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Skagen Falster smartwatch review: Minimalist design, minimal features

It took far less time for the smartwatch market to cool than the smartphone ecosystem it was supposed to emulate. The interest curve of early adopters to mainstream consumer acceptance seemed to happen fairly quickly, but the falloff was, I think, far more severe than anyone realized.

I'm referring mainly to the Wear OS (née Android Wear) and not to the Apple Watch, which as Apple products usually are, seem to be immune to category softening (though one could argue that the Apple Watch never quite took off as many pundits believed it should have).

This brings me to the current environment for Android-based smartwatches. There's a new name, Wear OS, and the promise of upgrades to come, but right now, all but a few tech companies have bowed out of the race. It's unlikely we'll see successors to the LG Watch Style and Sport this year, despite being modeled as the "Nexuses" of Android Wear in early 2017, and Samsung long-ago decided that its wearable fate lies in the hands of its own Tizen platform (a decision that appears prescient).

In lieu of the tech companies, fashion brands like Michael Kors, Fossil, Movado, Tag Heuer, Guess, and others decided they needed to add smarts to a stale industry to better compete with the looming Apple Watch revolution, and glommed onto then-Android Wear with unabashed confidence. But instead of innovating in the space, they've merely turned their storied designs into touchscreen equivalents, replete with second-rate watch faces and oversized hardware — to accommodate the large batteries needed for the ancient processors inside them.

After being pleasantly surprised by Michael Kors' second-generation Grayson smartwatch, which featured a large, vibrant display and an honest-to-goodness manipulable crown, I was curious to see how Skagen's entry into the canon holds up.

My take? It's not great, but I love it anyway.

Skagen Falster What I love

CategorySpec
Price$275-$295
SoCSnapdragon 2100 SoC
Memory512MB RAM, 4GB storage
Dimensions42mm case, 12mm thick
Band20mm replaceable
ConnectivityBluetooth 4.1 LE, 802.11n
Battery300mAh
IP ratingIP67, 1ATM

My first Skagen watch was a gift to myself for my 16th birthday. I was a counselor at a small summer camp and earned just enough money to buy a couple computer games and one of those thin, mesh-banded watches you see at department stores all over the world. I still have it, though the battery ran out years ago. I've always appreciated Skagen's minimal Danish aesthetic, though in the years since I've switched predilections from metal to leather. That's why I was so eager to try the Falster, which reworks Skagen's familiar design into the Wear OS facade that we're familiar with today.

Like Movado's entry into the Android Wear game (and I'll be using Wear OS and Android Wear interchangeably throughout this piece, so simmer down), Skagen takes the bare essence of what makes its hardware recognizable — circular symmetry; exposed lugs; thin, comfortable bands — and fills in the gaps with software. The six included watch faces are overly simplistic, and only barely meet the requirements of Skagen's storied branding, but alongside the comfortable 20mm brown leather strap (there are also steel-mesh and black leather options), I found a couple faces I love and settled into to be won over with charm.

You see, at the moment Wear OS is a known quantity; the app store is a barren wasteland, but the platform's core competencies are still in tact, and over the years I've learned to expect little else but accurate time and notifications.

That the Falster offers a fairly convincing digital approximation of a real Skagen watch while mirroring notifications from my Android phone (and offering quick responses by voice, canned retorts, and a beguilingly small keyboard) is enough to satisfy my needs, and do it in a way that justifies its $275 price. It's not cheap, but I've spent more on watches that do less, and this one hits me right in the feels.

Even if it lacks a few things that would make me cherish it for longer than I likely will.

Skagen Falster What needs work

Where is my digital crown? When I unboxed the Falster and realized the single side button was just that, and not a more desirable way of navigating the OLED display, I was more than a little disappointed. When I realized the watch lacked NFC capabilities, which prevents Google Pay, it added to the frustration. And while the lack of a heart rate monitor isn't as significant a pockmark, it reinforces that this is a smartwatch for those who want little more but to be seen wearing a smartwatch.

Battery issues with Wear OS watches have more to do with Qualcomm's ancient processor than the battery size or screen quality.

The side button isn't very good, either: it's squishy and requires almost a double press to activate, and feels like it would be the first point of failure. And while the screen is a manageable size on my wrist, its 42mm diameter means it may not be as universal as Skagen desires. Thankfully, there's an ambient light sensor hidden behind the display, but there's also a massive bezel swallowing a good 10% of the front — and the 12mm thickness of the body makes it difficult to forget that you're wearing a gadget instead of a timepiece.

