Hands On With Mica, Intel and Opening Ceremony's $495 Wearable
What does a $495 smart bracelet feel like? Plastic. And snake skin. Intel and Opening Ceremony on Monday unveiled the features behind their forthcoming Mica device at an event in New York City. I got a chance to take a look the new wearable up close after the event.
Before I get to the features, I have to discuss Mica's (which stands for My Intelligent Companion Accessory) design, which looks far different from any other wearable I've seen. It's essentially a chunky plastic bangle, albeit one encrusted with stones on the front and a curved sapphire glass touch screen on the back. The design is clearly feminine, which is a welcome change of pace: Not everyone who is interested in wearable tech is a dude.
Mica comes in two variations: black water snake skin with pearls from China and lapis stones from Madagascar, or white water snake skin with tiger's eye from South Africa and obsidian from Russia. (Sorry vegans.) Both colors feature an 18K gold coating on the trimmings.
Now, I'm not the target market for Mica, but it definitely does look nice on a wrist. My biggest concern is that it's a pretty distinctive-looking accessory, so it might not match with every outfit. And how many women are going to want to wear the same band every day? That said, it's nice to finally see the fashion aspect of a wearable device receive just as much attention as the technology. Wearables should be things you actually want to wear, after all. And I like the decision to put the display on the wrist side of the bracelet, which makes it a lot more discreet.
Now onto the technology. Perhaps the most interesting aspect about Mica is that it operates independently of your other devices; it doesn't connect to your smartphone or tablet. Instead, the device comes equipped with its own cellular radio, and service is provided by AT&T. The $495 cost of the band actually includes a two-year service contract, though it is unclear how much service will cost beyond that.
Because Mica operates independently of your phone, it has its own unique phone number that your contacts will have to store. That means someone texting you will have to decide whether to send the message to your phone or your Mica, which could get confusing.
From what I saw today, the device seems to be mostly about notifications. You can link up to two Gmail accounts to Mica, and you'll receive text messages as well as incoming mail from those you designate as 'important contacts' in Gmail. You can dismiss notifications right from the band, or respond with a customizable quick reply. Notifications are vibration-based.
Mica also displays Google Calendar and Facebook event notifications, and allows you to accept or reject upcoming appointments. It also has an integrated GPS that, in conjunction with TomTom, allows the band to serve you notifications based on your location. You also get built-in Yelp local search.
I didn't get to take a close look at the user interface, but it's mostly built around swiping up and down, like Android Wear. There's a lot of gray and black, which looks stylish, but a little drab. And I wasn't told a resolution for the display, but it looks serviceable.
As with most wearables, battery life is still a concern here. Mica gets up to two days of battery life, and charges via micro USB. That's better than most of the Android Wear watches I've tested, but it still isn't great. I'm also concerned that the functionality of the band is somewhat limited. Messaging, notifications, and search functions can be helpful, but they're hardly unique, and I don't see them being delivered in a way that makes Mica a must-have accessory. On top of that, a couple of the bands I saw today froze up from time to time, which is a bit disconcerting as they're only a few weeks away from hitting stores shelves.
Mica will go on sale in early December for $495 at Opening Ceremony and Barneys. Check back then for a full review.