New York-based startup Ringly creates ring wearables that connect to your smartphone. The idea — that they are both fashion-forward and practical — was good enough to raise $US5.1 million in funding earlier this year.
But after trying Ringly, I’m not convinced I’d buy one on my own.
Ringly uses Bluetooth to connect to your phone and will both light up and vibrate when you receive a notification. You can customise what colours and vibrations you want to alert you for different apps and even specific people.
The cost isn’t cheap, running customers between $US195 and $US260.
So far, Ringly connects with a surprising number of other apps, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Uber, Tinder, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and more — so far, 18 in total.
Wearables designed for women are a popular idea in the startup world. Apart from Ringly, there’s Leaf, which helps women track their reproductive cycles, the MICA smart bracelet, fitness tracker Misfit Shine, and all the jewellery from CUFF.
“Tech companies like Intel or Google believe they need designers to help them make wearables that will appeal to women,” Molly Wood wrote in the New York Times story Wearable Devices for Women: Still Pretty and Still Dumb. “Maybe they do, but not if the tech suffers as a result.”
When Ringly was first announced in 2013, there was a lot of hype surrounding it.
“The latest in wearable tech doesn’t look much like tech at all,” Business Insider wrote. International Business Times said that Ringly was “wearable tech worth wearing” while Fast Company said Ringly products “would appeal to wearers even if they didn’t do anything.”
“We were going for something that was simple, classic, something that a lot of women could get behind,” Ringly cofounder Christina Mercando told Business Insider earlier this year about the wearable’s aesthetic. “It’s so small and discreet that people wouldn’t know the technology is there.”
With this emphasis on design, I was excited to see Ringly in person. The first collection of four rings plus one limited edition design are said to be made with 18-karat matte gold, 3-micron plated setting, and precious and semi-precious stones. It sounded fancy.
But the ring did not look quite as upscale as I was expecting. One coworker compared it to a toy that you might find in a gumball machine for 50 cents.
Though I wouldn’t be quite as harsh, the ring was bulky, taking up nearly one quarter of my finger and rising an estimated 3/4 inch off my hand. Because the yellow gold was matte, the effect made it look more like plastic than 18-karat gold. The real emerald of my “Into the Woods” ring was also cloudy and cheap-looking.
I synced my phone with Ringly and started assigning colours and different vibrations for my apps. To start, I chose phone calls, text message, emails, Instagram, and calendar events as my notifications. I also set up my roommate and my mum as contacts who would flash a different colour so I knew they were trying to get ahold of me.
When I started receiving notifications, I thought it would be hard to remember what colours and vibrations matched with my notifications and/or contacts. To my surprise, I got the hang of it pretty easily. After the first day I knew what every notification meant. Though my email didn’t seem to sync with the app, my phone calls, Instagram notifications, and text messages were all being picked up by Ringly.
But there were far more negatives than positives with this wearable. For one thing, the light only comes out of a little hole on one side of ring — not through the stone like some of my friends originally thought — so you need to be mindful to face the small hole toward you to see the flashing. It’s a moderate inconvenience, but something I found rather annoying.
The biggest negative for me was that my Ringly notifications did not go through as fast as they did on my phone or laptop. I often knew I had received a text or phone call by as much as half a minute before Ringly would even buzz.
Because I knew I might be the exception for having my devices around me at all times, I tried to see if Ringly would be helpful when it would be considered rude to have your phone out. That was, after all, the inspiration for cofounder Mecando. She became frustrated by the calls and texts she missed by leaving her phone in her purse in social settings.
So I went to dinner with a friend to see if Ringly would help me know who was trying to reach me without having to check my phone constantly. I ended up getting a few texts throughout dinner, but the flashing and buzzing of my ring distracted both me and my dinner partner almost as much as having my phone on the table would have.
And though I had set up a few contacts to flash so I would know who was calling or texting, the majority of my notifications were from people I didn’t know. The curiosity of having a new text or call without knowing who it was ended up being way too enticing to pass up.
With wearables like the Apple Watch, you can see who is trying to contact you, so there’s less pressure to respond immediately. But with Ringly, it’s the opposite — it made me too intrigued to stay away from my phone for very long.
Ultimately, I would rather have an Apple Watch, with prices starting around $US350, than pay $US260 or even $US195 for the Ringly. The Apple Watch has more functionality and apps, and lets me see who’s trying to contact me, whereas Ringly just lets me know that someone is trying to contact me, period.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Ringly couldn’t evolve into a better wearable. If the ring was a little smaller and the materials were a little better looking, I could see the appeal of having something tell you when you had a meeting or your phone was ringing across the room.
A spokesperson for the company told us that it took her a month to get used to Ringly; I only wore it for a week. Also, she said that the wearable was most helpful for people who had to be reachable 24/7 like working mums or freelance workers who don’t ever want to miss a call.
Maybe if there was one specific person — a nanny, child, or parent — whose calls I absolutely had to take throughout the day, I’d view Ringly as much more vital. But for my current lifestyle, I don’t get enough important notifications during the day to justify the price tag.
At this point, I’d rather leave my phone in my purse and ignore it than feel an urge to check it after every single Ringly notification.
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