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Deep inside the smart Swiss watches that challenge Apple Watch with analog panache

Jon Phillips | April 24, 2015
Philippe Kahn is a big man with a big personality and big feelings about Swiss watches. He's got a massive Alpina model on his wrist, and he's bragging about how the watch is water-resistant down to 100 meters, and can last more than two years on its built-in battery.

Mondaine: Pop-art exuberance

Like the Frederique Constant watches, the Alpinas feel like something real, something substantial and permanent. But if I were spending my own money, I'd hold out for the Mondaine Helvetica Smart, which will ship sometime this fall for a price that should undercut the other MMT watches by a least a few hundred dollars.

Making liberal use of the font Helvetica Bold, the Mondaine watch evokes a pop-art vibe that's playful and current. Where Frederique Constant errs toward formal, and Alpina errs toward bling, I see the Mondaine as a more neutral option that's appropriate for both men and women without sacrificing an iota of style. Or maybe it's just the design nerd in me. A watch that honors the world's most iconic font? Count me in.

I haven't seen the Helvetica Smart in person, but I have tried on other Mondaine watches, and they're precision-machined timepieces. The Helvetica Smart will initially come with a brushed matte-steel case, white dial and soft leather strap. Mondaine tells me other looks are in the works.

But what can these watches actually do?

Note that throughout the text of this article, I haven't once referred to the MMT designs as smartwatches. It's obviously a flexible term, but given what I've learned about their feature sets, I think these are "smart" watches in a figurative sense, but not smartwatches as we've come to use that label.

The watches (and their accompanying smartphone app) give you the same essential step- and sleep-tracking functions offered by the first few generations of Jawbone UP wristbands. For daytime activity, they'll show you total step counts and calorie burn estimates. For nighttime, they'll show you periods of deep and light sleep, your total sleep for each night, when you fell asleep, and how many times you woke up.

They'll also give you "get active alerts," compelling you to get up and walk around if you sit still for too long. You can also set sleep cycle alarms, which track your sleep phases, and gently wake you during light sleep.

But beyond that? There's really not much else. The watches sync with your smartphone to make sure you never need to reset the time manually when you jump through time zones. That's a smart feature indeed, but you won't find any smartphone notifications, which are the cash currency of "traditional" smartwatches.

Fullpower's modules can be updated with an in-store visit to a service center, and the platform is extensible, so MMT can add more functionality over the years. Nonetheless, there's no obvious way to deliver truly rich notifications via MMT's subdial, all its seductive beauty notwithstanding.

Activity trackers in the finest clothes ever

 

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