Fair thee well MSN Direct

Suunto n3i For over six years now I’ve had a MSN Direct watch on my wrist.  I was originally given the Suunto n3 at a MVP event (which subsequently caused much grief trying to activate it) and later on was upgraded to a n3i. 

At the time, smart phones and their attached data plans were still in their infancy and were quite expensive.  So MSN Direct, being only ~$80/year and only a once-a-year expense seemed reasonable.  You got different watch faces, weather, news, your calendar, Messenger integration, movie info, and other information all right there on your wrist, without any synchronization or fuss.  As long as you kept it charged and stayed in North America, it just worked.

Or did work until a few hours from now when they pull the plug.

Admittedly those of us who actually used MSN Direct have been surprised that it’s lasted this long.  I suspect it’s only stayed up for contractual reasons with the various vendors involved, as well as not being all that expensive to maintain.  MSN Direct uses “DirectBand”, a Microsoft technology which injects data into the subcarrier of an FM radio station.  So beyond the initial installation and probably a regular payment to the related media conglomerate, it probably didn’t cost anything to be running (web costs, support, notwithstanding).

One annoying factor about the watches is that like old-school PDAs, when they run out of power, all data contents are lost.  This wasn’t a huge deal before as they’d just re-download all their data from the network, but now without the network, a power outage would drop all the downloaded fancy watch faces and any other information stored inside permanently.

Inside a Suunto n3i This known, about four months ago I opened up my watch, took big high resolution DSLR pictures of the battery and noted down all the part numbers on a quest for a battery replacement.  The battery had lasted at least five years, so I figured a new one would do the same if treated well.  My web searches on the various part numbers yielded no results.  So hoping they could assist with alternatives, I sent my information and pictures to a variety of battery vendors online (including one I’d dealt with before for batteries for my old Microsoft Cordless Phone).

I got two replies – one was shorter than a Steve Jobs email, “We cannot provide.”  The other was a little more gracious but it was clear all they did was copy/paste my part number into their search box (as if I hadn’t done that myself).  None of the others bothered to reply. 

So, I gave up on that as a single forget-to-charge would drop the contents of the watch and eventually I’d be back in the position I’m in now anyway.

I have been watching a variety of alternatives for quite some time now – the MetaWatch, inPulse, i’m watch (vapourware), and many others.  I’m not really sure if I want to buy into any of these.

MSN Direct Outlook AddOn The “killer feature” of MSN Direct for me was the calendar and the reminders.  Basically, you installed a small Outlook add-on and as you added calendar events, they would be sent to the MSN Direct servers and out to your watch automatically.  If the calendar event had a reminder, the watch would beep at you at the appropriate time and your calendar event would be displayed. 

However, my phone (with some minor exceptions) can handle this task relatively well now so that feature has been become less and less important.  With that set aside, I’ve also been looking at “normal” watches too.  I have to say I haven’t found anything yet that has stood out to me and the only one I’ve really liked was the GIEZ GS1300B-1, brought to my attention by my not-related-but-still-have-the-same-last-name contact Julian Kay.  Unfortunately it’s a little too out of my league right now though.

So, I’m not really sure what I’ll do.  For now, I’ll probably just hunt around in my drawer for some older watches I used to wear and go from there.  Which is probably what most MSN Direct users did quite some time ago.

RIP MSN Direct.

Posted on January 1, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Interesting that you wrote this is 2012! I bought one when SPOT was going strong with Swatch and Fossil also manufacturing their versions. I found the N3 to be best looking overall, Fossil’s Abacus was kinda ugly, Swatch’s Paparazzi was too “Hip” with my dress clothes on the weekdays. I sold it then after one year of use and when I heard they were finally ending the service last year, I bought a new one off of eBay. It turned out to be defective (LCD scrambles up after about 1 day used, will work again for a day after battery is 100% drained and recharged), the seller was nice enough to send me another new one and let me keep the defective one, which is great for future part replacements! I had actually downloaded/sent all the available clock faces to the watch prior to MSN Direct’s end, draining the battery didn’t delete those so now it’s just a pretty watch with a bunch of interesting watch faces!

    • Hello, it is nice to know I’m not the only one in the world who was fond of it :p

      So the N3 doesn’t kill the watch faces when drained? Out of curiosity, are you sure it’s completely drained as opposed to just going into the super-sleep mode (where it appears dead, but you can press a button and it’ll revive itself for a few minutes instead of going through the bootup sequence where you get a Microsoft logo et al)?

      I still have my n3i plugged in to avoid it killing itself, but I haven’t really touched it in 6 months now. I have a feeling one of these days I’ll probably relocate it to a drawer and that’ll be the end of that. Alas😦

  2. I’m pretty sure it’s not in deep sleep mode…pushing buttons does nothing. also the defective one sat in my watch case for over a year, I charged it up just the other day and it does boot to the MS logo when it turns back on. Suunto make great watches, even as JUST a watch, it is still beautiful, 100m waterproofing is also a plus

    • Interesting, well that’s good to know🙂

      I’ve looked at the [other] Suunto offerings before and they look like very impressive instruments, but they’re not for me from a functionality/price standpoint. Hopefully they or others will introduce more interesting things in the future.

      Preferably with customizable watch faces =p

  3. Any information on how to get a battery replacement for the N3? I’ve called everywhere.

    • Sorry Jay, I gave up trying after my initial attempt. I’m still not entirely sure why these battery guys refuse to help us, I guess they don’t think it’s worth their time.

      On the plus side, at least the pebble should be here by the end of the year as a possible replacement.

  4. Yeah, I gave up a year ago. I was told by Suunto to call Microsoft and Microsoft told me to call Suunto. We should ask suunto for a replacement. Watches should last longer than 5 years!

  5. Robert Aldwinckle

    > The “killer feature” of MSN Direct for me was the calendar and the reminders.

    If someone could just tell us how developers used that USB cable to do their development it could also be a “killer feature” of the watch still. One additional key function would be resynchronizing the time when charging. ; )

    BTW regarding the battery and charging, make sure that you clean the contacts for the USB cable. BTDT.

    Coincidentally I just recharged my n3 after leaving it dormant for months. I can still see the Count down to New Year’s watch face in it and “my initials” watch face. And it still has old news items. So that proves that not all is lost when power is lost. The most annoying thing as I indicated is not having a source for resynchronizing the time and date, as the watch thinks it is Jan 1, 2003, which proves that power was lost.

    Coincidentally also, last week I tried seeing if XPsp3 in a VM would recognize the watch USB cable while charging my n3i. It does! More hope that if we just had the right driver and documentation a lot more could be done with either watch.

    Robert Aldwinckle

  1. Pingback: Microsoft announces they’re retiring Messenger applications, but what does that mean? « Jonathan Kay, MessengerGeek

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