Elegant design, great build quality, powernap mode, two year battery life
Too chunky to wear while sleeping, have to remember to turn on sleep mode
Mondaine, the famous Swiss watch maker, has entered the world ofsmartwatches with the Helvetica 1 Smart, a device that offers a smart yet fully analogue experience. Similar to the Withings Activite, the Helvetica 1 Smart bundles an activity tracker and sleep-tracking smarts within a luxury design, avoiding the end result being some sort of plasticky monstrosity that sits on your wrist. This is a smartwatch that looks like a normal, “proper” watch.
But is the Mondaine approach genuinely appealing; is it smart enough or does it just feel like another well-known name jumping on the bandwagon? We’ve been wearing the Limited Edition 1957 model Helvetica No 1 Horological smartwatch for a number of weeks to bring you our verdict.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Mondaine uses memorable emblems – such as its SBB Swiss railway clock and the Helvetica font – in its design language. And if you think it looks familiar, that’s because the 1 Smart has the same iconic design that inspired Apple for its clock icon in iOS 7.
On the Limited Edition 1957 model, the black hands and solid 12, 3, and 9 numbers (there’s no 6) on the watch face punch out from a silver-grey background. Beneath the number 12 reads “Mondaine Helvetica Smart Swiss Made”, so you know this is the real deal. Hence the £650/$975 price tag, we suppose.
A brushed matte steel case and black leather strap complete the watch, giving a “manly” and “efficient” look on the wrist, as many have commented over the weeks. The Mondaine is a statement piece, but a refined rather than a bling statement.
At first glance the 1 Smart looks like a traditional mechanical watch, with no digital displays or readouts acting as clues to its technological innards beneath. The main differences between it and a traditional Mondaine is that the smartwatch loses the red-colour second hand, while that silver-grey face is interrupted by a second white dial with red iconography where number 6 would otherwise live.
This latter component isn’t an annual calendar, but an analogue representation of steps taken in a given day; it’s the smart technology at the heart of this unique timepiece.
Like the Withings Activite, inside the Mondaine smartwatch is an activity andsleep tracker. Mondaine uses the MotionX activity tracking and Sleeptracker sleep monitoring software – the same systems used by Frederique Constant and Alpina – allowing you to track your activity through the day and view how well you slept at night.
It also means you can get Get-Active alerts, in the form of beeps, and a basic form of adaptive coaching based on how you perform through the accompanying app – although these are more in the guise of well-being notes rather than a structured programme.
The data, which can be stored on the watch for up to two weeks without being connected to the app, connects to your phone via a Bluetooth LE connection. The company claims regardless of how much you sync the 1 Smart with your phone the watch’s battery will last two years. None of this popping it on a charger every day.
Pairing is simple, too, while transferring your stats to the phone is achieved by loading the app and then pressing the watch’s crown. A couple of seconds later – or, as we’ve found, slightly longer if you haven’t done it for a while – the data is transferred and you get to see a number of graphs on how you’ve performed. It’s simple.
Like many of the wrist-worn activity trackers there is only so much you can track effectively. The Mondaine is about keeping an eye on your movement rather than using it to really structure a full fitness regime. It’s not a running watch by any stretch of the imagination.
Move around and the 1 Smart will track your steps. As a rough barometer we found a 10km run completed the default 10,000 steps goal. Those feeling not as energetic can reduce the daily target to 2,000 steps, while those who really want to push themselves can up the ante with by selecting the 20,000 maximum.
The accompanying app is simple, but effective. The homepage is broken down into three rings: activity, sleep, coach, with the goal to complete the visual circle in each. The tracking happens in the background without you needing to think about it.
Although a quick glance gives you the baseline figures for the day, you can dive deeper either by going back through your activity over the time you’ve been wearing the watch, or within the coaching area by looking at averages for steps, calories, and sleep – broken down into daily, weekly, or monthly graphs.
If you’re a keen runner, however, there doesn’t appear to be a way to tie-in a third party to continue tracking your efforts without wearing the Mondaine. And with its leather strap that could be an issue for some – as swapping over to a running watch would mean using two systems rather than all data appearing in the one place.
The Mondaine Helvetica No 1 can also track sleep, offering a number of settings to ensure you are woken at the right time rather than from a deep sleep. That’s something the Apple Watch can’t do, for example.
Using the Helvetica No 1 Smart you can set up to eight alarms – just how deeper sleeper are you? – and set the watch to wake you between 10- to 120-minutes before your alarm (in 10 minute intervals) to time it just right. The idea is to wake you when you’ll feel least groggy.
Interestingly and rather welcome is a powernap mode where you can set how long you want to sleep for and what the maximum you want to sleep for is. The alarm then sounds after you have slept for the set sleep duration, or the maximum duration elapses. It’s a clever idea and one we’ve put to good use in the office… just don’t tell the team.
Sadly the same can’t be said for the standard sleep mode. In the month we’ve been using the Helvetica No 1 we’ve struggled to use it because you have to get in the habit of pressing the crown as you go to bed to engage the sleep mode on the app. Forget to do this and you won’t track anything.
But if you do remember, you come across the second and more obvious problem: the Mondaine Helvetica 1 Smart is a hefty watch. Something welcomed by day, but uncomfortable for night-time wear. The Withings Acitivite range succeeds where the Mondaine fails, because the former is so thin by comparison.
There is a mode to sleep with the 1 Smart under the pillow instead, but this just feels weird. If you sleep with your hands under your pillow you might end up knocking it out of bed, which defeats the object. In the end, we’ve essentially given up tracking our sleep using the Mondaine watch – but then we’ve never found a sleep tracker that we’re particularly fond of.
As a watch the Mondaine Helvetica No 1 looks both classic and contemporary. It is robust and solid in both its design language and build quality: brushedmetal steel, sapphire glass, a proper leather strap, and striking typography make for a strong statement.
The subtly of the tracking technology is next to invisible too, condensed into a simple at-a-glance secondary analogue dial. This isn’t about wearing a Jawbone or Fitbit on your arm, it’s about getting many of the same benefits without looking like a “geek”.
The accompanying app is also simple, but perhaps overly so at the moment. It delivers easy-to-understand figures for you to work with, but it’s a shame there are no third-party tie-ins, so those workouts from elsewhere can’t be condensed into your daily feed.
At £650/$975 the Mondaine Helvetica 1 Smart is the same price as the mid-rangeApple Watch, yet only offers a fraction of the features. However, the Mondaineisn’t pretending to be anything but a “proper watch” with activity-tracking and sleep-monitoring on board.
The Mondaine is a pricey but worthy investment for those who want to monitor their fitness and look smart at the same time.