What is a hybrid smartwatch? The ideal wearable for watch fans

NYSW GTS activity tracker review face angle
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
You’ve heard of a watch, right? And you’re likely fully aware of smartwatches, and how the two differ. But you may have also read about hybrid smartwatches. Confused as to what a hybrid watch does? We’re here to explain everything, from what a hybrid smartwatch is and what they can do, to a few examples of the best out there.

What is a hybrid smartwatch?

A hybrid smartwatch is a fusion between a regular mechanical watch and a smartwatch, in that it combines some connected features with traditional watch mechanics. It doesn’t have a touchscreen, doesn’t usually require charging up every day, and doesn’t look like a piece of technology. It looks like a normal watch. If the Apple Watch, Samsung Gear Sport, or touchscreen Android Wear watches like the Emporio Armani Connected, don’t appeal because they don’t really look like watches, then the hybrid is your gateway to the smartwatch world.

Show, don’t tell

The best way to understand what a hybrid smartwatch does is to see and play around with one. The above photo shows off the Fossil Q Crewmaster. We chose it as our example because the design is based closely on an existing Fossil watch, which the company chose to augment with smart connected features. You can see it has an analog dial, traditional watch styling, and it’s slim and stylish.

fossil q crewmaster face
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

It’s smart because it has Bluetooth connectivity built-in, and it pairs with your smartphone through an app. The app is available for iOS and Android, which means there’s a high chance whatever phone you have works with the watch. It’s not like the Apple Watch, which only works with the iPhone.

What does a hybrid smartwatch do?

The vast majority of hybrid smartwatches share similar functionality. A hybrid watch will track your steps, while the app works out calorie burn and activity time. Some watches will also track your sleep, but it’s not as common considering most people are unlikely to wear the watch 24-hours a day. The watch will alert you of notifications on your phone with vibrations, and some kind of visual hint about which app is alerting you.

Skagen Signatur T-Bar review
Brenda Stolyar/Digital Trends
Brenda Stolyar/Digital Trends

The method for notification alerts varies. Fossil, for example, makes the watch hands zip around to point at a single number, which you designate to a certain app or contact when you first set up the watch.

For example, if email notifications are linked to the number 3, the hands will move to 3 o’clock on the watch and will linger there long enough for you to take a glance. Other watches do it it different, such as the NYSW GTS Activity Tracker, which has a dedicated sub-dial for notification alerts. Hybrid watches from Guess and Martian have a small LCD screen for alerts.

You can also expect features like alarms, world time zones, and a programmable button that can be configured for different functions. This can include working as a remote shutter for your phone’s camera, for music control, or to make your phone ring in case you can’t find it.

Don’t expect most hybrid smartwatches to run apps, have watch faces you can change, or include more complex features like a heart rate sensor (though there are some like the Nokia Steel HR).

No charging?

Because most hybrid smartwatches don’t have a touchscreen, they don’t consume anywhere near the same degree of energy as one that does. Paired with Bluetooth Low Energy, a hybrid smartwatch can usually survive on a coin-cell battery, and therefore doesn’t require nightly charging.

Nokia Steel HR Review
Steven Winkelman/Digital Trends
Steven Winkelman/Digital Trends

The battery can last up to six months before it needs replacing, which can be done at home, and for a very low price. This makes hybrid smartwatches perfect for anyone that wants to avoid owning yet another device to recharge every day.

Anything else?

Because a hybrid smartwatch doesn’t deviate very far from traditional watch styling and design, you get many of the benefits associated with mechanical watches. Almost all are water resistant, and usually down to at least 5ATM (underwater up to 50 meters), not just a simple IP68 rating (limited to about 1.5 meters), and the standard size lugs mean you can pick and choose your own straps. Also, because the designs are more watch-like, there’s greater choice for women in the hybrid smartwatch world.

michele hybrid smartwatch review forward
Brenda Stolyar/Digital Trends
Brenda Stolyar/Digital Trends

Finally, because hybrid smartwatches aren’t as technically complex as a full smartwatch, they’re often much cheaper.

Where to start?

Now that you’re completely familiar with the term hybrid smartwatch, where should you start? The Fossil Group, which produces watches for a wide range of fashion brands, has an extensive catalog of hybrid watches. These range from its own models, such as the Q Crewmaster seen above and the new Q Commuter. Their portfolio includes watches from brands like Skagen, Kate Spade, Michele, Misfit, and Emporio Armani. The benefit of choosing a Fossil-produced hybrid watch is that the app is suitably polished, connectivity is simple and reliable, and you’re getting a design from a proper watch maker.

what is a hybrid smartwatch alpina seastrong

There’s no need to limit yourself to Fossil though. Nokia, after it acquired Withings, sells the stylish Steel HR hybrid smartwatch, which is similar to the Garmin Vivomove HR. Hybrid smartwatches are also produced by watch brands not looking to make a full smartwatch. Kronaby and New York Standard Watches are watchmakers dabbling in tech with their hybrid models, for example. The Timex IQ+ Move is another stylish alternative from a known watch maker.

If you’re happy to spend more on your hybrid watch, then Mondaine, Alpina, and Frederique Constant all make hybrids. The Alpina Seastrong is a great example of a hybrid, because it looks like a diver watch — a very popular design — but still manages to deliver notifications, activity tracking, sleep monitoring, and world time zones. Its face is also covered in sapphire glass, and it has a Swiss quartz movement inside. It’s a smartwatch for people that love watches, and don’t want to compromise on design.

The choice of hybrid is greater than that of full touchscreen smartwatches, and there is likely a design that will suit your taste

Casio sets itself apart from others by making Bluetooth watches that provide smartwatch connectivity, without the notifications. The G Shock Gravitymaster GPW-2000-1A uses an app for tracking flights, GPS positioning, and world time. The newly announced GBA-800 G Shock watches track your fitness, and sync the data with an app on your phone. Despite the lack of notifications, these are still hybrid watches, but may also be referred to as connected watches.

As you can tell, the choice of hybrid smartwatches is greater than that of full touchscreen smartwatches, and there is likely a design that will suit your taste out there, whether you like a subtle, minimalist look, a classic style, or something more sporty.

That’s it, consider yourself properly introduced to the hybrid smartwatch. We love them because we love watches, and think you will too.

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