Review: Aplus GV18 smart watch

Like many tech enthusiasts Dummy and I have been keeping an eye on the smart watch market for a while. As you will probably know, there a few large companies (with the Chinese snapping at their heels) searching for the holy grail of wearables: a beautiful wristpiece that is elegant, convenient, clever and durable. To achieve widespread adoption, it also needs to be affordable. Ah yes, there’s the rub.

I recently stumbled across a smart watch, sometimes called “Aplus”, sometimes “GV18”. It’s fresh out of China. And it bears more than a passing resemblance to the Apple Watch. And it’s a tenth the price. We bought it for £32.98, but we’ve since seen it for under thirty quid. Worth a look then.

First impressions:

Aplus GV18 smart watch 02

  • The watch doesn’t look quite as nice as the computer-generated photos on websites, but it’s still reasonably attractive, as smart watches go.
  • It’s big (13mm deep) and stands quite proud of the wrist.
  • The case has a captive screw on the back, which stands out by about 1.5mm. Not a huge problem, but it seems like a strange design choice because the screw is for looks only. The case pops off easily (too easily) and the hole the screw sits in is considerably larger than the diameter of the screw. So it turns freely.
  • The manual is poorly translated.
  • The watch comes with a screen protector pre-installed, which suggests the glass underneath will not be scratch-resistant.
  • The rubber strap is very comfortable.
  • Horribly irritating (loud) jingle when you first switch it on.


For me, the problem with most smart watches is the watch part. Sounds obvious doesn’t it. Really, what is the point of a watch that isn’t a very good watch? If I turn my wrist to check the time, but before I can see the time I have to press a button, that’s a retrograde step. That’s worse than analogue. And so it is with this watch. It’s an LCD display, not e-ink, and to keep the display lit permanently would be a huge battery drain. So you have to press the side button, to check the time.

Once you’ve done that, it’s not too bad. There’s a choice of three watch faces. One of these faces has a full dial of Roman numerals and is designed sympathetically with the rectangular case. I think it works. Of the other two, one is clumsy and the other is weird.

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Oh dear it’s awful. To be honest, I think they probably all are, from all manufacturers. Anything that can’t be done with a press or a flick is a pain in the neck. Unless your fingers are like matchsticks, it’s hard to type letters with a high degree of accuracy on the software keyboard. It’s a little better with numbers, but still vaguely reminiscent of those calculator watches from the eighties. Is this really all the progress we’ve made in 30 years?

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As far as I can tell, this is running a bespoke version of Android. There’s no app store, no access to Google Play. There are some bundled apps, but most of them are useless and half of them only work if you have inserted a SIM card. That alone is odd. The watch is designed to be paired with a smart phone. Why would you give it its own SIM card?

I wish I could tell you more about the apps, but most of them made no sense. The only real exceptions were the calculator and the camera. But both of those were such a fiddle to use, you’d be much more likely to reach for your phone. It has a pedometer, but it just doesn’t work.

Sync software

For the watch to talk to the phone, you have to install an app. The app is not the best. There are few settings. You can choose to ignore notifications from certain apps, but it’s a slow and laborious process choosing which apps you do and don’t want to hear from.

BT Notification

(Sorry about the poor screen grab by the way.)

If Bluetooth is switched off when you launch the notification app, you are greeted with the following informative message. Informative that is, if you can read Chinese.

Aplus Bluetooth notification

I deduced this meant you need Bluetooth to be switched on… With Bluetooth switched on, the app needs to be running in order for the watch to receive notifications. The app seems to die all on its own, without warning, and the only way you’ll know that is if notifications stop arriving on the watch.


Headline specs when compared to the similar size 42mm Apple Watch

Spec Aplus GV18 Apple Watch 42mm
Screen 1.54″ capacitive 1.54″ capacitive
Battery 450mAh replaceable (though the battery in our unit was labelled 550mAh) 246mAh non-replaceable
Claimed battery life (talk time) 72 hours 3 hours
Thickness 12.3mm 12.6mm
Bluetooth 3.0 4.0 Low Energy
Processor 533MHz MTK6260A Apple S1
Storage 128M 8GB
MicroSD/TF slot Yes, 32GB max No
Pixels 240×240 390×312
Sensors accelerometer accelerometer, heart rate
GPS No Yes
Phone GSM/GPRS 850/900/1800/1900 (SIM slot) Yes
Charging Cable Inductive
Weight 50g 51g
Camera Yes, 1.3MP No
NFC Yes, built into strap Yes
USB port Micro USB No


There are many.

