Skagen Falster

As far as first attempts go, Skagen’s Falster is quite an impressive smartwatch. Nailing a look so refined is something that some larger manufacturers, like Moto and Huawei, have yet to figure out in the wearables game – and maybe never will. But as we’ve seen with competitors that have come close, looks aren’t everything. 

The Falster achieves some minor miracles for Android Wear 2.0, like packing the experience inside one of the thinnest, slickest watch bodies we’ve seen yet. Its retail price, starting at $275 (£279, about AU$350), defies its stainless steel and leather-clad design. But without expected hardware essentials like a heart rate sensor, built-in GPS, or a speaker to take calls sans wireless headphones, this watch is unfortunately a tough thing to recommend outright.

Skagen Falster price and release date

The Skagen Falster smartwatch is now globally available through its website, as well as e-retailers serving the US, UK and Australia. It’s not currently on sale via traditional retailer avenues like Amazon or Best Buy, but it will likely end up there at some point.

Skagen’s first smartwatch starts at $275 (£279, about AU$350) for two color stylings: brown leather and black leather. If you’re looking to upgrade to a steel mesh strap, available in steel color and rose gold, it will cost $295 (£299, about AU$375).

Design

At this point in time, there’s little that hasn’t been at least attempted by manufacturers to replicate the intrinsic qualities of an analog watch. The Samsung Gear S3 has a rotating bezel, the Apple Watch 3 has a knurled crown. 

Those watches succeed, by and large at capturing the essence, but leave it to an actual watch brand like Skagen to make such a difficult task look easy. The Falster smartwatch sits at almost perfect parity with peak “dumb” watch style, it’s just a bit thicker, but the illusion is still intact.

Available in four color styles and an equal number of straps, there’s likely a Falster to match your aesthetic. Skagen sent us a brown leather model for review, but you’ll also be able to pick up this watch in a shade of stainless steel that matches in color with black leather, steel mesh, or rose gold mesh. The latter two models will set you back a bit more money, $295 (£299, about AU$375).

There are quite a few smartwatches that feature a round chassis – salvation for iPhone users looking for an alternative to the square Apple Watch 3 – and Falster gets added onto that pile, though it has a few extra design details that are appreciated. 

The steel lugs branching out from the body give it a distinguished look, aided further by the supple leather band. I usually toss a set of Google’s MODE watch bands onto review units we receive, but the Skagen is the first Android Wear smartwatch that looks and feels good enough to just leave alone – another perk to chalk up to Skagen’s heritage in making watches.

A thick, shiny bezel surrounds the circular AMOLED display featured on this watch. The fact that the screen sits within two layers of bezel makes it look a bit cramped, but the pixel density is high enough for text to pop with clarity. The rich colors and contrast afforded by the screen tech shows its stuff nicely here, too. 

The only swing-and-miss aspect of Skagen’s design is the button used for navigating Android Wear menus. Pre-release hardware we’ve tried seemed alright, but our review unit’s button doesn’t yield the telling feedback when pressed straight on. From an awkward angle, we’re able to get the “click” response, but it’s not well implemented on our model, at least. To add a little salt to the wound, the button doesn’t allow for easy scrolling through the operating system like we saw (and loved) with the LG Watch Style.

The Skagen Falster runs on the latest Oreo version of Android Wear 2.0 and despite injecting it with a few software additions, it’s the same experience you’ll find on any other watch running the wrist-based OS.

Users can customize the home screen directly on the Falster with complications (adjustable micro settings to personalize your look) and some exclusive watch faces courtesy of Skagen. Beyond just staring at the home screen, navigation is simple. To access notifications, just swipe up and each will appear one-by-one. If you’d like to launch an app, pushing in the watch’s side button will pull up the launcher, letting you finger through the selection.

The highlight of Android Wear 2.0 over Android Wear 1.0 is that you can do a whole lot more with just the watch itself after you initialize the watch with your Android or iOS phone. Downloading native apps, listening to stored music via Google Play Music, and a whole lot more is possible thanks to this software. It sets the watch free from your phone. Unfortunately for the Falster, its lack of built-in GPS means you might want to keep your phone at your side during a jaunt outside.

Compatibility

Whether you have an iPhone or Android phone makes no difference if you’re looking to snag the Falster. Yet another perk of Android Wear’s second major software iteration brought more open compatibility. 

It’s good news for Android owners, who have long had access to a large selection of Android Wear watches. But it’s even better news for iOS users, who for a while were stuck with the Apple Watch as the sole option – though it will only let you read, not respond to iMessages.

