Review: The Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR is a solid smartwatch alternative

Don't call it a smartwatch.

The smartwatch market is nothing new in 2021. There are countless options to choose from at a variety of price points, and a quick look at our roundup of the best Android smartwatches easily proves this. But here's something to think about — what if you aren't ready for a full-on smartwatch?

Getting notifications on your wrist and tracking daily activity are both fantastic benefits of a smart wearable. Still, for some folks, the idea of wearing a small computer every single day can be a little daunting. For them, there are watches like the Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR.

The Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR has a classic wristwatch design with physical hands, combines that with a surprising amount of smart features, and tries to present all of this in a package that's stylish and easy-to-use. For the most part, Skagen pulled it off.

At a glance

Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR

Bottom line: For someone that likes the idea of a smartwatch but isn't ready to give up the simplicity and class of a traditional watch, the Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR is a pretty interesting solution. The Jorn HR has real watch hands and a premium case design, but there's also an e-ink display that can showcase notifications, activity tracking, and some simple applications. You can get a lot more functionality at a similar price with a full-on smartwatch, but if that's just not what you want, Skagen's offering is worth a look.

The Good

  • It looks like a normal watch
  • Has a heart-rate monitor
  • Activity and sleep tracking
  • Two-week battery life
  • Good companion app

The Bad

  • Sluggish performance
  • Limited on-watch functionality
  • Confusing software
  • High price

$195 at Amazon

Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR Price and availability

The Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR was announced at CES 2021 and was soon made available for purchase on January 26, 2021.

There are two sizes available for the Jorn, including 38mm and 42mm (along with a variety of case and watch band styles). No matter which size/style you choose, you'll pay $195 for the watch.

Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR What I like

One of the main appeals of the Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR is its hardware, and even as someone that personally prefers the minimalistic designs of the Apple Watch and Fitbit Sense, I appreciate everything that went into crafting the Jorn.

The case is made almost entirely out of metal (save for the plastic casing that houses the heart-rate monitor), there are three lugs that are all used for navigating the on-watch interface (more on that later), and the watch bands use a standard 22mm size. My review unit came with a steel mesh band, and while it's a bit too large for my tiny wrists, it's incredibly well-built and looks rather striking.

Where the Jorn Hybrid HR's design really shines is with its face. Underneath the glass cover are physical hour/minute hands and a matching dial, effectively making it a "real" watch. Not having a second hand could be a bummer for some, but that'd likely get in the way of the Jorn's main selling point — its e-ink display.

Rather than equipping the Jorn with an LCD or AMOLED display as we see on regular smartwatches, Skagen opted for an e-ink one. This inherently limits some of the on-watch user experience, but if you're going for the traditional wristwatch look and feel, it's a pretty solid compromise.

To interact with the display/interface, you use the three lugs. These perform a variety of functions, such as being tied to app shortcuts, navigating menus, viewing notifications, and more. Double-tapping the front of the watch enables a backlight for a few seconds, but there are no touchscreen controls like you'd get on a Galaxy Watch or something else.

Going from an Apple Watch to the Jorn Hybrid HR was a jarring experience at first, but after a few hours of use, I came around to really liking it. The e-ink display is always-on, meaning you can glance at your wrist whenever and see the time, date, your current step count, or whatever shortcuts you added to your watch face. Also, as someone that's constantly looking at backlit displays for work, it's been nice being able to look at the time, notifications, and other info without causing further eyestrain.

Another benefit of using e-ink is that the Jorn sips through battery life like a champ. Skagen advertises up to two weeks of use per charge. While the exact time will vary a bit depending on how many notifications you receive and how much activity tracking you're doing, that claim has held up great so far in my testing.

And, yes, the Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR has fully-featured activity tracking. It's not as robust as what you'd find on any of the best Fitbits, but for casual use, it's a really good offering. You can track your steps and calories, heart-rate, and a variety of different workouts. There's even built-in sleep tracking — something we still don't have on most Wear OS smartwatches.

You can view all of the health/activity information in greater detail in the Skagen companion app, which is honestly a lot more in-depth than I was expecting. Along with viewing your health info, the Skagen app also allows you to:

  • Create fitness challenges
  • Set fitness goals
  • Enable automatic workout detection
  • Customize notification settings
  • Change and customize watch faces

What impressed me the most was the watch face system. There are nine designs to choose from, one of which allows you to add a custom photo background of whatever pictures you have on your phone. Even better, each of these can be further customized with your choice of complications — including previews of the weather, current steps, etc. You can place these complications anywhere you want on your watch and change the individual appearance of them, allowing you to truly make the watch your very own.

