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Alpina AlpinerX review

The Alpina AlpinerX is the closest I’ve come to blending the joy of wearing a Swiss watch, while enjoying the convenience and information provided by a smartwatch. It looks and operates like a proper watch, in that it has two hands and a mechanical movement, and has a small screen to deliver its smartwatch features. The crucial thing is, I enjoy and want to wear it. It’s not the perfect smartwatch, but it gets very close indeed.

High-quality design

Alpina makes damn fine looking watches, and you know you’re getting something special straight away with the AlpinerX. It comes sitting on its own pillow inside a plush, leather-look case wrapped in a sturdy cardboard box, for a start. After unwrapping, you’ll find an outdoor watch that takes on the sporty design aspects that attract us to chronograph and divers watches.

The body is large at 45mm and quite thick. It does not easily slip under a shirt cuff, but looks slick with short sleeves or a loose jacket. The case is made from glass fiber with a stainless steel case back, complete with a cool engraved logo showing a mountain and the Alpina name.

A slightly domed piece of sapphire crystal covers the face, giving the watch scratch resistance, high levels of clarity, and a beautiful sheen in the right light. On our review model is a brushed steel bezel showing compass points that twists through 360-degrees, but the color of this, and the highlights on the watch face, vary depending on the model you choose. It rotates with a satisfying, high quality click. The tips of the hands and the number markers all glow strongly in the dark, but not for very long.

Here’s where I risk sounding like a snob. The Alpina AlpinerX has the cache of being made by a Swiss manufacturer, looking like a Swiss watch, and feeling like a Swiss watch. It’s the same appeal that comes from buying a Tag Heuer Connected Modular watch, a Montblanc Summit 2, or a Movado Connect. You get the reassurance you’re wearing a quality piece, and show you know good watchmaking when you see it, while still getting smartwatch benefits. See? A bit snobby. But we’re talking about expensive watches — it’s a snobby business, and that’s fine.

How often do you have to charge the Alpina AlpinerX? Never. That’s right, never.

Back to wearing the AlpinerX. If the look seen here isn’t for you, there are other options that increase the sporty style. However, it’s a large, masculine watch, and won’t suit small wrists. The leather strap was stiff to start with, and took almost a week to become comfortably flexible. It’s a standard 22mm size so it’s easily changed, but it does not have quick release pins. You can buy different leather and rubber versions from Alpina too.

The whole package is lightweight, and not once did I take it off because it became hot or annoying. In fact, I didn’t want to take it off at all. It strikes the right balance between Swiss watch style and high-tech appeal we’ve been waiting for.

Screen and battery

On the lower part of the face is a small digital readout. This shows all the sensor data, notifications, timers, and time zone information, and is controlled using the crown. There are two buttons flanking the crown, which is only a button itself, and has the triangular AlpinerX logo embossed on it. It activates timers, or scrolls through date and time screens. It’s all very simple.

The tiny screen is dim until called into action, and illuminates with a crisp white glow for outdoor viewing, and easy night viewing. With the backlight active it’s clear in sunlight, but without it, the angled legibility in particular is poor. The hands zip out of the way when you press the crown, should they obscure the readout, and do so accompanied by a wonderfully mechanical whir.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

How often do you have to charge the Alpina AlpinerX? Never. That’s right, never. It has a regular watch battery inside, despite all the technology, and it’s expected to last for two years before it needs to be changed. Even for a hybrid that’s good, and really excellent when you consider the watch has a screen and delivers notifications.

Due to the extraordinary convenience of not needing to be charged, the AlpinerX really is a wear-and-forget smartwatch. However, you do make some sacrifices. It does not have a haptic motor for vibration alerts, doesn’t have a heart rate sensor, and no internal memory for music.

Outdoor functionality

The AlpinerX’s hands are driven by an MMT-283-1 movement, the smartwatch platform used by Alpina, Mondaine, and Frederique Constant, and powered by a single internal battery. The watch connects to an app available for iOS and Android, and I have been using the Android version connected to a Huawei P30 Pro. There’s a wide array of sensors, from an accelerometer and altimeter, to a barometer and a magnetometer. The watch will tell you altitude, temperature, air pressure, UV light, and work as a compass.

In a world where phones are almost all set to silent, an audible alert on your wrist is unusual.

The air pressure and altimeter need to be calibrated to give accurate results, and the data needed can be found online. Data is shown on the screen, but the details are available in the app. The altimeter tracked a mountain hike around Taipei without a problem, and is a fun look at how hard you’ve worked. The air pressure data helps predict weather conditions, and was accurate.

Sadly, the UV sensor didn’t seem to operate, and never provided any data at all. The watch provides a temperature reading, but when it’s on your wrist, it will always be affected by your body. It’s best to take it off and leave it alone for at least 30 minutes. Not very helpful. The AlpinerX also tracks movement, and the results were consistent with the Huawei Health app that uses the phone to collect data. The watch can also track sleep, but it’s not the type of wearable we’d be comfortable wearing in bed, so Alpina has added an under-pillow mode.

The AlpinerX does not have a heart rate sensor, but it can be connected to a standalone heart rate sensor, so it could be used at the gym. There’s nothing complicated here, and it’s not a hardcore outdoor watch like the Casio G Shock Rangeman, or a Garmin Marq. It’s a casual outdoor watch, and is much like wearing a diver’s watch when you never go deeper into the water than a paddle.

