Watch this space: Smartwatches abound at Mobile World Congress

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BARCELONA—While nearly 70,000 people waited patiently (and not so patiently) for their ordered Pebble smartwatches to ship, other companies apparently took notice of the commotion caused by the crowd-sourced device. Because all of a sudden, we’re awash with smartwatches.

We’ve found three other smartwatch contenders on the Mobile World Congress show floor, each of which is eager to win a spot on your wrist. And these companies are not the only ones getting into the watch game.

Both Samsung and Apple are rumored to be developing smartwatches of their own, supposedly for a release date some time after MWC wraps up. If that turns out to be the case, then competition for that coveted wrist spot is about to become much more fierce.

Until those rumored smartwatches come to pass, though, let’s focus on the devices we saw here at MWC.

Sony SmartWatch

Sony’s SmartWatch is optimized for the company’s Xperia smartphones, but it can work with other Android-compatible mobile devices to answer or refuse calls, check status updates, read messages, and control music.

Also known as the MN2SW, Sony’s blandly named SmartWatch is 0.3 inches thick, with a 1.3-inch color OLED touchscreen that offers a resolution of 128 by 128 pixels.

Sony’s watch weighs about 6 ounces and runs Android 2.1. You can clip it to either a 0.79-inch watchband—Sony includes a black rubber band and sells several more colors—or to clothing. The SmartWatch claims to be both dust-proof, and splash-proof.

Thanks to Bluetooth 3.0 connectivity, you can use the SmartWatch to answer (or refuse) calls, check status updates, read text messages and emails, and control music from an Android-compatible smartphone. (As you might expect from a device made by Sony, the watch is optimized for the company’s Xperia smartphones.)

Refusing calls is simply a matter of tapping the watch to respond with one of several preselected text messages (i.e. “I’m driving, but will call you back”). As for controlling music, the watch lets you start a playlist, skip to the next song, and adjust volume; you can also use the watch to stream music from your phone to a Bluetooth speaker.

The SmartWatch even offers some photography features: Use it to release the shutter button on your smartphone for easier group photos. Images appear on the watch face, and you can delete or share a photo right from the watch using the icons.

There are more than 200 SmartWatch applications available on Google Play, and the MN2SW should start shipping Wednesday for $130. Sony claims the watch will have enough juice to run through two to four days of typical usage—you can recharge the SmartWatch via USB.

Hama Cookoo

Hama shows off the Cookoo at the Mobile World Congress.

At its booth, Hama claimed to have the first watch to connect with your smartphone. Other watchmakers might contest that—Pebble reached its Kickstarter goal last May while Hama's Cookoo didn’t get fully funded until July. But rather than squabble over dates on the calendar, maybe it’s more worthwhile to focus on features.

Designed in France, the Cookoo is 0.6 inches thick and offers a more traditional analog watch face for reading the time. But don’t let the old-school appearance fool you: There’s also a digital display for updates.

The Cookoo uses Bluetooth 4.0 to connect with a smartphone and to provide you with notifications for incoming and missed calls, Facebook messages and posts, calendar reminders, alerts for when your smartphone is out of range, and a one-button press to sound a tone on your phone to help locate it quickly. In addition to alarms and timers, the watch can also alert you when its running low on battery.

Even though it’s a smartwatch, the Cookoo sports an old-school analog display.

For checking in on Facebook, just hit the Command button on the Cookoo; that button also lets you tag a location on a free sister app’s map, which you can later share or add notes and pictures. That Command button can also double as a remote shutter button for taking pictures with your smartphone.

And like most other smartwatches, the Cookoo can play, pause, or skip music playing on your smartphone. Pressing “Mode” will mute the watch’s alerts, or turn the vibrations on or off, and the watch’s API has recently been released to encourage developers to add more functionality.

Where the Cookoo differs from rival watches is with its battery—this smartwatch contains a standard CR2032 button cell battery that can be bought at stores and easily replaced by users. Cookoo sees this as a feature, claiming the watch won’t require daily or weekly recharging. It makes us wonder, though, how long a CR2032 battery can last through multiple daily notifications and usage.

At $349 for the watch, it’ll be pretty pricey to find out.

i’m Watch

An array of i'm Watch smartwatches adorns the MWC show floor.

Another device claiming to be the first smartwatch, the i’m Watch—which purports to be the world’s first real smartwatch—runs on a custom version of Android called i’m Droid 2. This watch is 0.4 inches thick, weighs from 3.1 ounces up to 6 ounces, depending on the model, and has a 1.54-inch color TFT display.

Like the rest of the smartwatches we saw at MWC, the i’m Watch connects via Bluetooth to iOS and Android smartphones to allow you to make and receive calls—to reject an incoming call, simply shake your wrist. If your smartphone will support SMS functionality, the i’m Watch can handle that too. In fact, the watch can deliver calls, text messages, emails, social network notifications, agendas and calendars, weather forecasts, news, stocks, music, and pictures (including Instagram feeds) directly to your wrist.

The i’m Watch can also alert you if you step away from your smartphone (or move back within range of it), and will automatically shut off if left on a surface. You can adjust the time before automatic shut off occurs.

Like most of the other smartwatches available right now, the i’m Watch has additional apps that you can add to it—currently about 50. However, unlike some of the other options, this watch can also use a personal hotspot or Wi-Fi to connect to your smartphone to maximize battery life.

Speaking of its battery, the i’m Watch has a built-in rechargeable Li=Po mAh battery that charges using USB. Without Bluetooth on, it will last for up to 48 hours.

The i’m Watch also boasts a cloud connection via i’m Cloud, which is also where you’ll manage the smartwatch apps and data. The cloud connection allows for more complete calendar and image management. Additionally there’s music playback functionality via the i’music service, which holds more than 6 million songs and counting. You’re also able to create and manage playlists through the cloud.

The i'm Watch comes in three different styles. The Tech model will set you back a pretty penny.

A 3.5 millimeter headphone jack, microphone, and built-in speaker all allow the i’m Watch to double as a useful fitness device as well. An accompanying i’m sport app helps further that cause by allowing you to set training durations, save lap times, and record maximum and minimum heart beat ranges.

Thank to sensors within the i’m Watch, you can also link the watch to heart rate monitors, pedometers, and other fit tech devices.

The i’m Watch’s style also sets it apart from rivals. It comes in three collections—Color, Jewel, and Tech. Each collection features a few different shades, and the watch also has a curved HD screen to fit neatly to your wrist. Another boon? An instantaneous messaging system based upon emoticons to help give you some limited instant message-type functionality.

Pricing on the i’m Watch varies by style, but starts at a premium price of €300 (about $349 in the United States). Prices can spike into the four-figure range if you order the more expensive Tech and Jewel models, though.

This story, "Watch this space: Smartwatches abound at Mobile World Congress" was originally published by TechHive.

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