Hybrid watches are by many accounts dominating the sales figures for brands such as Fossil, and by some stats in a way which means that they are seriously scaling back on traditional watches due to a lack of sales.
This kind of makes sense because people who are used to purchasing a watch every few years, one at the lower end of the market, could be more tempted by a hybrid that looks and feels familiar, but which offers ‘safe’ new features that do not feel too technical in a proactive or reactive sense.
Hybrids potentially appeal to those who are not in the market for a full fitness tracker, who definitely would not wear a smartwatch and who are dipping their toe in the watery idea that the wrist is a space for more than just the time. In effect, this is the majority of people which would explain the popularity. In the world of tech, a small percentage of the largest market is worth more than dominating a niche because it’s all about the future. The future is everyone. It is not geeks who want a screen on their wrist, but I am not convinced that the watch world will not be dominated by screens in a few years.
Just like PDAs and the earliest smartphones were used by a niche, the iPhone breakthrough brought the idea to everyone and at some point the same could happen with the smartwatch. Until that time we have hybrids which represent a temporary middle ground that has a small chance of becoming permanent, a very small chance in my mind.
The reason for this is that hybrids currently do one this well, which is to tell the time in a stylish well, and one thing quite poorly, which is fitness tracking. When you download the app and check out what it can do it kind of feels like stepping back in time; step tracking and sleep. That’s it really, no heart rate monitoring, no exercise tracking, no food input, no real stats over time and a light touch that is squarely designed for beginners in the area of activity tracking.
There is nothing wrong with this and it makes perfect sense which may explain the popularity, but in comparison to a smartwatch or a dedicated fitness tracker the difference is stark. The advantages to this, however, come in the manner of a six month battery life before you need a new one, simplicity of use and the ability to completely ignore the watch if you want to.
Notifications are present, to a point, but are somewhat lacklustre because you can only choose six contacts to receive notifications from. You choose a contact and assign a number at which point the hand will move to that number when a message or call is received. It’s simple, quite elegant actually and worthy of inclusion, but it would be nice to see notifications default to a different number from those outside of your favourite six people.
The three buttons on the side of the watch are configurable and in my case, for example, I have the middle one for the date (push and the hands move to a date on the outer ring), the top one for a second time zone (push and the hands move to it) and the bottom one to start and pause music on my iPhone X. They have all worked perfectly well and the connection to the phone has been rock solid so far, but I do have concerns about Skagen as a company.
Without making this a true statement, there is a theory that this is a Chinese company making cheap watches to the level of a Daniel Wellington and that it offers practically zero support. This theory is sadly backed up by numerous customer reports so my review here will not cover the fact that it could fail at some point and leave the user stranded.
What I can say though is that the design is quite superb. From the case to the mesh bracelet to the dial, the consistency and elegant construction are really very good for a watch at this price point (shop around and you can pick it up for slightly north of £100). Build quality is harder to judge because only long term use can show that, but I do get the sense that it is built to a price point and that it will not survive many knocks. This is to be expected for what is essentially a dress watch, but overall I have enjoyed wearing it and do appreciate the design behind the watch.
Surprisingly the lume lasts through the night which is quite unusual. I would expect this from a Seiko or a Citizen at any price point and most certainly from Oris, but many watches I have tried fail dismally in this area. Longines is a culprit, no matter the price, and I find it unforgivable for any watch brand to include lume that does not last for more than an hour, and even more so for the likes of Longines who are happy to charge upwards of £2,000 for a watch with poor lume. This Skagen does lume very well and despite a dimming from, for example, 3AM you can still see the time if you happen to wake up at night.
Back to the design, the only thing I would change would be the hands which could be slightly wider to make the watch 100% glanceable. It is decent enough for quickly catching the time, but there is a sense that the design overcomes the practical elements around the edges and at those moments when you want your watch to do something rather than to be a statement on your wrist.
There is much competition in the hybrid watch area, much of it from the same parent company, and the likes of Fossil, Michael Kors (shudder!) and Timex are pushing hard in this arena. Hybrids have grown from fashion watch brands looking to protect their businesses against smartwatches, but the fitness gang have started to join in. Garmin makes the vívomove® HR which comes in at £169 and for that you get a heart rate monitor, V02 max, fitness age, calories, intensity minutes, stress tracking, smart notifications, music controls and so on. It’s all backed up with a very good (maybe slightly complex?) app which easily rivals Fitbit in terms of being able to give you all of the activity and fitness stats you need. In my experience the Garmin trackers are more accurate than Fitbit and better built which makes the vivomove a candidate for the best hybrid watch on the market today. The premium version (£249) takes things further with stainless steel and a classier strap, and takes the idea of a traditional decent quality watch with some advanced features to the level we would expect in 2018.
You can go much higher in price through the likes of Kronaby (£445), Alpina (£575) and Mondaine (£650) up to Frédérique Constant (£2,980!). The problem with all of these brands though is that no matter how refined and well made the watch is, they still default back to very simple and light touch software to undertake the smart features. I am not saying that everyone wants sophisticated fitness tracking and super smart features, which are impossible on a traditional watch design anyway, but it seems to me that the most complete hybrid watch today comes from Garmin for well under £200 which is saying a lot. To complete properly, I believe that a decent watch manufacturer needs to get into bed with the likes of Garmin or Fitbit because otherwise we are looking at a fad and little more.
I like the Skagen a lot more than I expected to. The design is sweet, the fitness functions work to a point (pushing 10% more steps than reality for me) and the notifications are somewhat useful. The main problem is that it is not ambitious enough, like 99% of hybrids, and I would like to see more effort put into making this kind of watch more functional. For the price, however, I believe it to be excellent value and for most people it will serve them well over time, providing the worries about Skagen reliability and support do not come to fruition.