Updated in 2021 to reflect the current status of products. The TLDR is that Timex makes the best band if you just want to be able to use a traditional watch for payments. See this review of Timex Pay.
I love traditional watches. I’m not a collector and don’t have a luxury watch collection, but I can happily browse the window of a watch store or a counter display for hours without a complaint. It doesn’t even need to be a luxury watch. It doesn’t matter if it’s automatic or battery-powered. If it’s a traditional watch, I am happy.
That said, I can’t help be a little jealous of smartwatches. The ability to get call notifications features, track your heart rate, or control your music discretely from your watch is something I would like in a traditional watch.
I’m honestly surprised the Swiss watch industry hasn’t got together to develop a common interoperable hybrid watch standard. I’m not talking about taking on WatchOS or Android, this is not about adding screens to traditional watches. It’s more about making a tiered set of features that any manufacturer could put on on the back of the watch or band while preserving the elegance, design, and beauty of a traditional watch.
But I digress…
The purpose of this blog post is to track and review, where I have personal experience, products that attempt to fill the void left by the Swiss watch industry. I will also list products that have been discontinued just to ensure that traditional watch enthusiasts don’t get stung by buying a no-longer supported product that might appear on eBay or Amazon.
Types of Traditional Watch to Smart Watch Products
There are 3 approaches companies have used to make a traditional watch smart, these are:
- Smart Bands e.g. Timex Pay, uBirds.
- Back Plate / Disc Attachments e.g. Trivoly, Chronos (discontinued)
- Smart Buckles and Smart Clasp e.g. Sony Wena, Gooseberry Smartbuckle (discontinued)
Promising Options to convert your Traditional Watch to a Smart Watch
Smart Bands for Traditional Watches
Smart Band – Timex Pay
Timex Pay seems very promising. It’s from a reputable watch brand (Timex) and Timex Pay is available to buy for around US$50. Timex Pay works on non-Timex watches but is limited to only Chase Visa cards. The underlying technology is made by a company called Tappy Tech. Going through the TappyTech website they seem to be at the forefront of Smart Bands and even have a band with biometrics. Just keep in Timex Pay is for payments only, it doesn’t do notifications, alerts, etc. If you’re interested in a review of Timex Pay, see this link.
Status: Available (as of 2021).
Smart Band – strapSWAP
This strapSWAP solution comes from a German-based company and is designed for both traditional watches and oddly enough the Apple Watch. Their design places a screen within a leather band. The site hasn’t been updated for a few years, neither has the social media presence. It really is somewhat a mix of the uBird and Wena bands (read on).
Status: possibly discontinued, no updates since 2018.
Smart Band – uBird Watch Band
uBirds promises a leather smart band with a notification light. They had a Kickstarter campaign and continue to post updates as recent as August 2020. The Kickstarter comments are a mix of complaints about a lengthy campaign, not receiving items, etc. which is somewhat typical of every Kickstarter campaign I have read (one of the reasons I don’t back a Kickstarter). It’s not clear whether you can order the uBird smart band if you didn’t participate in the Kickstarter and the uBirds website is offline as too are their Facebook and twitter accounts. If it wasn’t for their recent update I would call the uBirds Smart Band speculative at best, but it’s a nice concept.
Smart Backplates for Traditional Watches
Disc Attachments – Trivoly
The current most promising option is from Trivoly. It is a disc you attach to the back of your traditional watch. They are selling pre-orders of their Trivoly Disc for US$149 (US$29 due on pre-order) with a promise of September 2020 delivery and as of 2021, no evidence they shipped. Trivoly is on the 3rd generation of their disc and the apps are still in the iOS and Android app store. Fair warning though, the apps don’t look to be updated recently and the Android one has a review that complains that the whole thing is a scam. I’ll update this post in September (provided I remember!) on whether or not Trivoly does come to market. If you want to track it yourself, Trivoly does have a newsletter you can subscribe to, but I haven’t received an email from them ever.
Status: uncertain, possibly discontinued.
Smart Buckles for Traditional Watches
Smart Buckle / Smart Clasp – Sony Wena
This is the only other option coming from a mainstream manufacturer (outside of Times). If you’re in the UK, you can actually buy this direct from Sony or from Amazon UK. It retails from Sony for £249.00, which is actually cheaper than Amazon. Being more commercially available, there are reviews, this one on wareable is worth a read. It doesn’t come across as being great, despite all of the potential and promise. It’s also more than twice the price of the (albeit unreleased) Trivoly.
Status: available but expensive
Hybrid Smartwatch Options that look Traditional
I wasn’t going to include them in this post because I’m primarily interested in what you can use with your existing traditional watch. In the closest-you-will-get to a traditional watch, there is the Longines Conquest VHP. It’s not technically a hybrid watch, but you can set the time using the flash from your phone. It’s cool and geeky enough that it fascinates me and I have looked at it many times in store. But there is no notification or other smartwatch-like feature. If you decided to get one, make sure you get the model with the little dot in the “1” on the “12” and not the standard Conquest VHP.
Tissot has its T-Touch collection which launched in September of 2020. It’s a traditional watch but with a small screen. The watches are only going to be available in Switzerland. Pricing is unknown. This model T-Touch, technically the T-Touch Solar Connect, is my personal favorite from a design perspective and the solar charging makes it seem super awesome. It retails for about US$1,100.
It could be an exciting year for hybrid watches. Swatch Group, who is the parent of Longines, Tissot, and half a dozen other brands apparently developed their own operating system for hybrid watches. Exciting times!
Fossil makes a few nice-looking hybrid watches which you can often pick up for under US$200 and I have seen Fossil hybrid watch models as low as US$99. I don’t own one, but the FB-01 series is my personal favorite from a design perspective. As it looks very traditional.
Skagen also makes some nice hybrids. If you didn’t know, Skagen is a subsidiary of Fossil, so they typically come with reliable support. I briefly owned a Skagen hybrid watch which I picked up for under US$50. I returned it after about 2-3 days because while the app worked well, at the time, I really wanted to use my traditional watches and I bought it in a moment of weakness because the price was too good to resist.
Traditional to Smart Watch Products that have been Discontinued (Avoid)
A word warning of practical advice. do not buy the Chronos Disc or the Gooseberry Smartbuckle – these products are discontinued and the apps are either no longer on the app store (Chronos) or have not been updated for a few years (Gooseberry). This doesn’t stop opportunists from putting new and unopened ones up for sale. So don’t get conned.
I personally owned the Chronos and it was more of a miss than a hit. My first one fell apart after a few weeks of light use and getting a warranty replacement was a headache. It lost Bluetooth connectivity often and added a little enough bulk to the watch to make it noticeable enough that people would comment. I liked the idea of the Chronos disc because I could have used it across different traditional watches.
As an aside, I love watches and this article about watches worn by famous world leaders is worth a read.