Nex Band review: What I really wanted instead of a smartwatch

I hate what we're doing with smartwatches right now. I don't want to talk at my wrist; I couldn't care less about a cellular connection; and I'm not interested in a smaller version of my phone giving me turn-by-turn directions in a place that still requires me to look away from the road. If I turn off the features I don't care about, set my notifications so my wrist isn't being buzzed every 12 seconds, and drink a little to forget there's a keyboard in there now, I can make a smartwatch do most of the things I want it to do.

That's a lot of unnecessary work for a watch that I still have to charge every day. I needed a better solution, and the folks at Mighty Cast have spent the last couple of weeks trying to convince me their Nex Band is the thing I've been looking for. Here's what I've found.

Nex Band

Glossy plastic and rubber, so hot right now

Nex Band Hardware

Instead of a traditional display with its own UI and apps and emoji, the face of your Nex Band is five small touch panels with LEDs underneath. When you touch a panel, it lights up in its corresponding color, and aside from the single physical button on the side that's really all there is to this thing. There's no text, no scrolling wheels, and no desire to spend any more than half a second glancing down at it when you're doing something. It's a few colorful panels with a single button and a vibration motor for getting your attention. And Bluetooth.

It feels a bit cheap, but I overlooked that because it does what I want it to do.

The Nex Band comes in two colors, a white band with a gold body and black band with a black body, and the most important thing to know about both is that they feel really cheap on your wrist, and there's very little you can do about that. The plastic body and "sporty" rubber band are fused together with no way to separate them, so if you're not a fan of that kind of band this won't be for you.

The plastic button clasp does a reasonable job keeping the band secure on your wrist, but the band itself doesn't close all the way on smaller wrists unless you're willing to trim the band yourself. On larger wrists like mine, it fit comfortably enough and remained in place on my wrist no matter what I was doing.

The bottom of the band doesn't have a heart rate monitor or a skin sensor for wireless payments, but it does have the charging pins. Instead of a standard charging port, you need to snap an awkward charging clasp on the back of the band and connect a Micro-USB cable to that clasp. I can't overstate how easy it is to lose this attachment, especially if you're planning to travel with it. Be careful, because right now they aren't easy to replace.

Nex Band

I thought we were past this kind of behavior.

Fortunately, you won't need to worry about carrying the charging clasp with you everywhere because the battery on this band is actually pretty decent. On average, I'm getting a little over two full days of use without recharging, and it's pretty safe to assume my usage is a little heavier than average.

Overall, this band is not going to impress just by looking at it. There's no nice way to put this: it even looks kind of cheap. It's unlikely I'd wear this when going to an important meeting or to a special function. Every day, however, it's the first thing I reach for when getting out of bed.

Nex Band

Dancing lights on your wrist

Nex Band Software

Out of the box, these five touch panels don't do anything at all. There are no features programmed to these buttons. Notifications from your phone will cause all five to light up in cute animations and color patterns so you know what kind of notification you just received, but otherwise it's a blank slate. A glorious, completely customizable, blank slate that can be set up to do just about anything.

Every day, however, it's the first thing I reach for when getting out of bed.

From the Nex app, each of these panels can be assigned a function. You can launch media controls, start a remote shutter for your camera app, trigger a fake phone call, and really just about anything else. Nex calls these "hacks" but really they're all just simple scripts that run when you activate one of the panels on your wrist.

If you don't see a pre-written hack that suits your need, you can quickly make one yourself through IFTTT. Anything you can do with IFTTT can be activated by a panel, including control over things like smart lights and other connected home gear.

Hacks don't have to be activated through touching a panel; some can be contextual. Nex will let you use your location, the number of steps you've taken in a day, and proximity to another Nex user as triggers for hacks as well. There's a ton of flexibility by default, and while that means you're going to spend a little extra time setting this band up when you first take it out of the box, it also means you're going to have the exact experience you want when finished.

Each panel can be configured to a long press command and a double-tap command, so you have ten potential programs you can run from your wrist. The ridges between the panels make it easy to activate one without looking down at the band, so you're able to either remain focused on someone talking and be discrete about controlling the world around you.

Nex even gives you control over the lights and vibrations during notifications, so if you'd prefer Twitter to flash green and never vibrate your wrist but you'd like an email from your boss to look like KITT from Knight Rider on your wrist with a constant vibration you totally can. The light system in the Nex app gives you total control over how everything looks and behaves, making this band exactly as simple or complex as you choose.

Nex Band

Ditch the Dick Tracy look

Nex Band Conclusion

There's a lot to like about the Nex Band, especially if you're a fan of flexibility and have local friends that would also wear one of these bands. Nex allows you to send custom animations to people in your Nex friends list, and this micro social network doesn't care if you're using Android or iOS. It's not useful for much more than getting your friend's attention from across the table or letting a significant other know you're thinking about them, but that's probably enough for most people. It's also nowhere near a requirement to use, like everything else in the Nex ecosystem.

Nex has taken the things I wish smartwatches did better and made them its biggest features, while removing all of the extra maintenance involved in using a smartwatch. It works well in every situation, including direct sunlight, and I'm not compelled in any way to try talking at my wrist. I'd be happier with build materials that were a little less sporty and plastic, but so far Nex has done a great job getting the important things on the inside right.

Should you buy it? Yes.

Where most wearables worth talking about start at the $200-$250 price range, you can grab a Nex Band in either color for $80. That's a great price for something that gets you multiple days of battery and can be tweaked to do whatever you want it to do, so if you have any interest in wearables at all I'd suggest this over just about anything else right now.

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Russell Holly

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter