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MyKronoz ZeTime hybrid marries mechanical hands with a touchscreen

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The MyKronoz ZeTime combines the best of both worlds -- it's a smartwatch with analog hands that tick independent of a color touchscreen.

MyKronoz may be based in Geneva, Switzerland, but the watchmaker is better known for an expansive collection of digital wearables than luxury timepieces. The company offers an electronic wristband in virtually every flavor, from fitness trackers and heart rate monitors to full-color smartwatches. And at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year, it has a world’s first up its sleeve: The ZeTime, a “hybrid smartwatch” with mechanical hands over a round screen.

A marriage of analog and digital, the ZeTime boasts a physical “smart crown” and 44mm waterproof (3ATM) stainless steel case “inspired by the finest Swiss design,” and features mechanical hands mounted in a tiny hole in the watch’s 240 x 240-pixel TFT circular display. It’s a boon for battery life: The ZeTime’s mechanical hands move for up to 30 days with a single charge, and continue to tick even when the screen is switched off. And thanks to MyKronoz’s proprietary Smart Movement technology, they automatically adjust the position of the watch hands based on content. Text messages will move so that they’re not obscured by the hands, and the hands will automatically adjust to reflect the local time zone.

The hole’s a minor engineering marvel. According to a MyKronoz representative, the company couldn’t simply drill a hole through the the LCD screen — that’d risk rupturing the internal liquid crystal component. Instead, the display’s driver behaves as though the pixels around the mechanical hands are missing.

Another challenge was the touchscreen. It had to be embedded in the ZeTime’s glass so that wearers could interact with the screen without having to wrangle with the analog hands, a MyKronoz rep told Digital Trends.

“My inspiration has been to combine the best of our Swiss heritage in traditional watchmaking with the key features of a smartwatch to persuade the majority of consumers to adopt our wearable technology,” Boris Brault, CEO and founder of MyKronoz, said in a press release. “This has been accomplished with ZeTime, the perfect hybrid smartwatch. It combines the best of both worlds: watch hands of an elegant traditional timepiece with a full-color touchscreen.”

We had the opportunity to see a pre-production version of the ZeTime at MyKronoz’s Mobile World Congress booth, and came away genuinely impressed. The ZeTime’s stainless steel body is gorgeously finished — especially the silver model. It’s quite thin, and one of the lightest all-metal smartwatches we’ve encountered. In an interview with Digital Trends, Brault said that it took the design team almost a year to settle on a design that balanced smartwatch features with fashion.

“I wanted a watch that my friends who don’t wear a smartwatch would wear,” he said. “A truly stylish smartwatch.”

The ZeTime runs a proprietary operating system, but it’ll get continuous software updates. At launch, the ZeTime’s heart rate monitor will record beats per minute, but in the months to follow it’ll measure blood oxygen level, blood pressure, and other biometrics.

Brault said the decision to opt for a proprietary solution was motivated by platform agnosticism. “I wanted [the ZeTime] to work as well with iOS phones as it does with Android,” he said. MyKronoz is in talks with Google about Android Wear, the search giant’s platform-agnostic smartwatch operating system, but isn’t ready to make a commitment. “I’m not convinced yet,” Brault said.

The ZeTime is more than just a high-tech analog watch. It boasts a three-axis accelerometer and optical heart rate sensor that can track activity statistics like steps, distance, calories, and minutes of active sleep. And when paired with a smartphone via Bluetooth 4.1, it serves up music playback controls and notifications of incoming calls, messages, weather forecasts, and calendar appointments.

MyKronoz will launch a Kickstarter in March for the ZeTime, and early bird backers will get a “substantial” discount on the $200 retail price. The ZeTime will ship in August for customers who participate in the crowdfunding campaign, and in September 2017 for everyone else. Watch strap options will include alongside silicon, genuine leather, carbon-fiber, and other styles of interchangeable straps.

MyKronoz is forging ahead at a time when iPhone maker Apple dominates the industry. According to market research firm Canalys, the Apple Watch accounted for more than half of the 9 million smartwatches shipped last fiscal quarter and generated 80 percent of all revenues. But the company is confident in the market’s growth.

“When I started in early 2013, people thought that I was mad – why would I start a smartwatch company in Switzerland and enter such a challenging market? It turns out that my vision and passion have paid off, as our company has sold nearly 2 million smartwatches since then,” Brault said. “This disruptive mentality goes beyond the company’s mission to provide ‘smartwatches for everyone’ by striving to become an industry leader on price point, wide range, and fashionable design.”

Article originally published 02-287-2017. Updated on 02-28-2017 by Kyle Wiggers: Added hands-on impressions and photos.