Emporio Armani Connected (2018) review

New for 2018, this is the second generation of Emporio Armani’s Connected smartwatch. It runs Google’s Wear OS (which has just been updated to the latest version, bringing a whole host of interface changes), and includes must-have features like NFC for contactless payments and GPS for tracking walks and runs without your smartphone.

Being from the Emporio Armani stable (although produced by parent company Fossil), the Connected also boasts a stylish design with a range of straps and case colors to choose from.

These are matched with a number of varied watch faces, each of which can be configured to make your watch truly unique - and the time is permanently shown on the display, something you still don’t get from the Apple Watch 4.

Improvements over the first-generation Emporio Armani Connected include the additions of NFC, GPS and a heart rate monitor. This - paired with the included Google Fit app - makes the Connected 2018 a good option for fitness fans, although we wonder how many consumers want a stylish designer watch which doubles as a gym buddy.

Color options for the Emporio Armani Connected 2018’s stainless steel case include silver, black, blue, green and rose gold, while strap materials include stainless steel, leather and rubber. For review here we have the silver stainless steel model with matching strap.

Emporio Armani Connected 2018 price and release date

  • Priced from £329 / $345 / $AU599
  • On sale now

Emporio Armani has priced the second-generation Connected a little below the $399 / £399 / AU$599 Apple Watch 4, when comparing the respective entry-level models.

This is a sensible move, given the Italian brand’s lack of heritage in the smartwatch space compared to the world’s biggest tech companies, and makes sense considering the Connected’s aging chipset - more on this later.

This price level also fits in well with other watches sold by Emporio Armani, making the Connected an attractive proposition for consumers who have already decided they want a watch from Emporio Armani, but who could be swayed by a smartwatch with a similar design.

Design and display

  • Stylish looks
  • Water resistant to 3ATM (safe to swim with)
  • Fairly compact for a fully-fledged smartwatch

Anyone who is already a fan of Emporio Armani will immediately be drawn to the second-generation Connected smartwatch. The device seems very much at home sitting alongside other EA watches, including hybrids and traditional timepieces.

This is a smartwatch which slips onto your wrist subtly, without feeling like you are strapping on a miniature computer.

The case measures 43 x 49mm (the strap lugs account for the extra height), and is 12mm thick. Although it doesn’t quite have the slim body of an Apple Watch Series 4 (which starts at 40mm), the Emporio Armani Connected should feel comfortable on almost all wrists - once you have removed some links from the metal strap.

Speaking of straps, the Connected’s strap is fitted with regular 20mm spring bars, each with a quick-release mechanism, making it very easy to swap the strap for something else.

That said, the four quick release notches can be seen through the open gap between the watch’s case and its lugs. These are much more obvious in reality than in Emporio Armani’s promotional images, and in some they appear to have been Photoshopped out entirely.

If the notches bother you, you can of course replace the spring bars with a set without quick-release notches.

We think the rest of the Emporio Armani Connected 2018 is attractive. It passes as a regular watch at first glance - especially because the always-on displays looks a lot like a normal watch face, complete with hands, hour markers and a small Emporio Armani logo (although of course this can be customized).

The AMOLED touchscreen display measures 1.19 inches in diameter and is highly legible, even when outdoors and dealing with the glare and reflections of bright sunlight. Enabling Wear OS’s always-on setting means the time is always shown and doesn’t require a tap, button press, or flick of the wrist.

The overall look of the Armani Connected is of a smart and stylish watch which works as well with jeans and a t-shirt as it does with a suit. We’re not quite sure if it’s one to take to the gym, but a range of fitness features mean that is perfectly possible, if aesthetically jarring.

As well as tapping and swiping at the display, the watch is controlled using a pair of side buttons at the two and four o’clock positions, and a crown at three o’clock which pushes and rotates for scrolling through the user interface.

On the back of the case you will find a heart rate monitor, and the strap of this particular model locks into place with a push-button, butterfly deployment clasp.

The case is water resistant to 3ATM, which means it is safe to swim with but shouldn’t join you on your next diving adventure. Finally, there is a small hole below the two o’clock button for the Emporio Armani Connected 2018’s microphone, used to interact with the integrated Google Assistant.

Specs, features, interface and performance

  • GPS, NFC and wireless charging
  • Wide range of customizable faces
  • Rotating crown is a neat way to interact with Wear OS
  • Chipset is from early 2016, and it shows

Our first few days with the Emporio Armani Connected 2018 did not fill us with confidence. The software felt slow and buggy, with the user interface jumping around jarringly as we pressed the watch’s three buttons to work out what everything did.

We were also confused by the ‘Featured Looks’ screen, which offers up a list of colors (of watch faces, we presumed), but tapping on any produces the message: “You don’t have any styles saved. Start customizing.” It wasn’t at all clear what this meant.

Add this to middling performance and the occasional system crash, and we were starting to wonder if the Armani was a classic case of style over substance.

But then Google’s new Wear OS update arrived in early October, and the situation improved. Weirdly, the version number is still Wear 2.0, but there are significant changes to how the system works.

Watch faces are now modified with a long press of the face you’re currently using; settings like airplane mode and battery saver mode (plus access to Google Pay) are found by swiping down from the home screen to reveal the Quick Settings page.

Swiping up reveals your recent notifications, swiping left to right opens the Google Assistant, and right to left opens Google Fit. It’s a much-improved layout which makes Wear OS devices like this Emporio Armani Connected 2018 easier and simpler to use.

Performance also feels like it has been improved with the update, but there are still occasions when it feels like the watch is being pushed to its limit while doing fairly mundane things - like personalizing the complications of a watch face.

