Alpina is one of the few Swiss watch brands that has decided it really wants a piece of the smartwatch action. It's already rolled out multiple iterations of its Seastrong hybrid range and at last year's Baselworld unveiled its womens Comtessa range. The blueprint has been the same; make the watches look like normal Alpina watches while adding the smarts as discreetly as possible.
With the AlpinerX, it's changing things up by putting those smarts a bit more on show. The hybrid smartwatch built for the outdoors features a small LCD screen that is able to display a host of information including environmental data like altitude and UV index. It will also dish out some hybrid staples like notification support and activity tracking.
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The retail price comes in at 895 Swiss francs (approximately $943), but Alpina is for the first time taking its watch to Kickstarter to ask backers to help shape the design and specs of the final version of the AlpinerX. That means you can pick it up for the early bird price of $450.
Unlike many crowdfunding campaigns though, it seems as if this smartwatch is quite far along the production cycle already. So far that we were able to get a fully working model to try out already. We'll have our full review in the coming weeks, but until then, we've opened up the box and paired it up with a smartphone to find out what you can expect from the AlpinerX.
Alpina AlpinerX: Design
As with a lot of watch brands, the first challenge is to make a smartwatch that doesn't look like a smartwatch. Alpina has been one of the most successful at pulling that off, but factoring in an LCD display does have the potential of breaking that illusion.
Thankfully though, Alpina does a fine job merging those analogue and digital watch worlds. The combination of the matte black metal casing, black rubber strap with stainless steel clasp and orange detailing on the watch hands and indices screams quality. Alpina is offering 3,200 colour variations as well so if you want to mix things up, you certainly can. It feels well made and crucially, looks the part as well. The twisty compass-themed bezel is another nice touch and its slender frame means it's not a bulky one to wear on the wrist either.
This is of course a watch designed for rugged use and the stainless steel body is water resistant to 100m. We've yet to test how robust and durable that watch body and screen is - there's a reason rugged watches tend to look the way they do - but it certainly doesn't feel as delicate as some Alpina's other hybrid watches that we've had our hands on previously.
We do need to talk about the display, which sits on the lower half of the watch face. This is not the first watch, and certainly won't be the last, to adopt this form factor. It's amazing to think how many watch brands have made a mess of adding a display into a watch in a way that impacts on the overall attractiveness of the watch. The AlpinerX is definitely an example of how the addition of a display has been executed well. It doesn't dominate the watch face, but also has enough room to make it useful enough to view your data.
That display is not a touchscreen so your means of navigating the watch is via the three pushers on the right hand side of the watch. The middle one (the crown) does twist, but that action doesn't unlock any features. Pressing it lets you activate the backlight for the display and scroll through the different data screens that are at your disposal. The pushers above and below activate sub-functions and sub-displays. There's a surprising amount that can be viewed on the watch so it will definitely pay off spending some time getting to know which pusher takes you to each data screen.
Alpina AlpinerX: Features
Alpina is pitching this as a hybrid smartwatch for people who like the great outdoors so it's cramming in a lot of environmental sensors it thinks outdoor lovers will find useful. It's got sensors for temperature, altitude, pressure and UV index all of which data can be viewed in real time on the watch with additional graphs viewable inside the companion smartphone app.
It also wants to cover the navigation bases as well, but there's some good and bad news on that front. The good is the ability to turn the watch into compass aligning the long hand towards north and the short hand towards south. The bad is that there is no onboard GPS. You will have to use your phone's GPS signal to track your movements.
Away from the outdoor features, it does offer activity tracking and sleep monitoring with the ability to track workouts (walking, running, Nordic and treadmill) from a sub-function on the watch. There's also support for notifications with slight variations on what you can view depending on whether you've got it paired to an iPhone or Android smartphone. So on iPhone users can view mail, text and call notifications. Android misses out on emails but will show calls and text messages. A whole bunch of third party apps are compatible including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp.
We shouldn't forget about the timekeeping features with chronometer and WorldTimer modes on board and the ability to set smart alarms.
Alpina AlpinerX: The app
Based on the fact that the AlpinerX uses the same Horological smartwatch platform as Alpina's other hybrids, you can expect more of the same on the software front.
The focal point remains the main home screen where you can view data in three rings. A bit like the Activity Rings UI on the Apple Watch, but on the AlpinerX these represent your activity, sleep and coach.
You can still set your steps and sleep tracking goals, there's access to the Swiss Connect cloud platform to store your data and you'll have access to the Dynamic Coach, which aims to offer tips and further insights into your health and fitness data. You can still export that data to Apple Health and there's a calendar to view your activity tracking progress over time.
It's clean, easy to get around and with the additional data provided from the environmental sensors, you can get that extra hit of data if you want.
The AlpinerX is no doubt a looker and is one of the sleekest hybrid smartwatches we've had on our wrists for some time. Its success though surely lies with how well it works as an outdoor smartwatch which is something we've yet to really put to the test.
While it's great to have all of those environmental sensors on board and have the ability to view the data in real time with ease, the lack of built-in GPS feels like a big omission. No doubt its addition would impact on the slim form factor of the AlpinerX but it may well decrease its appeal for outdoor lovers. When you can smarten up a Garmin Fenix 5 and get more tracking features as well, Alpina may have a hard task on its hands convincing someone to part a whole lot of cash to buy one.
We'll be interested to see how much that feedback on Kickstarter will shape the final version. Hopefully GPS will be top of the wish list and then, maybe then, it could be an outdoor hybrid to really consider.