The new Citizen CZ Smart is late to the smartwatch game. Since Apple launched its first watch in 2015, total U.S. smartwatch sales have jumped from nine to 22.6 million units per year. To carve a slice of that pie, the CZ Smart needs to be better than good. It needs to be disruptive. Start with this: it’s priced right . . .
Unlike the Swiss watch industry’s insanely expensive “answers” to the Apple Watch (e.g., the $1800 TAG Heuer Connected and $5k Hublot Big Bang E), the $395 Citizen CZ Smart isn’t an outrageous ask.
That said, it’s a WearOS watch running the last gen Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip. That puts the CZ Smart in direct competition with less expensive, similarly equipped rivals like the $295 Fossil Gen 5.
Worse, it puts the Citizen CZ Smart up against newcomers like the $300 TicWatch Pro 3 GPS running on the next gen Snapdragon Wear 4100 chip. Qualcomm’s latest is faster (150% GPU increase), offers larger capacity (85% CPU and memory increase) and longer battery life (25% greater power save).
The new Qualcomm chip is a big deal – there’s a reason “Is WearOS dead?” is a top Google search term. Citizen doesn’t have it. Which means the CZ Smart is not as good as the TicWatch or other, soon-to-be-released WearOS watches in terms of colors (16 vs. 64k) and overall performance.
Not to mention the 500-pound Apple Watch gorilla in the room. Or the fact that Fitbit has just updated its Sense and Versa models with Wear OS41 software, enabling Google and Alexa interaction, phone calls and voice text messaging. So what makes the last gen Citizen CZ Smart smartwatch stand apart? Let’s go to the tape . . .
The Citizen CZ Smart has all the basic features you’d want on a smartwatch, but it’s clear the design team was ticking boxes rather thinking outside the box. Let’s take a closer look:
Unlike the Apple Watch, the 46mm Citizen CZ Smart is round (obviously). But I reckon it’s takes the “smartwatch that looks like a traditional watch” shtick – the strategy adopted by TAG and Hublot – where it needs to go. Downmarket.
Traditional watch-loving types will immediately clock the luminescent rotating bezel, crown guard and stopwatch style pushers. Equally, all the electronic faces look like they were designed by watch people – rather than programmers who spent their teenage years staring at a computer monitor drinking Mountain Dew.
Ah, but how do the bezel and pushers integrate with the programs? Why are the bezel’s first 20 minutes marked with dots (dive watch bezels traditionally demarcate the last 15 minutes of air)?
I’m astounded that none of Citizen’s promo materials give any indication of the hardware’s use or practical benefits. It’s all swipe and press. Still, judging from the first ever online review, I reckon I’ve found the CZ Smart’s USP.
Had the privilege of working on the launch campaign for this collection, so I had a very detailed look at the line. Citizen set out to design a smart watch, that felt like more than a piece of technology on you wrist, they wanted it to be a style and fashion statement – and they’ve done just that.
The finishes and manufacturing quality are superior to any other smart watch I’ve come across. Since the Google Wear OS has been integrated, it has all the tech features you could want, but it adds a level of craftsmanship that the smart watch segment has not seen.
So, is that enough? Yes and no. Yes, the CZ Smart has the watch-like style and build quality the smartwatch market lacks at a sensible price. It will sell. And no, Citizen’s first foray lacks the advanced technology that resurrects WearOS from the walking dead, bringing the platform up-to-speed (literally).
At first glance, the Citizen CZ Smart looks good, not great. But Citizen is a watchmaking powerhouse, a Japanese conglomerate that made the decision to take on the big boys at their own game. They’re in it for the long haul. Watch this space.
It would be nice if more smart watch designers took their cues from Tokyoflash, Pebble, or Casio. Smart watches should have their own design language. I was looking at “hybrid” Fossils when I decided to cave in and get a smart watch, but I’m glad I went with one of the cheaper Garmins.