Dick Tracy Watches – Are They Real?

Talking to your watch like Dick Tracy started to look like the real deal with the Apple iWatch and the Samsung Galaxy Gear, but was it.

Both of these watches are simply “smart watches” with bluetooth or near field data connected to a specific phone. They are simply an extension of the phone, allowing you to see who is calling before you remove your iPad Micro or Samsung Gigantus Galaxy from its holster or your purse.   Run out of the house without your phone and no Dick Tracy any more.

All of that has changed, and there are over a dozen very good unlocked GSM ready (sorry Verizon and Sprint, no CDMA) watches that have a slot for their own sim card. Leave the house, forget your phone and you still have one on your wrist!

After testing over a dozen of these watches we have learned that you can put them in three simple categories.  NONE of them are waterproof regardless of what the ads say.  There are some great “smart watches” that are 5ATM water resistant so they work fine for swimming, but more than 30′ from the phone and the calls and texts stop.  This might be why you have to buy them from China since none of them meet US advertising rules for water resistance.

Just to be clear when you see IP67 that means it can go under water.  Every watch we tested IP67 or IP68 failed in less than a foot of water.  Clearly Chinese testing is different that US testing and the high cost of shipping anything back to China is clearly a reason for most people to just toss it out.

***Editors Update**** We have purchased and tested this watch from Amazon and have 5 surf sessions in with no failures. The OS is very simple and the microphone and speaker aren’t too good after crusting up with salt water, so rinse thoroughly. It is a great back up phone for people who want to play in the water when they are on call and not have a $19 giant ziplock bag protecting their $600 iPhone

The good news is that you have three categories for these Dick Tracy Cell Phone Watches.

  1. Basic Cell Watch – Simple OS, no aps, and oddly these work quite well for under $50.  No WiFi, BlueTooth, most have no cameras.
  2. Small Round Android – These are Android OS watches but have a square face in a round dial.  This makes the screen very very small relative to the size of the watch. Again none of these cellular watches were actually waterproof.  A few were safe for washing your hands, that is it. $50-$250.  We didn’t find any correlation between price and quality.
  3. Full Square Android – Other than not being waterproof there are some very good Dick Tracy watches here.  The speaker quality of the iMacwear M7 was incredible and the finish was the highest quality of any watch we tested.   $100-$300.  We are hoping that iMacwear will create an M7 that is 5ATM water resistant and have asked them directly since we believe they have the technology and machinery to produce this watch.  They make a smart watch that meets these requirements.

Overall if you don’t need to go in the water with your watch, the full square Android based watches were all very good.  Even the round dial’s were very good as Cell phones.  Currently I am wearing a very nice basic cell watch which was less than $50 and is working great.  We are waiting for anyone to build a truly water resistant watch that is 5ATM or better so that we can go surfing.  surfing as in the ocean, not as in the web.

Be careful about the differences in GSM unlocked and Quadband unlocked.  We found the Quadband watches had better coverage as we traveled to multiple cities.  We tested these watches in Los Angeles, CA, Huntington Beach CA (our home office area), San Francisco, CA, Miami FL, New Orleans LA, and Dallas TX.

Many companies responded “yes” when we asked if we could surf with the watch, only to have our return claim denied saying “Water damage” is not covered.  That isn’t what we call waterproof.  One responded “We thought you meant web surfing”.

For our testing we used a prepaid T-mobile plan, and found coverage to be just slightly less than a regular phone.  With such a small format, the antennae can’t be that big so a little loss is expected.

The biggest issue we found was quality control, so check the reviews.  Out of 12 watches tested, only one arrived bad out of the box, and none of the other 11 failed before being dunked in water.  All of the better quality “Waterproof” models used a magnetic charging port on the bottom that corroded and shorted when in saltwater.  Clearly the skin contact and salt water offered a clean enough conductor.  They all also had water get in as well.

For anyone on call that needs a phone and wants to go for a run without having to have a giant phone in a vinyl sweat band wrapped around their biceps, these “Dick Tracy” style cell phone watches offer a great alternative and a very affordable back up cell phone.  If you run or work out a lot,  most of the “Waterproof” watches offer better sweat resistance.  That said the basic watch I am still wearing has a plastic bottom and a side charger so getting sweaty hasn’t caused it to fail yet.

It appears a key factor in the failures is the charging method and port location as well as how the sim card goes in.  The iMacwear M7 uses two screws on the door for the sim card but it still has a pin hole to eject the card which we believe is the weakness for water ingress.  The M7 did short out in salt water so we also know that is a failure point.

We had hoped for a replacement M7 after testing so we could test the theory.  Our plan was to block the pin hole with surfboard wax.  Instead they reluctantly refunded our money instead of sending a replacement after we spend $35 to ship it back to China.

Read reviews before you buy, and don’t believe any “waterproof” claims.  There is no such thing under US standards.  There are only different levels of water resistance. Most of the cell phone watches are IP67.  This means they can be submerged in water, and it is likely that you could quick dunk any of them in fresh water and the watch would survive.  Our testing proved all of them leaked and all with bottom chargers shorted and failed in salt water.

If you want to get rid of that big arm band when you run or work out, there are lots of good options.  If you just want a basic cell phone with texting that you can wear on your arm, there are great options.  Don’t bother to surf, how much website do you expect to see on a screen that is smaller than an inch and a half?

We also found that 1p67 “waterproof” is barely good enough to wash your hands.  Our best tested unit so far for going in the water is an IP68 Unit, Sold by Amazon as CXY.

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