by Craig Lloyd on
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Smartwatches are getting more popular, thanks mostly in part to the Apple Watch and various Fitbits. But they have some downsides, like being bulky, sometimes unsightly, and having relatively poor battery life. A “hybrid” smartwatch might be a better option.
A hybrid smartwatch is a watch with electronics on the inside—and by that I mean electronics complex enough to connect to and interact with your phone via Bluetooth—and a conventional watch face on the outside. These gadgets either omit an interactive screen entirely, or else make it much more subtle and easy to ignore. Without the touchscreen and a big battery to power it, hybrid smartwatches can also last much longer on a battery charge and/or be a lot thinner than current smartwatch designs, too. Simplified components allow for a much wider variety of styles in some cases.
We’ve chosen the best hybrid designs among an admittedly limited field at the moment. Our selections cover the best overall model, the best choices for those who want to focus on style or exercise data, and one for those who need to buy their watches on a more strict budget. Check ’em out below.
Withings was a startup making some of the very first hybrid smartwatch designs. The Steel HR model is actually pretty close to the watch they made for Nokia during their brief time as a subsidiary. It’s a neat little package, including a heart rate monitor on the bottom, a dedicated step goal sub-dial, and a little display at the 12 o’clock position that helps show current heart rate and more complex notification info.
The Steel HR includes both 25-meter water resistance and a rechargeable battery (not a given for this class of device on either count) that lasts for several weeks. But the best part of the Withings design is the software: the iOS and Android app can sync time and notifications, but it also includes an excellent health tracker that keeps track of your steps, sleep cycles, and continuous heart rate during workouts. The Withings API allows it to connect to pretty much any other tracking service, too.
The Steel HR comes in 36mm and 40mm sizes with various case and band options. If you don’t like the screen, the regular model Withings Steel drops it, but unfortunately, you’ll have to do without the heart rate monitor, too.
The Fossil Q line started with WearOS-powered watches, but has since expanded quickly with a wide selection of screen-free hybrid designs. Whether you prefer a minimal watch face or something more complex, whether you like classical lines or more sporty and chunky looks, there’s a Q Hybrid that will suit your tastes.
The Q Hybrid uses a standard “coin” watch battery, accessible to the user, that lasts for six to twelve months. With it you’ll get vibrating alerts from your phone, step goal tracking with the dedicated sub-dial, and access to common phone functions (like music playback and camera shutters) via the three buttons.
One cool trick is the ability to see your commute time, estimated based on your location and current traffic, shown with a button press that moves the minute hand. There are dozens of Q Hybrid smartwatch models ranging from around $155-175—be sure not to confuse them with the full touchscreen Fossil Q smartwatches.
Garmin has been making electronic watches with runners in mind for a long time, so it’s no surprise that they’re all over the new smartwatch trend. The company’s Vivomove hybrid smartwatch is surprisingly subtle: it hides an integrated LCD screen under the dial, and it’s invisible when it’s not displaying a text message or showing you your heart rate or daily step goals.
The watch is more than happy to come along with you for a swim or track your sleeping habits, and also monitors more exact levels of fitness than the Withings model above. It even has a “stress” level indicator, measuring your current level of stress based on movement and heart rate.
Garmin’s smartphone app is a favorite among fitness nuts thanks to its expansive tools and community of runners: while the Vivomove doesn’t include GPS inside, the app can track your runs or bike rides for distance and speed and sync them to continuously-monitored heart rate data. The only downside is the five-day battery life, which will still beat out any conventional smartwatch on the market.
If you’re looking for a smartwatch on the cheap, you have quite a few options. If you’re looking for a hybrid model from a reliable seller, your options are significantly reduced. Skagen, a Danish budget watchmaker, has a few that are worth investigating.
Their hybrid design uses a standard watch “coin” battery and no screen, with either a sub-dial or a moving minute hand to track your daily steps. The watches can control basic music and camera functions via their buttons, and a dedicated “phone finder” will ring your phone instantly (assuming it’s connected to the app, of course).
Typically these hybrid models are around the same price as the other entries on this list, but at the time of writing, the Hagen, Hald, Signatur, and Jorn can be had for under $100. Refurbished models are sometimes sold for even less. Note that some of these watches are quite thick compared to non-smartwatch designs.
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