The 1994 Smartwatch That Syncs with a CRT - LGR Oddware
[timely jazz tunes] [computer buzzes, beeps] Greetings and welcome to LGR Oddware, where we're taking a look at hardware and software that is odd, forgotten, and obsolete! And this time around we got this thing right here, this is the Timex Data Link Model 70 from 1995. And yeah it's I guess what you could call an early example of a smartwatch. In the sense that, you know, it's a watch but it's also got programmable appointments and calendars and reminders and notes and things like that. But what makes it really worthy of Oddware, I think, is the way that you get data onto the Data Link.
And that is by pointing it at a CRT monitor on your PC running Windows 3.1 and it synchronizes just by looking at your display! Yeah. Thanks to some generous donations from these fine folks who watch LGR, I've got a couple of these. So let's take a look at the Timex Data Link! So! [box plops] What we've got here is the Timex Data Link, specifically the original Model 70 released in 1995. “Wireless PC to watch communication by light!” Ah man the sci-fi,
it's real life! “The personal manager on your wrist.” Yeah this thing was pretty unique for its time I don't think there was anything else quite like it before this. And not much after, in fact most of the things that came after were just the same thing repackaged, we'll get to that.
But yeah the Timex Data Link, it was actually announced by Bill Gates himself at a Microsoft event in June of 1994. And got hyped up in the press for, y’know, six or five months or something like that. Until it finally hit store shelves towards the end of 1994 and more widely in 1995. And it did so at a price of 130 dollars for the base Model 70 watch with your basic wrist strap. In fact this one right here you can see still has the price sticker at the bottom there. And yeah, that seventy refers to the Model 70. ‘532’ is the specific style of watch face and band. This one's kind of a dark brown leather with greenish teal stitching and some orange accents.
But there were five Models 70 at launch, each one with a different watch face and band combination. Some had fancier leather, some had nylon, some had metal. Of course you could customize them with your own bands. But yeah, they were intended to provide a PDA/electronic organizer-like functionality on your wrist. And with water resistance! As far as I know there were no PDAs or organizers that were water resistant or anything like that at the time. But, yeah man. Really, really cool idea for ‘94, ‘95. Just syncing to a PC wirelessly using your computer's CRT monitor.
There's a built-in optical sensor on the watch itself, and yeah. You just hold it up to the monitor, and here's some footage of that kind of thing going on. It's just like a barcode that goes across the screen, flashes really quickly, and then that tells the watch what you want to put on it. And of course the marketing, the press, all sorts of folks that could get their hands on these things and try to sell them, they were all pumping this thing up. I mean there were even live in-person events. Ooh, “it's like magic,” you gotta come see in-store this demonstration of this crazy new futuristic tech. Yeah it was part of a growing 1990s wearables trend, really continuing
on from the 1980s calculator and computer watches. And all those that had the tons of buttons and you could store basic information on there, like phone numbers or notes or things like that. And yeah this continues on with that idea. Instead it's really built to work with a computer. In
fact, yeah, it was developed in conjunction with Microsoft. The Microsoft logo is all over the thing, pretty much on all of the early watches on the watch face you'll see a Microsoft logo on there somewhere. And it relies on the Data Link software, also co-developed with Microsoft. And no surprise it integrates as well with things like Microsoft Outlook and Schedule Plus, and other personal information managers later on. But yeah it was very much designed with Microsoft things in mind and MS even had a deal for a time where they offered these watches as a mail-in bonus with select purchases of Microsoft Office 95, so yeah. Very well integrated into that whole ecosystem, or at least that was the plan. And this was actually followed up with a bunch of different models. I'm not going to go into every single one of them, but yeah. There was a Model 150
in 1996 for a Data Link with double the memory, and also introduced these small wrist apps that were sent through the mail on floppy disks. You can get those and transfer some extra functions to your watch that way. There was also the Ironman Triathlon editions in 1997. And yeah they also added things like timers, multi-lap stopwatches, and other sporty things. But even more interesting to me though there was these Motorola Timex Beepwear collaboration ones in 1998. And they acted as a wrist-mounted pager or beeper, hence the name. And they worked on the 900 megahertz band and they had the tech to receive pages, and they'd show up on your wrist. It's a pretty cool thing. And some of those Beepwear models also featured FLEXtime synchronization with
your pager service provider to actually update the time on your watch automatically. Holy crap, could you imagine? And of course they pretty much ended out the range in the early 2000s. Like with the USB models introduced in 2003 with a little better display, more memory, a tone generator, as well as downloadable wrist apps. So a little bit larger a little easier to get just online. And these included games, like Pong and Space Invaders clones. Yeah