That said, the Armani offers a wide range of varied and unique faces to pick from, giving you the ability to make the watch look truly unique.

Pressing the four o’clock button to open Google Assistant sometimes failed to work, until a second or third press then caused the software to catch up, launching us straight into a training session we accidentally started. Technological glitches like this, on a premium-priced device sporting a reputable name, are frustrating.

These shortfalls are almost certainly to do with the Connected’s chipset, the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 which launched way back in February 2016.

This system-on-a-chip was finally replaced by the Wear 3100 in September 2018, but that means the Emporio Armani Connected 2018 - a new smartwatch which has only just gone on sale - has to make do with the dated 2100.

All of that said, once you have the watch setup the way you want, with a face that is perfectly customized, it all runs smoothly enough.

Notifications come through just fine, Google Fit records your walking, running, heart rate and exercise, and media playback works as expected; but knowing the watch can occasionally stumble is enough to remind you of the hardware’s inherent limitations.

What we do like, however, is the rotating crown. It is very nicely weighted (slightly firmer to rotate than the Apple Watch 4’s Digital Crown), and is satisfying to use when scrolling through notifications or your list of installed applications. You can of course just swipe at the screen instead, but using the crown ensures the screen stays fingerprint-free.

Other welcome features include NFC for making contactless payments with Google Pay (something the original Emporio Armani Connected missed out on), and GPS, which we’ll cover in the next section.

Health and fitness

  • Heart rate monitor
  • Google Fit records huge range of sports and exercises
  • GPS means you can leave your phone at home

As we alluded to earlier, it is a strange move from Emporio Armani to fill a fashion watch like the Connected 2018 with fitness-focused features like GPS and a heart rate monitor - not that we are complaining.

Combined with Google Fit, the heart rate monitor takes multiple readings throughout the day and plots these on a chart (viewable on the watch and companion smartphone app, for iOS and Android), then takes a constant reading while you exercise.

Google recently launched a major update for Fit, which moves the focus from counting steps and distance to closing rings - just like on the Apple Watch and other smartwatches.

Two rings represent two daily goals, called ‘move minutes’ and ‘heart points’. The former takes into account general movement as well as steps, while the latter encourages you to raise your heart rate, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hit the gym hard every day to reach your goal.

The aim of the new Google Fit is to reward a lifestyle that is generally healthy, rather than only dish out points and prizes when you lace up your trainers and set a new 10k record.

Exercise is recorded automatically, but if you’re going to do something specific - like weight lifting, or a certain sport, like badminton, football or rock climbing, then you can pick the right activity before you get started.

The list of activities offered up by Google Fit is vast, from the more common sports and gym work to yoga, golf, frisbee, horse riding, and even other activities like gardening, and flossing (ask a teenager).

Integrated GPS means the watch knows its location without needing to ask your smartphone, so you can leave your phone at home and still have accurate location data for any runs or walks you log through Google Fit.

Sleep tracking is not offered by default, but there are numerous third-party apps which can be installed to track your sleep time and quality each night.

Battery life

  • Manufacturer claims one to two days
  • We found the second day to be a struggle

As with all smartwatches, the Emporio Armani Connected 2018’s battery life depends a lot on how you use it. If you cut back notifications to the bare minimum (calls and texts, for example), don’t interact with any apps, and don’t run a marathon with the GPS switched on, then two days might just be possible.

But we found that, in most situations, a nightly recharge is required; otherwise, the watch will die (or go into power-saving mode and no longer show the time permanently) mid-way through day two.

Heavy use - customizing a couple of watch faces, playing around with Google Fit - can see 10% or more lopped off the battery every hour, so your mileage really will vary.

That’s okay though. We’re used to charging our smartphones each night, so plugging in a smartwatch alongside isn’t a difficult habit to get into.

Verdict

The Emporio Armani Connected 2018 is an easy smartwatch to like, but a difficult one to love. The design is smart, stylish and does a good job of blending into the rest of Armani’s watch range.

We can see consumers intending to buy a regular EA watch, then opting for the Connected as a way of getting into the world of smartwatches for the first time.

But we think those wanting a smartwatch first and an Armani watch second will look elsewhere. The aging chipset is a problem, causing the watch to trip up and stutter when doing simple tasks like opening Google Fit or customizing a watch face.

With the Snapdragon Wear 3100 now out, it’s a case of unfortunate timing for Emporio Armani and parent company Fossil.

A 3100-powered Connected would likely provide an answer to all of the questions we have of this model.

Who's this for?

This is a smartwatch for those who want an Emporio Armani timepiece first-and-foremost, but who are open to being swayed towards owning their first smartwatch.

These customers will get a watch which follows the Armani house style, but throws in a strong set of health and fitness tracking features, along with the option to pick from a wide range of customizable faces.

Buyers of this watch will be more interested in how it looks than what chipset it has, which means they will perhaps be less likely to push the watch to its limits in the way a typical TechRadar reader might.

Should you buy it?

Despite being almost as expensive, the Emporio Armani Connected 2018 is not a smartwatch to rival devices from Apple, Samsung and LG.

However, if you are put off by the technology-first look of the most popular smartwatches, and would rather have a timepiece which is wristwatch first and wearable gadget second, then the Armani could be for you.

It offers recognizable fashion watch style with a good-quality, always-on touchscreen display, Google’s new-and-improved Wear OS with an excellent Google Fit app, plus a heart rate monitor, NFC and GPS.

In short, the Armani Connected offers just about everything you could ask for from a smartwatch; just don’t ask for everything from it all at once.

First reviewed: October 2018



from TechRadar - Technology Reviews http://www.techradar.com/reviews/emporio-armani-connected-2018-review