Best hybrid smartwatches 2018: Striking a balance between smarts and style

Hybrids blend the on-wrist notifications and fitness tracking of a smartwatch, but hide their tech behind traditional design

TODO alt text

Smartwatches have come on leaps and bounds since they landed back in 2014 with Google’s Android Wear (now Wear OS). But even after four years of refinement, leading to slimmer, more attractive designs, longer battery life, uprated power and new features, to some consumers they still feel like strapping a miniature computer to your wrist.

Take the new Apple Watch Series 4 and Samsung Galaxy Watch for example. They are the best smartwatches the world has ever seen, but they still have a battery life measured in days (or even hours), the Apple Watch doesn’t show the time unless you interact with it, and both force you to adopt the slightly awkward pose of flicking at a one-inch touchscreen on your wrist to read an email, or book an Uber.

Step forward the hybrid. As the name suggests, these watching are an amalgamation of smartwatches (generally speaking, those with touchscreens) and regular timepieces, with their physical hands and limited functionality.

Hybrid watches usually offer a traditional-looking face, but with an extra dial or two displaying information like steps taken, hours slept, battery life, and notifications from your smartphone, which connects via Bluetooth. 

Your walking – plus running, cycling and sometimes even swimming – is tracked and logged by an onboard accelerometer, and some hybrids include a vibration motor so alert you to something on your phone, or wake you up with a silent alarm.

A major bonus of hybrid smartwatches is their battery life, which is measured in weeks, months or even years. 

Some hybrids accept regular watch batteries, while others require recharging every few weeks – a world away from the daily top-ups required by an Apple Watch.

Finally, hybrid watches are often cheaper than their flashier cousins. Some start at under £200 – half what Apple and Samsung charge.

How to buy a hybrid smartwatch

Unlike smartwatches, which often put their technology ahead of their aesthetics, hybrids look more like regular watches. This means there is a huge range of styles and sizes to choose from. You can even opt for a well-known Swiss brand like Mondaine and its Helvetica 1 hybrid, or the £3,000 Hybrid Manufacturer by Frederique Constant.

At the other end of the price range we have Withings (which recently bought itself back from Nokia), producer of the £170 Steel HR

Most hybrid watches accept regular straps, so can easily be given a makeover to match your favourite outfits.

Some hybrid have heart rate monitors but some don’t, so if you want your watch to double as a personal trainer then you’ll need to bear this in mind. Similarly, some offer more fitness tracking features than others, some are water resistant to greater depths, and most sold by companies belonging to the Fossil Group have a very similar companion smartphone app. As do several Swiss hybrids and their shared MMT app.

The 10 best hybrid smartwatches

1. Withings Steel HR Sport

After two years at Nokia, Withings is back to doing its own thing

Reasons to buy
+Well priced+Fully-formed fitness tracker+Part of a health tech ecosystem
Reasons to avoid
-Uses your phone’s GPS - does not have its own

Safe to say, Withings has an interesting couple of years. The French health tech company was bought by Nokia and turned into the Finnish firm’s Nokia Health division in 2016. But, almost exactly two years later, Withings founder Eric Carreel bought his company back from Nokia, gave the entire product range its original name back, and launched the new Steel HR Sport.

An updated version of the (still on sale) Steel HR, the new Sport model is the most fitness focused wearable Withings currently sells.

The Withings Steel HR Sport features a heart rate monitor, is water resistant to 50 metres, and has a (rechargeable) battery life of up to 25 days. It also provides an estimate of your VO2 Max, the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen you can utilise during exercise, and can track up to 30 different forms of exercise, as well as your sleep.

Connected GPS (where the watch uses your phone’s GPS signal to plot its location) is used to track your runs and bike rides, and the Withings smartphone app can be used to combine data from the watch with data captured by other Withings devices, like smart scales and a sleep tracker.

Phone notifications, plus health data like your heart beat, is shown on the circular digital display, while the second dial keeps track of your daily step count.

