Ditch the Screen – Digital Smartwatches Are So 2015

Late last year, I got in the latest Fitbit and Moto 360 Sport Android-powered smartwatches. Although a fan of technology, I was never really into the idea of smartwatches. After two years with any smartphone, you’re holding an obsolete brick that barely works. You don’t want to also have to buy a new watch.

As quickly as technology moves, it simply doesn’t makes sense to purchase an expensive smartwatch with a screen that will be rendered useless once your smartphone outpaces it by a large enough margin. That’s not what watches were meant for.

Timeless Traditions

A century ago, the wristwatch itself was considered nothing more than a silly fad meant only for trendy hipsters. It was the Google Glass of its generation, as pocket watches were the preferred way to tell what time it was back then. Many of these watches are still around, having been passed down through generations.

My grandpa gave me this watch, and now I’m giving it to you…

These days you may toss your secondhand smartphone to your kid, but they’re certainly not holding onto it long enough to give that same model to their kid. They’ll pass on the tradition of giving their kid secondhand stuff, but at a bare minimum, you’ll need to replace the battery for that smartphone to work a generation from now, and it may not even support our networks that far into the future.

fitbit-surge-vs-moto-360-sport

Digital smartwatches simply weren’t meant to be passed down through generations the same way. Look at the trendy watches above – they’re more akin to the gimmicky game-and-watch or calculator watch I had as a kid. These things remind me more of toys than legitimate watch purchases, which are more like timeless jewelry.

When Fossil Group sent me a couple of their latest smartwatches, I realized hybrid smartwatches are the real evolution of watches. My hunch was strengthened this week when MyKronoz integrated analog hands with a digital face, and I started to understand how smartwatches can become sexy.

Fossil Q Grant Gen 2 ($175 at Fossil.com)

Fossil Q Grant Leather Strap

Fossil Q is the brand’s wearable line of smartwatches. The Wander, Founder, and Marshall watches from the collection are digital smartwatches, but from there, the company branches into hybrid watch faces. The Q Grant shown is the light brown leather strap on a blue face, but there’s also smoke-tone stainless steel and dark brown leather strap with a cream-colored face.

These watches have the classic Fossil look that made them the envy of every teenager and twenty-something since I was a kid. But it’s also equipped with the latest technology: Bluetooth Smart 4.1, built-in fitness tracker (capable of tracking sleep, steps, pulse, and more), alert notifications, and even some control over basic smartphone functions like controlling music.

The Fossil Q app is available for both Android and iOS, and I installed it to pair the watch to my Samsung Galaxy S7 with ease. Like Moto Body, the activity tracking aspect is front and center, and you can connect to other platforms like UnderArmour to track steps. Within the menu, you can personalize your watch to either vibrate or spin the dials for notifications, learn more about how to control your phone through Q Link, and set alarms or a second time zone.

Fossil Q Grant Smartwatch

While my phone stayed connected to the Fossil watch just fine, the Fossil Q app struggled to recognize it, so I was often forced to restart Bluetooth on my phone to reset the connection. However, this minor annoyance was nothing compared to the hassle of having to charge a digital smartwatch every night.

Instead, you get approximately a six-month battery life, at which point you replace the battery using the included Q-shaped flat-head screwdriver. Fossil is definitely doing things right, and this is my favorite smartwatch so far, though it’s still not perfect. Rechargeable battery, a more refined app, and even the digital/analog mix of MyKronoz would have been nice.

While the buttons can do some impressive things, it would be nice to be able to program them to do what I want. Changing the intensity and length of vibration would be nice too; it’s not quite as easy to feel as the Moto 360. Although compatible with Android, it’s not compatible with the Android Wear app, which limits functionality.

Still, it’s impressive, and while I was speaking with Fossil, I explored another wearable from the Fossil Group of brands.

Diesel On Track ($95 at Diesel.com)

Diesel On Black Strap Fitness Tracker

In addition to the Fossil brand, Fossil Group makes watches for a variety of fashion brands. DieselOn is the wearable line for fabled denim brand Diesel. As you’d imagine, the company is adding a different style to the Fitbit-type activity tracker. The DieselOn app is also basically a remix of the Fossil Q app, with a very similar structure but different color scheme to match the branding.

