Back in September, when we reviewed the first in Michael Kors' line of Android Wear smartwatches, it was clear that the popular medium-high fashion brand was in it for the long haul. And like so many first tries in the wearables space, it was far more miss than hit.
But a year after the announcement, and six months after the release, of the Fossil-owned brand's entry into wearable tech, Michael Kors is back with two new Access-branded watches, and they are considerably better pieces of hardware.
Grayson and Sofie are the names of the rounded men's and women's watches, respectively, and they are clearly demarcated in their designs — for better or worse. Both have AMOLED displays without the dreaded flat tire, an issue with all of last year's models, and run the slightly newer Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip that appears, along with Android Wear 2.0, to be adorning every smartwatch released in 2017.
While Sofie goes full-on jewelry with its "pavé embellished bezel" replete with a full set of cubic zirconia and a single side button, Grayson takes better advantage of AW 2.0's new feature set with a rotating crown and two additional buttons, similar to the LG Watch Sport.
Grayson will ship in gold, stainless steel, and blue-on-black, with four strap options. Sofie will have eight color-and-bracelet combinations and seven strap choices. Each start at $350 USD.
Arguably the best-looking announcement of the day isn't a smartwatch at all, but a so-called "hybrid" analog watch that includes fitness and sleep tracking, along with basic notification alerts. The Gage hybrid watch is your basic chronometer, with a stainless steel body and thin leather strap, but to my eyes (and pocket book) it's the better value at $250.
The company is also giving its My Social app, which as the name suggestions connects the smartwatch to various social networks to automatically update watch faces with personal photos, an overhaul. "By the end of 2017," the press release says, "the brand will have released 15 new digital watch faces, all with multiple customizable elements."
Finally, the company says that it is launching its smart wearables in many new countries throughout 2017, including Mainland China and Brazil, which each have enormous potential markets for a popular fashion brand like Michael Kors.
At this point, the company's retail channels ensure that its smartwatches will be seen by millions more people than the average tech product from LG or Motorola — even likely Samsung — which bodes well for their sales. And even if neither the Grayson nor Sofie model is best-in-class in any particular category, they will sell because they have the trusted, and well-known, Michael Kors brand behind it.
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Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central.