2. Frederique Constant Hybrid Manufacturer

One for the Swiss watch aficionados

Reasons to buy
+Luxury watch made in Switzerland +Beautiful classic design+One for the watch geeks
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive for a hybrid-Smartphone app could be better-No heart rate monitor or GPS

The Hybrid Manufacturer by Frederique Constant is what happens when the traditional Swiss watch industry sits up and pays attention to Silicon Valley. 

This is a traditional watch with the all-important Swiss-made automatic movement with seven-day power reserve, but with an accelerometer, processor and Bluetooth connection through into the bargain.

The two sides of the watch - Swiss and smart - work independently of each other, so the watch still keeps time even when its (USB-charged) battery runs out. There is step- and sleep-tracking, but also a section in the app for checking up on the accuracy and performance of the watch’s mechanical side, which is unique among the hybrids featured here.

3. Skagen Hagen

Minimalist intelligence

Reasons to buy
+Stylish stainless steel case+Second dial for fitness tracking and notifications+Up to 12 months of battery life
Reasons to avoid
-No heart rate monitor-Notification support is limited

Purchased by Fossil in 2012 (yes, another one), Skagen is a Danish watch company which produces a wide range of hybrid timepieces. This model, the Hagen, features the familiar hybrid design of a second dial for step progress and notifications, plus three buttons for control your phone.

The Skagen Hagen uses a regular watch battery, has a 42mm stainless steel case which is 12mm thick, and uses regular 20mm straps which are easy to swop out when you fancy a change of style. 

The watch is waterproof to 3 ATM and has a battery life of up to one year - although, as with all hybrids, this will vary depending on how much you use it and how many notifications you route through the watch from your phone.

4. Kronaby Sekel

Like a smartwatch in disguise

Reasons to buy
+Discrete smartness+IFTTT integration+Two-year battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Fairly expensive for a hybrid-Limited smart features-No heart rate monitor

Many hybrids look similar to regular watches, but we thing this Kronaby Steel 41mm is one which really keeps its smarts under wraps, thanks to its traditional face, strap, and buttons which to the untrained eye look like mere chronograph controls.

But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find the technology. There is a battery which lasts up to two years, a vibration motor for alerting you to notifications on your phone and waking you up silently each morning, and of course a daily step count.

Additional features include a stopwatch and timer, a button which can be configured to control your phone’s camera, and even IFTTT (If This, Then That), so the watch’s location can be set to trigger smart home devices into life. For example, you could have your smart lights and coffee machine automatically switch on when you arrive home wearing this watch.

5. Mondaine Helvetica 1

As attractive as the font it’s named after

Reasons to buy
+Clean and crisp design+Swiss made+Activity and sleep tracking
Reasons to avoid
-Smartphone app is fairly basic-No heart rate monitor

Mondaine is most famous for producing watches which resemble its classic Swiss railways clocks, but the Helvetica range is different - and it includes this, the company’s first hybrid smartwatch. The Helvetica 1 has a 44mm stainless steel case, with 20mm leather strap and a quartz movement.

Compatible with iOS and Android, the watch’s smart features include activity and sleep tracking, with data being sent to the companion smartphone app. There is also a second dial on the watch face to show how much of your daily step goal you have completed.

The Mondaine uses the same MMT smartphone app as hybrid watches made by Alpina and Frederique Constant, so there is detailed sleep data, an estimate of calories burned, and advice from the virtual coach. It isn’t a match for the fully-fledged smartwatch apps of Apple, Samsung and Google, but presents a nice set of extra features for buyers of traditional Swiss watches who want to dip their toes into the smartwatch waters.

6. Garmin Vivomove HR Premium

The best of both worlds

Reasons to buy
+Good range of size and colour options+Constant heart monitoring+Touchscreen display subtly hidden beneath a traditional face
Reasons to avoid
-Battery life just five days with everything switched on

The Garmin Vivomove HR is one of the most comprehensive hybrid watches you can buy today, with a wide range of fitness- and health-tracking features, a subtle digital display, and several different colours to pick from.

