I’ve been mostly enjoying my time with the Phase, thus far. It might be all the time I spent with the Gear S3 of late, but it feels good having a relatively reasonably sized watch on again. Something that’s not flashy like the Apple Watch Nike+, something that, honestly, you forget you even have until you need it.
The Misfit Phase isn’t a groundbreaker. That path has already been blazed and reasonably well trod by the likes of Martian, Withings, Fossil and Timex — companies who saw an opening between an analog timepiece and a full-fledged smartwatch. Something that brings notifications and fitness tracking to the wrist, but otherwise gets out of your way.
It’s a next step that makes sense for Misfit. The (now Fossil-owned) company’s devices have traditionally offered some combination of good looks and subtle functionality, and a hybrid smartwatch slots quiet well into the company’s existing ecosystem.
At $175, it’s an easy enough sell to those who’ve already bought into the Misfit ecosystem, but standing out among hybrid smartwatches is getting tougher and tougher by the day.
Like the Withings Activité, the Phase is a study in minimalism. It’s all smooth surfaces and round corners with little in the way of extraneous design. The device Misfit sent is a dark navy with a brown leather band — not the color combination I’d have opted for, but there are plenty of options on that front, and this being a traditional wristwatch, the bands are interchangeable.
The backs close over metal pegs, rather than using the standard bar. This means they’re easier to get on and off so you won’t be able to change them out with just any bands. Instead, Misfit is offering up straps in packs of three, for $60 bucks a pop, with leather, cloth and sport straps, for the busy fitness tracker on the go.
The Phase’s body is 41mm. It would be nice to have multiple size options, but as it stands, the watch fit pretty comfortably on my own wrist (I’m 5’11″) and a coworker, who is 5’4″. It’s a bit on the thick side, owing likely to smartwatch functionality. It slipped fairly easily beneath my sleeve, but left a noticeable bulge in the process.
The notification situation
Unlike Martian’s devices, which feature a text crawl built into the face, the Phase is reliant on haptic buzzes, a small window on the bottom with a rotating color wheel and moving clock hands, which communicate in semaphore signals. Users designate different colors for different notifications, so if, say, you get an email, the circle turns green, the theory being that users assign different levels of urgency to different notifications.
In practice, I didn’t find the notification colors useful. The window is small, un-illuminated and easily obscured by the watch hands and requires memorization on the part of the user. Also, there are only six colors and six services available in addition to calls and texts (Gmail, Skype, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, Viber, WhatsApp and Line). The addition is really more trouble than it’s worth.
The Phase also sports a pair of buttons on the right side. The top is designed to offer a little more insight into the watch’s notifications. Tap it once and the hands spin to a point on the face that represents how far the user is toward their goal — so, 50 percent would land on the six. Two taps shows what time the alarm is set to.
The bottom button, meanwhile, can be assigned a variety of different functions, including playing and pausing music, taking selfies, advancing slides in a presentation or other custom functions like triggering a device via IF.
Misfit’s done a lot to offer a slate of different smartwatch-like functionality without an interactive display. I wish the company offered up more information in its Quick Start guide, however — in a lot of cases, figuring out that functionality takes a lot of guesswork. And many ultimately don’t really bring all that much to the table.
We can work it out
One of the key things Misfit brings to the table is an existing activity tracking ecosystem. The Phase uses the company’s existing app for everything, which means users already have their social connections and past activity baked in.
The App tracks distance, calories and steps, all standard stuff, autodecting whether you’re walking, running or swimming, and breaking all of that down by time of day. There’s no multi-sport tracking or heart-rate monitoring, so you’re really only getting baseline stuff here.
There’s sleep tracking onboard as well — though it’s pretty basic stuff, utilizing the accelerometer to determine how much the wearer is moving and assigning it either light or restful sleep. The info isn’t constantly updated — instead you sync via the app, with the watch’s hands spinning around the face to let you know that the onboard data is being transferred.
There are, of course, some noted benefits to only going part way on the smartwatch front. Battery life is pretty close to the top. The Phase uses standard cell batteries and can last six months before having to be swapped out. The watch is also water-resistant for swimming, sweating and showing, though that’s quickly become a standard feature in full-fledged smart watches, as well.
Pricing is a key factor, as well. At $175, the Phase is priced the same as Withings’. That’s about $75 more than the Misfit Shine 2, but well below, say the $400 Apple Watch.
In the end, the Phase doesn’t stand out that much from the growing number of hybrid smartwatches on the market. The moving hands and color wheel are neat ideas that ultimately don’t add a ton to the offering. But it’s a solid little hybrid with a nice design and the benefit of Misfit’s half-decade of building fitness trackers.
It’s a solid addition to the company’s portfolio that doesn’t do much to move the minute hand on the hybrid smartwatch space.