HTC announced its long-awaited wearable on Sunday at Mobile World Congress. It’s called the Grip, and it’s a joint effort with Under Armour, the sportswear and now-fitness software brand.
The Grip doesn’t run Android Wear or other any major smartwatch platform. It can serve phone or calendar notifications, but it’s not really a smartwatch: It’s a fitness-focused trackers for serious athletes who want something more involved than a Fitbit. Instead of the colorful screens seen on Android Wear devices, the Grip sports a black and white PMOLED with an unusual 32 x 160 pixel resolution, and it works with both iOS and Android.
The chunky bangle has four main sensors: A compass, accelerometer, light sensor, and GPS. Except for GPS, those are “table stakes” specs shared by most other fitness trackers, but GPS will be appreciated by runners and cyclists who can leave their phone at home. In fact, the Grip doesn’t need to be synced to a device, so when users go to the gym, they can leave thier smartphones in their lockers. There’s no optical heart rate sensor — HTC says they tend to be inaccurate — but the Grip can be used with a chest-worn heart rate monitor, like Under Armour’s Armour39.
The lack of a heart rate monitor helps the Grip manage a two to three day battery life when simply step tracking, although that falls to 5 hours with GPS on, although that’s long enough for most people to run a marathon. The interface on the Grip is stripped down and simple, with a simple menu that give you options for step tracking, calories burned, sleep logged and other quick stats on the device. Otherwise, your step and location data are fed into the UA Record app. If your workout doesn’t include running or cycling, the Grip has a gym mode, too.
In terms of looks, the Grip has much more in common with Under Armour’s aesthetic than the brushed metal look of HTC’s phones. The inside of the Grip is a bright green, which matches some of Under Armour’s sportswear. Where it touches your skin, it’s got an interesting nubby and rubbery texture to help ventilation and maybe prevent the rash problems other fitness trackers have faced. It will come in three sizes when it goes on sale this spring.
The Grip will only sync with Under Armour’s relatively new Record app. Think of it this way: HTC is handling the hardware, and Under Armour — which recently bought over $500 million of competing fitness apps including MyFitnessPal — is handling the software side.
The Grip is HTC’s second product in its Re line, following the confounding buttonless Re camera. In the coming year, HTC isn’t just going to be a smartphone manufacturer anymore — with a little bit of help from its friends like Under Armour, it’s transforming into a premium electronics maker, too.