I want a hybrid smartwatch revolution

After using the Withings ScanWatch for a few months, I've decided that hybrid smartwatches deserve far more attention than they get.

Every night before I go to sleep, I strap a smartwatch to my wrist to track my sleep and get an idea of what I should do to improve. A debate sparks in my head between my two favorite smartwatches of all time: my 45mm Apple Watch Series 8 and the 42mm Withings ScanWatch. “Well, I suppose the Apple Watch will give me deeper insights,” I think to myself, “but the ScanWatch is perfectly serviceable. Plus, it’s analog and looks sweet.” In the heat of the moment, I reach for the Apple Watch – it’s at 92 percent, eight percent down from where I like to be when taking it off the charger. “Damn, I might need to charge my watch at some point tomorrow,” I say internally. “Should’ve put on my ScanWatch – that thing lasts forever.”

I can apply this same debate in my head to almost any other scenario that involves picking a watch to wear. It’s the conversation I’ve been having for the past four months, ever since I got my Series 8 in the mail. And it’s taken me to a place that, historically speaking, I would’ve never gone if I didn’t try the ScanWatch: I want more companies to make hybrid smartwatches – but beefier, more capable ones.

After using the Apple Watch Series 3 for nearly five years, this summer I decided to try out the ScanWatch. My Series 3 was slow, out of storage, and was on Apple’s list of devices to retire with watchOS 9. I wasn’t using it to its full potential anyways, strictly because of how limited the hardware was. By the time I got my ScanWatch in the mail, I was only doing one of three things on my Apple Watch: checking the time, looking at the notification that just buzzed my wrist, or tracking my workouts.

This made the transition to the ScanWatch extremely easy, since that’s pretty much all you can do on it. There’s no speaker, no touchscreen, no microphone. It’s a standard watch with a few health sensors strapped to the back, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to connect to your phone, and a screen behind its analog dial to show notifications and other menu items.

The 42mm Withings ScanWatch with a leather band on a man's wrist.
The ScanWatch is a truly charming timepiece. | Photo: Max Buondonno

It’s a very simplistic experience compared to the Apple Watch, and I found that I really enjoyed it. Not only was the ScanWatch doing everything my Apple Watch could, but it had the added advantage of looking different, to the point that I was getting regular compliments while wearing it. When I spent a week in New York over the summer for the OnePlus 10T launch, I had a handful of people come up and ask me which watch I was wearing and whether I liked it. I even had a random barista at my favorite coffee shop try to pinpoint the make and model I was wearing. (You can imagine his surprise when I told him that it wasn’t what he thought and that it shipped with a screen to show you notifications.)

In fact, that trip really solidified for me that hybrid watches deserve more attention than they get. Whenever I travel, I bring a bevy of cables for charging my various devices. I didn’t need one for the ScanWatch since it has 30-day battery life. When I took it off to take a shower and get ready for the next day, I just placed it on my nightstand. Then, I strapped it back on to track my sleep and went into the next day not thinking about whether I had enough charge left. It’s a luxury you have to experience to appreciate.

Extended battery life is by far the biggest reason I want more hybrid smartwatches in the world. Given their limited capabilities, companies can regularly deliver on multi-week endurance promises, oftentimes exceeding them depending on how often a specific user toys around with its features. There’s no bright touchscreen to power or mobile operating system that requires aggressive efficiency algorithms. Instead, it has a bare-bones interface, bare-bones specs, and a target demographic of people who want a bare-bones smartwatch experience.

This is most certainly not a computer on your wrist, which is a good thing.

A 45mm Apple Watch Series 8 sitting next to the 42mm Withings ScanWatch on a blue bench.
Compared to the Apple Watch, the ScanWatch looks miles better. | Photo: Max Buondonno

Hybrid smartwatches are also great for those who don’t want to sacrifice the looks of a traditional analog timepiece. The ScanWatch looks better than any Apple Watch ever will (especially with this premium leather band), and it’s light enough to forget that you’re wearing it. That not only makes it ideal for the gym, but also a night on the town or to a dressy affair. I read Antonio G. Di Benedetto’s piece on The Verge about wearing two watches – one smart, one classic – to get the best of both worlds, and I completely disagree with that idea. The last thing I want to do is wear two watches just because I like the looks of one and want the smarts of another. If I’m wearing a watch, the experience will live on a single device, no exceptions.

The ScanWatch – and most other hybrid watches – will do just that. It’s one of the main reasons they exist.

There’s also a weird sensation I experience when I wear my ScanWatch to bed over my Apple Watch. Because of how complex an idea it probably is (I’m no philosopher or theologist and my vocabulary in either subject is rather limited), I’m gonna try to briefly sum it up and see if anyone can relate.

The 42mm Withings ScanWatch with its display lit up, sitting on a man's wrist.

When I wear my ScanWatch to bed, it feels less stressful and more relaxing to see an analog watch face on my wrist instead of a touchscreen. I’m not afraid of missing a notification that just tapped me as I try to wind down, there’s no need to interact with the watch to show the time, and it makes me feel like I’ve finally unplugged from the world so I can recharge and rest up for the next day. I even feel that way when I use a sleep Focus mode on my Apple Watch, which limits its functionality and leaves you with a simple green clock. There’s something about having an ordinary watch on my wrist that feels relaxing and detaching from the digital world, and the added benefit of sleep tracking is the cherry on top.

Do I know why I feel this way? No. But it’s consistent enough that I can’t seem to shake it.

Of course, the ScanWatch isn’t perfect. The watch is far from as capable as my Apple Watch, for example. It has enough fitness tracking prowess to satisfy most general gym rats, but anyone who considers themselves a health enthusiast might not find fulfillment from wearing it. I’ve also heard from fellow creators that the heart tracking isn’t as accurate as other watches and, at times, fails to track inconsistencies with its rhythm. What’s more, there’s no notification history like there is on the Apple Watch, there’s no weather data available at all, and the buzzy haptics can’t hold a candle to the quality of the Apple Watch’s.

Still, I find myself reaching for my ScanWatch more often. The form it takes on creates an experience unlike anything I’ve used.

The 42mm Withings ScanWatch with a leather band, sitting on a man's wrist.
The leather band really classes things up. | Photo: Max Buondonno

Plenty of other companies have shipped watches similar to the ScanWatch in the past. Fossil, Garmin, Tag, Skagen, and Misfit have a few options out there, but none of them seem to offer as consistent an experience as Withings does with the ScanWatch. Moving forward, I’d love to see more companies with wider reach (Samsung, Google, even Apple) experiment with this format in the future, whether their main objective is saving battery life or getting the looks of analog watches for style freaks.

There’s something here, and my time with the ScanWatch has proven that to me.