playing those on your wrist, that's a flex. Another thing these Data Link watches are kind of well known for is being one of the four watches that are qualified for space travel by NASA. So you saw these up on space stations and whatnot used by astronauts and cosmonauts for years. It's no Omega Speedmaster but hey, it's still a pretty neat claim to fame nonetheless. Yeah people are into their space watches and the Data Link is one of them. And it's also worth noting that
it is CRTs only that these can synchronize with, at least on their own, for these original optical models. There were LCDs of course back in the day, mostly on laptops and notebook computers, but those required a serial notebook adapter. It was effectively just a standalone infrared blaster, because the problem was they said the refresh wasn't quite up to what they needed and LCDs just didn't get bright enough. And yeah, I have tested this, it doesn't work. It just didn’t, even on newer LCDs, yeah it's not a thing. So you really did need that additional adapter, they weren't just trying to sell you some extra crap. And one last thing to note: modern LED bulbs
and lamps and things like that, any of those kind of lighting situations will mess up the transfer process as well, even on a nice bright well-synced CRT. Yeah the flickering and whatever refresh rate that the LEDs do these days, it just screws it up. So yeah, you're probably going to be seeing later parts of this video just dimly lit and that's why. Yeah I mentioned the tech being used in other devices later on that weren't by Timex, they licensed the tech. Like Royal, they had their FL95 Organizer. There was also the Tiger PDA 2000, which did a lot of the same stuff
that the watch was doing, just with presumably slightly better display and more buttons and all that kind of thing. I don't have those, but what I do have -- actually running across these while looking for Data Link watches a while back. And yeah! We've got the Rolodex Flash PC Companion and the DSI Electronics e-Brain which also use the Timex Data Link system and related software. Obviously you can tell I haven't opened these up yet. Not gonna do that in this video but maybe another time. And uh yeah! They do a lot of the same stuff as the watches, but of course
completely different form factor, and some other additions and capabilities. And this is from 1998 this is from 2001. So kind of towards the end of, especially, the Model 70 but even the 150’s lifespan. Yeah. Just a fascinating bit of technology that multiple companies wanted to get in on. And understandably so, I mean wireless communication, always appealing. And especially
seemed futuristic in the 90s. Let's go ahead and get this one opened up! [box unboxes] So much paperwork. This watch in particular doesn't work, so I'm going to be using another one from here onward.
But just wanted to show it real quick, because uh. I don't know, I kind of like this design? With the brown, orange, and greenish things going on. It is leather, it smells like leather. Yeah. Little watch. But uh like I said, I have another one. This is the 70342.
Yeah! Classic liquid crystal display, we'll go through the features here momentarily. This one has a nice leather and nylon thing going on. Again, kind of digging the color scheme, it's very nineties. Yeah they packed a good number of things in here. So we've got the software this is, I think the earliest version, it's the earliest one I've come across.
It's version 1.0a for Windows 3.1 only, 1994. And got some license agreement and warranty things. This actually came from one of the other packages I got, just kind of stuck it all together. But you can see an advertisement for Microsoft Schedule+ and some other Windows 95 things that it can integrate with. And we've got a little quick start sheet here, installation and communication... ...dealios. It's really simple, actually refreshingly so, to use. And uh, yeah. A couple of different manuals, kind of like brochures [chuckles in paperwork]
So the watch user's guide and the software. And both again pretty straightforward, there's actually not a whole lot of complication with this, which is nice. Y’know it mostly just works like any other Timex watch from the time! ...from the Timex time. Time things! Watch things, anyway. It's a watch.
Really the only thing that is awesome about it is, of course, that synchronization stuff. And the fact that it works with this software just by looking at a CRT. I don't think there's anything really terribly interesting in here, pretty much just takes you through... yeah, like what everything does. No real surprises there. Now, as for the watch itself,
well. Yeah it's kind of small. I don't have the exact measurements, I'll put it up here on-screen. But yeah, it's not a huge watch, at least this one. I think the Model 150 was a bit bigger. But it is water resistant up to 100 meters, hence you can see the little 100 right there. So that is pretty awesome. It also has that trademarked Indiglo electroluminescent backlighting. Which,
can't really see it all in this lighting, but let me switch over to another shot. Yeah it's got that, that had been out for a couple years when this watch was announced. I was so proud to have an Indiglo backlit watch as a kid, it was just like a cheap Timex from, I don't know, 'Roses' or something back in the day? I don't know! I was cool, was totally cool.
