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First Look: HTC Gets Into the Wearable Game With GPS-Equipped Grip Fitness Tracker

They said it was coming, and it's finally here. HTC's first wearable.

Bonnie Cha

HTC has always said it doesn’t want to be a me-too company. Phablets, smartwatches, whatever the latest craze, it’s not going to jump on the bandwagon unless it can bring something different and innovative to the table. That’s why it hasn’t entered the wearables market — until now.

Today at Mobile World Congress the company debuted its first wearable, the HTC Grip. Designed as a fitness tracker first and smartphone companion second, the Grip is geared more toward the serious athlete, rather than the occasional exerciser. It will be available this spring for $199 at HTC.com, Under Armour, AT&T, Sports Authority, Walmart and other retailers.

 The HTC Grip will come in three sizes: Large, medium and small.
The HTC Grip will come in three sizes: Large, medium and small.
Bonnie Cha for Re/code

So, what exactly makes the Grip different from other fitness trackers? A few things, according to HTC.

First is its partnership with Under Armour. The band will work and sync with the sporting goods company’s UA Record fitness app, which is available for both iOS and Android. Not just a simple step tracker, it’s capable of recording various types of workouts, including running, cycling, weight training and gym sessions, though you have to select the specific activity. The Grip can’t automatically detect that — not yet, anyway. It also works as a sleep monitor.

Aside from collecting data, the app provides data analysis and allows you to set goals and challenges. There’s also a social aspect to it where you can add and follow friends. With Under Armour’s recent acquisitions of other digital health and fitness apps like MapMyFitness and Endomondo, UA now has a user community of around 130 million people worldwide.

 Aside from fitness tracking, the Grip also acts as a smartphone companion.
Aside from fitness tracking, the Grip also acts as a smartphone companion.
Bonnie Cha for Re/code

Second, the Grip is one of the few fitness tracking bands (not including fitness watches like the Garmin Forerunner 620 and TomTom Runner) that has built-in GPS. That means you can go out for a run or a bike ride without your smartphone and the Grip will still record route. When you return home, it automatically syncs all that information back to the app on your phone.

When you do you have your smartphone with you, the Grip can notify you of incoming calls, text messages (with the ability to reply with quick messages) and calendar appointments. You can also control your smartphone’s music player using the band.

The Grip is made from a durable, waterproof rubber material and features a 1.8.-inch curved touch PMOLED display. It’s only available in a black and lime green model, and comes in three different sizes: Large, medium and small. Charging is done through a proprietary port inside the clasp, and HTC estimates battery life at around five hours with the GPS activated.

 The Grip has an estimated battery life of five hours with GPS on.
The Grip has an estimated battery life of five hours with GPS on.
Bonnie Cha for Re/code

I got some brief hands-on time with the Grip before Mobile World Congress, and I’m not really sure HTC accomplished its goal of bringing something different to the wearables space. This is by no means a full review. I didn’t actually get to work out with it, and I should note that the product I saw wasn’t the final, shipping version.

That said, here are some of my early impressions:

  • The design is pretty clunky. It’s one of the wider fitness trackers I’ve seen, and the band is so stiff that it makes it difficult to put on. Also, while the clasp is secure, it requires some force to snap close.
  • The monochrome touchscreen is easy to read, but it’s a bit temperamental. Swiping through the menus didn’t always work on the first try, and a bit of trial and error is involved trying to figure out if you should swipe up and down or left and right. Also, there’s an auto-rotate feature that will change the screen orientation depending on how you’re looking at the band, but only some screens changed while others did not.
  • While it’s true that the Grip is one of the few fitness bands to have built-in GPS, it lacks some other sensors. For example, the Microsoft Band, which has GPS, also features a heart-rate sensor and a UV monitor. HTC said this is because the current heart-rate sensors aren’t accurate, so it didn’t feel good about adding it to the band. The Grip does works with third-party heart-rate monitors, though.
  • The Grip and UA Record app still don’t tackle the bigger problem with wearables, which is that they do a good job of collecting data but not telling you what to do with that information. Like other apps, UA Record does some basic analysis of all your workout data, but it could do a lot more.
 The Grip has built-in GPS so it can track routes with or without your smartphone.
The Grip has built-in GPS so it can track routes with or without your smartphone.
Bonnie Cha for Re/code

HTC says this is something it is working on, and the Grip is just the first of a whole family of devices for the company.

We’ll be sure to put the HTC Grip through its paces once it’s available. In addition to the Grip, HTC also announced its latest flagship smartphone today, the One M9, and revealed that it will be partnering with video game platform company Valve to release a consumer virtual reality headset called the HTC Vive this spring.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.