An analog watch can be smart, just not that “smart,” right? New York Standard Watches doesn’t agree, so it created the GTS Activity Notifier, a hybrid smartwatch that puts design and time-telling over the smarter functionality; without making technology an afterthought. It’s not the first of its kind, but it does integrate smart features in a new way — all in the name of prioritizing the watch as the device you’ll want to interact with more, instead of digging out your phone. In our NYSW GTS Activity Tracker review, we judge its success, and see how it compares to other products out there.
Update: The NYSW GTS Activity Tracker is now available to buy. Our review is based on a pre-production version from January 2018. From December 2018, the watch is available through Amazon for $198, and through NYSW’s website.
We’ve been wearing the Manhattan model, characterized by its black carbon fiber face, silver hands, and sporty look. The stainless steel body is water resistant to 5ATM, measures 45mm, and is attached to a 22mm leather strap. The face is covered with sapphire glass, something only seen on more expensive traditional watches, and almost no smartwatches at all. It’s a classy addition, as sapphire has a distinctive reflective sheen to it. It’s also unscratchable, ensuring it stays looking its best.
Under the glass are three sub-dials. The top dial shows mode and notifications, the lower dial shows step count measured in the hundreds, and the third dial shows them measured by the thousand. The carbon fiber looks fantastic, as does the chromed NYSW logo off to the side, which catches the light beautifully under the sapphire glass. Flip the watch over and there’s the option to have an inscription added when you purchase the watch.
While a 45mm face sounds quite large, in reality the GTS Activity Tracker is quite modest on most wrists. The thickness has been cleverly disguised, with the battery concealed in the center of the watch’s base. New York Standard Watches also makes the 43mm Soho, and the 42mm Times Square, if you feel the 45mm Manhattan will be too big. However, we’d say it’s fine on all but the very slimmest of wrists. In addition to the battery, a Japanese watch movement is inside the body.
The second the watch arrived, I wanted it on my wrist.
The leather strap is quite big, and ours buckled up to the final notch and still felt a little loose. It’s genuine leather and fairly stiff when it arrives — we don’t think it suits the sporty design of this Manhattan model. We swapped it out with a spare silicone rubber strap we had, and preferred the look and feel. It’s easy to do this with the quick release pins fitted to the Manhattan’s strap.
New York Standard Watches is a name with history, having made watches decades ago, and it’s clear they still understand what makes you want to wear one. The build quality is great, and the second the watch arrived, I wanted it on my wrist. It’s weighty enough that you know it’s there, and the classy look means it goes with any outfit. We’d buy and wear it even if it didn’t have smart features.
Smart features and app
The Bluetooth connecting process is described in the app, and it’s easy to follow. After a recharge though, the watch wouldn’t reconnect to our phone — we were testing with an iPhone X. We restarted the phone, and the two paired instantly without a prompt.
The app itself isn’t the best we’ve come across. It looks old, doesn’t scale to the iPhone X’s screen, and isn’t intuitive to use. It provides information on steps, calories, distance covered, and walking or running data; but it doesn’t make us want to look at it.
Most helpful of all is an instruction manual contained inside the app. It’s here where you learn how to read the mode and notification sub-dial, how to connect your watch to the phone, and other essential details. Using the NYSW isn’t like getting used to a phone or touchscreen smartwatch, it requires some patience, reading, and learning. It’s important, otherwise the watch can be frustrating. For example, some of the dials will need manual calibration to provide the correct reading.
The top sub-dial on the watch has tiny icons that relate to the notifications sent from your phone. For example, there is a Twitter icon, an Instagram icon, an email icon, and so on. The sub-dial’s hand points to the relevant one when a notification arrives, and delivers a customizable vibration alert. WhatsApp messages could be a single vibrate, while emails could be four short vibrates. The vibration alert is strong enough to feel, more or less on the same level of effectiveness as the Apple Watch. Notifications are delivered using the Apple Notification Center Service (ANCS) for reliability and low power consumption.
The aim is for notifications to be glanceable, and easy to identify without getting out your phone. It’s partially successful. The vibrate alerts are helpful, provided you remember what vibrate pattern relates to what, and the sub-dial shows your alerts, provided you can see the tiny icons and hand. You have to look closely at first, but once you learn the position of the app icons, it’s easier to check notifications quickly.
The short battery life and charging system frustrates.
It’s a shame there’s no way to change the alert app. We don’t need a Pinterest alert for example, so it just sits there, leaving only a general Notification alert as a catch-all. Thankfully, the step counters are very easy to see.
