By Matthew Steen
matthewsteen

Peace of mind in a smartwatch?

Last updated: 19 December 2016

The mCareWatch Soteria (Soteria is the goddess of safety in Greek mythology) is a somewhat chunky, rechargeable touchscreen device that looks like a large wristwatch. mCareWatch has aimed this device at those with medical conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, epilepsy, developmental disorders, heart disease, diabetes, or other chronic conditions. It is also suggested for use by those recently discharged from hospital. We think it could be used for lone workers as well, but the thick profile of the watch excludes it from anything but adult use.

We tested our sample with a self managed plan rather than a 24 hour monitoring plan.

How it works

The mCareWatch offers time, day, and date display in either analogue or digital format. It is also a 3G mobile phone, a GPS tracking device, and a personal emergency alarm system. The Soteria is configured and monitored by either logging in as a carer to the mCareWatch website, or by use of the dedicated app for Android and iOS devices such as smartphones. The phone app interface is basically a subset of the website one. When ordering, customers can select either a 24-hour monitoring service, or the less expensive self-managed option, whereby the Soteria will call up to three consecutive different carer contact numbers in the event of an emergency. The plan can also be upgraded or downgraded at a later time.

Most functionality of the Soteria, whilst being similar to that of a smartphone, is very limited by the size of the 1.2″ screen. The watch can select from one of seven different analogue and digital displays. These make it easy to read the time, but other information such as day, date, and battery charge level may be difficult for some users to make out due to the low contrast or small size of the characters.

Weighing 58 grams, the Soteria is rated IP54, which means that the wearer can’t wear it in a pool or shower.

The watchband is synthetic rubber and is not interchangeable or replaceable. Some wearers may find the band difficult to do up and/or take off.

The display has good brightness for indoor use, but can’t be read at all in bright sunlight. It was difficult to read outdoors in bright overcast weather. The watch display only remains active for several seconds – it is not constantly displayed. To display the time, the user needs to press the silver-coloured power button on the side of the watch. An alternative is to turn on the wrist-up gesture for automatic screen activation, but we found that this didn’t work reliably during testing. The only other physical button is the red return/back button, which also doubles as an alternative to the onscreen SOS button.

The wearer can make and receive phone calls, including dialling up to three numbers automatically when the red onscreen SOS button or red physical button is pressed and held for three seconds. This default can be made shorter by the carer, or even configured to be activated by vigorous shaking of the watch. Dialling a non-programmed number is hampered by the smallish onscreen buttons, but preset numbers in the contacts list are easily identified by full-screen images. Sound quality is good, with the carer easily able to hear the wearer speaking normally. The speaker on the Soteria is small, on the left side of the case, but produces adequate volume and clarity. The maximum ring volume is similar to that of a cordless phone, so there is a good chance it can be heard even if not being worn.

The right track?

The wearer’s location is tracked by the use of GPS, Telstra’s 3G GSM mobile phone network, and Wi-Fi. The Soteria is supplied with a nano Wi-Fi router which is pre-configured. You simply plug it in to power and switch it on. This then provides enhanced location service within the wearer’s home. We found that Wi-Fi and GPS tracking was usually accurate, but GSM tracking gives an approximate location only, indicated by a coloured circle on a map on the app or website. In one instance, a GSM location had the wearer going in the opposite direction of travel and about 1km distant.

There is a feature called geo-fencing, which we thought was useful. This is where you can configure an area, like a fence on a map in the web interface; when the wearer steps over the virtual fence, the watch sends an email to the carer. The non-activity alert could also be useful.

Recharging the Soteria is done via a magnetic disc that attaches to the back of the watch. The magnet ensures that it can only be connected in the correct way, which is good. We found it takes from 2 to 2.5 hours to recharge, and the device runs between 12 and 48 hours after a full charge, depending on the functions used. If the battery goes completely flat and the watch is connected to the charger, it doesn’t automatically switch back on. This could be an issue for dementia sufferers (but so could other activities such as removing the watch for charging or bathing). To stress the battery, we fully charged it and set the Soteria for five-minute interval location reporting via GPS. At 7 hours it was at 12%. mCareWatch state that the battery is predicted to last two years for average use, and it would have to be returned to mCareWatch for replacing, currently a $79 fee.

Like most watches with advanced technology, mCareWatch has plans to upgrade the current functionality of the watch in future, including a heart rate monitor and being able to connect via Bluetooth to peripheral devices such as blood pressure, glucometer and weight scales.

CHOICE verdict

Using the mCareWatch with a self management plan isn’t ideal for serious sufferers of the medical conditions mentioned above, but nor do we think the 24 hour monitoring plan is ideal either due to the watch limitations, however it is a useful tool for tracking and emergency functionality. It’s not a replacement for a phone (though it doesn’t claim to be), given the self manage plan only has 10min/month for calls; definitely emergency only. We liked the geo-fencing tool and non-activity alerts and the former worked well as long as you are in GPS range.

The mCareWatch isn’t equipped with what we think are a few vital features, such as being waterproof, or a detachable watchband so it could be turned into a pendant or attached to a keyring, decreasing chances of misplacement. It would certainly benefit from a longer battery life than two years, however the battery cycle is good, even with frequent updates to GPS at 7 hours, and we also like the SOS setup and how flexible the adaptations are that you can make to the watch.

We think this may suit people who have come out of hospital or carers that want to be on call for their loved ones who may be starting to exhibit some signs of loss of independence. It could also be suitable to lone workers out in the field (as long as they are in range of a cell tower) for a rapid call in an emergency. We’ve also become interested in looking at other products in the same field, so we’ll be testing a range of them in future.

Pricing

Self managed (tested)

$498 w/pre-paid SIM

$498 setup $24.99/month (up to yearly post paid)

24 hour monitoring plan (untested)

$498 setup $49.99/month (up to yearly post paid)

https://www.choice.com.au/electronics-and-technology/gadgets/tech-gadgets/articles/mcare-watch-first-look