This hybrid has key features like constant heart rate monitoring, the ability to estimate your VO2 Max and fitness age, and wellness monitoring tools which kick in and suggest you take a moment to breathe when showing signs of stress.

What makes the Vivomove HR stand out from the crowd is how it features a touchscreen display beneath its traditional hour and minute hands, giving you the best of both worlds. 

7. Misfit Command

More of a good fit than a missfit, if we’re honest

Reasons to buy
+Range of colour options+One-year battery life+Step, sleep and fitness tracking
Reasons to avoid
-No heart rate monitor-No GPS

A stylish watch available in a range of different colours, the Misfit Command may have a confusing dial at first, but with use it all makes perfect sense. The second dial shows how much of your daily step target you have completed, while buttons can be configured to control a range of functions on your smartphone - like playing/pausing music playback, and take a photo.

As Misfit is owned by the Fossil Group, many of this watch’s functions are similar to those from other members of the group. This includes the smartphone app, and how the watch can be configured to alert you to certain types of notifications by pointing to icons on the face. Throw in water resistance to 50 metres and a year’s battery life, and the Misfit is a very capable - and good-looking - hybrid smartwatch.

8. Fossil Q Commuter

For breadth of choice, Fossil’s Q range is hard to beat

Reasons to buy
+Three buttons for controlling phone functions+Traditional good looks+One year battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Easy to drown in notifications-No heart rate monitor

Another member of the Fossil Group (obviously), the Q Commuter is one of many hybrid which together form the company’s Q range. They all work in very similar ways - and use the same app - so the only real choice to make is which design you prefer.

The 42mm Q Commuter takes a regular watch battery, which only needs replacing once a year, and much like the Misfit above there’s a second dial for tracking your daily step count and alerting you to a range of notifications. It’s also worth noting that Fossil Group hybrid watches work with iPhones and Android handsets.

Regarding this specific model of Q Commuter, we love the blue face and so-called luggage leather strap.

9. Alpina Seastrong Horological Smartwatch

A diving watch, only smarter

Reasons to buy
+Swiss movement+Classic diving watch design+Activity and sleep tracking
Reasons to avoid
-No heart rate monitor or GPS

The Seastrong Horological is another example of a Swiss watchmaker, in this case Alpina, rolling up its sleeves and trying its hand at something with added smarts. On the outside you have a traditional-looking watch with a 44mm fibreglass and stainless steel case, sapphire crystal, and rotating diver’s bezel.

But on the inside you’ll find Bluetooth and accelerometer for sharing activity-tracking data to the a smartphone app. There’s also sleep monitoring, notifications to alerts on your phone, dynamic alarms, and a ‘dynamic coach’ which provides health tips via the app.

As you may have guessed from its name, the Seastrong is water resistant to 100 meters, and the black rubber strap won’t be phased by swimming or diving. This watch also has an impressive four-year battery life.

10. Breitling Exospace B55 Connected

One for the adventurous...and well-heeled

Reasons to buy
+Quality Swiss brand+Unique set for features for your inner adventurer
Reasons to avoid
-Quite large-Limited smart functions

Yes, we know we said earlier that hybrid watches are generally cheaper than their smarter counterparts, but the hybrid sector is always where traditional watchmakers like to get involved. Hence this £5,000 hybrid from Breitling, which is made from titanium and carbon, measures a chunky 46mm across ans 15mm thick, and generally looks like something Sir Ben Ainslie would use on a yachting adventure.

There’s an electronic tachymeter, functions for recording flight and regatta times (it’s aimed at pilots and skippers, naturally), two LCD screens beneath the hour and minute hands, and Bluetooth for connecting to the companion smartphone app.

This watch - which, by the way, is designed to not interfere with night vision goggles - isn’t particularly smart in the Silicon Valley sense of the word, but instead uses its app for storing flight times and chronograph records, and setting how you’d like the watch to notify you of calls, texts and other phone alerts. 

Buy the Breitling Exospace B55 Connected from Beaverbrooks for £5,040