How does the Puls Wearable differ from a smart watch?

Whatever you call the Puls, don’t call it a smart watch.
Noam Galai/WireImage/Getty Images

It's not always anonymous inventors or designers who come up with the latest products on the market. Sometimes it's celebrities. Such is the case with the Puls Wearable, which is the brainchild of William Adams, aka Will.i.am, founder and front man of the group The Black Eyed Peas. Will.i.am has long been intrigued by science and technology. He was a founding shareholder in Beats Electronics, which birthed Beats by Dre headphones. And he created i.am+, a fashion/tech business backed by Salesforce.com, an enterprise cloud software company [source: Will.i.am].

In 2012, Will.i.am unveiled his i.am+ foto.sosho, an iPhone camera accessory and app combo that transforms your phone's 5-megapixel camera into a 14-megapixel one. The foto.sosho was a bust for a variety of reasons and is no longer available, but that didn't stop Will.i.am from his next project: the PULS Wearable, which debuted in 2014 [sources: Hopewell, Kim,].

Like the foto.sosho, the Puls Wearable is wearable technology. That is, it's a tech piece that doubles as a fashion accessory. The foto.sosho, which was a clunky iPhone case on a neck strap, presumably was supposed to be similar to a necklace. The Puls Wearable, which is a smart watch-smartphone combination, looks like a chunky, plastic bracelet. Will.i.am terms it a "smart cuff." Unlike smart watches, the Puls is an untethered device. It doesn't need to hook into your smartphone to work. Yet much like smart watches, it allows you to do things like text, send emails, tap into social media and stream music. Retailing for $400, the device has 1 GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage, a SIM card and Bluetooth capability [source: Kim].

But the question is, how well does it work? And is there room for another device in an already-crowded wearables market, no matter how innovative? Let's see if the Puls Wearable fits the bill.

The PULS vs. Other Smart Watches

Musician will.i.am demonstrated his PULS smart cuff at Bloomingdale's in November 2014.
Musician will.i.am demonstrated his PULS smart cuff at Bloomingdale's in November 2014.
Noam Galai/WireImage/Getty Images

Creator Will.i.am tells everyone who will listen that his Puls Wearable is not a smart watch. No, no, no! It's a smart cuff. And a smart cuff is different than a smart watch. Totally different! Here's why: The Puls is basically a smartphone for your wrist, he contends, while a smart watch is an accessory to your smartphone [source: Kushins]. But experts say that's stretching things a bit.

Yes, there is one major difference between the Puls and all of the other "wearables" out there today: It's not powered by your smartphone. Most wearables -- smart watches, fitness bands -- operate by hooking into the Internet via your smartphone's antennas. Will.i.am's Puls comes equipped with its own WiFi and 3G antennas, so there's no need to tether it to another device. It's an independent operator. Convenient, sure. (Although most people, especially those interested in a gadget like the Puls, probably own smartphones and tote them around.) But this also means owners need to purchase a separate data plan to operate their Puls. And as of 2015, that data plan has to be purchased through AT&T in the U.S. and O2 in the U.K. [source: Nelson].

Tethering aside, in most other aspects the Puls is pretty much just like a smart watch. It allows you to tap into Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. It offers mapping and calendaring functions. You can play your favorite tunes, text and surf the Internet. There's a pedometer and Siri-like servant, AneedA. The smart cuff does allow you to make phone calls, which is a fairly unique feature offered by only a few other smart watches. And calls on the Puls are considered of a higher quality than those from a smart watch. The Puls also has some unique, lighthearted features. Will.i.am's voice sings out the numbers as you tap them, for example. And the cuff comes with an app, the Vibe+, which analyzes your voice to determine your mood. Still, most technology experts and consumers consider smart watches and the Puls to be very similar types of devices [sources: Prasuethsut, Nelson].

What the Critics Say About the Puls Wearable

Word on the street is that much like the foto.sosho, the Puls is a bust. Techno-pros across the board panned the device for a wide variety of reasons after its October 2014 introduction by Will.i.am. Where to start? Most find it ugly. One of the key precepts behind wearable technology is that it's either supposed to be discreet -- unnoticeable or slim and chic -- or, if it's a larger item, well designed and/or sporting appealing displays. The chunky, clunky, Plain-Jane Puls fails on all fronts. Further, while experts say it's surprisingly light and doesn't weigh down your wrist, its sheer size gets in the way [source: Prasuethsut].

