The MICA smart bracelet proves wearable tech can be pretty (hands on)

We get up close with Intel and Opening Ceremony's luxury 3G smart bangle
Intel and Opening Ceremony's MICA smart bracelet up close

It doesn't have to be a smartwatch every time.

This "smart bracelet" from Intel shows notifications and alerts on a small screen, just like a Pebble or Moto 360, and doesn't look dorky doing it. 

MICA - or My Intelligent Communication Accessory - puts most wearable tech to shame with its blend of 3G connectivity, curved touchscreen and wireless charging smarts together with snakeskin, pearls and semi precious stones. 

Yep, this luxury smart bracelet looks the part up close. It looks smaller and more premium than in the press photos and is surprisingly light and comfortable to wear. We tried on the white water-snake skin model which is adorned with tiger's eye stones and Russian obsidian.

Of course, it makes more sense if you're the kind of person who can pull this off (it didn't exactly match our rucksack). But put it this way, if you'd wear a similar piece of jewellery, the tech inside MICA really doesn't make a difference to the design and build. And that's impressive. 

The main reason for this is because the 1.6in sapphire touchscreen is on the inside of the bracelet to make checking notifications and messages more discreet. The MICA we played with was sadly powered off because Intel hasn't finished tweaking the UI yet. But it will run proprietary software that keeps things simple - wearers can leave their phone at home and receive messages, calendar reminders and social notifications over 3G. Intel considered adding the ability, for instance, to view Flickr photos on the bracelet but decided against turning it into a Swiss Army Knife gadget. 

Opening Ceremony, a New York fashion house which collaborated with Intel on the device, is going to be selling the cuff for under $1000 (probably not by much) in time for Christmas. That's a similar price to Opening Ceremony's plain old 'dumb' jewellery made from these kinds of materials.

READ MORE: Intel CEO says Edison PC will be the size of a coat button by 2016 

"Talking about form versus function, this doesn't scream tech nerd," says Mike Bell, VP of Intel's New Devices Group. "Sitting in a runway show at fashion week was not something, as an engineer, I ever thought I would do. In fact, at the New York runway show people saw this on the model and before they knew it had technology inside, you could actually hear people screaming 'I've got to get one of those."

Bell describes the MICA as "fashion first, technology second". He points out that when the battery runs out after a couple of days, unlike most smartwatches we've seen so far, the MICA will still look like a piece of jewellery, not a blank screen. 

In fact, Intel took a completely hands-off approach to designing the smart bracelet. The first prototype looked "about as good as you'd expect a group of engineers to build".

"We took the concept to Opening Ceremony and said we have a connected bracelet so your customers can leave their phone at home and still maintain connectivity with the world around them. They looked at it and were very polite with us. But they said – Let's start from scratch."

The bracelet isn't a certain thickness because Intel had to squeeze components such as the battery into the small, curved form factor - the thickness, radius and design language was all decided by the fashion brand.

Bell says Intel is open to providing "the guts" of the MICA to other fashion partners with a "serious interest" who want to build something similar but it won't be open source to makers like the Intel Edison board.

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