Armani Exchange AX Connected review

A suit-friendly Wear OS smartwatch that also doubles as a decent fitness tracker

The Armani Exchange AX Connected is the first proper smartwatch to launch out from what the Italian fashion house calls its more 'accessible' brand. That more affordable offshoot was originally devised to bring the fashion house to a wider, younger audience.

Running on Google's Wear OS, the Connected unsurprisingly goes high on looks, but it's not scrimping on the big features either, bringing built-in GPS, a heart rate monitor and Google Pay to the party.

At $295, it costs less than the cheapest Apple Watch Series 4 model and is also slightly cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy Watch. Price-wise, it essentially falls in line with many other fashion Wear watches out there like the Skagen Falster 2.

We strapped on the steely timepiece built for men to find out if the Armani Exchange Connected has anything more to offer the smartwatch world. Here's our full verdict.

Armani Exchange Connected: Design, screen and comfort

Armani Exchange Connected review

While the Connected might not have the kind of hulking price tag you'd expect to find on a high-end Armani watch, there's certainly nothing cheap about how it looks.

Read this: The best Wear OS smartwatches to buy now

It features a stainless steel strap and steel bezel and while its underside is plastic, the HR sensor is covered by a nice bubble of glass. We’ve had a few compliments while wearing it, which seems as good a metric as any that this is a successful watch look. It's also available in a gold-tone finish but if you don’t like the bright, raw steel look, it comes in an ion-plated black model too.

In terms of durability and being built to withstand some rough and tumble, we'd say it should only be considered a semi-rugged timepiece. While this falls under the Fossil Group's new fourth gen smartwatches, it seems the Connected only carries an IP67 water resistant certification despite initial reports it had a 3ATM waterproof rating. So that actually means it's one not to take into the water.

Armani Exchange Connected review

The design definitely prioritises the look over some practical elements here though. So there’s no raised border over the display, which means the screen glass is more susceptible to knocks and scratches.

However, the Armani Exchange AX Connected display looks fantastic, aside from the common caveat that even at 1.2 inches, sharpness isn’t quite perfect. This is a 390 x 390 pixel AMOLED screen, and the panel structure highlights the very slight pixellation. The visual impact comes from quite how close to the surface the Armani Exchange AX Connected display appears. There’s real pop to it, and it enhances the impact of the thing’s all-steel visual presence. It also has an auto brightness setting, which makes the screen intensity ramp up when you wear the watch outside.

The watch also does more than most in offering ways to interact beyond the touchscreen. Its main side button, the crown, rotates and functions as a scroll wheel. You can use it to flick through notifications, or change the volume of music playing. What it does depends on the context.

A tap of the button above the crown takes you to the Saved Looks app. This seems sensible given it’s the Armani Exchange AX Connected’s only custom software. But we question how often the average watch owner would actually want to change their watch face. The lower button is a shortcut to the activity area. It lets you see your step count and start a tracked activity more quickly. You cannot customise these buttons’ functions.

After wearing the Armani Exchange AX Connected for a week the steel band also started squeaking a bit. This happens in some expensive watches too and can often be fixed with soap and water, although that's something you might need to be careful of when you consider the water resistance rating attached to the Connected.

Armani Exchange Connected: Wear OS

Armani Exchange AX Connected review

The Armani Exchange AX Connected has the latest version of Google's Wear OS operating system running the show and a Snapdragon 2100 CPU powering performance, like many of its generation. Fossil has since released a watch with the newer 3100 chipset, the Fossil Sport. However, as the upgrade focuses on energy efficiency and minor fitness tracking performance, the upgrade does not seem essential for this particular watch.

General performance of the Armani Exchange AX Connected is just like its peers. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 2100 runs Wear OS very well, but the platform is, as ever, far from immune to errant pauses and blips. It comes with the territory.

The Armani Exchange AX Connected does have the full gamut of smartwatch features though, which all seem to be in full working order. Notifications work well, there’s a mic on its side to let you talk to Google Assistant and NFC also lets you use Google Pay, the wireless payments platform. The Armani Exchange AX Connected covers all of Wear OS’s glossier features.

Armani Exchange Connected review

In terms of software extras, the main addition is the watch faces, although there's not an abundance to choose from.

There are four analogue faces and four digital ones and the analogue options don’t seem to aim for ultra-realism or a very distinct stylised look. Instead, they use “wake animations”, which construct the face, bit-by-bit, like a mid-90s CGI animation tech demo. It looks neat the first time you see it, but is ultimately a useless feature. Do you want to wait a couple of seconds before you can even tell the time?

