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How Citizen’s CZ Smart almost got hybrid smartwatches right

Hybrid smartwatches were once viewed as the savior of the watch industry. The tech helped established watch brands add simple, smart features and connectivity to non-touchscreen models, so as to retain their own important individual style and therefore the all-important desirability that comes with it.

Except over the years, hybrid smartwatches have fallen out of favor, with few really exploiting the potential. The arrival of the Citizen CZ Smart Hybrid, a hybrid smartwatch from a major watch brand, almost changes that and I’ve enjoyed wearing it for the last weeks, but frustratingly, Citizen has decided to raise eyebrows with the price.

Wearing the Citizen CZ Smart Hybrid

Well-known watchmaker Citizen has already had one go at making a smartwatch, but one of my main issues with it was the rather anonymous design. Despite being sold by an established watch brand with a rich heritage, absolutely nothing about it said Citizen, and that made it no different from buying a smartwatch from another brand.

Citizen CZ Smart Hybrid camo watch face.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

With the CZ Smart Hybrid, there’s no doubt you’re wearing a Citizen watch because it says so right at the top of the bezel. The brand name isn’t the only clue either, as the bezel design is also reminiscent of its highly recognizable Promaster Navihawk watch. It’s made of stainless steel and comes with a black ion-plating (IP) coating here, and the unusual stepped shape gives the watch a real presence on your wrist.

It’s exactly what I wanted because wearing the CZ Smart Hybrid is more special than wearing the touchscreen CZ Smart. If I specifically avoid a touchscreen model it’s because, for a start, I don’t think I need all the technology, but also because I value a more watch-like design. Choosing one from a specific brand means I also want its heritage or design language to shine through, and the CZ Smart Hybrid does a far better job at this than the CZ Smart did.

I also love the strap fitted to it. It’s a thick, flexible silicone that looks amazing and feels just as good on your wrist. There’s plenty of adjustment, two keepers makes sure the strap doesn’t flap about, and it’s designed in such a way that it doesn’t get sweaty. The only downside of the Citizen hybrid is its size and weight, as this limits who will want to wear it, and when they will wear it.

Citizen CZ Smart Hybrid strap seen from the side.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

I couldn’t face wearing it overnight as at 90 grams it’s a little too heavy, while the shape with its sharp lines and edges just meant it annoyingly got caught on the sheets. The 44mm case size doesn’t sound outrageously large as smartwatches go, but the integrated, flat-sided lugs make it bulkier than the number suggests, and it’s undeniably large on my 6.5-inch wrist. That said, it hasn’t been uncomfortable during the day at all, and I’ve worn it without a problem. Just be aware of the size and its limitations before buying.

Familiar hybrid technology

I’ve felt like I’m wearing a non-smartwatch with the Citizen CZ Smart Hybrid on my wrist, but what about the tech side? The Citizen CZ Smart Hybrid seems to use Fossil’s most recent hybrid platform, which has an E Ink screen and a heart rate sensor, to make it easier to use and more useful. Once you use it there’s no denying it’s a far more technical experience than old hybrids without a screen, and it definitely increases the watch’s value on a day-to-day basis. However, there isn’t anything here you haven’t already seen and nothing in the software that separates the CZ Smart Hybrid from other Fossil-produced hybrids.

Citizen CZ Smart Hybrid notifications.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

You control the software using the buttons on the side of the case. The menus take a little while to learn and you do have to compensate for the slowness of the E Ink screen by not rushing, but once you’re used to it it’s all quite simple. The buttons can be customized to perform different actions, and this makes life easier when starting a workout for example. Notifications have appeared with decent reliability since I’ve been using the watch, but the screen is too small to read long messages on. I just use it as a convenient way to establish if a message needs my attention or not. The Citizen app you need to pair and set up the watch is attractive and straightforward.

Tracking a few workouts revealed the CZ Smart Hybrid may require Citizen to investigate its accuracy, as it consistently underestimated calorie burn and higher heart rate levels compared to the Apple Watch Series 7. Although neither may be truly accurate, I’d expect them to be broadly similar. Also, when tracking a walk or run, the watch constantly auto-paused until I turned off the automatic workout detection feature in the app.

It’s not a rival for the best full touchscreen smartwatches, or even hybrids like the Garmin Vivomove Sport, when it comes to activity tracking. However, it does enough for casual exercisers, and outside of the accuracy, has remained completely reliable. The battery life has been great too, and it easily makes Citizen’s two-week estimate before needing a recharge.

Citizen CZ Smart Hybrid on the wrist.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

I’ve enjoyed wearing the Citizen smartwatch. It looks cool, it doesn’t get annoying on my wrist, and the tech side is competent enough to be worthwhile. However, the CZ Smart falls down when you consider buying one. The trouble is the software is the same as the system used on the Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR, so it’s safe to assume Fossil also produced the CZ Smart Hybrid for Citizen. Not a bad thing at all because Fossil knows what it’s doing, but unfortunately Citizen has made an error when it comes to the price.

Too much money

The Citizen CZ Smart Hybrid has a retail price of $350, or $325 if you choose the stainless steel model without a black IP coating. The Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR is $195, and Fossil’s own Bronson hybrid starts at $199, and outside of the design, there isn’t any difference between any of them. Yes, I prefer the design of the Citizen CZ Smart Hybrid and appreciate the black IP coating will add to the price, but it’s tough to justify this much extra when the tech is identical. It sadly makes you think you’re solely paying more for the brand name, and that’s not a good feeling at all.

Hybrid smartwatches like those from Frederique Constant or Alpina often have higher quality materials like sapphire crystal or a specific movement inside, giving you at least some reason to spend more to get the brand name. What’s inside the CZ Smart is almost certainly the same as what’s inside the Skagen or Fossil watch, and cool though the CZ Smart looks, it’s not $150-worth of cool, and no way should the CZ Smart Hybrid cost the same as the smallest Apple Watch Series 7.

Frustratingly, the Citizen CZ Smart Hybrid is still the one I’d buy if the price wasn’t important to me, and the fact it has been pleasurable to live with on the tech side gives me hope for the future of hybrids from watchmakers. There’s still absolutely a place for hybrid smartwatches, and Citizen’s watch very nearly gets the formula right, but the price tag threatens to put the people most interested off right from the start.

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