We live fast in the echo of a mythical era in which the cycles of work and rest alternated with regularity, without the need for a watch always on sight. The soldiers of the Boer and Great War wars were among the first to take him to the arm; on their return, the wristwatch became popular among the civilians. Before the watch was the invisible pocket watch, to be extracted only when needed and synchronized regularly with public ones, as the historian Alexis McCrossen writes in Marking Modern Times, a book in which he traces the history of watchmaking in American life. In our time, time has lost the regular scanning of the hands that run in circles to infinity, and has turned into a vertigo of notifications in succession. Reminders, messages and appointments are the new tolling of the bell, shorten the hours, dilate the tenths of a second, curve our perception of the flow of things. The subjectivity of time is overflowing into our life in continuous connection, it is a vibration or a dlin that only you hear.
There is a whole generation, that of the millennials and something earlier, grown up in massive doses of bread and Nokia, which had given up on the wristwatch, if not for collecting or as an accessory of pure elegance. And from the now read on the old mobile phone without data connection to the smooth time of the smartphone the step was very short and for many automatic.
Then the smartwatch arrived. We were impressed by the idea, it did not conquer us to the end, this sort of wrist-doubled smartphone. The watch connected hybrid, which has the hands but also a technological sector in step with our times, instead seeks a mediation between tradition and new needs and is digging an ever-larger niche. It could, tomorrow, become a standard. Recent research by Juniper Research has found that in the expanding market of smart watches, hybrids will reach more than half of them by 2022. In numbers, this translates into almost 80 million hybrid smartwatches that will be shipped by 2022, with a growth of 460% compared to the estimate of 14 million in 2017. The hybrids are presented as “old-fashioned” watches, with a traditional dial and hands. But they have a Bluetooth connection, which connects them to the phone that you keep in your pocket or bag, and a set of sensors that let you know something more about yourself, track your sleep or how much you move. Directly from the phone you can set an alarm, customize the functions of the hands and see how much battery remains. Among the brands that produce hybrid watches there are startups as well-known watch companies: the luxury watch manufacturer Frederique Constant and Fossil, a hybrid of the hybrid and smart segment – with many licensed products, then the Mykronoz ZeTime, a project that has raised 6 million between Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and the G Steel Bluetooth, the first step of Casio G SHOCK in this vast potential universe. We tried 4 models with an important technological equipment hidden behind the hands, but above all beautiful, suitable for everyday life and some even for formal appointments – of course, they are not as subtle as some masterpieces of horological mechanics, and certainly do not have everything that charm of refined mechanical engineering, but aesthetically we are light years away from most of the smart “paddles” with a luminous screen.
Skagen, minimal avant-garde
Fossil is an American watch company founded in the mid-eighties. It has a vast catalog of hybrid watches and smartwatches. This is not new: in 2003 it came out on the market with a sort of wrist handheld, based on the then very popular Palm Os. Today it produces watches under license, for brands like Armani or Diesel, of which it has signed the first smartwatch. But it also has its own brands, such as the Scandinavian Skagen, with a wide range of hybrid watches that reflect the classic lines of the brand. Hybrid Skagens are the best compromise for those looking for a product with a good price, well-designed design, a battery that lasts for months and high-level software support; the app is in fact a customization of that, excellent, developed by Fossil for its hybrid models. You can assign various functions to the clock buttons: show the date, control the music or the camera. In the quadrant there is also a pedometer: the clock has the function of tracking activities, with the count of the consumed categories, and synchronizes with the Health app for iPhone. There is also the tracking of sleep, for those who keep the phone on their wrist even at night: perhaps a bit ‘uncomfortable to wear in bed, a hybrid watch, but the Skagen connected are so beautiful and useful that taking them off will always be a bit’ suffering.
The Skagen Connected Signatur Silver was tested for this review.
