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First Look: Razer's Nabu Smartband Plays Part Smartwatch, Part Fitness Tracker

What is a gaming company doing in wearable tech?

LG, Sony, Garmin, Lenovo. It seems as though everyone is getting into the wearable tech business. Even so, there are still some entrants that might surprise you, like Razer.

The Carlsbad, Calif.-based company is best known for making gaming laptops and accessories, but at CES, Razer made it clear that it’s more than that with the introduction of the Nabu smartband.

Part smartwatch, part fitness tracker, the Nabu works with iPhone and Android devices and will alert you to phone notifications, track fitness data and connect you to other Nabu users (more on this in a bit). The company is also developing gamification opportunities to motivate you to reach fitness goals, connect more and see more.

The Nabu is a bit unusual in that it has two OLED notification screens. There’s one top-facing screen that shows you icons to indicate what type of notification you have, and a second “private” screen located on the bottom side of the band to show you more information, such as previews of texts and caller ID. The latter is motion-activated, so whenever you flip your wrist, it will show the display.

There’s also band-to-band communication. With this feature, you can get alerted when another Nabu user is nearby or wirelessly exchange contact information by shaking hands with someone, for example. Of course, not everyone wants that; the company says users will have full control over what information they share with others through a utility mobile app.

Developers can create apps or update existing ones to work with the band using the SDK. Razer has also opened sign ups for a $49 developer edition of the Nabu. Meanwhile, the company plans to release the smartband to the rest of the world in late Q1 2014. Razer didn’t disclose pricing, but said it would be “pretty interesting.”

According to Razer CEO and founder Min-Liang Tan, the company has been investing extensively in wearable R&D for the past three and a half years and set out to solve the problems with current smartwatches and fitness trackers. This includes battery life (the Nabu can go seven days between charges) and retention.

I got a chance to check out a prototype here at CES. The look reminded me a lot of the Nike FuelBand, but Razer said that it’s still tweaking the design. The final product won’t look so much like a fitness band. Instead, the accessory will be something that will look equally good whether you’re wearing a business suit or going for a night out on the town.

The smaller size of the band is definitely more appealing than the clunky smartwatches that are on the market now. I also like the idea of the dual screens to prevent prying eyes from getting all up in my business. A micro-USB port, which can be used for charging the battery, is cleverly built into the band and doubles as the clasp.

Still, I’m skeptical about it all. The band-to-band communication feature does not appeal to me, and really relies on others having the Nabu band. But Tan thinks it has a good shot at making the Nabu the wearable of choice in the world.

“We have a massive community of tech-savvy gamers, who have always been passionate about evangelizing our products,” said Tan. “Not only are we certain that the competitive feature set and specs of the Nabu will excite consumers who are in the market for wearables, but as we bring more and more third party developers on board to build on the Nabu open platform, this device will only grow more beneficial in use.”

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