watch," which sounds a bit opportunistic, given Apple's profile and the anticipation swelling around the device. But Wang clearly has admiration for the incoming smartwatch. He calls it "so beautiful," from the hardware to its apps, and admits that Noodoe isn't a real competitor to it.

"Apple Watch has everything – it's probably going to beat every single smartwatch out there on the market," he notes.

So why paint a target on the Apple Watch? Because Noodoe sees itself as a facilitator of personal expression, whereas top-tier smartwatches are all about features, polish, and what Wang sees as largely pre-determined design. It's not about your personality; it's what has been chosen for you. And you'll pay a real premium for that.

From our chat with Wang, it seems like the Noodoe Watch aspires to be the Raspberry Pi of wearables while the Apple Watch is… well, an iMac. Both computers are remarkably different in purpose, design, and price, and both have thrived – albeit in very different ways for often very different consumers. 

The disappearing watch

It's odd to hear a creator describe his device as the "least important" part of the wearable equation. "It's your idea that should be center stage," says Wang. "The watch should disappear."

Sure enough, the Noodoe Watch is nondescript. It's solid black on the outside and what looks to be a textured grey or off-white on the inside band – no other colour options are planned. You'll find no buttons and no obvious display panel along the exterior. And in particular, you'll see no invitation to touch or tap the screen, because that's not how you interact with the Noodoe.

Instead, it's built entirely on accelerometer use in an interface they call "Motion Magic." Get a call notification on the watch? You can flip your wrist over to dismiss it. You'll do the same to move between multiple face panels on the Noodoe.

Wang believes it's a better fit for a wearable strapped to your body, since movements come so naturally, and the possible use case advantages are obvious: dismissing a notification when your hands are full or dirty, for example, or while biking or driving.

And unlike flashier smartwatches, the Noodoe officially promises seven days of battery life, but should deliver a fair bit longer - the company's target is half a month, although it can vary based on use.

But what exactly will you see on the device if you're not tapping on notifications or spouting off voice queries?

The social movement

Well, it's up to you – entirely so, really. As noted earlier, the Noodoe doesn't even have a basic watch face included, so when purchased, there's little point in strapping it on and going about your day. You'll need the Android or iOS companion app, which is where the purported magic happens.

The app makes designing your own watch face a total snap. Wang says the goal is to "let grandma customise her own watch in literally under one minute." That's done through the core drag-and-drop interface, which lets you build a face using preset symbols. You can use number blocks, dice, or playing card images, for example, and arrange them in a way that shows the hours and minutes. Set a different image for each hour of the day, if you'd like.

Got programming skills? You can code your own watch face, line by line, using if/then statements, conditional branching, and the like. But most people are likely to use the app to paint out each pixel on the watch's face, letting you sketch out a custom design that makes the Noodoe yours.

You can even use a "camera brush" to snap a photo of a pen-and-paper doodle, then customise it further in the app before sending it to the watch. Camera roll images can similarly be imported and tweaked before ending up on your wrist.

Noodoe provided the included imagery to show how a logo like Stuff's can be easily brought on to the device. Wang sees the Noodoe Watch as a canvas for self-expression, repeatedly calling it a "social movement" for people to be innately creative – and part of the social aspect is an online network designed solely for Noodoe users.

You won't find apps, games, or premium faces in a store, but each user can share his/her own watch face creations with friends and other followers via the app. And if you like a design, you can download it to your own Noodoe within moments.


Make it yours?

Noodoe Watch

The Apple Watch contrast borders on fixation during our conversation with Wang.

He likens Apple's device to the perfect and pristine Barbie doll, whereas the Noodoe Watch is like Lego – something to spur your creativity in whatever direction you see fit. Considering the Apple Watch's multiple editions, swappable straps, and customisable watch faces, I'm not sold on it being devoid of expressive possibility, but I acknowledge the argument that these are very different devices. And Noodoe will even time its release to try and make that point.

Wang claims the wearable will be available approximately 60 days after the Apple Watch's release. The latter is currently targeted for April, so we may see the Noodoe hit the market come mid-summer. It will be available for worldwide purchase online.

Price could be the biggest differentiator of all here, however. The Noodoe obviously isn't packed with the same level of tech or capabilities as Android Wear watches or the Apple Watch, and nor will it be priced similarly. In fact it won't even cost as much as a fairly low-end smartphone.

"If we want to democratise creation and self-expression, buying a Noodoe should be like buying a t-shirt," Wang asserts. "We will be targeting a price that is substantially lower than US$100 to make this an impulse purchase for people."

Your move, Apple! Kidding. But we're certainly interested to see if the market embraces a wearable device that does one thing, does it differently to anything else out there, and does so very affordably. We'll find out this summer.