Everyone knows what a watch is and nowadays most of us can identify a smartwatch too. But what’s a hybrid smartwatch and why are so many brands making them?
Put simply, a hybrid smartwatch blends a traditional, mechanical watch design with modern smartwatch technology that can track fitness, send notifications, monitor your heart rate and much more.
That’s why it’s called a hybrid, because it sits somewhere between a regular watch and a smartwatch. Although, some are more smart than others.
For example, the Garmin Vivomove HR is a hybrid smartwatch with a discreet display, activity tracking sensors and a heart rate monitor packed into a minimal design.
In contrast, the Fossil Q Accomplice looks much more like a regular, high-end watch. Although it has some fitness tracking, it’s basic and much more aimed at those who want a vibrating notification sent to their wrist rather than much else.
As you can tell, just because a device is a hybrid smartwatch, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily packed with tech. Some devices have just one or two smartwatch features, whereas others might resemble smartwatches more than their hybrid equivalents.
One of the biggest differences between a hybrid smartwatch and a regular smartwatch is in the design. Generally, a hybrid smartwatch doesn’t have a bright touchscreen and looks much more like a regular watch than all-out smartwatches like the Apple Watch 3 or the Fitbit Ionic.
The other big difference is battery life. Without a whole host of smart features and a screen that’s throwing out 1,000 nits of brightness whenever it's on, hybrid watches tend to last much longer than their smarter counterparts before they need charging - and some don’t even need charging at all.
Some people are bound to miss the bright screen, super modern design and added smarts of a smartwatch. But for many others, the longer battery life, traditional watch face and, more often than not, way more stylish design is very appealing.
Why are hybrid smartwatches good?
One of the biggest differences between a smartwatch and a hybrid smartwatch is in their design. Because most resemble traditional watches, they tend to be more stylish and less obviously a piece of tech.
This is really appealing to some, especially those who want to try out some smart features but love a traditional watch design and buying their wrist candy from traditional watch manufacturers.
For example, Fossil, a brand that’s been creating traditional watches for decades, has been creating a number of smartwatches and hybrids over the past few years. Many people are likely to feel more at home with a Fossil-branded hybrid watch and trust its accuracy and design more than a tech company that’s new to them.
The design is appealing to those who like their watches to strictly look like watches, whether that’s because they’re used to that design or feel they better compliment their outfits or lifestyle.
There are also plenty of other benefits to a design that resembles a regular watch. For example, most hybrid smartwatches are water resistant, the standard size means you can pick and choose from a huge range of straps and often the designs are more appealing to those with smaller wrists.
Next up, the biggest pro of a hybrid smartwatch over a smartwatch is the battery life. Because hybrid smartwatches are packing less tech and don’t have a bright touchscreen, their battery life is way more impressive.
For example, the hybrid Misfit Command and Fossil Q Commuter have batteries that should last a year. Whereas another hybrid with HR tracking, like the Garmin Vivomove HR has a battery that will last 4 days with all its smart features on and around 2 weeks with them off.
There’s a big difference between how smart the hybrid smartwatches are, and therefore how long their battery is likely to last. But regardless, they still fare better than more standard smartwatches.
For example, in our review the Apple Watch 3 had a battery that lasted 2 days without LTE and some fitness tracking, just over 24 hours with LTE and some fitness tracking. The Fitbit Ionic smartwatch lasted about 4 days.
That means hybrid smartwatches, on the whole, win in the battery stakes. But it really does depend on how much you’re using your device.
For example, using all of the Garmin Vivomove HR’s features and taking it for long runs will see you use a similar amount of battery life to the Fitbit Ionic if you don’t take it for long runs. There’s a difference, but it’s not always big, depending on which watch you go for.
Another benefit is that the notifications you receive to a hybrid smartwatch are often subtle. The method differs depending on which watch you go for. For example, some Fossil hybrid smartwatches notify you by moving the hands round to a specific number and other hybrid smartwatches may have another small LCD screen specifically for alerts.
This is appealing to those who are happy to be alerted of a notification, but might find a WhatsApp message displayed on their wrist on a smartwatch too intrusive. Essentially, it's for those who want to be alerted, not bombarded.
Finally, because hybrid smartwatches aren’t packing as much advanced tech as standard smartwatches, they can be cheaper. Although given some are focused on high-end design, that’s not always the case.
What are the negatives of hybrid smartwatches?
Put simply, they’re not smartwatches. If you’ve been toying with the idea of investing in a smartwatch because it’s jam-packed full of features and apps, a hybrid smartwatch may fall short for what you need.
This is particularly the case if you’ve been after a bright screen, you’re serious about fitness and want best-in-class tracking or you’d like to actually read notifications from your wrist rather than just being alerted with a vibration.
Of course design plays a big part too. Many hybrid smartwatch fans boast about how they’re better designed and resemble traditional, mechanical smartwatches. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll appeal to everyone.
The Apple Watch 3’s super modern, minimal design has already had mainstream appeal. And for those who don’t like the fact it’s rectangular can opt for a whole host of other circular smartwatches, such as the Ticwatch E and the Misfit Vapor.
It really all comes down to a matter of taste and what matters to you.
Which hybrid smartwatches do we recommend?
There are plenty of hybrid smartwatches on the market at the moment. Some come courtesy of wearable tech brands that are already producing smartwatches, like Misfit or Garmin. Others come from traditional watch brands that are dipping their toes in the smartwatch waters and want to start with a hybrid before they go all in. So where do you begin?
Fossil is a watch manufacturer that has produced a great deal of hybrid smartwatches both under its own name with the Fossil Q Accomplice or Fossil Q Commuter. These are both solid hybrid options if you’re a fan of the Fossil aesthetic and want to try a few smart features, but not go all in just yet.
It’s also worth mentioning Fossil has teamed up with a number of fashion brands to produce smartwatches and hybrid smartwatches, including the likes of Kate Spade, Emporio Armani and Skagen. Although these hybrid devices might be a good option for the super style conscious, we’d recommend trying the Q Accomplice, Q Commuter or suggestions below instead. It is possible for a watch to be more style than substance after all.
There are some smartwatches with limited features that still look really good. Misfit has created a number of really simple, minimal but fully capable hybrids, including the simple Misfit Phase with a modern and minimal design, the Command, which looks a little more high-end, as well as the more recently-released stylish and super slim Misfit Path.
Remember Withings and its really wearable Activite Pop line? Well, since Nokia bought up the brand it’s incorporated its designs under its wing. The result is a number of hybrids, including the Nokia Steel and the Nokia Steel HR, the only real difference being the latter has a heart rate monitor built-in. They may be simple specs-wise, but they have auto-activity tracking and they’re probably the best-looking of the bunch.
But if you’re after a hybrid that does fitness well and you’re sure you don’t want to go for a smartwatch or fitness-focused wearable, then take a look at Garmin’s hybrid offering. First up, there’s the Garmin Vivomove, which is a simple hybrid with excellent battery life, a great design but limited features.
As you’d expect, the Garmin Vivomove HR has built-in heart rate monitoring, making it great for gym goers and its design is super simple and maybe our favorite of the whole lot if you like your watch to be on the sporty side.
As you can see from the devices above, the choice of hybrid smartwatches is probably greater than what you have to choose from if you’re after a touchscreen smartwatch.
That’s likely because there are so many degrees of hybrids, from a few simple vibrations when you get a message through to an all-singing, all-dancing hybrid that could compete with some smartwatches in the smart stakes - just not in the screen department.