It's time we stopped pretending Garmins, Apple Watches and Fitbits will ever look classy

Garmin MARQ Captain: American Magic Edition
(Image credit: Garmin)

I love smartwatches. I love them for the information they can give me about my health and fitness journey, which helps me refine my training, recovery, and my day-to-day life. At the time of writing, the Apple Watch Ultra is strapped to my wrist, and it’s already up there with some of the best running watches I’ve ever tried. I love its robust titanium case, butter-smooth screen, and welcoming UX. 

I’ve lost count of the number of watches and best fitness trackers I’ve tested over the years. Fitbit, Garmin, Apple Watch, Huawei, Polar, Amazfit, Withings… I’ve worn entries from all these brands and more. But when I got married, I chose a wind-up rotary watch to wear with my suit, a simple affair with a yellow gold-plated case, a midnight-blue face, and a brown leather strap. No Apple Watch, no Garmin, no Fitbit, no metrics. 

Part of it was me wanting to enjoy the day without distractions, but it’s not an isolated incident: on formal occasions, I find myself choosing an analog watch to wear rather than any of my smartwatches. I find smartwatches incredibly useful day-to-day, but I’m not so fully integrated into cyborg life that I can’t take it off for a few hours. I’d rather enjoy my time without having Whatsapp messages fed through to my wrist, decibel alerts in a busy restaurant, or whatever push notification I’ve inevitably forgotten to disable for the evening.

The other part of it is that, for all the brilliant tech hidden inside modern-day smartwatches, none of them look very cool. Not even the latest Apple Watch, with its smooth pebble squircle and metallic finishes, can match the classic analog rotary watch for style points, a masterpiece of clockwork engineering in miniaturized form, supple leather held on with a clasp of precious metals. 

Fitbit Sense 2 on a person's wrist as they write in a notebook

(Image credit: Fitbit)

Instead, you’ve got a smaller smartphone on your wrist, all elegance lost in yet another screen and a couple of buttons. Looking at it to tell the time is like scrolling through Instagram when you could be reading a book: sure, it’s a wonderfully powerful miniature computer (and much more advanced than a book), but sometimes less is more. 

It’s the same with a smartwatch and its analog alternative. You’ll never see James Bond, for example, sporting a Polar or Garmin instead of his usual Omega, despite the fact he might want to know his VO2 max after chasing a bad guy through the streets of Vienna. Bond needs to seamlessly blend in with high society, and a Polar Pacer Pro or Fitbit Sense isn't going to help him do that. 

In recent years, the novelty of the smartwatch has become obsolete due to being so widespread, so brands and third-party manufacturers are doing their best to make smartwatches stylish. Garmin recently launched the second iteration of its premium Marq range, five fitness watches that sit firmly in the luxury space. Fitbit Luxe, released last year, arrived with a slate of jewelry-inspired bands which incorporated the tracker into bangles and bracelets for added style points. Apple Watch models get bands such as this titanium black offering from Sandmarc as soon as they’re released.

Are they successful? Well, yes and no. Given the choice, I’d definitely rather wear a Garmin Marq Aviator with a three-piece suit than a chunky Forerunner 955, even though they offer similar metrics. However, that's because the Marq watches look, at first glance, almost identical to an analog watch. The smartwatch has no real style identity of its own, and looks its best when it's hidden in plain sight.  

Smartwatches are excellent day-to-day communication and fitness tools, and I love the ability to structure my training and interpret the signals my body is sending out. I would struggle to go without one for even a couple of weeks now, and I know I’m not alone: according to Qualtrics, up to 45% of Americans polled regularly use a smartwatch. But when the chips are down and style’s all that counts, I’m ditching the tech and going old-school for a few hours. After all, even digital watches are becoming cool again.

Matt Evans
Fitness, Wellness, and Wearables Editor

Matt is TechRadar's expert on all things fitness, wellness and wearable tech. A former staffer at Men's Health, he holds a Master's Degree in journalism from Cardiff and has written for brands like Runner's World, Women's Health, Men's Fitness, LiveScience and Fit&Well on everything fitness tech, exercise, nutrition and mental wellbeing.

Matt's a keen runner, ex-kickboxer, not averse to the odd yoga flow, and insists everyone should stretch every morning. When he’s not training or writing about health and fitness, he can be found reading doorstop-thick fantasy books with lots of fictional maps in them.