As you can imagine, the functionality is much the same as well (minus the smartwatch functionality, as it’s a straight fitness tracker rather than a hybrid smartwatch).

The major difference you’ll notice between the DieselOn and a Fitbit isn’t just in the style, however, it’s again in the battery life. You’ll need to charge a Fitbit Blaze every night just like the Moto 360 Sport. Fitbit Flex can go about 4 days. Either way, you won’t be able to track a full week’s sleep unless you have multiple trackers synced up so you can wear one while the other charges.

DieselOn’s battery will last you six months, and when it’s done, you can just stand still for the few seconds it takes to replace the battery as opposed to the hours it takes to charge the others. It makes a world of difference and frees you from having to adjust your lifestyle to fit the technology that’s supposed to help you.

And with that being said, I had to check out another brand’s hybrid to see how it compares, so I got something timeless.

Timex IQ+ Move ($149.99 at Timex.com)

Timex Q Move Mens Hybrid

Timex (at the time known as the Waterbury Clock Company) was the company responsible for making wristwatches for artillery gunners and other American infantry during World War I. The company later released that iconic Mickey Mouse wristwatch, which saved the company from going defunct in the 1930s.

Ingersoll Mickey Mouse Watch

IQ+ is the company’s latest foray into affordable wristwatch design, integrating smartwatch features into an analog hybrid. While a different platform than Fossil’s and a much more simplistic design, it has a smarter design than Fossil Q just for the personalization options provided. You can set the seconds hand and the mini activity tracker hand to track different settings.

Activities can be tracked in steps or distance, while the seconds hand can track sleep, steps, and more to provide real-time feedback of how you’re doing.

Timex Q Move Blue Sports Strap

We got a male and female watch in, and both had very similar designs, although the women’s watch also came with an additional strap. The ingenuity of the smart functionality of the watch is a bit diminished by the cheapness of the materials used. Regardless of which strap I was using, I felt the hairs on my wrist being pulled and a general stiffness that wasn’t an issue with the leather strap on the Fossil Q Grant.

That being said, replacing the straps is made simple with a clip at the back of the strap that unlatches it from the watch face. It’s possible these hooks may have contributed to the feeling of my wrist hairs being pulled, but it’s still a nice touch.

Timex Q Move Female

In addition, the watch face lights up, which would make it easier to see notifications if the Timex Connected app had as many features as Fossil and Diesel. Unfortunately, the main functionality is as a fitness tracker, and, beyond that, all you can do is set timers and alarms. Again, lack of Android Wear compatibility cripples feature development.

The watch face of the men’s IQ+ Move is a little thicker than the Fossil Q Grant, but it also has a smaller diameter. When wearing both IQ Move and Q Grant on different arms, I discovered they were both able to connect to my Galaxy S7 simultaneously to sync the time, but one always took precedence over the other and I wasn’t able to use them simultaneously for step tracking to compare.

However, I may try syncing one to a secondary phone and connecting it through my primary as a hotspot to see if I can’t make such an experiment happen sometime in the near future.
Timex Q Move Smartwatch

While I could adjust the sensor sensitivity in the Timex Connected app, I couldn’t sync with any other platforms. This leaves my data from Moto Body, iHealth, Android Fit, and countless other trackers separate, which is a bit inconvenient for those using multiple trackers.

Still, the battery is advertised as lasting for over a year without needing a charge, so it’s more useful as an all-around sleep and fitness tracker than a FitBit. The problem, of course, is after the battery dies, you can’t easily replace it without watchmaker’s tools. You’ll need to pry the back off to get into it, which may damage the watch if you’re not careful.

Timex IQ+ Move is still a great fitness tracker with intuitive smartwatch features. It’s a great start, and I’d easily recommend it over a Fitbit if you could easily sync and import/export data, but without that and an extra strap, you’re better off spending the extra $25 to upgrade to the Fossil Q.

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Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer.

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