Alpina AlpinerX review Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Smart functionality

Notifications are displayed on the small screen. Incoming alerts show a number related to the amount of messages, and a three character shortened summary of what app is calling. WhatsApp is WHA, SMS is SMS, MSG is Facebook Messenger, and Twitter is TWT for example. Depending on the alert, another three characters may show vaguely who the message is from. It’s only moderately effective, as the notifications aren’t accompanied by a vibration alert.

The AlpinerX  does everything you could want, without losing sight of its uniqueness.

Controversially, you can have a beep. It’s fairly subtle, but in a world where phones are almost all set to silent, an audible alert on your wrist is unusual. Hidden under the notifications setting in the app is an option to turn the beep off if you don’t like it. The AlpinerX’s screen is also best when viewed face-on. At an angle it’s not very visible with the backlight off, so discreetly checking notifications isn’t very easy.

The notifications are a secondary function here. They work, basically, and are a sensible addition to the watch’s screen. I’d be disappointed if they weren’t available, and find their inclusion technically impressive seeing as the watch doesn’t not have to be recharged; but they’re absolutely not a reason to buy the AlpinerX. If you want deep, detailed notifications, buy an Apple Watch, not the AlpinerX.

The outdoor features on their own are not a reason to buy the AlpinerX either. It’s when you combine everything together that the AlpinerX becomes a strong proposition — it does everything you could want, without losing sight of its uniqueness.

The app

Alpina’s app is similar to that used across all the watches based on the MMT-283 smartwatch platform. It’s basic, but attractive, and usable but not overly detailed. Connecting the watch is easy — you press the crown when it’s in range of the phone — but not always reliable. Often, it needed repeated button presses for it to connect and sync. This updates the time zone, if needed, along with the step count, sleep data, and all the sensor data. This is collated on easy-to-read graphs spread over the main page.

Everything you need is right there, but the layout could do with some simplification. For example, there are two menus for settings and adjustments, instead of one. The Settings screens are also poorly laid out, and are text heavy. There is also needless access to Alpina’s website from the most obvious icon at the bottom of the screen, which is a waste of valuable space for the owner, especially as the linked page is a 404 error at the moment.

The UV graph collected no data from our watch, and although notifications were delivered consistently through our test, connectivity was spotty. A phone restart was often needed to reconnect the watch and the app, if they fell out of sync due to distance, for example. The app isn’t terrible, but it’s not up to the standards set by Casio for its connected G-Shock range, and seems to have become less reliable than the one I tried when the AlpinerX first arrived in 2018.

Price, warranty, and availability

Buying the Alpina AlpinerX is a little complicated. The company does not sell them directly in the U.S. or the U.K., but they are available in Europe for 895 euros (that’s about $1,000), or through retail partners around the world. In the U.K., for example, online retailer Francis & Gaye sells the AlpinerX for 795 British pounds ($1,030). Those in the U.S. will have to import one.

Alpina provides a two-year warranty on watches purchased through official authorized retailers, provided the certificate is stamped. It doesn’t cover wear and tear, the battery, or misuse.

Our Take

The Alpina AlpinerX isn’t perfect, and taken individually the features aren’t reasons to buy it. However, when they’re combined with the appeal of owning and wearing a genuine Swiss connected watch, it rises above the crowd and becomes highly desirable.

Is there a better alternative?

Yes. Much as I like the Alpina AlpinerX, it faces a lot of competition, and it’s a niche model in a still niche market. The Apple Watch Series 4 is the best smartwatch you can buy, doing everything from software to features better than any other available. It costs from $400 too, so it’s half the price of the AlpinerX. If you want some designer flair, and have the disposable income, pick up the $1,500 Hermés edition with the double tour strap. If you don’t own an iPhone and want a Google Wear OS smartwatch, I recommend the Fossil Sport, which is about a quarter of the price at $255.

However, these are not as stylish, or as prestigious as the Alpina. The Wear OS Tag Heuer Connected Modular 41 and the Montblanc Summit 2 are both $1,000-plus Swiss smartwatches that add cache, but still need charging every day, and have a touchscreen. The Frederique Constant Hybrid Manufacture is stunning, costs $2,500-plus, and is based on the same platform as the Alpina, with similar features, just with a traditional look. Finally, you may want to look at Garmin’s $1,500 Marq, which have impressive specs to go along with the cool, focused looks.

There is also another option. if you want a watch made by a watchmaker, with connected features, take a look at the various Bluetooth models in Casio’s G-Shock range. A connected Mudmaster with fitness tracking is coming soon, while the GSteel models have simple app-controlled features, and the Rangeman GPR-B1000 brings plenty of outdoor functionality. If the look of the watch is more important than the notifications, these are great alternatives.

How long will it last?

The big benefit of buying the Alpina AlpinerX is that it’s made to last. The watch itself is hard wearing, with a scratch resistant sapphire crystal, a tough glass fiber case, and water resistance to 100 meters. The strap can be easily changed, as can the battery. Genuinely, the watch will last for years provided it’s treated well.

The weak link is the app. Alpina needs to support it over time to ensure it continues to work with future versions of Android and iOS, and to refine and improve it. There’s no reason to think support will end in the near future, but it’s a consideration, and really the only limitation to keeping and using the AlpinerX for much longer than you would a full touchscreen smartwatch.

There’s also the value. Although we won’t know for a while, the Alpina name may help the AlpinerX retain some of its value over time, or at least more so than a regular smartwatch made by a non-Swiss company.

Should you buy it?

Yes. The Alpina AlpinerX is the closest we can get to a serious, sporty Swiss watch with smart functionality, and desirable low maintenance for genuine everyday wearability.

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