Hands-on with the activity-tracking HTC Grip, the company's very first wearable

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BARCELONA—After more than a year since sending up a signal flair, HTC finally debuted its first wearable device, though it’s not exactly what we were expecting. All of its smartphone competitors are diving into Android Wear watches, but HTC has partnered with Under Amour to introduce the Grip, a rubbery, lime-green activity tracker targeted at fitness enthusiasts.

I went hands on with the HTC Grip at Mobile World Congress, and what I saw didn’t immediately scream innovation.

It’s super sporty-looking

Aesthetically, the Grip will speak mostly to sporty types, and that’s about it. I can see hardcore runners and hikers wearing this during workouts, but unlike the Fitbit Charge, for example, it’s not the least bit subtle looking, nor can you swap in a different style band to match an outfit.

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Lime green, anyone?

The Grip is chock full of features, but all of them will sound familiar to anyone who’s been following the wearables space. The Grip has a 1.8-inch PMOLED display that’s easy to see in bright sunlight. It tracks steps, monitors sleep, counts calories, and has built-in GPS functionality that can map out your morning run. It’s also got controls for your music and a weather ticker, though these particular features require phone-syncing to work.

All in all, it looks to be a very targeted play at the runners’ market. That’s great, but with step counting, GPS and onboard music playback already folded into Android Wear watches (we’re looking at you, Sony SmartWatch 3), the Grip might have a tough time proving its relevance.

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The Grip offers lots of different functions.

The Grip that I went hands-on with is still in development, but I tried it on anyway. It’s certainly “grippy,” and I wonder what it’s going to be like when I’m actually sweating. Will it stick to my skin? Will it be uncomfortable to wear over a period of time? Only real-world use will provide answers.

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The Grip’s push-button clasp.

At least HTC will offer small, medium, and large sizes, though you’ll want to go a size up if you like it loose. It also employs a push-button clasp, which caught my skin a few times as I was putting it on.

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One size does not fit all, so HTC is offering various sizes.

It’s easy to use

The Grip is fairly intuitive to use. It has a home button you can tap to turn the screen on and off. You can then flip through four main menus, including one to start a workout and one to view various stats throughout the day. The iconography is self-explanatory.

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The Grip sports iconography that’s easy to understand.

I’m still not entirely sold on the design of the band just yet, even if HTC is going after a niche subset of the already nichey wearables market. Since it’s partnered up with Under Armour, it’ll be mostly up to the fitness brand to drive sales of the device. But at least the app it uses is multi-platform, so it will work with both Android and iOS devices.

A different kind of product

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A fitness band? From a mobile company?

So who will buy the Grip? Granted, I only spent a brief time with the wristband, but I think it will only appeal to folks who want GPS, step-tracking, and music control for daily runs, and don’t care about all the other features loaded into smartwatches—or even the super-accurate heart-rate monitoring offered by the Basis Peak.

Consumers still know HTC as a company that makes Android phones and tablets, and even if it is piggybacking on extremely popular brands like Under Armour, its wearable devices will have to perform remarkably well to get noticed. The person who buys a wearable just for running isn’t necessarily an HTC fanboy, or general gadget enthusiast.

We won’t be able to see how HTC fares in this new realm for a while. The Grip isn’t due until later this spring, and should cost $199.

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