The days of Misfit the fitness tracker startup are over. Since being bought by the Fossil Group, the company has turned its head to smartwatches too. It's already launched the Misfit Phase, its first hybrid smartwatch, and now it's getting more ambitious with the Misfit Vapor, a full-fat smartwatch that's moving firmly into Apple Watch Series 2 and Samsung Gear S3 territory.
We actually played with the the Vapor back in January, when it was first announced. What helped Misfit stand out from the plethora of other smartwatches out there was that this would come with its own operating system, which was refreshing in an sea of Android Wear. But alas, just two months later Misfit announced it was canning its OS and jumping to the good ship Android Wear after all.
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And that was a bit of a shame, because Misfit's proprietary OS was pretty nifty, taking better advantage of that round screen with a more circularly-oriented UI; apps showed in a scrollable wheel that went around the outside of the screen. Sadly, that will remain vaporware.
But we're pleased to see that Misfit has added some unique touches to Android Wear on the revised version, which we had a play with at Fossil's holiday preview in New York.
New looks, old looks
In terms of design, nothing has changed. It's the same circular smartwatch with a full touchscreen display and an optical heart rate monitor, making it the first smartwatch under the Fossil umbrella to offer those. One thing that is different, as we have now clarified with Misfit, is that the GPS is no longer built in. Instead it's using a connected GPS that will take its signal from your smartphone. The upside: you'll still be able to track those runs. Downside: you'll obviously need your phone with you to do so.
Building on the design cues of the Phase and clearly taking some inspiration from Fossil's legion of watch brands, it's no surprise to find that the Vapor looks great up close with its sleek stainless steel frame and stylish interchangeable straps. It actually reminds us a little of the Moto 360.
There's just a single physical button on the side and that's essentially your means to turn the 1.39-inch OLED display on and off. When it's on, it's an absolute beaut with rich, deep blacks that really help the display stand out.
Speaking of which, Misfit hasn't just loaded on Android Wear and let be - the Wear experience definitely has a Misfit flavor running through it, starting with the custom Vapor watch face which remains completely intact. From there you can check your heart rate or instantly start a workout, which boots up Misfit's activity app. Yup, you've got the choice of Misfit Activity or Google Fit right out of the box.
One of the other stand-out features is the touch sensitive bezel, which has been carried over in the Android transition and takes advantage of Wear's support for rotational input. You can browse the menus this way, while some of Misfit's custom apps will also integrate it.
We're interested to see how this performs as a fitness watch, but expectations are that it won't be a Polar contender in that department. Misfit has already told us we shouldn't be comparing this to high-end performance sports watches, which suggests it might not be the best choice for high intensity workouts. But we'll see.
It does at least have a good array of fitness focused hardware with the standard 3-axis accelerometer on board and waterproofing matching the Ray and Shine fitness trackers for resistance.
It felt like a bold move for Misfit to go it alone, and for many reasons it was probably the right decision in the end to opt for an ecosystem that's already in a pretty good place. Mobvoi has made the same decision with its new Ticwatches, moving from its proprietary software to Google's.
Misfit's own operating system promised applications, notifications and the ability to transfer music over to the watch. You'll still get that of course, plus all the Wear goodies like Google Assistant support, standalone apps, and improved Google Fit support. But there's a bit of Misfit running through its veins, which we really like.
The Vapor definitely looks the part regardless of the software. We just hope that that Misfit can deliver on everything else to really give it a chance of succeeding to give it a chance against what Apple, Samsung and the rest of the Android Wear family have to offer.