On a whim I ordered a Mixtile Gena from Tindie because it looked like a more open version of the guts inside my Pebble watch, and I’d love to do things with my watch that it was never designed for. It’s also a third of the price of even the entry-level Pebble, so I thought it was worth checking out, even though no documentation was available at the time (I figured when it showed up there would have to be some by then).
I figured wrong :)
The box showed up surprisingly quick, but contained the device wrapped in bubblewrap and nothing more. I did a quick search to see if any more info had shown up on the web since I ordered but no luck, other that a couple forum entries from similar lost souls .
Who needs instructions anyway?
I plugged it in and turned it on (guessing that you hold the single button on the left, since the controls are almost identical to the Pebble) and it started right up. Here’s a terribly-shot video:
After a second or two a clock is displayed, and no surprise the top and bottom buttons on the right of the unit scroll through a number of pre-installed watchfaces. Pressing the center button brings up a menu of features and of course the one I’m most interested in, “Settings”.
There’s a lot of built-in “Pebblesque” features that look like they would just work once the device is paired with a phone, but unfortunately there’s nothing in the settings indicating that this can be done. There is a Bluetooth on/off switch, and when you turn it on and scan for Bluetooth devices with your phone something shows up that you can pair with, but it never reaches “Connected” state, and the device continues to instruct you to “Connect the phone” to use the phone-related features.
So at the moment there’s not a lot I can do with it, but I’ll keep poking at it and also see if I can get something out of the support community. To be clear the device has potential, especially if the company comes through on their promise to provide the device firmware and API in an open-source way. It appears to be fairly well made and the screen is very nice in ambient light (the back lighting seems a little weak but I haven’t tested that extensively), and works well in sunlight as well as regular artificial light. Performance is snappy with the built-in firmware and although I can’t do a lot with it yet, it doesn’t have that sluggishness you get with so many cheap gadgets.
Even if developing software for the device doesn’t materialize (or requires some cumbersome toolchain) if the Gena does what it looks like it can do (once properly paired with a phone) will do most of what I use my Pebble for, at a price that will make it accessible to a much wider audience. With a handmade or 3D printed case & band the whole investment could easily come in under $40, which is getting into Casio Databank range…
…and if Mixtile does come through with an open-source development kit, it could not only open up previously imagined applications but it could also become a watch that could be used with devices other than smartphones. Other phones (feature phones or even basic flips) could theoretically use the Gena as a display for incoming texts, etc. and in the reverse as a controller input for music playback, call management, etc. This would significantly lower the cost-of-entry in using a “smartwatch” and dramatically increase the world audience for these devices, so it’s an exciting proposition.