Call me old fashioned, but I’ve never been a huge fan of smart watches.
It’s partly an aesthetic thing. Even though I’m a genuine gadget junkie, I’ve always loved the look of analog watches more than digital, plus I like to appreciate the complex mechanical workings that go on under the hood of an analog watch.
But it’s also a matter of practicality. While I liked the idea of some smartwatch features — like getting a few select notifications on my wrist when my phone is buried in a jacket pocket or a bag, or being able to control my music — I also have a hard enough time concentrating with the constant stream of notifications I already have.
It can be tough to focus on work, or a book, or even TV with texts, e-mails, social media, and group chats all buzzing on your phone and flashing up on your computer screen. At least now when it becomes too much, I can put my phone on silent mode and turn it face-down for a bit. The last thing I need is for everything to continue, but on my wrist.
Despite all of that, I’ve become an unexpected convert to smartwatches for one simple reason: I learned about hybrids.
A hybrid watch, or hybrid smartwatch, is a watch that has a traditional analog design, but also connects to your phone and includes a few smart features. Even though it doesn’t have a screen, it can offer various notifications, settings, activity tracking, and ways to interact with your phone.
While the differences between hybrids made by various companies can be subtle, Fossil is one of the current pack leaders, offering both men’s and women’s designs.
The familiar fashion accessory brand really brought its A-game when it entered the “smart” market in 2016, and the its offerings have only risen since then; there are more than 50 hybrid smartwatch designs and styles available.
Fossil sent over its Q Commuter men’s watch for us to test out, and I was really impressed.
While Fossil has a ton of different hybrid designs, they mostly work the same way, so most of this review can apply to any of the company’s hybrids.
The watch comes pre-loaded with a coin battery — there’s no need to charge this smartwatch — and it’s easy to set up right out of the box. Download Fossil’s companion “Fossil Q” app to your iPhone or Android, launch it and register, then follow the prompts to pair the watch to your phone. It’s as quick and easy as that.
The watch’s time automatically syncs to your phone, so there’s no need to set it. This is also the case if you travel to a different time zone, as soon as your phone updates, your watch will, too. The companion app is used to set the two main functions of the phone: interactions and notifications.
The watch has three buttons, each of which can be assigned a different function to interact with some aspect of your phone. In the app, you can choose any available function for any button, or you can use one of Fossil’s suggested presets. Functions include displaying the date, a stopwatch mode, controlling music playback on your phone, changing the volume, or even controlling your phone camera’s shutter. You can also keep track of a second time zone and use the button to display the time there, or you can assign a button to ring your phone if you’ve misplaced it.
Notifications are actually pretty clever, considering that the watch doesn’t have a screen. You can choose up to 12 notification types, with each one assigned a number from 1-12. When a notification goes off, the hour and minute hands swing to the corresponding number on the watch face.
For example, I set notification one to show when I get a phone call from anyone; notifications 2-5 for when I get a call or text from a specific contact assigned to each number, notification six for when I get a calender alert about an upcoming event, and left 7-12 empty. Basically, I set it so that the watch only notifies me for the most important stuff. If I have an event starting in a few minutes, the watch will vibrate and the hands will both point at six; if I get a call from my dad, the hands swing over to point at three.
The other smart feature the watch includes is an activity tracker. A small hand on the subdial ticks upward counting your steps through the day, and the app also displays stats like active time and sleep. You can connect to other health apps and services, like Apple HealthKit or Under Armour’s MyFitnessPal/MapMyRun app suite in order to export your data. In my tests, the step counter kept track accurately.
There are 54 varieties of Fossil Q hybrid smartwatches, many based off other regular watches in Fossil’s lineup. If you’re looking for a smartwatch with a more classic design, or smart wearable features without all the distractions, I’d strongly recommend taking a look at Fossil.