I’ll admit it here: I may work at Android Police, but I think Android Wear is terrible.
I’m not the type to poke away at a wrist-mounted touchscreen, and the last thing I want is yet another device to charge. So, I’ve been interested in hybrid smartwatches like the Skagen Connected line for some time. Although I went into this with plenty of optimism, I found the experience to be a bit lacking. The Signatur is an attractive timepiece, but a poor smartwatch.
My first foray into wearables was via the original LG G Watch, and it was a mess. I moved over to the Pebble line of devices and much preferred that experience, especially with the Time series. Later I tried the Urbane, but Android Wear just wasn’t for me. I don’t want a touchscreen, or a power-hungry display, or a ton of apps I’ll never use. I prefer something that is simple and attractive, but durable. Something with basic health features that shows me notification content, but that I don’t have to charge frequently. Basically, I like smartwatches when they’re slightly dumb.
On paper, the Skagen Connected Hybrid watches like this Signatur seemed perfect for me, but I ultimately came away a bit disappointed. While I loved the design, materials, and simplicity of the Signatur, in practical use it fell a bit short. Quickly checking notifications is pretty much the reason smartwatches exist, and the limited notification support significantly detracted from what I would otherwise have considered a pleasant experience.
Separate from my distaste for the Android Wear software, I also can’t stand the hardware. Most of the current crop of smartwatches are ridiculously thick and look terrible, though there are a few that aren’t too bad. As someone that likes the look of a nice regular watch, the Signatur was right up my alley.
When it comes to watches, I obviously have a ‘type.’
The model I reviewed had a rose gold plated case, under which I assume is steel, given the other styles available and the materials Skagen is known to use. The face was an almost-metallic white that I grew to like. It reflected light very well outdoors, making it easy to see the position of the blue and white hands.
On the right side of the case, you have three equally-sized buttons, and those are the sole means of interacting with the device. Each is configurable to a different action via the companion app.
There are two dials on the face, a primary that handles time, and a sub-dial which handles notifications and goal progress. Hours on the primary dial are indicated with raised phosphorescent dots, minutes are marked by smaller black dots further in. The outermost edge of the face is printed with the days of the month (1-31), which the primary hands point to if the date function is used. (Almost) every watch needs branding, and the Skagen Hybrid logo is nicely raised and set at the 3 o’clock position.
The sub-dial at the 9 o’clock position has a progress monitor from 12 o’clock to 9 o’clock position going clockwise and raised indicators in four different colors continuing from 9 to 12. By default, it tracks progress towards a daily step goal, and if there’s a way to change that, I couldn’t find it. The four colored indicators, combined with a strong vibration, handle all notifications. More on that later.
Around the crystal is a ring with a brushed texture, and beneath that, the case itself has a mirror finish. The buckle is plated in the same rose gold color with a brushed finish. The case of this watch is a bit big, at 42mm. It’s also 12.5mm thick, which is pretty chunky. Large cases are in style right now, though, and there are even non-smartwatches with similarly exaggerated dimensions. I prefer a smaller and slimmer case, myself, but that’s a matter of taste.
The strap is marked as “genuine leather,” which can sometimes be marketing-speak for leather shavings and a binder with a textured finish, or a suede split with a PU top-coat textured to mimic leather grain. But, in this case, the outermost layer of leather seems to be real top-grain and of good quality. The edge painting on the sides looks good and smooth, so I wouldn’t expect it to wrinkle or peel away anytime soon.
At just a hair under 10″ in total combined length, the strap it comes with is tremendously long. If your wrist diameter is under 9″ I’d expect it to fit. Unfortunately, that means if you have a smaller wrist you can expect some extra length of strap flopping about. Keepers generally have a habit of coming loose so you might want to consider replacing the strap itself if your wrist is small enough. Thankfully, Skagen’s straps have a quick-release system for the spring bar. So the strap it comes with, though securely attached, can be removed with a minimum of fuss.
My only disappointment when it came to the physical design of the watch is that it’s tough to read at night and some degree of illumination (say, the option to assign a button to luminescence) would have been nice. The dots at each hour are phosphorescent, but they dim quickly at night.
This watch doesn’t quite have a display in the sense that most of the smartwatches that we review possess. There’s no screen, and your only indicators apart from a strong vibration are the positions of the hands on the face.
There are a couple of cool little animations the larger hands perform when doing certain actions, like syncing the watch. But for the most part, the primary face just tells the time. Unlike most quartz or mechanical movements, the minute hand only moves once per minute, which is kind of cool. When you catch it out of the corner of your eye, it’s almost uncanny and very futuristic.
Most of the “smart” features you can expect from this watch come via the sub-dial set in at the 9 o’clock position. On that sub dial, from 9 to 12 o’clock you have 4 raised colored indicators and a 0-100 progression from 12 o’clock clockwise to 9.
Skagen’s Hybrid smartwatches sync to your phone over Bluetooth (like almost every wearable), and setup and configuration are handled via the Skagen Connected app.
The initial setup is straightforward, and the Skagen Connected app walks you through everything. Just install the app, make an account (or connect it to your Facebook/Google account), choose the type of device you have, make sure your watch is turned on (hold down any button), set it to pair (again by holding any button). Once it’s connected and updated you get the option to calibrate and fine-tune the direction of the hands. I wasn’t able to configure mine to be perfectly precise, which was a bit annoying, but you can get close.
