Guess Connect review: Limited smarts but full of traditional style

When the first bunch of smartwatches were announced, one thing that was distinctly lacking was any kind of traditional style. Whether it was the original Pebble or the likes of the LG G Watch, they were more wrist computer than stylish timepiece.

And style is where we've seen big improvements in the years since. Phone makers like LG and Huawei are producing beautiful smartwatches now. But we're also seeing the traditional watch makers get in on the action in various ways.

Guess isn't a tech company. It's a fashion label that has an extensive portfolio of analog watches. In 2015 it announced a partnership with Martian to co-produce a smartwatch, and this is the result: the Guess Connect.

And it might be my favorite smartwatch yet.

Analog style, modern smarts

Guess Connect

I'm no watch collector, but I do appreciate them. I have a few in my rotation, all of them traditional, analog timepieces. I enjoy wearing a nice watch, and smartwatches just haven't stuck in the same way.

Where the Guess Connect stands out is its styling. Whether you like it or not comes down to your personal tastes and whether the brand designs products that take your fancy. The model I have here is the blue and Rose Gold combination with a silicone band.

It's simple in its style: a pretty plain watch face that is only broken up by the tiny OLED display towards the bottom. It's here where the smart features come into play and where you'll see your various notifications.

This part of the watch is charged with a regular old Micro-USB cable and you should be good for multiple days between charges. I've been able to get 5 days out of it with the notifications set up the way I want them.

The best part is that once this battery dies, the watch still tells the time — that's something that you won't get from your Android Wear wrist computer.

It's a little chunky, though

Guess Connect

This is not a slim watch. It's not crazily thick, either, but it's got some heft to it. It's never become uncomfortable to wear for extended periods, but you'll struggle to pull tighter sleeves over it.

The thickness is in no small part due to the added bits from Martian. If you look at the Guess Connect side on, there's a distinct extra piece on the back below the metal. In the case of this review unit, where the Rose Gold stops is as thick as it would probably be without the smart features.

Equally, considering there's an extra battery and the associated circuitry in there as well as the mechanical watch mechanisms, it's not a bad job.

Charging a watch with Micro-USB is awful

Guess Connect

The one thing that isn't so stylish or elegant in any way is the Micro-USB charging port for the Martian parts of the Guess Connect. It's covered with a rubber flap first and foremost, which goes against the $350 price tag associated with buying one of these.

A standard it may be, but it's still not a good way to charge this watch. The flap feels like it could snap off at any minute and then you're left with an ugly exposed port on your nice, shiny watch.

Wireless charging would be much better, but at this point even a cradle with some pogo pins like on many Android Wear watches would be better.

It's a good thing you won't need to charge it every day — you can expect up to five days from a charge, and the watch parts will keep working even after the battery powering the smart parts has died.

As smart as you want it to be

Guess Connect

You won't get any activity tracking with the Guess Connect (there's a new model coming in late 2016 for that). But you do get all your notifications. Or you do if you want them.

The companion app allows you to easily pick which apps you want to serve up notifications with the option to set a custom vibration pattern for each one. So you don't even necessarily have to look at your wrist to decide whether you need to action what's just come in. It requires nothing more than turning a toggle on or off to enable or disable, with four sliders to then decide upon your favored pattern of vibrations.

The display on the Guess Connect is pretty good. It'll display just a single line of text, so any snippets of your notifications that come in will scroll across. But it's bright, clear, and doesn't moves slow enough that you can actually read the text without being so slow that it's irritating. Besides notifications, you'll also be able to get basic weather information, with a World Clock also on hand. Both are configured in the companion app so you just press one of the physical buttons on the watch to get to them.

The Guess Connect can also do a couple of other neat tricks. The first is conducting a phone call. It works just fine, though you will need to remember to manually turn on the earpiece in the phone's dialer app if you want to make a call in the old-fashioned way. The sound through the watch is clear, but it's a little on the quiet side. It's OK indoors, but you will struggle to hear it in noisier settings.

Your mileage may vary, but I would be completely happy to buy this watch with it not able to make phone calls. I think the mere fact it's here spells out the level of Martian involvement in the collaboration. Guess has designed most of the watch, the parts that will make it look good to its customers. But its put that on top of an already-existing Martian smartwatch without thinking about whether or not these features are actually worth having.

The microphone and speaker combination can also work in tandem with Google voice search on your phone, but, since you're going to get your phone out for a good number of interactions with the results from this anyway, it's less useful. You can also use one of the physical buttons on the watch as a remote shutter for the camera on your phone, which was unexpected, but a nice touch some will find very handy.

But what's particularly great about the Guess Connect is that it's not trying to hard. The same could also be said of the Martian watches on which its based. You're in control, you're not overwhelmed with notifications if you don't want, and it'll discretely serve up exactly what it is you want it to.

The bottom line

Guess Connect

One of the problems with the Martian watch idea was always that it looked like a tech company had designed it. The idea was pretty sound, but the outward appearance wasn't quite there. In partnering with Guess, that problem has been solved. What you now have is a smartwatch designed by a traditional watch company that's not just a tiny computer on your wrist.

It's quickly become one of my favorite smartwatches. I get what I want from it — important selected notifications, weather updates and the time — and it looks good all the time its doing it. And with Guess being a fashion brand, there are a whole bunch of styles to choose from, some wilder than others.

Whether you'd spend $350 on it is a different question. If you're the sort of person who spends that sort of money on a watch, particularly someone who already buys Guess products, then it's worth a shot. It's not cheap, but it's also not just a smartwatch. There are Pebble's and Android Wear wrist adornments out there if you're into the smart stuff first and the style second.

And that's where we end. Guess isn't necessarily targeting tech consumers with the Connect, that much became clear when we met with them at Mobile World Congress. It's not a tech company, it's a fashion brand. The Guess Connect is targeted at the people who already buy Guess products, as well as those who want to dip a toe in the smartwatch space without going away from the traditional, analog style they're already accustomed to.

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Richard Devine