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Misfit Phase review: A stylish timepiece, but not all that smart

Price when reviewed 
165

The Misfit Phase is more fitness tracker than smartwatch, but it has the stamina to go for months

Pros 
Stylish design
Battery life that can be measured in months
Cons 
Coded notifications don't provide much of a filter
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When it comes to buying a tech-toting timepiece, you’ll have quickly come to an inevitable conclusion:

Features, good looks or long battery life. Pick two.

Misfit – purveyor of fitness trackers – has tried to fix this problem with the Misfit Phase, and the results are pretty good. Sadly, aiming for the holy trinity of features, looks and stamina has proved an ambition too far. It’s a case of close, but no cigar.

Misfit Phase review: What you need to know

How does Misfit make a watch that packs in features, good looks and a long battery life then? Well, it doesn’t have a screen for a start. Instead, the Misfit Phase looks like a traditional timepiece, with physical hour and minute hands.

It still connects to your smartphone, though, and gets notifications in its own way. A circular window at the bottom of the face changes colour to tell you when your phone wants your attention. This compromise solution leads to a battery life that lasts a whopping six months, with a standard watch battery.

Misfit Phase review: Price and competition

Misfit isn’t the only company to offer a low-tech/high-tech hybrid. There’s the Withings Activite Pop (RRP: £119), which tracks steps via a dial on the watch face – a trick also employed by the Timex IQ+ (RRP: £150). Even Casio has got in this tribute act with the Ediface EQB-600, which does even less (RRP: £300).

It should be pointed out that all of these have come down in price considerably since launch. The Misfit Phase, which first appeared at £165, can now be found for well under £100 if you shop around.

Misfit Phase review: Design

Misfit’s plan to make a smartwatch without a screen means that the design is considerably more traditional than many of its rivals. Which is to say that if you have a problem with its design, then you also likely have a problem with the design of watches dating back over a century.

That means there will be no discussion of screen resolution: what you have here is a pair of physical hands that tick around the circular face of the watch. There aren’t any numbers, though: it’s a more minimalist experience with lines where each number should be.

Our review unit came with a leather strap, which feels extremely comfortable and certainly looks the part. It’s not perfectly designed, though. The position and shape of the lugs mean that no matter how tight you pull the strap, the watch never quite lies flush with my wrist. That could be down to a weird wrist shape, of course – and in any case it’s not a big deal. It’s comfortable enough, and as there’s no heart rate sensor, you don’t need it to be connected to the skin.

There are just two buttons on the watch, both on the right-hand side, but there is no crown for winding. Instead, the watch figures out the time via the accompanying app for Android and iOS, updated via Bluetooth.

Misfit Phase review: Performance

Speaking of Bluetooth, that’s how notifications are sent. Well, sort of. As there’s no screen, you won’t be reading text messages or even seeing phone numbers flash across the watch face. There’s a small circle cut out at the bottom of the watch face, where a colour wheel rotates, giving you a colour-coded way of figuring out what’s happening on your phone, accompanied by a short buzz of an internal motor. You can customise the colour code to different notification types – though annoyingly texts and calls are unmovable. You can even assign specific contacts to numbers, so the watch hands point to the corresponding figure when they call or text.

It’s all too clever by half, really. Not only did I struggle to remember what colour I’d attached to each notification type, but I often found myself grabbing my phone to see no notification at all. And there’s no way of telling what the watch thought it was telling you, as the app keeps no record.

Worse, for me, the best use of a smartwatch is to act as a first defence against time wasting. If I get a notification that just tells me I have an email, then I still have to fish the phone out to find out what it actually was. In other words, it treats all emails as equal, whether it’s from your other half, your boss or good old-fashioned junk mail.

That makes it inherently less useful than an Apple Watch, but slightly more versatile than a Fitbit Flex 2. The good news is it works well as a step counter – and not only that, but it can make a distinction between running and walking. It won’t tell you how fast you were travelling, or how far you’ve gone – it doesn’t have the sensors – but it can at least tell you’re going faster than a walk.

Accurate as I found this, you won’t be getting this kind of fine detail on the watch itself. Unlike the Withings Activite Pop, which has a dial to show you how close you are to hitting your step target, the Misfit Phase requires you to tap the top button, at which point the minute and hour hand jump around the display to show your progress, treating the 12 hours of the watch face as a giant percentage bar. A second tap shows you when your alarm is set for – something that can be changed via the app.

So what does the second button do? One of four things, which can also be changed via the app. By default, it will tag physical activities, but you can configure it to play music, take a selfie or advance slides on a presentation. It can only do one of these at a time, though the app does let you add more than one if you’re prepared to mess around with long presses or a double/triple tap. This is just asking for slip-ups if you ask me.

The Misfit Phase connects to the same app as other Misfit products, and it’s pretty decent at making fitness easy to understand. This isn’t the complex world of cadence and stride length you’ll find in the Garmin or Polar apps but a clearer overview, presenting an easy to understand screen where activities are presented as points. Hit a certain number of points each day from walking, running or swimming (yes, the Phase is swim-proof too) and you’ll feel fitter. It’s really as simple as that.

The app puts you in charge of how ambitious this points target is, and as you slide up the number, it tells you how many hours of walking, running or swimming will be required to meet it. Like all the best fitness apps, it can also be connected to the likes of MyFitnessPal for food tracking or Runkeeper for keeping on top of runs for a more holistic picture of your fitness.

The Phase also keeps an eye on your sleep, and while it won’t be challenging the Nokia Sleep or the ResMed S+ any time soon, it managed to put some seemingly accurate figures on when I was out cold and when I was wriggling around like crazy. The big advantage it has over the sleep tracking of, say, an Apple Watch or Fitbit is that the battery life means you won’t ever have to skip a night for charging. We couldn’t test the six-month battery life for obvious reasons, but there’s no reason to believe it wouldn’t hit that lofty target.

Misfit Phase review: Verdict

I said at the start that the Misfit Phase looks to combine good looks, stamina and functionality into one package – the holy grail of smartwatches. Sadly, it only really managed to hit the first two.

Don’t get me wrong: it hits them in style, but it’s the functionality that has most people searching for smartwatch reviews, and on that score, the Misfit Phase feels distinctly limited. If you believe a smartwatch should be a filter between you and your phone, then you may find the Phase actually makes you check your phone more often because it can’t differentiate between what an urgent and non-urgent notification looks like.

But if you just want to track your steps in style, the Misfit Phase could be the tonic. Just be prepared to memorise a complicated colour-coding system if you don’t want to be a slave to your buzzing wrist.