  1. Convenience. Above all else, a watch should be two things: convenient and attractive. This is not convenient. If I glance at my wrist to see the time, I’m met with a blank screen. No “shake to wake”. You have to fumble for the button, which if like me you wear your watch on your left wrist, is quite awkward to reach.
  2. Volume control. There is no obvious volume control for notifications.
  3. Bluetooth music. You can stream music to your watch via Bluetooth. And listen to it on your watch’s tiny speaker. Which is probably inferior to the speaker in your phone. Which you’re streaming from (and which has to be within 10 metres, due to the limitations of Bluetooth). There’s no headphone socket. So what’s the point?
  4. Time synchronisation. When the watch first connects to the phone, it asks if you want to sync the time. Since I live in the UK, my phone is set to GMT with daylight saving time. On syncing with the phone, even though the watch is set to the same time zone it changes itself to Amsterdam and puts the clock out by an hour.
  5. Notifications. The pop up notifications are almost useless. They tell you for example that you’ve received an email, but there’s no way on the watch of seeing that email or even any context from the email. So you have to check your phone. So you may as well just check your phone, right?
  6. Notifications again. There’s an option to switch off the notification tone. It doesn’t work. So, like it or not, if you have pop up notifications, you’re also going to have an annoying beep. And there’s no way of changing that beep. Which brings me to my next point.
  7. Customisation. You can’t customise this watch – which is a huge loss. There are three watch faces (and two of them don’t suck too badly), but that’s all. You cannot add more. There are three themes for the menu/app system. Two of them are horrendous. The third is tolerable. You cannot add more. Oh, and apps? That deserves a bullet point of its own.
  8. Apps. As I mentioned before, other than the few bundled with the watch, there aren’t any. There’s no equivalent of the iTunes or Google Play app stores. So you’re stuck with these apps.
  9. Interface. You need fairly slender fingers to operate it – especially the software keyboard. Very hard to hit the right letter. And since there’s no voice control (see next bullet point), you’re stuck with touch/swipes.
  10. Voice control. There isn’t any. And this is, we think, going to be crucial in this technology market. Watch faces will always be smaller than phone screens. It’s essential that you have a usable and convenient way of controlling them. That means you need either an external interface (keyboard? your phone?), which sort of defeats the point, or voice activation. Or maybe, fast forward 20 years, a neural interface. This watch has neither, by the way.
  11. Style. In our opinion, the Moto 360 and the LG Watch Urbane are possibly the only smart watches right now that aren’t ugly. People will accept a certain level of aesthetic compromise in exchange for features (e.g. the massive “brick” phones of yesteryear), but not much. And with the 360 and Urbane on the market, all other smart watch manufacturers need to think long and hard about style.
  12. Reliability. Bluetooth keeps disconnecting and reconnecting – even when the phone and watch remain next to each other. Is this the phone’s fault? The watch’s? Who knows. But every time they reconnect, the watch prompts you whether or not you want to sync time (you don’t, see above!) and then spits out all the notifications currently unviewed on the phone. Which are then a bit of a pain to acknowledge/delete.
  13. Visibility. It’s really difficult to read the screen when outdoors. And when in strong sunlight, there’s no chance. There’s no brightness control, so there’s nothing you can do about this, other than shade the screen with your hand. And squint.
  14. Build quality. The back is not secured well (because the case screw does nothing, see above). It doesn’t seem to fit well on the back of the watch. It wouldn’t drop off while wearing the watch, but may at other times.


  1. Style. Although it’s no Moto 360, it’s not as bad as some other watches available now. The brushed steel is nice.
  2. Comfort. The rubber strap is surprisingly comfortable. It’s a little on the heavy/chunky side, but you get used to it.
  3. Battery life. It lasted five days before needing a charge. How much this was to do with the fact it was essentially useless, I’m not sure (!) but it still knocks the spots off the Apple Watch in this particular department.


We have to give this watch some credit. For the price, it’s actually pretty incredible. It’s far less ugly than some of the competition and it does have a lot of functionality, even if it’s not especially well executed. We couldn’t help but think that in a world without smart phones, it would even be considered quite good. You could in theory load it up with a SIM card and use it as a watch, phone, calculator, contacts organiser and so on, without needing any other device. But this is a world with smart phones and when you compare it to any smart phone currently on the market, even the worst ones, this watch doesn’t compete at all well. And neither does it complement a phone, bringing no particular tricks to the party.

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It was a bit of a conversation starter, while I wore it. A novelty. And if you don’t mind paying a little for a novelty item that you’ll quickly find tiresome, then by all means go ahead. But we couldn’t recommend it. We can’t even recommend the Apple Watch, and if Apple can’t get it right, who can?

[easyreview title=”Geek rating” icon=”geek” cat1title=”Ease of use” cat1detail=”Fiddly, fussy, idiosyncratic.” cat1rating=”1″ cat2title=”Features” cat2detail=”Lacking many essentials for a usable smart watch.” cat2rating=”1″ cat3title=”Value for money” cat3detail=”Very cheap, giving the (few) things it can do, but still not remotely worth buying.” cat3rating=”1.5″ cat4title=”Build Quality” cat4detail=”Mixed. Some good bits, some bad bits.” cat4rating=”2″ summary=”Don’t buy it, we beg you.”]