You can switch the animations off, and the Armani Exchange AX Connected’s simplest “Dress 1” analogue face is perfect if you’re after a low-key look. The watch faces can be customised, and this is the sum total of the custom software packed into the Armani Exchange AX Connected.

Armani Exchange AX Connected review

Each face is split into an onion’s worth of layers. You can choose the colour of each, from either a preset bunch of tasteful options or any colour of the rainbow, when you dig a little deeper. You can make the staid looking analogue face lurid, if you like, although you can’t choose different shapes of hands, or fonts for the numerals.

Your creations can then be saved as presets in the Saved Looks app, the only extra in the apps menu. And all of the faces have always-on views, a stripped-back skeletal version displayed when the watch isn’t actively used.

Armani Exchange Connected: Fitness and sports tracking

Armani Exchange Connected review

This watch has all the ingredients a sports watch needs – there’s GPS and a dual-LED heart rate tracker. However, the stainless steel strap is a so-so fit for the job.

Essential reading: Understanding the stats on your sports watch

We removed three links from the strap on fitting, but after doing so there’s still a little bit of give to the fit. This is normal, but means the watch will move about on your wrist as you run. Such movement is a heart rate sensor’s enemy, as it often invalidates the reading. To get rid of the motion you can push the Armani Exchange AX Connected further up your wrist, which is good for the HR reading anyway. But then the clasp tends to tickle or irritate the underside of your wrist after a while.

Getting the idea? Silicone straps aren’t used in GPS running watches solely because they are better at dealing with sweat, and it's a bit disappointing that one isn't thrown in here to make it easier to switch between style and sport modes.

Armani Exchange Connected review

GPS tracking performance

The Armani Exchange AX Connected’s GPS is also a little slower on the uptake than most. Initial triangulation when you start tracking in a new area can take a minute or so. This improves dramatically with successive runs, but the lock-on is still slower than average. It suggests visual design has been prioritised over GPS antenna performance. No surprise there.

After the lock, GPS does not lose signal mid-track. We tracked in both urban and more open, leafy environments, and mapping accuracy is solid.

Heart rate sensor performance is also entirely acceptable after you work out how to best wear the Armani Exchange AX Connected during exercise. The response to mixed exertion levels isn’t, of course, as good as a chest strap, but we saw no sudden unexpected drops in heart rate readings. Or any algorithmic misfires suggesting we were working much harder than was the reality.

For a fashion watch, the Armani Exchange AX Connected makes a pretty decent fitness tracker. But don’t buy one if your main aim is marathon training.

Armani Exchange Connected: Battery life

The Armani Exchange AX Connected’s battery life is typical Wear OS fare. You should get 1-2 days out of it. Using it for regular checks of notifications, without any GPS tracked runs, it lasted bang on a day.

You’ll have to charge this watch overnight, every night. However, the idea of using a steel band watch for sleep tracking is not particularly appealing anyway. It’s certainly a a little heavy for that.

The Armani Exchange AX Connected’s charging mechanism is pretty neat though. And practical, a relief when the more stylish a smartwatch, the more chance it’ll have an irritating charger.

Its little charger pad looks like a wireless one, but actually uses two little metal contacts that correspond with metal rings around the curved glass over the HR sensor. This curved glass, along with a magnet, also helps keep the watch in place. It doesn’t slide off too easily.


Armani Exchange AX Connected
By Armani Exchange
The Armani Exchange AX Connected is more than a basic Wear OS smartwatch with a pretty face. It’s a fashion watch that can be nudged into working as a run tracker too. A stainless steel strap and slightly slow off the mark GPS mean it’s not perfect for the role, but no-one’s trying to say it is meant to be. The issues more relevant to the Armani Exchange AX Connected’s remit are that the battery life is not great and the watch faces focus too much on “wake” animations and perhaps not quite enough on their basic design. There are other slimmer, stylish options for men out there that are similarly priced (Skagen Falster 2, Fossil Explorist HR) that we'd opt for first. But if you're really sold on that Armani Exchange watch look, then this might be up your street.

Hit
  • Functional rotating crown
  • Punchy-looking screen
  • High-end look, mid-range price
Miss
  • Slow to lock into GPS signal
  • Custom watch faces not great
  • One day battery life


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