While some of the actual on-watch functionality may be limited, this app experience really helps to make up for its shortcomings.

Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR What I don't like

That's actually a perfect segway into what I'm not the biggest fan of when it comes to the Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR. Simply put, wearing a hybrid smartwatch like this is a drastically different experience compared to a more feature-rich option. That may be preferable for some people, but for me, it resulted in the Jorn feeling a lot less useful than smartwatches I typically wear.

A lot of this boils down to the Jorn's e-ink display. As much as I love it for its easy readability and excellent battery endurance, e-ink panels are naturally slow. Opening a menu or a new app means waiting for the screen to refresh and show the right information, and when having to sit through that multiple times throughout the day, it can start to feel pretty tedious.

This sluggishness is especially felt when trying to triage notifications. You can only view one notification at a time, the e-ink display needs to refresh for every new one you view, and most notifications don't support any actionable items on the watch itself. Getting a buzz on your wrist and looking down to see what's pestering you is still helpful, but as your watch starts getting filled up with heaps of pings throughout the day, you might as well just pick up your phone.

Navigating through the Jorn's software can also prove to be something of a hassle. Those three lugs often have to pull double-duty since they're the only means of navigating the UI, and as a result, things can get confusing very quickly. For example, the bottom lug is used as an app shortcut on the watch face, navigates down in vertical menus, and navigates right in horizontal ones. The middle lug has its own share of responsibilities, with it being used to open your notifications, bring up your apps list, go home from a menu/app, and more. Even after a few days of use, it's still not an experience I'm completely used to yet.

Sometimes, the Jorn Hybrid HR can feel too limiting.

Then there's the app situation — or should I say — the lack thereof. Outside of a basic weather app, stopwatch, timer, checking your commute time, and a find my phone feature, there's not much else to do on the Jorn. I suppose you shouldn't expect much else, considering it's a hybrid watch, but for me, limiting the functionality that much in favor of aesthetics is a tricky pill to swallow.

Finally, there's a noticeable lack of hardware features, with the Jorn HR completely omitting NFC, wireless charging, and a microphone for dictating replies to text messages. It may be silly to expect all of these in a hybrid watch, but with a price tag that's very close to actual smartwatches, I do still feel the sting of their absence.

Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR The competition

The debate around price and functionality is made even clearer when you start to consider what the Jorn Hybrid HR is going up against. A perfect example is the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2, which can often be purchased for a little over $200 these days. The Watch Active 2 has a lot more for you to sink your teeth into, with some of the highlights being a vibrant AMOLED display, a sleek design, excellent performance, great battery life, and a lot of other features you just won't find on the Jorn.

If you'd prefer something running Wear OS instead of Samsung's Tizen operating system, the Fossil Gen 5E is another great option to consider. It's a bit more expensive with an MSRP of $249, but you're getting a lot for your money. The Gen 5E touts an attractive case design, built-in Google Assistant, and Google Pay — just to name a few highlights. If you aren't feeling the ultra-minimalistic styling of the Watch Active 2, the added character of the Fossil Gen 5E may be reason enough to consider it instead.

Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR Should you buy it?

You should buy this if ...

  • You care a lot about design
  • You don't want a full-on smartwatch
  • You want amazing battery life

You should not buy this if ...

  • You get a lot of notifications
  • You want to use a lot of apps
  • You'd like to get the most bang-for-your-buck
3.5 out of 5

The Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR is one of those gadgets made with a very specific group of people in mind. If you want a good-looking watch that's built well and offers more smart features than you'd get on a traditional wristwatch, what you're getting here is pretty compelling. The Jorn looks and feels the part of a proper accessory, not another tech item.

If all you want is a watch that can alert you of notifications, offer basic fitness/sleep tracking, and do all of that while rarely needing to be charged, the Jorn could be a smart purchase. But if you want a proper smartwatch experience and something that feels like a genuine extension of your phone, it's hard to recommend spending your money on this over a real smartwatch.

It was a fun experience getting to use the Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR, and I'm glad it exists for people that want something like it. I may not be the target demo, but it's definitely something to consider for the folks that are.

Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR

Not ready for a smartwatch but want something more capable than a dumb wristwatch? The Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR could be a good fit. The design is excellent, battery life is amazing, and its companion app is surprisingly fully-featured. It's not the best value compared to the competition, but for the right buyer, there's a good deal to like.

$195 at Amazon



Source: androidcentral

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