The watch does not track sleep — it’s not really a watch we’d want to wear in bed anyway, so it’s not a problem. The notification system on the NYSW watch is a step beyond the usual vibrate alerts and the watch hands pointing to a number we see on other hybrids. They’re easier and quicker to read here, and a great midway point between simple hybrids and full touchscreen watches.
Battery and charging
The best thing about many hybrid smartwatches, such as the EA Connected and the Fossil Q, is the six-month battery life. They don’t do anything much less than the NYSW watch, but the GTS Activity Tracker has a two-week maximum battery life. The instructions recommend a weekly recharge for an hour, and the battery on our unit was dead after 10 days — even after several days of not wearing it. That’s not great for a hybrid.
Worse is the charging device. It’s a rectangular piece of plastic that attaches to the watch using a pair of pins, then to a charger with a MicroUSB cable. The watch wobbles about when it’s connected; it doesn’t look very nice, and is yet another proprietary charger you don’t want to lose.
For a watch that claims to give you, “the best of both worlds,” the short battery life and charging system frustrates. If we’re going to have to charge a smartwatch on a regular basis, we’d rather have all the features a touchscreen version provides. Not charging a hybrid is very much part of their appeal. The NYSW GTS Activity Tracker sits between the two, in a region few want to explore.
Price, warranty, and availability
The NYSW GTS Activity Tracker began life as a Kickstarter campaign, before moving to Indiegogo. The campaigns have now ended, and the NYSW watch range can be purchased through the company’s website, or on Amazon. The Manhattan model seen here costs $198, while some of the other models cost up to around $215. Order through NYSW and some watches come with a free engraving offer. The watches have a two-year warranty.
We reviewed a pre-production version of the NYSW watch, almost a year ahead of the time it became available to buy through Amazon. We contacted the company to check if work was still being done as we reviewed the watch, and if there would be any changes to the version sent out to buyers compared to ours. We were told the app was still being worked on and changes will be made prior to the watch’s release. The iOS version was last updated around June 2018. The hardware was almost completely final, and representative of the watch that will be delivered to you, according to the company.
The sapphire glass is a huge deal on a watch at this price.
We asked about the reason behind not using a coin cell battery. The team said a coin cell battery doesn’t provide the energy needed for a powerful vibration alert. Vibration power is reduced to increase the lifetime of a coin cell, a trade-off NYSW didn’t want to make, hence the use of a stronger battery. While software improvements are being made, they won’t affect the battery life, so the claims of 10 days to two weeks of battery life will remain.
A real watch made by a real watch company, complete with sensibly designed smart features, make the NYSW GTS Activity Tracker one you’ll want on your wrist. The battery life and charging method are disappointing, but you won’t mind if you like the way the watch looks.
Are there any better alternatives?
The NYSW watch’s price is very competitive, and up to $300 less than the most expensive big-name, fashion-forward hybrid watches available now. It also has the benefit of looking great, and coming in various sizes with subtly different designs. The battery life and charging method, however, is a problem.
In the year since we reviewed the NYSW, smartwatches have moved onwards and upwards. Apart from the excellent Apple Watch Series 4 and Samsung Galaxy Watch, hybrids have become more desirable. We adore the Alpina AlpinerX, and the Frederique Constant Hybrid Manufactur, along with the Mondaine Helvetica Smart, plus the Kronaby Apex range of hybrids too. That’s before you examine the many hybrids available from brands like Emporio Armani and Fossil. For smaller wrists, the Skagen Signatur T-Bar Hybrid watch is a strong competitor, while the Michele hybrid watch is twice the price, but shares similar build quality and sapphire glass.
We’re not done. There’s the Nokia Steel HR Sport, the Garmin Vivomove, and hybrids from Michael Kors, Hugo Boss, Timex, and many more. At the beginning of the year the NYSW already faced serious competition; but today it’s an even tougher space. More companies are focusing on making smart watches we want to wear, and all are great alternatives to the NYSW watch.
How long will it last?
The sapphire glass is a huge deal on a watch at this price, and will keep the NYSW GTS Activity Tracker looking great for many years. The strap is easy to change and is a common size, so you can always swap the band to update its look, plus the stainless steel body and water resistance means you’ll have to try really hard to break it.
The watch’s overall lifetime will be dictated by the rechargeable battery. These have a finite lifespan, and may see the watch prematurely become useless when it fails to hold a charge. That’s a real shame when it looks this great.
Should you buy one?
Yes, based on the early model we tried. It looks fantastic, the build quality is superb, and we love the addition of sapphire glass at this price. The notifications are also very effective, and close to the glanceable nature of a touchscreen. The main downside is the battery life, but we’re prepared to live with it to wear a very stylish smartwatch. This is followed by the disappointing app, which we hope will improve visually over the coming weeks.