Such dimensions would be justifiable if battery life was better than the average Wear OS device, but it's not. I used the Falster every day for two weeks and bled it dry each time, and managed around 36 hours — the afternoon of the following day if I took it off the charger in the morning — before it died. Not particularly surprising, but not reassuring given the pedigree.

The issue is barely with Skagen, Fossil, Michael Kors, or any other sucker company building Wear OS watches these days; the Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip inside the device is a derivative of the smartphone-based Snapdragon 400 that shipped in the first generations of Android Wear smartwatches. In other words, there's 2013 tech inside this 2018 watch. That Google hasn't worked with Qualcomm to further the progress of this silicon speaks to the indecision and insecurity around wearables as a viable long-term business. While Intel has dipped its toes into the wearables hardware game with Tag Heuer and a few others, it will be Qualcomm that, should it decide to, pushes the market forward with smaller, more power-efficient smartwatch SoCs.

Charging the watch, too, is a bit of a letdown: the dinky plastic magnetic charger is identical to other Fossil-built smart products (likely a money-saving measure) and barely adheres to the bottom of the watch. It's an Apple Watch charger clone done wrong.

Should you buy it? Do you love Skagen? Then yes

Like the watch market itself, the Wear OS ecosystem is separated less by the quality of the products these days than the nostalgia value of the brands themselves. I like Skagen so I like Skagen's first attempt at a smartwatch. I like the way the Falster looks on my wrist because I enjoy minimal design and quality leather bands, and I don't mind spending $275 for the privilege. I don't mind that price despite the product's numerous flaws and lazy oversights meant to prop up Fossil's margins.

You, however, may mind, and that's OK because there are plenty of other products that do practically the same thing for less money.

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Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

