A Case for Simple, Stylish Smartwatches

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Illustration for article titled The Skagen Jorn Is a Reminder That Simple, Stylish Smartwatches Are Still Great

Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

With all the advanced health features that smartwatch makers keep rolling out, it’s easy to forget that many people aren’t looking for anything more than notifications, good battery life, and basic fitness-tracking. Unfortunately, if that’s all you want, your options are either bland fitness trackers or chintzy smartwatches that look a little cheap. That’s fine for some folks, but the rest of us probably want a watch to be aesthetically pleasing. For the more style-minded person, I say: Consider the Skagen Jorn.

Let’s get this out of the way: Yes, the Skagen Jorn is a repackaged version of the Fossil Hybrid HR. And no, it doesn’t come with major updates that completely up-end the hybrid analog category. This time around, Fossil has mostly focused on minor software additions and a more minimalistic design sensibility. That might not sound like much, but after using the Skagen Jorn for a few weeks, I’m reminded how enjoyable a simpler smartwatch can be.

The Jorn basically keeps everything that made the Hybrid HR delightful: the E ink display, the clever way the hands move out of the way so you can read notifications, the 2-week battery life, and the ability to easily customize widgets and select different watch faces. What’s new this time around is GPS maps from certain outdoor exercises, competitive challenges with friends, and the ability to upload your own photos as watch faces. And because this is a hybrid watch using Fossil’s own proprietary tech, the watch has its own Skagen app and you can bypass Wear OS completely.

I found the GPS maps accurate, and as a runner, I appreciated their inclusion. The Jorn doesn’t actually come with built-in GPS, but even smartwatches and trackers using tethered GPS include maps nowadays, so it was a noticeable exclusion. You can see a more detailed map in the Skagen app, but the lil map on the E Ink screen is surprisingly cute, too. Oh, and the Jorn adds real-time weather as a widget option as well. I also got a kick out of uploading photos of my pets to use as watch faces. (This was a software update that also came to the Fossil Hybrid HR after launch, but I hadn’t had the chance to try it until the Jorn.) Less of a winner was the ability to partake in competitive challenges with friends. That’s because, well, I don’t really have friends who own either a Fossil Hybrid HR or a Skagen Jorn. Fossil says it plans on having public challenges to get around that, but none were available while I tested the watch. I only got to compete against myself in the beta version of the Skagen app and, well, I won. If you do have friends on this particular platform, however, this is a neat addition.

But just as the Jorn kept everything that I liked about the Fossil Hybrid HR, it also kept the things I didn’t like either. Namely, it’s not the easiest thing to navigate, there’s some latency when you switch between screens, the backlight is wonky, and while fitness-tracking is improved, it’s still not as accurate as I’d like.

The hands move to 3 and 9 when you’re browsing screens so you can more easily read notifications and menus.

The hands move to 3 and 9 when you’re browsing screens so you can more easily read notifications and menus.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

The Jorn doesn’t have a touchscreen, so you have to navigate between screens and menus using the three pushers located on the right side of the case. The top and bottom ones allow you to scroll up and down, and each can be programmed as its own individual shortcut. The middle button can also be used as an OK or Back button. All three also open their own individual shortcuts to various widgets, like a wellness dashboard, music controls, or workout logging. It’s not always clear when which button is going to do what, however. You get the hang of it after a while, but there’s definitely a learning curve.

As for latency, you know when you move to the next page on your Kindle and it takes a hot second? That’s what it’s like on the Skagen Jorn, too. This is more of an E Ink thing and it’s not a huge annoyance—it can just be inconvenient from time to time when you’re trying to quickly scroll through notifications. Speaking of the screen, while I appreciate that the Skagen Jorn fits small wrists well, the trade-off is that the text is very, very tiny and at times hard to read notifications if you have bad eyesight like me. To turn on backlighting, you can double-tap the watch, but I find it’s too sensitive and you end up with backlighting when you don’t want it.

I made my dog Daisy my background. She’s adorable.

I made my dog Daisy my background. She’s adorable.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

The fitness tracking on the Hybrid HR was…not the best. That remains unchanged in the Jorn. Heart rate-tracking is relatively accurate, and I found step counts were within 1,000 of my Apple Watch on average. During testing, I found that sometimes GPS distances while running were relatively spot on and other times, they were off by at least a half mile. That is no small discrepancy if you’re seriously training for a race. That said, if fitness is your main focus, this probably isn’t the watch you’d want anyway. (Running in a metal mesh or leather band is not something I’d recommend.) Though, I did appreciate that Fossil added the ability to auto-track workouts. This is especially true because, as I mentioned earlier, menu navigation can be finicky and who wants to stand shivering in the cold while trying to start a run? Hardcore athletes won’t be impressed, but if all you want is a ballpark picture of whether you’re getting a decent amount of exercise, the Skagen Jorn is more than capable.

You can now see GPS maps of your route in the Skagen app.

You can now see GPS maps of your route in the Skagen app.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

But if the Skagen Jorn and Fossil Hybrid HR are so similar, why would you buy the $195 Jorn over the currently discounted $139 Hybrid HR? To that, I say, it comes down to your style preferences.

The Jorn, which comes in five variations, has a classier, more understated look. It’s not that the Hybrid HR isn’t pretty. It is. I just prefer the Jorn’s flatter screen and cleaner lines. Personally, I find the Hybrid HR’s options for women lean toward more blingy, rounder designs that I feel meh about. This is, however, totally up to your preference. Also, as a petite-wristed person, I have to say I like that both come in smaller 38mm and 42mm options. However, it’s worth noting that there are only three 42mm and two 38mm Jorns, but many more Hybrid HRs. I’m sure more Fossil will add more design SKUs for the Jorn in the coming months, but right now the Hybrid HR has a wider selection. If you find a Hybrid HR that you like that’s cheaper? By all means—you’re not missing out.

The Fossil Hybrid HR (left) and the Skagen Jorn. Both are pretty, but I prefer the Jorn’s more subtle design.

The Fossil Hybrid HR (left) and the Skagen Jorn. Both are pretty, but I prefer the Jorn’s more subtle design.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

In any case, I’m glad that Fossil is expanding on its hybrid collection, especially as it seems we’ll have to wait a bit for its next flagship Wear OS watch. Sure, the Skagen Jorn has its downsides, but at the same time, its relatively affordable price, stylish design, and E Ink screen help it stand out among other hybrids. I’ve grown addicted to full-featured smartwatches with all the bells and whistles over the past few years, but I can honestly say the Jorn reminded me that sometimes a simple, stylish watch that does the basics well is all you really need.



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