Inside & Out: Frederique Constant Notify Horological Smartwatch
How I got this watch: During a trip to New York, I was shown a selection of Frederique Constant watches and I chose the Horological Smartwatch for review. I wore the watch for two and half weeks and used the Android version of the MMT 365 app. This is not a paid review.
The Frederique Constant Notify Horological Smartwatch brings its smarts to a new sleek design
In the last month, two new additions to the ever growing range of Swiss smartwatches have been produced, the TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 and the Montblanc Summit. Although both of these watches have digital displays that can mimic a traditional analog watch, the way the user interacts with them is like that of a modern touch screen smartphone. The Frederique Constant Horological Smartwatch opts for a more discreet interpretation of smart tech as the Horological Smartwatch is controlled entirely by the crown button and by connecting with a phone app.
Applied silver hour markers take the place of pixels on this smartwatch
The dial of the Horological Smartwatch is one of its greatest strengths as everything is well proportioned and is as well finished as if this was a mechanical watch. The silver outer railroad minute track is crisp and contrasts well against the inner black circles and applied, polished hour markers. The innermost circle of the watch has a repeating motif of the Frederique Constant shield logo that appears just when the light hits it right.
Between the hour markers and the innermost dial is a silver track, split into intervals of 20. When prompted, the watch uses this track and one of the hands to show you how much of your activity goal that you've accomplished throughout the day. A press of the button will send the hour hand to the relevant percentage for a few seconds and then it will spring back to the normal position. The alpha hands are well proportioned and contrast enough against the dial so the functions of time-keeping and notifying are achieved gracefully. Given the traditional design aesthetic of the watch, it is jarring at first to see the minute hand jerk forward every sixty seconds rather than slowly creep forward.
The watch wears well at 42mm. Those who like the classic design may wish that it was 2mm smaller (I'm one of those people) but all that 'smart stuff' has to fit in somewhere! The sloping lugs fit the case onto the wrist nicely and the slight convex crystal gives the watch a classic look that I appreciated. Underneath the traditional analog dial is an analog connected quartz movement, the MMT Caliber 282. MMT Swiss Connect were part of Frederique Constant before becoming large enough to warrant breaking out on their own to work on projects like this and a smart buckle. The quartz movement has a battery life of 4 years if notifications are kept on standard settings though it will decrease the more you tinker with the frequency of alerts.
When I first picked up the smart watch during my trip to New York, I thought it was a mechanical watch
It was only after a few moments of handling the watch that I saw the small black pictograms at 2, 4, 8 and 10, along with the slight protruding button from the crown. If it was Frederique Constant's aim to disguise the watches smart capabilities behind a traditional aesthetic then they succeeded very well (Or maybe I'm just rather unobservant!).
Aside from the crown button and pictograms, it almost impossible to tell that this is a smart watch. Whilst I barely noticed the pictograms during the day, the crown button grew more noticeable for me during my time with the watch. The grooved section of the crown is only there for show as it's the protruding button on the end that does the real work. The timekeeping functions of the watch automatically pair with the phone so you shouldn't ever need to manually set the hands (Not that you can). The crown is one of the most distinctive parts of a watch and only a handful of watches have ever gone against using it (Historically the Jaeger-LeCoultre Futurematic and more recently watches from Ressence) so I do understand it's inclusion.
The first challenge for me was to pair the watch with my phone. Unlike digital smart watches which have certain apps that can operate independently from a phone, the Horological Smartwatch needs to be paired via bluetooth as without pairing the watch, none of the smart functions work to their full capacity. The MMT 365 app is available on either the Google Play Store or the App store (Sorry Windows phone users, no luck here) and after a brief profile creation screen, you're ready to go.
If the Bluetooth Gods are smiling down on you then pairing is quick and the app will walk you through the instructions for basic set-up.
After the watch has been paired, the app will prompt you to set a activity goal and then opens up to allow the tinkering of specific notifications. When wearing a Horological Smartwatch connected to the MMT 365, the watch monitors your steps and sleep time against a set goal. This data is displayed on the app's main page along with the 'Coach' data, a section of the app which provides a daily/weekly/monthly overview of your steps, sleep and calories burnt. The Coach also offers daily health tips which I found fairly generic and was one of the functions that I used the least.
Through the app you are able to set-up what notifications show up on the watch and the watch can alert you to missed calls, emails and SwissConnect messages, the proprietary messaging system developed by the app's creator. If a call to your connected phone is missed then the hands will align at 2 o'clock after the allotted interval which ranges from 1 minute after the call to sixty minutes. Pressing the crown button once will revert the hands back to telling the time.
The email and messaging notification system was the biggest let down of the watch for me. Like many other people, I get distracted quite easily and the prospect of being able to keep my phone out of site yet still be alerted to messages and emails was enticing. There is a delay to the email notifications that can be toggled in the app, with times ranging from 1 minute to a full hour. The shorter the interval between the email arriving and the watch notifying you, the larger the battery life reduction of the watch is with 1 minute taking the watch down to 68%. This is a problem. 1 minute is more than enough time for me to have seen my phone blink, read an email, type up a response and then get back to what I'm doing. I don't live in a high stakes world where instant email responses mean the difference between billions and bankruptcy, but even to me 1 minute is rather slow.
The instant messaging system was also a disappointment. Rather than connect to SMS messaging, the watch connects to the Swiss Connect App which is also made by the same company behind MMT 365. I have doubts about how much I'd use a proprietary messaging app that connects solely with this watch and other users of the app but I didn't have the chance. The Swiss Connect Messaging App isn't out until November 2017.
This is a problem that traditional watchmakers who dabble in smart-tech will have face sooner rather than later. You can have the most beautiful piece of hardware on the market but if the software is confusing or unavailable then people will stop using it. I understand why Frederique Constant chose to describe the watch as smart, but compared to other smartwatches, it's dumb or at least a little slow. Other than changing what monitoring mode the watch is in, checking your current activity goal and checking the time of your chosen second timezone, there is very little direct interaction with the watch.
There are aspects of the watch that fare quite poorly when compared to other smartwatches from tech brands and other Swiss companies introducing their own smart tech. The delay in notification for emails was slow and I'd much rather be aware of incoming calls than be alerted of missing ones. The watch has an alarm function but it only works whilst in sleep mode. To get the watch to vibrate exactly when you want it, you have to manually stop the watch from 'thinking' when its the best time to wake you up by setting the alarm interval period to zero.
These are of course problems that persist with any kind of new technology integration as there will always be something left out because of time, space or money.
Frederique Constant are aware of this and offer a update on older models when new internal components are created. For $50 dollars, you can send in your watch and get all new inside tech bits that match the current version. This is a superior system to ones offered by other companies and at $50, it's one that I could definitely see myself taking advantage of if I were to own this watch. It's cheaper than most mechanical services and if I can get the benefit of the latest technology that could solve some of my gripes with the watch for $50, then I'm going to take that deal.
The Frederique Constant Notify Horological Smartwatch is easily the best looking Swiss smartwatch on the market at the moment. For those turned off by the pixel displays of other smartwatches then you should really look into the deceptively traditional design of the Notify. The Notify is interesting because it does things differently to other smartwatches (sometimes to its benefit and detriment) and it's the first Swiss smartwatch I've seen that makes me think that Swiss companies can do smart right. They aren't quite there yet, but they are getting closer with every try.