When it comes to buying a smartwatch, there are many questions to ask yourself. But the first should always be, do you want a fully-fledged smartwatch with a touch screen, like those from Apple and Samsung, or do you want a hybrid smartwatch with a more traditional look?
Take the new Apple Watch Series 6 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 watches 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 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 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 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 15 best hybrid smartwatches
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.
Another hybrid watch that hides its smartness, this timepiece by Fossil features activity and sleep tracking, plus app and call alerts, multiple time zones, and buttons to control your smartphone music playback. Yet it mostly looks like a regular watch, aside from the e-ink display on the dial.
As with other Fossil hybrid watches, the Activist works with iPhones and Androids, and instead of having a rechargeable battery, you'll have to replace the regular watch battery after six months.
The case measures 42mm across, and the leather strap is fitted to industry-standard 22mm lugs. Water resistance is rated at 5 ATM.
If you thought being able to take an electrocardiogram was limited to pricey and fully-fledged smartwatches from Apple and Samsung, then prepare to think again. The latest hybrid watch from Withings, the Move ECG, has the same function - but you could probably have worked that out from the name.
To make this possible, Withings has taken its entry-level Move hybrid smartwatch and added a metal bezel. Touching this with the thumb and index finger of one hand, while the metal caseback rests against the wrist of the other, creates a circuit.
Press the button, touch the bezel for 30 seconds, and the watch measures the electrical activity of your heart. This data is then sent to the Health Mate smartphone app for analysis, or for sending to your doctor is signs of atrial fibrillation are detected.
Available in black or white and with a range of silicon straps, the Withings Move ECG also tracks your walking, running, swimming and sleep, and vibrates to wake you up each morning.
Withings' latest hybrid watch is also its smartest to date, packing a huge amount of health and fitness tracking tech into a slender body. The ScanWatch is available in 38mm and 42mm case sizes, with black or white dials and 15 different strap options, ensuring it'll suit any outfit.
Beneath the attractive face, the Withings ScanWatch has a heart rate monitor, plus ECG functionality and a new system for measuring your blood oxygen saturation. The ScanWatch can also detect breathing disturbances, track sleep, and log your walking, running, cycling, swimming and more.
On top of all this, the small monochrome display at the 12 o'clock position can be used to display incoming calls and other notifications from your Bluetooth-connected smartphone, using the free Health Mate app (iOS and Android).
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.
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.
A second, smaller option from Swiss watchmaker Mondaine is this Helvetica Smartwatch 40mm. With its more compact case, this watch keep sits smartness almost completely hidden, thanks to there being no digital display and the second complication (daily activity percentage) only pointed to when you press the crown.
This Swiss-made watch comes with a leather strap attached to industry-standard 20mm lug bars, and is water resistant to 30 metres. The case is stainless steel and the front is protected by scratch-resistant sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective coating.
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.
While hybrid watches are usually at the more affordable end of the scale, there are exceptions like this timepiece by Frederique Constant, for example.
Its smarts work in a similar way to other hybrids, in that an accelerometer tracks your steps, movement and sleep, then the data is sent to a smartphone app over Bluetooth. But this particular hybrid comes from a bona fide luxury Swiss watchmaker, with the design and build quality you would expect.
The Horological Smartwatch is powered by an MMT-285 quartz movement, which sits inside a 42mm stainless steel case that is protected by a convex sapphire crystal and water resistant to 5 ATM. Battery life is a claimed two years.
The Vivomove smartwatch range by Garmin includes no fewer than 15 different variants. Case sizes include 39, 42 and 44mm.
Much of the range are fully-fledges smartwatches with colour touch screen displays, but four are hybrids, with traditional hands and a small touch screen display at 6 o’clock for showing extra info and notifications.
Known as the Vivomore 3S, this hybrid is available in four different styles, all with a fairly compact 39mm case, and industry-standard straps. The display only appears when you need it, showing your step count, heart rate, hydration level and sleep score. There’s also integrated GPS, a feature for tracking your stress levels, and a five-day battery life. For a hybrid, that’s a huge range of features.
The beauty of most hybrid watches is how they hide their technology, and nowhere is that more apparent than with the Holst, by Danish watchmaker Skagen.
This smart and simple timepiece has a subtle 0-100 scale between the 7 o’clock and 9 o’clock, indicating the percentage of your daily step target you have completed. Just press a button, and the watch points to what you’ve achieved so far.
The Holst, which has a 40mm case diameter and is 13mm thick, also tracks your exercise and sleep, sending data back to your smartphone over a Bluetooth connection. Calls, texts and other notifications are buzzed through to the wearable, which vibrates and points its hands to alert you and say what type of notification it is. The watch runs off a standard CR2032 coin-cell battery, which is claimed to last around six months.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.