As for the battery and battery life, behind this backplate here we have a CR2025 little three volt battery. It’s supposed to last for three years, give or take. And that's a lifespan that Timex said is based on the following: the Indiglo backlight only being used for seven seconds a day, doing one data download per day, and two ten second alarms per day. Nothing more, nothing less, I guess. I don't know, it's rather precise for three years worth of a battery estimate,
but okay. I guess they know what they're talking about. And yeah this being the Model 70, that is sort of a signifier of what it can do, in that it stores 70 entries in any combination of the four databases that are built into the watch. And so each of those entries consists of just a series of numbers and a 15-character alphanumeric text message, I think.
That's it. So not a whole lot of data per thing, but you know. The databases are appointments, anniversaries, phone numbers, and to-do lists, and that you just get by pressing the mode button, so. Uh well here -- yeah it's also got alarms but yeah. Multiple alarms! And you can set the sound here. Unfortunately the sound is broken on this one, don't know what's up with that. But let's see, we've also got appointments! So yeah I've got an appointment right there, two o'clock today supposed to film this. I guess I did. Anniversaries, we've got one coming up on 4/20,
it looks like. And it will notify you of those as they're about to happen. You can signify how soon you want to be notified on the app on your PC. And then phone numbers, you can just put things in, like 8675309 right here, in case you want to call. And uh then there's also the to-do lists, and these are sorted by order of priorities. The first priority today for me is farting, and that's good. I think that's -- yeah that's the only thing that I'm supposed to do today in
terms of my to-do list, so. And that's it! There's nothing else on here except the synchronization mode, which if you go past -- yeah, comm mode. It says ‘comm ready.’ And then this little optical sensor at the top there, that just starts looking out for those visual signals on your CRT display. There's not a whole lot else. This bottom left button also lets you switch over to another clock real quick, so you can see something in a different time zone or daylight savings or y’know, whatever. But that that's pretty much it. Otherwise it just functions as your typical Timex watch from the time period. By the way it's also worth noting that the communication
is one-way, it's receive-only. You can't actually send anything from the watch to your PC. Although I'm not sure what on here you would want to send because you can't really input very much, like all of the the things on those lists you can only input on the computer side. You can't actually do it through the watch. Really the only thing you can set on here is, you know, like set time and date and alarms. Right well okay, I'm done rambling about all this stuff for now. Let's go ahead and get this thing going
on a Windows 3.1 PC, the LGR Woodgrain 486. And see what it's like to work with the software side of things and communicating back and forth over a CRT image. Ahh, prime Oddware! Yeah let’s do this. [music fades] Okay! Well, I got the computer going here. And a watch on my wrist. I'm not
a watch-wearing person, and this one's strap is too small. It's like an eight-inch one but... ...it barely fits, so. I would definitely have another strap if I were to wear this. That's beside the point! Timex Data Link software. [mouse clicks] [computer whirring] Yeah. Microsoft and Timex together, jointly developing things in 1994. So in order for this to work I'm going to need to turn off my lights, because as I mentioned earlier it doesn't work with LEDs. And literally every light in my house is LED, so. Hey Flerbnerp, turn off everything. “All right, turning 16 things off.” All right so we're gonna have to do this
just by what little bit of light is coming in through the windows over there. It's kind of a rainy day so whatever man. Yeah so, we've got these six different areas here that we can set on the software itself which will be sent to the watch. So we have appointments, we can select here from whatever the heck. We're gonna post uh, this appointment. [types]
“Post this vid.” And you have different sending options. So that's the appointments. Anniversaries, similar kind of thing except that it's going to tell you like, you put in a date for you know whatever. So let me put in a date here and then we can have just some text that will display on the watch. And that's pretty much it, it's just very basic little bits of information that you can put in any of these. Same with the phone numbers. And how many you can put in depends on, well, like overall how many things you have that you're trying to submit to the watch. It only
takes 70 entries, more or less, so even with that little bit that we have in right right now -- it's just one phone number and a couple of these other things, it's already five percent full. So you're kind of restricted on that and it just sort of goes back and forth between the different bits of information. So yeah. This is kinda nice though, I really like this feature where you can just set not only your PC's clock, but the time zone the time and date and whatnot to send to the watch itself so you don't have to do it manually. You can do it manually,
setting it like any other Timex watch, but you don't have to. And alarms, yeah, if you want to change the alarms on here instead of doing it on the watch, you can do that. Otherwise I think that's pretty much it, other than changing things between 12 and 24 hour time. And calibrating, let me just show that really quick. So this, depending on the monitor you have plugged in -- I don't really know what it's doing exactly, but uh. Yeah whenever you've got another monitor going it does this calibration thing. And then it also takes you through how to get the watch going in terms of positioning and pressing the buttons and stuff like that. It's a nice little tutorial! Very self-explanatory. And I did this
multiple times before figuring out that, “oh yeah the LEDs are preventing me from doing anything.” But yeah without lights on, or with incandescents of course, it would be fine. But I don't have any incandescent lights. You also have this little sample tone. [computer beeping] So that's nice. That's letting you know basically what the watch is gonna sound like. [watch beeping] Like that. And that tells you that the watch is in the appropriate position. Handy stuff. Of course
the speaker, the little beeper that's in there wasn't working on this watch when I first got it. So I actually swapped the innards of this one with the other one that I had, that had -- it was just in way worse shape overall. So yeah I took the innards out of that one put them over here, and now it’s got a beeper which is good. So do we want to send sample data? No, that's just -- it just sends, well, sample data. But since we have some stuff in there ourself we'll just send what we typed in a bit ago. And we'll just hit “send to watch.” And again it's got a handy little graphical step-by-step tutorial. “Hold it 6 to 12 inches
away from the center of the monitor.” And it can do either way so you know, left or right handed. I just have it on my right because it I don't know, seemed easier for doing video. Typically I'd put a watch on my left. “Make sure it says comm ready.” It does.