But unsightly looks and even an unwieldy size could be overlooked if the thing worked like a dream. Experts say it doesn't. While they give props for the cuff being untethered, the clarity of its phone calls, AneedA's generally quick, accurate responses and the fact that the Puls offers you 94 ring tone options, those pros hardly outbalance the cuff's cons [source: Wong]. These include [sources: Miners, Prasuethsut, Strange]:

  • A non-intuitive interface.
  • A dim display that makes it difficult to see clearly; at its highest setting, it's still dimmer than other wearables' power-saver setting.
  • A short battery life (less than a day).
  • A pint-sized predictive keyboard that requires swiping over letters and is difficult to master. It's so tiny, you're constantly hitting the wrong keys.
  • A lack of apps. While the cuff comes loaded with Facebook, Instagram and a few others, that's about it. Supposedly more third-party apps are in the pipeline, including a fitness app, which is one glaring omission.
  • No camera. This means that while Instagram is loaded on the Puls, you can't post pictures to it. Plus, you'll still need to tote your smartphone if you want to take shots.

Down the road, the Puls may be upgraded and glitches fixed. But most people think it likely will be too late. The wearables market is quickly becoming saturated, and a big stumble out of the gate doesn't help you stand out. At least not in a good way. On the other hand, the fact that it's unique as a stand-alone device could be its chance at salvation [source: Prasuethsut].

Author's Note: How Does the Puls Wearable Differ from a Smart Watch?

It doesn't matter to me whether the Puls Wearable is deemed good or bad. All it took was one look at its chunky ginormousness to know it would never work on my tiny wrist. And even if it did, as someone who spends eight to 10 hours a day at a computer keyboard or piano, having something that size on my wrist would drive me crazy. Sorry, Will.i.am.

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Sources

  • Bell, Karissa. "Hands On With the PULS, Will.i.am's Connected Wearable." Mashable. Oct. 16, 2014. (March 30, 2015) http://mashable.com/2014/10/16/PULS-wearable-hands-on/
  • Brownlee, John. "Will.i.am Unveils Yet Another Stupid Smartwatch." Fast Company. Oct. 20, 2014. (March 31, 2015) http://www.fastcodesign.com/3037278/william-unveils-yet-another-stupid-smartwatch
  • Hopewell, Luke. "Will.i.am Foto.sosho Hands-On: Stupider Than The Name Implies." Gizmodo. Jan. 14, 2013. (April 2, 2015) http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2013/01/will-i-am-foto-sosho-hands-on-stupider-than-the-name-implies/
  • Kim, Eugene. "Here's Will.i.am's New Smartwatch 'PULS'." Business Insider. Oct. 15, 2014. (April 2, 2015) http://www.businessinsider.com/williams-new-smartwatch-PULS-2014-10
  • Kushins, Jordan. "Will.i.am Talks PULS, a Gigantic Wearable Cuff For Everyone." Gizmodo. Oct. 15, 2014. (March 30, 2015) http://gizmodo.com/meet-PULS-will-i-ams-gigantic-wearable-cuff-1646838552
  • Miners, Zach. "Will.i.am's PULS is a beast of a wearable that makes calls without a phone." PC World. Oct. 15, 2014. (March 30, 2015) http://www.pcworld.com/article/2834672/williams-beast-of-a-smartwatch-makes-calls-and-more-without-needing-a-phone.html
  • Nelson, John. "PULS cuff severs smartphone-wearable tether." Plus Plastic Electronics. https://www.plusplasticelectronics.com/wearables/PULS-cuff-severs-smartphone-wearable-tether
  • Prasuethsut, Lily. "PULS review." Tech Radar. Feb. 19, 2015. (March 30, 2015) http://www.techradar.com/us/reviews/gadgets/PULS-1269354/review
  • Strange, Adario. "A closer look at Will.i.am's PULS wearable." Mashable. Nov. 5, 2014. (March 30, 2015) http://mashable.com/2014/11/05/will-i-am-PULS-wearable/
  • Will.i.am. "about - will.i.am." (April 2, 2015) http://will.i.am/about
  • Wong, Raymond. "Will.i.am's PULS: This is what a wearable nightmare looks like." Mashable. March 2, 2015. (March 30, 2015) http://mashable.com/2015/02/03/will-i-am-PULS-review/