From the moment I first heard about the What? Watch I knew I had to try it out. A watch that combines aspects of the old world and the new (traditional Swiss watch making and digital, app-connected functionality) was too much to resist for a tech reviewer like me.
Why? There’s no denying that mechanical watches have a certain appeal. To the Swiss, watchmaking isn’t just an art or even a science (although it is those things); it’s a lifestyle. Generations pass on knowledge and skilled craftspeople pour their soul into crafting high-quality timepieces. And the design is absolutely classic.
But we don’t live in an analog world anymore. We live in a hyper-connected world where technology makes rapid advances routinely. For most people under twenty, a watch in an Apple Watch or an Android Wear device. That’s just the way it is.
So a watch that tries to straddle the line between these two worlds and combine them somehow is an interesting experiment (to say the least). And the What? Watch tries to do this with one interesting feature in particular…
Freezing moments in time
Each What? Watch has a dedicated button that, when pressed, is designed to “freeze” moments in time. Or rather to help facilitate the freezing of moments in time.
It works by hooking up with an app on your phone. The app is a sort of photo-centric diary or log. So when you press the button to freeze a moment it creates a time-stamped entry in the app which you’ll then be able to add a photo to.
On the watch itself, you’ll see a representation of certain moments on the watch face. This is accomplished through what I think is a pretty cool implementation of E Ink (a monochromatic display — think Amazon Kindle. This is meant to give you a glance at the amount of moments you thought were worth remembering during an entire year. Depending on how you use this watch, you might either be inspired or depressed (or thrown for a loop if you don’t actually log every important experience).
After freezing a moment using the button on the watch you don’t have to add a photo immediately — you can add it at any later time. But in my experience, if you don’t add a photo to the app right away you’re going to be sorry. Lets say you want to remember five moments from any given day. You tap the button to freeze them and open up the app later that night to reflect on the day. Well, instead of reflecting you’ve got some tasks ahead. You’ve got to pick out a photo for each of those events. And to be honest, whether you do it right after hitting the button or store several up to take care of later on, it can feel like a bit of a chore.
I really wish there was a way that you could push the button and have a picture automatically show up in the app with the correct time stamp and meta info. THAT would be amazing. But it would require having some sort of camera on your person at all times. There are, of course, life logging devices on the market (such as the Graava), but they don’t sync up with this app or the What? Watch ecosystem. I suppose the only other alternative would be sticking a camera in the watch itself… but I’m not sure how well that would actually work.
What I’m saying is that I LOVE the idea of freezing a moment in time and having a photo attached to it. It sounds meaningful and useful and easy. But in practice it’s less easy (and more manual) than I think a lot of people will like. It takes more effort than the marketing materials concede.
But in the end if you’re dedicated to storing your moments and photos using the What? Watch system, it can be a great experience and certainly one worth investing in.
The app, I should mention, is very nicely designed and not overly complicated. I like the circular display of photos (which mimics a circular watch face) which gives my eyes a break from the squares and rectangles of Instagram, Snapchat and my camera roll.
The What? Watch model I reviewed was the classic. It’s got a bright, shiny metal casing (almost chrome-like) and comes paired with a red leather band. The watch face itself is white (aside from the gray E Ink circles which depict saved moments) while the minute and hour hands are black and are accented by the thin red second hand. The button you press to freeze moments in time is, of course, red as well. Finally, the metal buckle matches the metal watch casing.
I like the boldness of this watch’s design. It’s not muted in any way; on the contrary, it’s designed to catch eyes. There’s something hipster to this watch; it’s just how it feels. Yes, that means the design itself, but also the purpose and that fact that it has a digital component. It’s definitely not your grandfather’s watch. It’s stylish to the hilt; it’s loud and looks/looms larger than it actually is (which I like).
I like the minimalism of the watch face. There are no numbers; just large and small ticks. Instead what takes precedent are the E Ink circles which form an interesting solar pattern stretching out from the center of the watch. The grayness of the circles pairs well with the white watch face.
Quality and durability
There’s no doubt about it: this is a high-quality time piece. It’s premium, if not luxury, and that means that the materials are all top-notch. There’s nothing cheap about the What? Watch, but that doesn’t mean it’s indestructible.
Leather bands, no matter what watch they appear on (get it?), will show some wear after awhile. That’s a given and adds to the appeal/personality (depending on who you ask). But the metal casing, I’ve found, is somewhat prone to scratching. In particular (and surprisingly) it is the bottom of my What? What that has been scuffed up. I’m not really sure how, either; I can just assume it has been from setting it on my desk (which is glass).
I wouldn’t call the What? Watch fragile, but I’d say you should treat it with care.
If you’re looking for a way to more meticulously (and perhaps more stylishly) document your life, the What? Watch might be a great product for you. But I think many people will be put off by having to add photos in after freezing those moments in time (or forgetting to add those photos in).
As a watch, it works and looks great. As a half-analog, half-digital product, I feel like the analog side carries more gravitas in this iteration. The system would be perfect (and absolutely killer) if a person didn’t have to add photos manually via the app — that’s the one thing I think could turn out to be an achilles heel for lots of people (who might be looking for a more laid-back, automatic experience).
But this watch if you like to pay attention to details. Otherwise, a journal app like Day One might work better for you.