The first thing you notice about the Nubia Alpha is its long narrow curved screen that wraps around your wrist when you wear it. I had several curious strangers ask me about it, some who thought it was a house arrest bracelet and others who said it looked like a watch Batman would wear. The Nubia Alpha has a ridiculous facade and that is honestly part of its appeal.
But the bigger existential question is what is the Nubia Alpha? You wear it on your wrist like a watch, but it has a bigger display than most smartwatches and can make phone calls — kind of. But whether the Nubia Alpha is a watch or a smartphone really depends on your definition of what a phone is.
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Nubia calls it a "wearable smartphone". After spending a few weeks with it, I can definitely say it is not a phone — at least in they way we're used to phones. There's no Instagram, Google Maps, Uber or Lyft. There's not even an internet browser.
It would be easy to dismiss the Nubia Alpha as an ambitious, but useless gadget. But I actually like some of the approaches to its design and features, even if Nubia misses on the overall execution. The Nubia Alpha represents a new form-factor for wearables that could redefine what we expect from phones and watches. But Nubia needs to fix a bunch of things to get there.
If the software is improved and changes are made to the ergonomics of the display and camera, the Nubia Alpha would be worth every penny of its $449 price. But until then, that price gets you a watch that's mostly a conversation starter.
Flexible 4-inch display on your wrist
A 4-inch bendable OLED display is the defining feature here. It's mounted on a steel watch band that fit snug and secure on my wrist. Imagine lining up three Apple Watch screens end-to-end in a row — yeah that's a lot of display. It's fantastic having so much screen real estate, especially handy for reading a long string of text messages which literally wrap around my wrist. It's a shame Nubia couldn't figure out a way to let you view email messages on that screen. It's just crying to be used that way.
One problem is that there's always a quarter of the display that you can't see without impossibly twisting your wrist. If Nubia moved the display so more of it was inside your wrist, instead of on the outside, you'd be able to get the maximum use out of it. It would be asymmetrical but far more ergonomic.
It's worth noting, that I haven't had a single durability issue with the Nubia Alpha's flexible display. When Samsung sent out review samples of its Galaxy Fold phone, many reviewers had trouble with the folding display.
Not a slap bracelet
I should dispel one myth about the Nubia. This isn't a slap bracelet. The Nubia sports a metal link bracelet with a double clasp which is one of the most impressive aspects about the watch. You can easily add or remove links to resize the watch to your wrist.
The Nubia Alpha is unapologetically chunky and hefty. It felt solid and secure wearing it daily unlike the silicone band of my Apple Watch.
Inside the Nubia Alpha's girth is a battery that lasted me 48 hours and 44 minutes on a single charge.
The Nubia Alpha is rated IP65 for dust and water resistance. It survived water splashes, dustings of blue matcha powder and an exploding can of beer during an 8 hour barista shift I worked at a cafe.
iPhone 4 camera specs, iPhone 3GS photo quality
There's a 5-megapixel camera that sits on top of your wrist. But because of the angle I got the worst selfies. If I want great views up my nose, the Nubia Alpha is the way to go. Sometimes I could stretch my arm and twist my wrist to get my entire head in the frame, but this small act of contortion rarely yielded a good shot. Image quality is pretty bad by today's standards. The quality of the photos is like iPhone 3GS good.
Oh, you can record video, but just 10 seconds long. But I have no idea why you wouldn't use a phone where you'll get better image quality and the ability to record videos that are longer than 10 second clips. Where's that Tik Tok integration when you need it?
Like the display, if Nubia moved the camera to the inside of the wrist, it would actually yield decent selfies and videos. I realize moving both the display and camera would mean the need for a left-handed and right-handed version, but that would make it far more useful.
Also, I wish I could use one of the two physical buttons on the watch to trigger the camera shutter. It's odd taking a photo with the onscreen shutter button because my finger sometimes blocks the camera while pressing it.
Software is a series of unfortunate events
It's interesting that Nubia decided to tackle the software on the Alpha. I really like the company's Red Magic Mars gaming phone which runs a close to stock version of Android 9 Pie. But Nubia basically started from scratch here.
The software on the Nubia Alpha is clunky and confounding to use. Trying to get a song onto it is insanely unintuitive. There are a lot of tiny apps from weather and fitness to one called Hi Marquee which lets you type words or phrase and have it scroll across the Nubia Alpha's display.