Performance and fitness

From a hardware perspective, the Falster is stocked with enough power to hang with the rest of the modern Android Wear watches. Namely, its Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor and 512MB of RAM work in tandem to keep things relatively speedy when booting up apps. 

Simple navigation around the home menu is fluid, and drilling into tasks like dictating text messages or chirping a command at Google Assistant thanks to the built-in microphone happens without delay.

For what Skagen attempts, it succeeds with, though it leaves us wishing this smartwatch packed in features that we’ve seen even in the cheaper $159 Ticwatch E. Important stuff like a heart rate sensor, built-in GPS aren’t here, and the lack of even the little niceties like NFC and a speaker will remove this from consideration for several folks and our best smartwatch list.

As this wearable lacks fitness-facing hardware, save from the accelerometer that can track steps, there’s not a whole lot going for the Falster if you’re looking to use your smartwatch to get fit. 

Google Fit comes pre-installed and, for generalists, it’s a comprehensive way of tracking activity. There’s support for all kinds of workouts and sports, including but not limited to backcountry skiing, baseball, biking, crossfit and elliptical. But while some watches are able to provide rich workout data thanks to their built-in GPS and a heart rate sensor, the Skagen does what it can without them.

The results? We wish the Falster was capable of so much more for its price, but if a step count and distance travelled are the only stats you need, the Skagen actually does a pretty good job of tracking with location data and the accelerometer. Not to mention, the watch is IP67-rated for water resistance, so it can get wet – you just might screw up the nice leather straps.

Battery

No matter how nice the smartwatch is, what lies beneath the shiny shell matters just as much, if not even more. The Falster is among the best-looking smartwatches around, but even that doesn’t stop it from suffering the same fate as other Android Wear watches before it: the horrible battery life can ruin the experience.

Running with a 300mAh battery, our test period saw the Falster’s battery life plummet throughout each day, falling from 100% to 85% in as little as  one hour by merely walking around with it on. Thankfully, battery life didn’t worsen dramatically while doing activities, like tracking a walk or replying to text messages via voice commands.

But for a watch that takes nearly three slow hours to charge from a zeroed-out state with the included conductive charger, this is unacceptable. The sentiment applies broadly across the range of Android Wear smartwatches, but it rings especially true that for such a pretty watch, the fun just doesn’t last long enough.

The Skagen Falster is 2018’s best-looking smartwatch, but beyond that and its impressively low asking price, there’s not a whole lot else working in its favor.

That’s not such a bad thing if you’re looking for a well-built option that can do the smartwatch basics just fine. On the other hand, if you’re after a watch that’s competent for fitness and is stocked with desired features, like built-in GPS and a speaker for taking calls, keep looking. There are better-equipped, long-lasting Android Wear watches in our best smartwatch list.

Who's this for?

The Skagen Falster is for those who have been ever so patiently waiting for a smartwatch that closely matches the low-profile style worn for years – decades even – by analog watches. 

While not suited for fitness-centric individuals, or even those who want to dabble in working out in a way that’s deeper than tracking steps, the Falster is still a competent Android Wear smartwatch. But given that so many other models have achieved that status, the Falster falters in that it lacks fitness-focused features that many offer for a cheaper price. Things like built-in GPS, heart rate tracking and, critically for some, a speaker for providing any sort of audible feedback, shouldn’t be seen as optional.

Should you buy it?

If you’re itching for something truly new and innovating in the wearable scene, you’ll have to keep waiting because the Skagen Falster doesn’t deliver in that regard.

You’ll have a hard time finding a smartwatch that, out of the box, arrives in such luscious fashion. This is a really good-looking wearable that will attract the eyes of those who love watches. But focusing on value alone, you’ll have an even harder time justifying the Falster’s price when stacked up against much more affordable and feature-stacked competitors.

Competition

Ticwatch E

Robust functionality comes cheap in the Ticwatch E, which isn’t nearly as fashionable as the Falster, but comes packed with built-in GPS and a heart rate sensor for $159 – close to half the price of Skagen’s debut smartwatch.

LG Watch Style

LG’s stylish smartwatch sits close to parity with Skagen’s in terms of looks and functionality. At the time of its launch, we thought the Watch Style was a good offering, but time has shown that even if you can get it cheap now, the lack of features, namely GPS and heart rate tracking, prevent it from being a smart buy. Now, launching for $275, the Falster mostly find itself in the same place.

Misfit Vapor

Misfit’s Android Wear watch debut goes bigger than Skagen, both in terms of its screen size and its fitness capabilities. Striking a nice balance between looking gym-ready and suited for the office, the Vapor packs a lot of features in for the price, which is something we can’t say about the Falster.

Cameron Faulkner
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