Mondaine Helvetica 1 Smart review

The best looking fitness tracker so far, but does the substance match the style?
Mondaine Helvetica No.1 Smart

We know that the Tag Heuer smartwatch will go on sale later this year but legendary watch brand Mondaine is first out of the Swiss smartwatch blocks. The Mondaine Helvetica No 1 Smart was announced back in February, before being demoed at Baselworld a month later.

If we're being pedantic, the first Swiss smartwatch was actually the Withings Activité that, although designed by a French company, was manufactured in Switzerland and carried the prestigious 'Swiss Made' stamp.

Essential reading: Best fitness tracker

And it's the Activité that the Mondaine's fitness tracking smartwatch squares directly up against. We've had the $899 activity tracker adorning our wrist for the last week or so, here's how it measures up…

Mondaine Helvetica 1 Smart: Design

Mondaine smart watch review

When it comes to design chops, Mondaine watches rule. Firstly, it has got the whole Swiss railway design going on, which is like having your smartwatch endorsed by time itself and, if that wasn't enough, the company has officially licensed the Helvetica font, which is enough to get the most ardent design nerds aquiver.

And while the Withings Activité delivered fitness tracking features in a Swiss made watch long before Mondaine, the latter has the benefit of having an existing winning design, and the difference shows.

The main face features those big bold numbers and dominating hands that are instantly recognisably as Mondaine, with thick bezels and dominating crown. It's a gorgeous looking watch, and an improvement on the rather medical looking Withings.

While smartwatches such as the LG Watch Urbane and the Asus ZenWatch make a big deal of their leather strap offerings, the difference between those Android Wear devices and the premium Mondaine No 1 Smart are vast. Sure, you're paying around treble the price for the Mondaine, but you're rewarded with genuine luxury.

It's chunky, we can't ignore that – much more so than a regular Mondaine – but not ridiculously so and, to compare to Android Wear again, it's not as bulky as the circular efforts we've seen emerging from the Google stable.

Mondaine Helvetica 1 Smart: Features

Mondaine smartwatch review

At the bottom of the watch face is the secondary dial that offers an at-a-glance look at your progress against your daily goal. Unlike the Withings Activité, however, things are a bit more detailed than just a goal percentage.

The big grey hand points to the current day of the month, while the second smaller hand rotates to show your step goal percentage. However, when you go to sleep, the date hand will move to the sleep position, and the second hand will turn to reveal the percentage of sleep. What's more, you can tweak the settings to enable the watch to track sleep from lying under your pillow, rather than on your arm, if you don't feel comfortable wearing the heavy metal watch to bed.

Essential reading: Best smartwatch round-up

Sticking with the sleeping features and the Mondaine Smart offers details on your deep and light sleep, the amount of time you were awake, and a count of the times that you awoke from the land of nod. However, you have to manually enter sleep mode, either by pushing the dial on the watch or by selecting the mode in the app.

Smart alarms are on offer, however, to wake you during periods of light sleep and there's also a handy power nap mode for daysleepers.

In terms of activity tracking, the usual fitness tracker mix is on offer: steps, calories and distances. As with any algorithmic metric calculation, there's an element of trust that the device is counting in the realms of accuracy but, compared to both a Fitbit and a Garmin fitness tracker, we found the Mondaine pretty much on the money.

That's probably because of the tracking tech that's built in – Mondaine hasn't taken it upon itself to do the recording all by itself; it's all handled by MotionX – a platform from Silicon Valley based company Fullpower, which has jumped into bed with three Swiss watchmakers to do their smart stuff. MotionX also power Jawbone and Nike wearables, so it's a brand you can trust.

Unlike the Nevo smartwatch, there are no smartwatch-esque notifications with the Mondaine Smart – it would have been nice for the watch to at least buzz when a text or incoming call came in, for example.

Mondaine Helvetica 1 Smart: App

Mondaine smart watch review

The No 1 Smart is part of the Horological Smartwatch Open Platform; an umbrella organisation that will see a raft of new Swiss made smartwatches arriving in the near future from the likes of Frederique Constant.

It's a new platform born out of a partnership between Silicon Valley based Fullpower Technologies and Union Horlogère Holding, who owns Swiss watch brands Frederique Constant and Alpina.

As such, the app is a universal one for the platform, rather than the individual devices and, the app we tested our Mondaine review sample with, was very much a work in progress – it's not yet officially available in either Google Play or iTunes.

So, we'll reserve judgement on some of the bugs we encountered – most notably the beta app thought our watch was a Frederique Constant device and we had issues aligning the date hand.

Rather, we'll focus on what the app did offer. While not as comprehensive as what you might expect from the likes of Jawbone or Fitbit, you do get a clear overview of your activities and sleep, broken down by day, week or month.

It's all a bit basic, and the graphics could do with jazzing up but the essential info is all there and easily accessible, and there's also the option of exporting data to data files or connected social media apps – at least there will be in the finished design.

When it comes to battery life, Mondaine claims that its quartz movement will last two years before you have to get the cell changed. We'll update this review in a couple of years to let you know if that's true...