18 Comments
  • No offense Bader but when it comes to watches I've learned that if it's a style you like, it will likely not be something I would want on my wrist. While you like a dainty, femine, 80's style elegance, many like a more aggressive, masculine toughness that can do double duty as an elegant, modern design, so don't go assuming watch designers are aiming to fit the particular look you prefer. Skagen appears to do so but I'd venture to guess most don't. BTW, you seem to have a veiled disdain towards smart watches that comes across in your articles. I'm guessing that might be in part because you had unrealistic expectations from this tech sector as apparently some of those tech companies did. The truth is that since most people will only need to swap this type of watch every 3-5 years, the established watch companies is where this product line belongs. Most of them don't depend on their customers buying a replacement watch yearly. Also, most aren't aiming to put a scaled down phone on your wrist as much as a scaled up watch on it. That's why a huge app store, the most modern processors, etc aren't as important as you think. A watch with smarts is what most traditional watch companies are trying to provide and I think that's what your average consumer is more likely to buy.
  • *sigh* I'll take care of this one, Daniel. Your entire comment's validity is based on 6 different claims that you know what "most" people want, so it really holds no weight at all, but hey, while I'm here: 1. The "no offense" part didn't help disguise the clear offense or your poorly veiled attempt at a subtle declaration of your masculinity. Also...it's unfounded. The guy reviews smart watches. He likes Skagen and he likes the design, as will "most" (not providing data to back up my claim, just trust that I'm right)
    2. Unrealistic expectations? Right, because expecting a 2018 computer to ship with tech that's made anytime after 2013 is foolish. Silly, silly Bader.
    3. So this product line doesn't belong with Google? Or Samsung? Or Motorola? Or any of the companies that...ya know...actually started this product line and have the actual R&D resources and expertise to improve the technology?
    4. Most of your misunderstanding seems to come from the fact that you think a smart watch is a watch at all. It's not. It's a computer on your wrist. "Most" literally ARE trying to put a scaled down phone on your wrist. It's a computer. Just because it's on your wrist doesn't mean it's a watch. So yes, a large selection of apps, as well as fast and efficient processors, are in fact as important as he and "most" others think. They're some of the most important parts of tiny wrist computers.
    5. So again, a watch with smarts is not what "most" watch companies are trying to provide. Because that's called a computer. Actual watch companies are trying to provide actual watches. They're just also designing their own wrist computers to use their brand's signature materials and design to appeal to a different market that has proven, at least somewhat, to be lucrative.
  • Haha exactly my point. All of us can throw the word "most" around. Doesn't actually mean anything to anyone else other than ourselves. I love watches in general and that includes smart watches. My current "smart" collection includes a Gear S3, an LG Urbane LTE 2.0 and a Garmin Fenix 3 but I've had so many back to some of the original Sony's (LiveView I believe they were called). As much as the tech companies will drive the tech, the fashion brands are the ones that offer appeal to "non-techies". You don't have to agree but time will tell. How punny. :) BTW, yes, a smartwatch is a watch first and foremost. A computer? Technically correct but what computer would you use if you had access to 2? The powerhouse supercomputer aka smartphone in your hand or the older, weaker one on your wrist? There's a place and time where you'd HAVE TO rely on the one on your wrist but the one in your hand would win out on the regular. Of course, if the phone is deep in your pocket or bag and you just want to know the time or check a quick notification, then a flip of the wrist is the way to go IMO.
  • Nice review... covered the pros as well as cons.
  • I think you hit on a key point - with smartwatches - the hardware just isn't ready for prime time. For a person over 60, I prefer battery life of months, not days. Fitness tracker, NFC, notifications, are a plus. Don't need much more. I've got a smartwatch on the nightstand, and it stays there mainly because of the poor battery life - 1 day... It's kind of ironic, the fitness trackers are evolving faster and more efficiently than the smartphones....
  • Never understood the complaints about battery life. What's so hard about slapping the charging cord on when you go to bed? Phone charging? Check. Watch? Check. Whew... That was such as chore! ;)
  • When I buy an 'accessory', be it a computer, mobile phone or smartwatch, I want it to compliment and support my lifestyle. I get up at 4:30 am, go to work, come back home at 7 pm. If I have a date night with my wife - dinner etc. - I'm out to 10 pm or so... Depending on usage, the smartwatch is usually toast by then or close to being dead. Most times I'll grab another watch. Then we can talk about short two day trips and vacations... Being dependant upon charging that smartwatch, is not going to be my foremost thought going through my normal day. That is not what my personal and professional priorities should be. I want something that supports my lifestyle and family life. And I'll buy accordingly. That's a bit overstated...
  • When you have a Gear Sport that tracks your sleep, you don't take the watch off when you go to sleep. I only take it off if the battery is low or if I'm taking a shower.
  • Same. When I wear my Gear S3 I only charge it when I shower. I never shower with a watch on so it's no issue to drop the watch in it's cradle while I'm getting ready.
  • I suppose. I've never worn a watch to bed myself. Doesn't feel right, but to each their own.
  • The battery life issue *I* have is that two out of the three watches I've owned don't even MAKE it to bedtime. Moto 360 and Zenwatch 3 would die by midnight IF I was lucky, which might be good on a Tuesday, but is TERRIBLE on a Friday or Saturday. And sometimes they were done by 6PM. And I've grown to find that somehow the people who claim over a day of life do so on the watches that get me that terrible life. So personally, I'm with you, I don't mind charging every day. But I shouldn't have to charge MORE than that.
  • That's odd. I used to own the Zenwatch 3 and it would go the 16 hours of my typical day and still be at around 50% when I went to bed. I've never had any smart watch even close to dying in a single day. I do however charge mine overnight without fail.
  • Not being able to use the sleep monitoring would be one thing, that and telling the time at a lance... maybe.???
  • The issue stems from when the watch can't make it through a full day. I bought the Skagen Falster and loved it...except that when putting it on around 7am, the battery was dead around 430-500pm most days. And I wasn't doing more than viewing SMS, controlling Spotify occasionally, and occasional notifications. It just wasn't feasible. For a watch that cuts back on certain battery draining features (GPS and heart monitor), you'd think battery life would be extended and yet it was not (at least in the Skagen Falster). I LOVE Skagen, and have been looking forward to their initial smartwatch release, but I returned it after three weeks :(
  • I own the Skagen and zenwatah 3. I get over a day on both. Battery life could be better but until we see improvements through a new soc there will be minimal changes that can be done though software.
  • Fossil bought Skagen Designs back in 2012.
  • Where are you getting the idea that the Wear 2100 is the same as a Snapdragon 400? They are separate platforms and Wear 2100 is much newer and more efficient. (Qualcomm cites 30% efficiency improvement)
  • He didn't say they are the same... He uses the word "derivative". Thats a pretty vague term. I wouldn't read too much into it. Its just semantics. Some info here on the chips:
    http://linuxgizmos.com/new-qualcomm-snapdragons-target-wearables-and-more/