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[MWC 2019] The Nubia Alpha is a beautiful smartwatch with a foldable screen

If you paid attention during last year's IFA, you might remember that Nubia, the brand that spun off from ZTE, has been working on a smartwatch with a foldable display. The device was promised for the last quarter of 2018, but the company only officially unveiled it at Mobile World Congress this week.

Here's a quick rundown of the specs - it sadly runs on Qualcomm's older Snapdragon Wear 2100 chipset, it's got 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage. The 500mAh battery should get you up to 48 hours of standby time, its magnetic charger supports Quick Charge (though it's unclear which version), and it's got a tall, 4.01-inch display that wraps around your wrist. It comes in a Bluetooth/Wi-Fi version and another one with 4G support through an eSIM. It has a 5MP front-facing camera, and there's also another sensor on the front that lets you scroll through menus with gestures.

Right off the bat, one thing that might be a problem is that this watch doesn't run Android. Going to the system information section reveals that it's running nubia Wear OS v1.0, which would apparently be the company's own custom software. That makes some sense considering that this is a pretty unique form factor, and the UI is designed to take advantage of it. It actually looks pretty nice on this display, and I'm a fan of the overall design language as well.

The default home screen is, of course, the clock, which also has the date and some fitness information such as the step counter and calories burned. This screen also overloads you with a list of quick settings off to the top, for things including Wi-Fi, brightness, sound, vibration, airplane mode, etc. You can turn those features on or off directly from this display. Under the clock, you have links to some of your apps, too.

From there, you can scroll sideways to get to different menus, which grant you access to all of your apps, plus more complex system settings. The problem with the smartwatch not running Android will obviously be the fact that it's very unlikely we'll see any apps being made for this. A couple of Chinese ones, including WeChat, are built in, but it won't be easy for western apps to make their way there.

This is a shame because I think the device looks pretty cool, and it works pretty well for a novel product. The camera app is also interesting because, with only one camera, which is front-facing, you'd think it's pretty hard to take pictures of what's in front of you, but you can actually just drag the camera preview to a couple of different positions on the foldable screen. If you move it down to the bottom, you can twist your wrist to aim the camera outward and still see the picture you're taking.

Again, I think this is why I think the potential of this device is hindered by it not running Android. I think something like this would be awesome to use with Skype, so you can show your surroundings to a caller more easily.

Another thing that's cool about the Nubia Alpha is that sensor on the opposite side of the front-facing camera. I know I bashed the usefulness of Air Motion in the LG G8, but here it's a little different. I don't know if it's because you're not holding a phone, but it just feels a little more natural on the watch. You can see it in action in the tweet below:

There are also voice controls in the smartwatch, but again, it's not Android, so this probably isn't going to have Google Assistant or any of the more popular alternatives.

With that being said, I did think the Nubia Alpha was fun to use and it's just cool to look at and see it in action. The way the screen curves around your wrist is almost kind of inviting you to scroll up and down, and as far as foldable devices go, I think the Alpha is definitely one of the more interesting takes.

The Bluetooth version is scheduled for release in April 2019 to the "global market" for €449, and the 4G version with the eSIM is coming to China that same month. However, European customers will have to wait until the third quarter, and those in North America will have to wait even longer, until the fourth quarter. This model will cost €549 for the black model and €649 for the special gold-plated variant.

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