The Phase is not as smart as it looks, but then Misfit does call it a 'hybrid' smartwatch. We weigh up its pros and cons.
If you’re in the market for wearable tech, you’ll have quickly learned there’s a payoff in the smart department. You can either have the feature-packed definition of “smart” or the good-looking definition of “smart”. The part of the Venn diagram where the two cross over is vanishingly small, especially when you try and add a third circle labelled “decent battery life” to the mix.
Misfit has attempted to square this circle with the Misfit Phase: a hybrid smartwatch that looks great and has six-month battery life. The letdown is that it’s only what we’d call “smartish”. Smarter than the Casio Edifice EQB-600, but a positive dunce compared with the Samsung Gear S3.
That doesn’t mean it’s bad, you just have to set your expectations to the right level.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Misfit Phase is that there’s no screen. There will be no discussion of resolution or pixels per inch here – the Misfit Phase is a watch in the traditional sense, with hour and minute hands that tick around the minimalist circular face of the watch.
There are no numbers on said face, either, just lines and a small Misfit logo at the very top. Two buttons adorn the right-hand side, but there’s no crown to set the time, as this is handled by the accompanying app. At the bottom of the watch face is a small circle that changes colour when the phone sends a notification via Bluetooth. You can customise what notifications trigger which colour, although annoyingly the colours for text and calls cannot be modified.
The strap our model came with was a leather affair, which feels comfortable enough on the wrist, although the shape of the lugs meant that we found it difficult to get a snug fit with our wrist.
That’s not a critical problem with no heart-rate monitor, but it’s a peculiar design quirk all the same. The leather version costs around $229, a rubbery sports-strap edition goes for $206. Both can track swimming, which wasn’t something we wanted to try with the leather strap, but it does mean that you can be comfortable wearing this in the rain without issue and, unlike touchscreen devices, you can rest assured a little water won’t interfere with your level of control.
Let’s be clear: much of what you’re paying for here is the looks, given the limitations of its smart functionality, and Misfit has scored a hit here. This is one of the most stylish wearables we’ve ever seen, even if it achieves this by actively going back to a previous era of wristwear. Features-wise, you can clearly get much more for your money elsewhere, but in terms of appearance, this is as good as it gets.
So let’s get onto those features. As with previous Misfit devices, the Phase is an activity tracker first and foremost. It keeps an eye on the number of steps you’ve taken and can tell if you’re running as well. The latter is handy, but don’t expect any in-depth analytical analysis from that. There’s no GPS or heart-rate monitor, so the watch won’t be telling you how many minutes to your mile, just that you were moving faster than normal. A binary indication: running or walking.
In fact, the watch itself won’t really be telling you anything. The accompanying app does most of the heavy lifting on that and, unlike the similarly analogue Withings Pulse, there’s no separate dial to see your steps directly from the watch face. Instead, you can see how much of your daily activity target you’ve hit by tapping the top button, at which point the minute and hour hands jump around to indicate the percentage of your target you’ve completed. A second tap will show you the time your alarm is due to go off, if you’ve set one.
It’s a reasonably elegant solution, but things fall flat when it comes to complicated phone interaction. That’s the job of the second button, but by default it can only handle one kind of input at a time. If you fancy a change, you have to adjust its functionality via the app.
The preset functions give you a choice between tagging a physical activity, playing music, taking a selfie and advancing slides in a presentation. By default, however, you can’t use the button to do more than one of those at a time, which is just as well if you don’t want your workout playlist kicking into life during a board meeting.
The app does let you assign functions to up to four custom button presses – double, triple and long presses – but some functions can only be assigned to a long press, and in any case this kind of setup is just asking for mis-presses.
And what of notifications? There are two ways in which the watch lets you know when your phone wants attention. The first is that it vibrates, but as that could mean anything from an urgent text message to some junk email arriving, the watch offers you a clue in the form of a colour-coded circle at the bottom of the watch face.
The idea is that you set a specific colour to a certain kind of notification, so you can immediately tell if the buzz relates to a WhatsApp message or a fitness notification. More cunningly, you can also assign a contact to a number on the face, so the hands will point to that number when they text or call.
It’s clever in theory, but in practice it’s all a bit muddled. Not only did we find that we couldn’t remember which colour corresponded to what kind of notification, but sometimes we picked up our phone to find nothing had arrived at all. What was the watch trying to tell us on those occasions? Maybe it was just to move around a bit more, but we can’t say for sure because the phone provides no record. If you’re the kind of paranoid person who wants a smartwatch because you don’t want to miss anything, this kind of ghost notification could prove irritating fast.
Perhaps more important, however, is that one of the primary functions of smartwatches is to provide a first filter for messages arriving on your phone. If we glance at an Apple Watch or a Moto 360 and see an email has arrived, we immediately know who it’s from and can make a judgement as to whether to grab my phone and respond. With the Misfit Phase, we’re told it’s an email, but we have no idea as to whether it’s a spouse, boss or the lawyer of a late Nigerian prince. In other words, the filtering is outsourced back to you.
The Misfit Phase joins the rest of the Misfit range in using the company’s regular app (available on iOS and Android). Just log in and sync the new device to it and you’re ready to roll.
This is where you carry out the humdrum tasks of setting the time and your alarm – the former of which is a tediously fiddly process where you manually adjust the hands to midnight with touchscreen buttons. It’s also here where you decide what a single, double, triple and long press of the second button should do.
As with other Misfit products, the fitness-tracking process is kept as user-friendly as possible. Instead of a set number of steps, the app wants you to hit a certain score per day, with different points allocated to different activities.
When you first set up the device, you decide the kind of points target you want to aim for, with a suggestion from Misfit as to what a sensible aim would be. It’s a sliding scale and you can be as ambitious or cautious as you like. As you slide up the scale, the app tells you how many hours of walking, running or swimming you’d need to hit that target, so you can work out for yourself what seems realistic. And you can connect Misfit to other apps, such as MyFitnessPal for food tracking, or Runkeeper for tracking your runs.
As for accuracy, we found the Misfit Phase did a pretty good job of detecting when we were running or walking, breaking down each day into segments, showing you when you were pushing yourself and when you were at your most sedentary.
Finally, there’s the sleep tracking. This is detected automatically based on movement, and Misfit breaks down your night into “awake”, “light sleep” and “restful sleep”. It did a pretty good job of detecting when we were sleeping and correlating our night-wriggling to how well rested we felt – plus the six-month battery means you don’t miss out by needing to charge it overnight.
Think about the problems you have with smartwatches right now, and the Misfit Phase ticks off pretty much every single one of them. The battery life is incredible, it looks great, and you can look at it in bright sunshine without wondering what the time is.
The trouble is that it jettisons the main benefit of a smartwatch in the process: you can’t see, and therefore filter, your emails and messages on your wrist. By building a hybrid smartwatch, the features have been pared back to the degree that this is a closer relative of the Fitbit Flex 2 than the Apple Watch.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you want a basic fitness tracker and find all the current options too ostentatiously techy, then the Misfit Phase is the answer to your prayers. Just be prepared to memorise a colour-coding system, and accept that when your watch buzzes it’s time to pick up your phone for closer examination.