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Android smartwatch enlightens dumb phone and tablet

Mar 18, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 1,763 views

Neptune launched a WiGig-connected “Neptune Suite” on Indiegogo, comprising an Android smartwatch, a barebones phone and tablet, and a keyboard and TV dongle.

Neptune, which launched the full-featured, Android-based Neptune Pine smartwatch last year, tipped a Neptune Duo product in February that was to comprise an autonomous smartwatch that controlled a “dumb” smartphone. The Duo concept, which essentially flips the typical smartwatch paradigm on its head, has now blossomed into an Indiegogo project called the Neptune Suite.

The quad-core, 1.8GHz Android 4.4 smartwatch, called the “Neptune Hub,” acts as the brains not only for a dumb phone, but also for a dumb tablet with detachable keyboard, a Chromecast-like TV dongle, a keyboard, and a music headset. Neptune Suite, which starts at $599, including the watch hub, communicates via Intel’s WiGig technology, a 60GHz wireless protocol with speeds of up to 7Gbps and “non-perceptible latency,” says Pearl Studios. (More details about WiGig appear farther below.)

Neptune Suite
(click image to enlarge)

It’s a wacky idea that faces the same sort of market perception challenges as other audacious, rule-breaking technologies like the modular Project Ara phone, but without the power of a Google behind it. On the other hand, this is very similar to the ubiquitous computing concepts that have been conceived by scores of computer scientists in recent decades. You pull a token from your pocket, and wherever you are, screens light up at your command.

In the case of the Neptune Suite, you have to bring your screens with you, but the concept is basically the same. You can start an application on one device, and “seamlessly transition to another,” says Neptune. The approach also reduces the impact of a single device failing or being stolen, says the company.

Neptune’s core base of Pine fans certainly like the idea. The Neptune Suite quickly blew past its $100,000 Indiegogo goal and had reached $850,000 at publication time, with 28 days left. In part, this is because the product is discounted to a still available early bird price of $599, compared to the eventual retail price of $899 when the Neptune Suite ships in Feb. 2016.


The success of the Neptune Suite could hinge upon the latency claims of the Intel’s WiGig technology, which has been formalized by IEEE as 802.11ad. While it resembles WiFi in many ways, WiGig is not intended as the next generation after 802.11ac. Instead, WiGig is a specialized, short-range technology with a range limited to a single room, but with bandwidth up to three times that of WiFi.

Intel WiGig infographic
(click image to enlarge)

In fact, the chief application is for a wireless docking station. Intel has has added support for WiGig to its latest, 14nm 5th Generation Core processors and Cherry Trail-T Atom SoCs.

Due to the complementary nature of 802.11ac and 802.11ad (WiGig), next-generation routers will be able to use WiGig to provide extremely fast data transfers over short ranges, while falling back to 802.11ac data rates (or less) when signals are weaker. A brief introduction to WiGig (IEEE 802.11ad) can be downloaded from the Wi-Fi Alliance’s website here [PDF].

Neptune Hub

No details were provided on the Neptune Hub’s quad-core, 1.8GHz system-on-chip, but this would appear to be one of the most powerful smartwatch SoCs to date. Most Android Wear watches, for example, have dual-core chips, although the Android Wear based Sony Smartwatch 3 has a quad-core, 1.2GHz SoC.

Neptune Hub, and some Hub screens
(click images to enlarge)

The Hub’s SoC specs match those number of several ARM SoCs, such as the Cortex-A17 based Rockchip RK3288. However, given the Intel WiGig connection, it’s possible it’s one of the 22nm, Bay Trail Atom SoCs such as the Atom E3845, or even the 14nm, Cherry Trail-T Atom x7 SoC, which features built-in WiGig support.

Like the Neptune Pine, the 36mm wide Neptune Hub sports a 2.4-inch capacitive touchscreen, which is larger than most Android Wear displays. However, unlike the clunky looking Pine, the Hub is more of a bracelet-style watch with a curved screen that somewhat resembles that of the 2-inch, Tizen-based Samsung Gear S. Like the upcoming, similarly Tizen-based Blocks watch, some of the components are built into the watchband. The water-resistant Hub, which was designed by Montreal based Pearl Studios, will be available in three wrist sizes.

Neptune Hub internal design
(click image to enlarge)

The Neptune Hub has a feature set closer to that of a smartphone than a smartwatch, and features 64GB of flash storage. Like the Pine, it acts as a standalone phone, with a built-in 3G/LTE radio and nano-SIM slot. The Hub also supports WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth 4.0, and NFC in addition to WiGig.

Android Wear-ready fitness apps would likely run on the device, which includes a heart-rate sensor, as well as accelerometer, 3-axis gyroscope, and digital compass. A speaker and mic are also provided along with a rechargeable 1000mAh battery.

In addition to the touchscreen, there’s a pressure sensor strip on the side of the Hub called the Contact Slide. The interface lets you “access any recent contact in a single action, by simply sliding your finger on the strip and pressing harder when you see the right contact highlighted,” says Neptune. Voice recognition and dictation are also supported. Indeed, this appears to run a relatively stock Android 5.0 build with full app support, although even Neptune probably isn’t sure what it will look like a year from now.

Neptune Pocket, Tab, Keys, and Dongle

According to Neptune, the peripheral devices available with the Neptune Hub are entirely free of processors, RAM, or storage, and their only wireless radio is WiGiG. It would appear, then, that they do not provide any functionality, such as camera use, when out of WiGig range of the Hub.

Neptune Pocket (left) and Tab
(click images to enlarge)

The Neptune Pocket phone integrates a 5-inch, 1280 x 720 capacitive touchscreen, as well as 8- and 2-megapixel cameras, much like a standard, mid-range Android phone. The Pocket is further equipped with a speaker, microphone, headset jack, accelerometer, gyroscope, and 2800mAh battery

The Neptune Tab features a 10-inch, 1920 x 1080 capacitive touchscreen and a 720p front-facing camera. Other features include a speaker, mic, accelerometer, gyroscope, and a 7000mAh battery.

Neptune Tab combined with Neptune Keys
(click image to enlarge)

Neptune Dongle
(click to enlarge)

The tablet can be fitted with a wireless keyboard called the Neptune Keys to provide a laptop experience. Neptune Keys can also be used on its own with a Neptune Dongle HDMI stick device, which displays Neptune Hub content on a TV or monitor.

Finally, there’s a Neptune Headset, which can also charge up to three devices at once, including the headset itself, using a single power outlet. When not in use, “the two earbuds can snap magnetically together to form a pendant,” says Neptune. It’s unclear if the Headset is also enabled with WiGiG or instead uses Bluetooth.

You may have noticed that the batteries for the Pocket and Tab seem to be overkill for such relatively brainless devices, while the quad-core Hub has a modest, 1000mAh battery. Neptune has chosen an unusual power strategy in which the Hub needs to be charged about as often as a typical smartphone while the other devices “can easily last multiple days of usage on a single charge,” according to the company. Alternatively, the Pocket and Tab can be used to recharge the Hub.

Other Android devices that have played with the “dumb device” concept include the Asus Padfone tablet, which was a brainless tablet that was brought to life with an integrated, but removable smartphone. There was also the Motorola Atrix 4G phone, which was available with an optional, dumb laptop dock that could transform into a functioning netbook when the phone was plugged in.

Further information

The Neptune Suite is expected to ship in Feb. 2016. There are still early bird packages available at $599 before the price moves to $649 through April 14. You can also place a downpayment of $199, and save $150 off the finally expected retail price of $899. More information may be found at the Neptune Suite Indiegogo page or the Neptune website.

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