After that comes personalizing. You set your daily goals for sleep and steps as well as your preferred units for tracking. You can also have it sync the collected data with other applications like Google Fit, Up By Jawbone, or Under Armour Record.
The watch pulls time from your phone, so if you hop between timezones, it’ll automatically change. There’s also a dual timezone function that, as you’d expect, allows the watch to alternate between two at the push of a button, which can come in handy for those traveling for business or frequently corresponding with people in another timezone.
Skagen’s Hybrid watches also have fitness and health tracking features, accessible via the bottom navigation bar in the app. Though there is no heart-rate monitor, you do get a step counter and a sleep monitor. Again, that information can be synced to third-party services like Google Fit. You can also set a custom goal, which you manage and increment yourself via a button.
It does try to pull in some extra information, like the duration for different qualities of sleep and distance/calorie counts. But, the accuracy of that supplemental information varied.
The left-most navigation icon allows you to customize the three button functions to perform one of 10 actions:
- Show the most recently received notification
- Set the primary hands to show the date
- Set or view the time for an alarm
- Log progress in a custom goal
- Ring the phone it is connected to
- Switch between selected time zones
- Take a photo with the camera of the phone while the camera app is open
- Increase volume, decrease volume, and play/pause music.
Lastly, there is a menu accessed via the button in the top left which gives you a list of connected devices, and settings for the app, as well as notification settings.
When it comes to a smartwatch, proper notification support is really one of the most important features. At least, in my opinion. Without notifications, a smartwatch is just an activity-tracker.
As you may expect, since it doesn’t have a screen, the notifications on the Signatur are exceedingly limited. There are two modes for notifications, by contact and by app. You can set up to six contacts to trigger notifications on the device and assign each to one of four positions/colors on the smaller dial. But for those contacts, notifications are only supported via one of three means: email, calls, or SMS. That’s it.
It’s probably not a stretch to assume that a lot of us use a lot of other methods of communication. For some, those three options don’t even cover a reasonable fraction of our day-to-day use.
Personally, most of my friends eschew email and calls for personal communication, and SMS is infrequently used. That means most of the time when I get a message in an app like Hangouts, Allo, or Telegram, it doesn’t trigger a notification. That is unless I take advantage of the other notification mode, in which you assign the notifications from a particular app to a position on the sub-dial. Then you have no idea who is contacting you, but at least you know the method.
This isn’t really a good way of handling notifications in my opinion. But, without a screen to just pass notification content to the user, options are limited. Whether or not there’s a better way of having notifications from multiple apps parsed down on a per-contact basis, this implementation is of negligible use unless your primary means of communication are calls, SMS, or emails.
One of the advantages of simpler wearable devices I always liked was that they didn’t need to be charged as often. The Pebble devices could go up to a week or two without having to be topped-up. Now that OEMs are forcing us to use headphones that need charging, too, the last thing I want is yet another cable to bring on trips, and yet another device to plug in at night.
The Skagen Signatur doesn’t need to be charged, which is a huge plus. But, it burns through its battery very fast. In the two weeks I used it, it was constantly connected over Bluetooth to my OnePlus 3, tracking my sleep, step counts, and keeping a tally of my posted articles as a goal. The watch didn’t see many notifications in that time (since channels for notifications are limited). Even so, for the last few days, I’ve had a low-battery notification.
I can’t tell how much time is left based on that notification, but to see it run low in two weeks of regular use is a bit disappointing. I would have expected a wearable like this to last at least a month or two on a battery, and it’s advertised to last 4-6 months.
Thankfully, the battery is quite easy to replace. There’s a large slot on the back which almost any coin can fit into, and with a quick twist it pops off. From there you can pop out the old CR2430 lithium coin-cell and toss in a new one. Those batteries only run a few bucks (less if bought in bulk somewhere like Digikey), and they’re available at most drugstores.
I wanted to like the Skagen Signatur, but I came away disappointed. For the price, it isn’t bad if you value form over function. But, the lack of options for notifications is disappointing. In practice, it was only really good at keeping track of steps, sleep, and time. Those are all things that any fitness-oriented wearable can do while also having even more features like a screen and heart-rate monitoring, all for less money.
If your primary concern is appearance and you really want something that looks snazzy, for $ 175-200 you can get a decent entry-level mechanical watch or a higher-end quartz, and you won’t have to deal with constantly swapping batteries.
I do think there is a market for Hybrid watches like the new Skagen Hybrid Signatur line, though. If you’re after basic health features and an attractive watch together in one package, this suits that need entirely, at what I’d consider a reasonable price. But, while notification support remains this limited, I think the market for this device is going to be pretty small. Most of us interested in wearables tend to be a bit younger, and we also generally use more third-party app services to communicate, which offer a poor experience here.
That isn’t to say that I don’t think this is a good watch, it is. It looks great, it’s built well with quality materials, and it’s not expensive at just $ 175-195. Some of Skagen’s older Hybrid watches can be had for even less, for as little as $ 136. I just think its usefulness as a smartwatch is very limited, and you’ll want to make sure that things like the notification support fit with your expected use case and workflow before you consider picking one up.