"Call Will.i.am," you yell at your wrist cuff as you leave your trendy apartment. "Play Get This Party Started," you shriek into your other wrist cuff as you step out of a black car. A thin, tinny melody leaks out of the shackle — just as your ankle cuff buzzes. It's a text from Fergie. She's already at the club! You pop and lock as you tap a response into one of 17 other cuffs strapped to your body.
Welcome to life with Puls.
The Puls smart cuff (don't you dare call it a smartwatch) wants to be your fashion-first wrist-phone. This is not a novel concept. What's different here is that the Puls was envisioned by a pretend guru will.i.am, a man who thinks it's smart or clever to wear two of these things at once. That is to say: it's designed by a lunatic surrounded by yes-men. It's so bad.
Will.i.am has a long, fruitful history of turning terrible whims into "actual products." And by products, I mean punchlines to jokes. There was the i.am+foto.sosho, a £200 iPhone case that maybe never really existed. There was the "$700,000" IAMAUTO, a car of the future that was actually just an absurdly revamped Volkswagen Beetle. And now, this. The $400 (UK price TBC) Puls.
I foolishly thought it'd be fun to try to use the thing as my phone—my only phone—for a week. What a lark this will be, I said to myself as I closed the magnetized, oversized handcuff around my wrist, pinching my skin in the process. I turned my hand over to assess the damage: the Puls had drawn blood. A perfect start.
According to Will.i.am: You're cruising down the street, cool as a cucumber, on your way to an important meeting. You lift your Puls to your lips: "Email Mr. Tompkins about the merger." Sent by AneedA, the signature reads; Mr. Tompkins knows you don't have time to fuck around.
According to Reality: AneedA asks you which Tompkins you mean — Thomas, Tommy, Bill Tompkins? Your eyes move from the road to squint at the 1.7-inch screen and see which of the five names jammed onto the screen you want. Your fat fingers hit the wrong one. Time to start over. You jab at your wrist as your $700,000 Volkswagen goes into a ditch.
According to Will.i.am: You're dancing your heart out when your wrist vibrates—a text message. The music is blaring, so you casually make a few taps at your wrist. Impressed onlookers swoon at your futuristic fashion cuff. You somehow wink at them all simultaneously as you hit send. You never missed a beat.
According to Reality: Oh god. Someone texted you. You find a back alley where it's safe and slowly, cautiously roll up your sleeve. You hunch over your wrist in frustration as you curse your lot in life and steadily bang out a message on the tiny keyboard. People walking by avert their gaze; Don't look at the public masturbator/drug addict, they tell their children. Ten minutes later, you've finished your text.
According to Will.i.am: One on each wrist! This is a phone and a fashion statement. It's punk rock. You walk down the street, wrists buzzing, periodically yelling at your bangles but head held high without a pocket computer to cower over. You're finally free to be you.
According to Reality: You talk into your wrist for about three minutes. The cuff is warm — too warm. You avoid touching it at all costs in the hope it will cool down instead of exploding in a burst of lithium-ion ooze. Your sweaty wrist starts to chafe under the several-centimetre-thick plastic. You re-adjust the magnetic clasp. It opens slightly and closes back onto your skin. You bleed.
These are just a few examples, and to be fair, some of the features actually work! Voice calling, for instance, is actually a pretty painless experience. The people on the other end can hear you loud and clear, and you can mostly hear them (assuming it's relatively quiet and you have properly shoved your Puls into your face). But the pleasant surprises end there.
Will.i.am really wants you to know that Puls is your phone. This smartcuff is going to let you disconnect while staying connected, just like any self-respecting rockstar who can afford a staff of trained assistants. But while voice recognition is admittedly pretty spot on, your horribly named assistant AneedA is functionally inept. She answers questions with the help of Wolfram Alpha, but nearly everything you ask her to do requires a second confirmation using either touch or voice. It's more trouble than it's worth.
The screen is unresponsive and jerky at best and actively out to sabotage you at worst. Half the time you open the wrong app, either because the cuff is being too sensitive or because you're in a frantic rage from its lack of response altogether. The Minuum keyboard, for instance, gives you a full set of letters, but you're really just aiming for the right one and praying to god the word you want pops up in the autocomplete field.
Nothing about wearing this is pleasant. It's big, bulky, and feel like a prison sentence. It heats up fast, pinches you constantly, and the worst part? It's one size fits all. Sure, it comes with a metal extender, but as you can see below, the larger-wristed among us are screwed. Those big, lucky bastards.
Battery life is a joke. You'll get five hours if you're lucky, which means you are bringing the cord with you everywhere you go. Which, hey, maybe explains why Will.i.am. wears two! Of course, this is technically still a beta product, and he plans to release the official ("official") Puls with his POWER JACKET. As Wii.l.am said in an almost indecipherable interview with TechCrunch:
The problem with the smartphone is there are all these power cases. So I thought "How are we going to power the device?' We're always going to run into this wall of people wanting more power. Why can't we have jackets that power the device? Why can't you WEAR power? Holy, whaat—pow-wear. We need to do pow-wear, cause you WEAR your POWER.
If this is anything like the horrible (and horribly expensive) iPhone case, this is close to the end of the line for the Puls. In a few months, Will.i.am is going to get another Big Idea, spend millions of dollars making it, and pat himself on the back for another futuristic vision that will certainly definitely kind of maybe (but not really) enrich the lives of poor people with the power of technology, which Will.i.am loves to talk about when he's pitching a crazy new product none of those people could ever afford.
It's absurd and a horrible waste of money but, in a very, very certain light, almost kind of beautiful. Like a little engine that thinks it can, or more accurately, like a child who lights things on fire just to watch them burn — Will.i.am invests in gadgets. God bless his soul.