Mondaine Helvetica No 1 Smart review


Mondaine Helvetica No 1 Smart
By Mondaine
While we do feel some sympathy for Withings, which started the Swiss built activity tracker movement, there's no doubt we'd rather have the Mondaine on our wrist. By taking a classic design and adding tracking smarts, it was always going to win the wearability war. Mondaine watches are inherently wearable and the MotionX tech packed inside the company’s first connected timepiece hasn’t altered that fact. It’s simply stunning, easily the best looking piece of wrist-based wearable tech that we’ve come across so far. It could have fallen flat on its face if the fitness tracking aspects weren’t up to scratch but Mondaine avoided that embarrassment by enlisting the Silicon Valley experts and, while the app still needs some work, the essential ingredients are all there and the information is easily absorbable. Yes, it’s expensive, at $850, but you’re paying for solid Swiss Made quality.

Hit
  • Absolutely stunning design
  • Incredibly well built
  • Accurate fitness tracking
Miss
  • App is fairly basic
  • It isn’t cheap
  • No smartwatch notifications

8 Comments

  • Extraneus says:

    Better looking than the Withings Activité? Certainly a matter of taste, and a great demonstration of why tech bloggers should write about tech, not style. I'm an architect myself, and I'm pretty sure I'd prefer the minimalist approach of Withings to the brutish style of the Mondaine any day...

  • _Jim_ says:

    Hi,

    Honestly, Mondaine usually have good look... But this one definitly not.

    And I prefer the Nevowatch for the better look

  • _Jim_ says:

    Hi,

    Mondaine usualy have good look watch.. But this one is really horrible.

    I prefer the Nevowatch for the best minimalist design.

  • Creek says:

    Seems unfair on every other product here to rate this one so highly based on your preference for the way it looks?

    Maybe I have the wrong idea, but that's really not what a fitness device review should be about. It detracts from your other conclusions, which on the whole seem balanced in their objectiveness.

    My take on the Mondaine: a rather ordinary looking timepiece in a market crammed with dull black rectangles.

  • BroadwayPete says:

    Three deal-breakers for me (regardless of my thoughts about the design appearance, which, by the way, I happen to like!):

    1. With all of Mondaine's sophistication, the watch is missing the most primitive of all watch capabilities: there is no way to set the time manually on this watch! The time can be set only by pairing it with your smart phone. That's fine most of the time, but if you travel between time zones a lot, and, as many do, like to set the time of your destination the moment you board the plane, you will not be able to do it -- you'll have to wait until you land! Too bad about any ensuing jet lag!

    2. The strap is only 10" long, which is too short for many men -- they'll have to go replace the band before they ever start to wear the watch. For some reason, Mondaine believes in short straps (read all the comments for other Mondaine watches on Amazon).

    3. I have written Mondain through their Web site numerous times to try to get answers from them, but in over a week, I have yet to receive a response from Mondaine. And they do not list any phone numbers on their Web site. Who would like to spend nearly $1,000 on a watch where there is no way to communicate with the manufacturer?

    Maybe all this will be resolved over time, but as for me, I will look elsewhere for now.

  • Bhngh0 says:

    Watch not what I expected; it is bulky, too heavy and not that interesting as smart watches go.

  • pachieh says:

    Had my watch for a month and a half now (SN #1), absolutely love it. While bulkier than a normal watch, it's not as big as others. Given the fact it has additional "stuff" inside of it to make it smart, you get a bulkier watch. No way around it. It's not as big as my G-Shock I use while at work, is always accurate, and is beautiful. It is easy to read as well. 

    No issues with scratches on the sapphire glass, bumps, or the like. Just a VERY solid watch that I don't have to charge every damn day. We'll see how long the battery lasts!

    I use the MotionX app on my iPhone 6+ and have not had any issues. It's syncs every damn time (unlike the Microsoft Band and Health app which was hit and miss). 

    If you want to manually set the time, then manually set it on your smartphone, sync, then put your smartphone back on auto time. Your watch will then be good if you are that worried about it in the air.

    Overall, I love the watch. Couldn't be happier.

  • ian996 says:

    I bought one in limited edition 1957 flavour and absoloutly love it. The steps are more accurate than my fitbit, coming in a shade less per day, but then i don't wake up having done 500 steps. The sleep tracking i also find easier to understand and gives me simpler information that i can relate to - all in all it is very accurate.

    i also own an Omega Seamaster so am used to heavier watches, but i dont find either too heavy - infact it is a more indicative sign of quality, being very robust and extremey well made. it feels very nice on the wrist and the depth of the watch is very unobtrusive when on the wrist as the design accounts for it. a very well thought out design.

    I would prefer to have some kind of illumination so i can see the time at night, particularly as i wear this to bed to record sleep tracking.

    The app is easy to use, though i would like to see a few more features such as food/calorie intake and some GPS features making better use of the phone itself.

    I bought this watch for the 2 year battery life first of all so not having to charge up the aging fitbit is just fantastic. It looks great and the analogue looks with smart features really give this watch something many haven't. Very pleased with my purchase.

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