Kronaby, the most complete
A solid aspect, with three buttons that are noted on the right of the crown, a quadrant in which everything is essential and hands that stand out immediately from the sight. This is the trademark of Kronaby, a Swedish company specializing in traditional-looking watches with smart features. In the panorama of hybrid watchmaking this brand offers, through the dedicated app, the greatest number of functions and customizations. The flagship is certainly the ability to configure the phone so that you can give the input, simply by pressing a button, to launch an IFTTT action, the protocol that acts as a “switch” to a series of IoT functions. In short, you can turn on the lights at home, or the radio, or open the garage door from your phone. The notification system is at the limits of perfection: you can choose from which applications to receive and even customize the duration. There are many customizations available, very useful, with some limitations in the mapping of the commands. With the latest update you can find the phone by simply holding the central button, while a single click of that button you can assign, among many very useful, a single and single function (unfortunately): either the timer, or the stopwatch , or the date indication with a quick movement of the minute hand. The two remaining buttons control the music or camera, the already mentioned IFTTT and the “accompany me at home” (it will really be so useful?). Too bad not having more freedom in assignment.
The activation procedure is simple, attention only to complete the part related to the step count, which will be shown on the watch, by the smallest hand – if you thought it was a stopwatch, unfortunately it is not. One regret: with the latest updates, the phone no longer shows the battery charge on the iPhone; on the other hand it is so long-lived (we are talking about almost 6 months) that the problem will probably be solved before the watch is discharged.
For this review the Kronaby Apex Steel 43mm was tested, masculine and without frills, with large numbers on the dial and an impact design. But there are also the Sekel lines, without the numbers, Nord, with a more Scandinavian and modern taste and Carat, feminine and without the pedometer; with a 38 or 43 mm case, Kronaby watches will appeal to those who prefer the essential in aesthetics, but are demanding and want a technologically advanced product with a well designed app, easy to use and that is often updated with other functions : the beauty of these watches is that they can receive new functions or further customizations with a simple update of the application.
Nokia Steel, simple and essential
More than a real connected watch equipped with multiple functions, this is an activity tracker “disguised” by an analog watch with an elegant and minimal look – of course, the case may be slightly too small, and many men will prefer the HR model, with detection of the heartbeat, measures decidedly more suited to the male audience and a very small display for “discrete” notifications. The true strength of this device, which is born under the banner of the relaunch of Nokia as a brand based on well-being and health, is not only in superminimal design, in the long-lasting battery or in the reliability of the sensors, but in a software excellent workmanship. Nokia’s Health Mate app, like the phone, is a hymn to essentiality. But it is also one of the best around. All the data are clearly reported, apart from some hesitation in the Italian translation, and there are various wellness programs, as well as highly appreciable features such as the intelligent management of the alarm, which sounds according to how you are sleeping. If you are looking for a no frills watch that gives you some extra features this might be perfect, especially if you do not yet have an activity tracker or want to change yours to upgrade to Nokia’s excellent suite.
The Nokia Steel Limited Edition has been tested for this review.
Garmin Vivomove HR, the future
On paper, it is the best: a simple watch, with a look that does not want to be aggressively contemporary, the right compromise for many more or less informal occasions (all?); what makes it special is a small led screen in the dial, where notifications appear. A revolution?
The software with which this watch communicates with the smartphone (or the tablet, if any) is the standard app Garmin, an application whose current complex architecture has branched out into years and years of history, with the addition of the most disparate features by of what is currently one of the best players on the sports smartwatch market. A market where the number of options makes your product more palatable. This entails an excessive complexity for the management of a hybrid clock. But not only: from the first configurations it sways between the magic (see appearing a four-digit pin on the LED of your only seemingly analog clock) and dismay for the number of functions with which the led screen has been overloaded, with a navigation among the touch menus so inaccurate that it’s a miracle if you do not set the Japanese language by accident – and then how do you go back? A great intuition is the LED screen integrated into the analog quadrant, a leap into the future, but we still have to work on it to make it functional. Nothing that can not be solved with dedicated updates, if Garmin wants. The first should be dedicated to the management of notifications, a clamorous weak point in the boundless suite of the Kansas company: for example, it is missing the possibility to see only those that you consider most important and hide the others, for example by receiving WhatsApp or messages from your family members and excluding Messenger or work emails instead. The notifications instead you get all together, exactly the same you see on the phone. For many this information overload will be roughly useless. If you are looking for a watch with sports functions, which is not the usual smartwatch, this has a lot: one of the most complete software on the market, the heart sensor, the water resistance for swimming; the ability to keep an eye on some statistics or all your messages (but all of them); however, it is probably not suitable for those who are enthusiastic about the idea of putting on their wrist a nice analogue clock with a futuristic quadrant where to read statistics and notifications.