Here at PC Advisor we’ve spent a lot of time talking about smartwatches, but in the world at large they remain a niche concern. (The Apple Watch bestrides the wearables market like a colossus, but sales of even that comparative success story are so low in comparison to the iPhone and Mac that Apple rolls them in with its ‘Other Products’ category when making its quarterly reports.)
Fearing that their industry will soon be disrupted, but conscious that most of their existing customers still prefer something more traditional, some watchmakers and fashion brands are hedging their bets with products like this one: ‘semi-smartwatches’ that combine more old-fashioned looks and controls (and battery life) with a smattering of smart features.
Aesthetics are very much a personal matter, and the Guess Connect’s design is likely to divide opinion. As a semi-smartwatch what we’re essentially looking at is an analogue watch – physical arms and all – with the discreet addition of a few smart elements. But discreet isn’t a word we’ll be using again in this article.
The Connect is big, loud and ostentatious. Whereas the Apple Watch is sold in 38mm and 42mm sizes, the Connect comes in 41mm and 45mm (see below) versions, but the difference is more striking than that: the Connect is heavier, and sticks out much further from the wrist, and its brutalist, polygonal look is a hundred times less subtle. (After a hug we were told: “Daddy, your watch hurt me.”) There are hints here of the 1980s diving-watch school of design, and whether you prefer this, or a lower-key alternative like the Fossil Q Grant, is a matter of personal taste.
We would add that the rubber flange covering the charging port doesn’t feel very nice, is a bit awkward to open (you find yourself picking repeatedly with a fingernail) and, while it hasn’t failed us yet, is held on by what looks to be a durable but very thin piece of rubber. It’s a shame there’s no wireless charging. And the chunky, mostly metal body (the back is plastic, as well as the charging port cover being rubber) is a magnet for fingerprints, albeit nicely shiny when new or recently polished.
There are three controls, all on the righthand side of the watch’s body: a top button (or ‘pusher’, to use the maker’s terminology), a bottom button and a larger, textured dial in between which is only ever used to adjust the analogue time. The lefthand side has a speaker and the charging port. A tiny letterbox OLED screen (with a resolution of 96x16) sits horizontally across the lower portion of the face, its lower corners touching the circumference at approximately five and seven o’clock, and there’s a little LED between eight and nine, which changes colour to indicate various notification and modes.
We paired the Guess Connect with an iPhone 6s Plus, but it’s also compatible with Android. Pairing was quick and simple, even taking into account a couple of false starts.
You have to download and install a free companion app (iOS or Android), which guides you through the pairing process and then controls various settings in general use. The app struggled to find the watch the first couple of times, and when we succeeded – the watch happily buzzed with notifications, was able to activate Siri on the phone, and so on – the app still thought the watch wasn’t paired and wanted us to try again. Following the pairing process one last time, this time waved through with no delay, seemed to allay the app’s worries.
Since then, the pairing has remained solid, within the limitations of the Bluetooth connection. We were quite pleased to find that the watch gives a little buzz and says ‘Out of range’ or ‘Connected’ when you wander out of or back into Bluetooth range of its companion phone – an optional feature called
Leash. This is a useful thing to know, and may prove invaluable if you leave your mobile behind at a cafe.
It isn’t possible to install apps or games on the Guess Connect, but short of this it does a decent job of performing most of the more commonly required duties of a smartwatch. You use the bottom select button to cycle through modes, and then activate them with the top command bottom. (Alternatively, many can be initiated by voice command: if you can’t work out how to do something, try pressing the top button and simply telling the watch what to do.)
It isn’t always clear how to access features – although the general rule is that the top button acts as a confirm, while the bottom one declines or cycles through to a different option – and those who are coming from a fully fledged smartwatch will find that not having a full-face touchscreen makes everything less intuitive to use, at least at first.
Like most wearables, the Connect is at its best when delivering notifications. When you get a text message, a notification appears in the little display, and it scrolls across so you can read what’s been said. (It takes forever because the screen is so small, but you can just get the gist, then press the bottom button to stop it.) Or you can tap the top button, which activates voice control, and tell it to read the message out. Likewise for an email.
You can also get notifications whenever you’re mentioned on social media, and you’re encouraged to set up different vibration patterns for each type of notification. If you miss a notification, tap the watch’s glass and it’ll replay the most recent, if anything came through in the past five minutes.
If you get a call on your companion phone, too, you can answer it on the watch – or shake the watch to decline the call, if you’ve activated gesture support. And while its speaker quality isn’t great, we got through a conversation with a three-year-old without either party losing the plot, which isn’t a given at the best of times. Answering phone calls on a watch is easy to mock, and will make most people feel selfconscious, but it’s genuinely handy and feels enjoyably futuristic.
It’s also possible to initiate calls from the watch, but it wasn’t immediately obvious how – there’s no ‘Phone mode’ when you cycle through the options. In fact, any time you place a call on the companion phone with the watch connected, it’ll default to the watch’s speaker and microphone, although you’re given the option to switch back to the phone at the start of the call. The easiest approach, however, is to press the top button and then say “Call Lewis mobile” or whatever.
You can set up your iPhone in a tripod and then activate the shutter with the top button on the watch. (Sadly, on iOS at any rate, the watch doesn’t have the authority to open the camera app, let alone override a passcode; so you’ll need to either set up the phone with the app already open, or respond to a dialogue message on the phone’s screen checking it’s okay to open it.)
As we mentioned, pressing the top button activates voice commands, which as well as placing calls and getting the watch to read out messages makes it easy to set reminders, appointments and alarms without picking up your mobile. You can control music playback on the phone or a connected Bluetooth device. And if you lose track of the companion smartphone, the watch can make it play a little tune.
How it compares to its rivals
The main areas you miss by going for the Guess Connect rather than a full smartwatch are gaming (and you’re not missing much at this point) and fitness stuff – even though it has an accelerometer, this is only used for gesture detection, and the Connect can’t count your steps, measure calories and so on. At present a dedicated fitness tracker is likely to be a better, or at least cheaper, option for those things anyway, so you could always buy a second device.
The Fossil Q Grant, the leading light of the semi-smartwatch market, has more sophisticated incoming call notifications (you can customise LED colours for up to five favourite contacts) and can use its accelerometer to count steps. But you can’t answer calls on that device, nor does it have voice commands of any kind.
Looks-wise we’re not at all keen on the huge, chunky and ostentatious Guess Connect: the Fossil Q Grant has a far subtler and more elegant design, and is less likely to bruise your child’s face when you’re having a hug.
But you may disagree, and if you can put up with – or are even charmed by – the Connect’s brutal look, there’s a strong feature set here to get your teeth into: it feels only a step or two down from a fully fledged smartwatch. With voice commands and the ability to pick up phone calls or have texts read to you, it’s head and shoulders above the Fossil for sheer smartness.
For features, this is probably the strongest semi-smartwatch we’ve seen: activity tracking is the only significant chink in its armour. If that’s a priority for you, plump for the Fossil Q Grant, which you may want to do anyway because it’s also a lot cheaper and (in our view) more attractive.
Guess Connect app