Review: 3-in-1 smartphone camera lens kit for Android, iPhone, iPad, etc.

3-in-1 mobile lens kit 07I own a Canon EOS 60D, which I bought second hand a couple of years ago. It’s a cracking camera and it was an absolute steal on the second hand market. But it’s not very portable. Not when you take into account the other things I stuff into my camera bag: my three main lenses, the filters, the remote shutter release, the lens hoods and so on.

Of course these days, many people carry a half-decent camera with them at all times, in their phones. These cameras aren’t very versatile, but they’re convenient because they’re almost always at hand. And because of this, there’s a healthy phone camera mod market. One of the leaders in this field is the Olloclip.

Olloclips are great. The trouble is, each Olloclip is designed for a particular phone (or small family of phones). So it’s not really transferable. And with prices in the order of £60, you can buy a pretty competent compact point-and-shoot for not much more than that. It’s clever, good quality, but not exactly a bargain. Not like today’s review kit at least.

3-in-1 mobile lens kit 01This 3-in-1 camera kit, like many other Chinese gadgets can be found for sale on a few shopping sites, under various different “brand names”. Our example was sold as a “Yarrashop”, but we suspect that’s just the current trade name of this particular seller. The kit arrived in an anonymous box, with no manufacturer claiming responsibility. And we think that’s a shame, because as we reckon you’ll agree, it’s rather extraordinary.

In the box, there are three lenses, a bag and a clip. The bag doubles as a lens cleaning cloth. The clip, with rubber pads, enables you to attach the lenses to virtually any mobile phone or tablet.

One of the lenses is a fisheye lens. The other two can be used in combination, to form a wide angle lens, or you can use the smaller component on its own as a macro lens. The lenses and the clip are all sturdy metal, with a solid feel. They can be purchased in different colours, but we went for silver, which we think suits this kind of equipment.

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The clip attaches securely on the phone or tablet. You do have to position it carefully – this is hardest with the fisheye lens; with the other two, you can see the phone’s camera lens underneath – but once it’s situated, taking photographs is no harder than usual.

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With the fisheye lens, the photograph appears as though within a circle cut out from black card, so the photo would need cropping afterwards. The wide angle lens – I’m not sure there’s that much use for it; there’s some barrel distortion at the edges and in any event, most smart phones can stitch shots together into a panorama, which would be far superior. The macro lens, well that’s a cracker. You have to be be very close to the subject, so you’d be unlikely to be able to use this on nervous insects. And you probably don’t have a tripod for your phone, so you need a reasonably steady hand. But in spite of all that, the effect of the lens is impressive.

Here are some example shots, taken with the lens attached to a Samsung Galaxy S5. Click through for the full resolution images.

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As long as you don’t compare this with DSLR quality, this is not bad at all, right? But then we get to the punchline. These lenses, clip included, will set you back less than £7. That’s unbelievable Seven quid. No matter who I’ve shown this to, when I’ve told them the price they have been incredulous. I still can’t believe it, to be honest. But the truth is shown in my Amazon orders history and on my bank statement.

Under close inspection, there is some loss of clarity and marginally less light hitting the sensor. But if you’re starting out with a very good phone camera, this slight degradation is we think more than acceptable, especially given the increased versatility. A few shots more:

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You’d think there has to be a catch, wouldn’t you. It’s hard to find one actually. Separating the wide angle lens from the macro lens is s bit fiddly – and counter-intuitive too because it’s reverse-threaded. But not too difficult. And it would be nice to have a case for the lenses – the bag doesn’t do much to protect them. But given the price, we’re really splitting hairs. I dug out an old cufflink case and that was perfect for the job.

I’d say to anyone who takes the slightest interest in phone-based photography – get this kit. You won’t regret it. It’s an absolute bargain, well made and practical. As this price, what do you have to lose?

[easyreview title=”Geek rating” icon=”geek” cat1title=”Ease of use” cat1detail=”Very slightly fiddly. But otherwise extremely simple.” cat1rating=”4.5″ cat2title=”Features” cat2detail=”The kit lacks only a case.” cat2rating=”4.5″ cat3title=”Value for money” cat3detail=”Phenomenal value for money at this price.” cat3rating=”5″ cat4title=”Build Quality” cat4detail=”Well made. I wouldn’t be surprised if the odd unit has burrs on the thread or seams, but I saw no evidence of that here. Not the best optics, unsurprisingly.” cat4rating=”3.5″ summary=”All in all, an outstanding kit. Great as a gift, stocking filler, whatever. Or treat yourself, without really any feeling of guilt. You’d spend more on a couple of pints of beer and you know what happens to that. ;-)”]