[watch beeping rapidly] And it says “done, data okay.” How cool is that? And now we have the -- well I know you can't see it, I'll switch over to another view. Yeah you can see we have all of that stuff that we put in on the computer side on our watch! Through a CRT monitor only, it's -- it's so cool. I don't
know, you know. It makes sense that it's possible, you know it's just basically sending binary data, I suppose. And just really quickly! You know it's almost similar to some of the effects that we saw on like the Danmere Backup System on Oddware some time ago, where that was sending a bunch of signals to VHS and putting data that way visually. But yeah, it's just really, really cool that you have a little wrist handheld device in the mid-90s that let you do that kind of thing. It's awesome! And yes I have tried it with like multiple watches, you know, the two I have? Just holding them both up there? And yeah it'll transfer the same information to both of them, which led to this satisfying result. You can get both watches perfectly synchronized to whatever
your PC is set to, just reminds me of that scene in Back to the Future when Doc Brown's all like, “uh yeah my watch and dog’s watch are perfectly synchronized together so you can see time travel happening.” Anyway! Honestly that's about it! It's just this. The only other thing that I might be able to show would be like the Windows 95 version of it. But it's the same software, like nothing's different it's just the Windows 95 UI. We'll just do it again because it's fun. [giddy chuckle] It's also worth noting that this does not work on Windows NT or higher, really any NT-based thing. Whoops, I don't have it turned on. You might want to remember to do that. [chuckles] Let's try that again...
There we go. [watch beeping] So yeah, Windows NT, Windows 2000, anything based on that you know, XP and above. Doesn't work with that because, uh well. I don't really know why. It just specifically says on Timex's website later on that it doesn't work with NT and CRTs, that it wasn't able to synchronize or go as quickly or refresh or something, I don't know. Either way though, yeah you're stuck with Windows 3.1 or 95 and 98. Presumably
Windows Me as well. Hey Flerbnerp, turn everything back on. [watch beeping rapidly] “Sure, turning 16 things on.” Yeah look at that! It's trying to synchronize with things right now. And that's just because the LED lights are on. It's like, it's the flicker I suppose. Anyway. But yeah that's it for the the Timex Data Link. As long as you don't have LED lights going, it works and it works well. In terms of Oddware, you know, it's not like it's a broken thing, it's just the implementation of what it's doing is somewhat odd. Y’know? Communicating...
[loud watch beeping] Oh dear, “Error: Resend.” Anyway yeah yeah, it's just the way that it does things makes it odd in my book. That's really, really cool though, despite being obsolete and mostly forgotten. Yeah dude. This thing is so cool! [chuckles] I would have gone absolutely nuts even just knowing that this existed back in ‘95. It's just fantastic, the fact that it's got the little sensor on there that allows that kind of data transfer with your PC. I don't know like,
even now that's just a neat thing. Like what if you could have your phone or something, and you just hold it up to your computer in terms of the front camera or something and it just sees your computer and synchronizes all of your information that way? I mean, I know you have even cooler technology, in a way, now you don't have to point anything at anything. But I dunno, pointing stuff at other stuff is cool! Though it obviously had its limitations, y’know not working on later versions of Windows or not working on an LCD without the little infrared adapter. Which on its own would be kind of cool to check out. Or you know the little PDA things that use
the same technology, I'm curious how those work. But anyway that all might be for some other video. So I hope that you enjoyed seeing this video on the Timex Data Link. [jazz intensifies] and if you had one of these back in the day or maybe you still use one yeah let me know curious what your experiences might have been and if you'd like to see more LGR Oddware or other things that I've covered in the past you can see those already on the channel or stick around for new videos in the works. And as always, thanks for watching!