This is a review of the second-generation Citizen CZ Smart Hybrid watch from the Japanese technology giant, which has been making “smartwatches” since before the term existed. The CZ Smart Hybrid is an interesting combination of a traditional-looking watch and dial, with an impressively robust smartwatch platform that was built especially for the Citizen CZ Smart product range. The CZ Smartwatch range includes both a more mainstream all-digital screen CZ Smart and the CZ Smart Hybrid. What Citizen doesn’t make immediately clear is that these are two very different product families, with the CZ Smart Hybrid being much more than a variation of the CZ Smart, even though they share some common software applications between them. So, let’s take a look at this Citizen reference JX2005-55E black IP-coated steel with matching bracelet watch and review a bit about the current market context.
I want to make two things clear: first, there is currently no perfect smartwatch as even the best ones are carefully curated mixtures of strengths and tradeoffs; second, I was not expecting to like the CZ Smart Hybrid as much as I did. Or perhaps I should say that I judged it incorrectly from afar. What immediately struck me upon setting up the CZ Smart Hybrid in the first place was how much effort Citizen put into this product. Citizen seems to have a grander plan for “hybrid” smartwatches that combine some traditional elements as well as a unique combination of their own software and in-house-made hardware systems. Citizen produces many types of watch movements from purely mechanical ones to sophisticated mini-computers on your wrist. It is thus no wonder that they are able to set up the process in-house to produce smartwatch movements. The fight to innovate smartwatches is a hardware and software battle. Citizen was right to conclude that they are uncommonly positioned to be a large-scale producer of smartwatch hardware in the future, even as a supplier to third-party smartwatch companies. This is all to say that the deep level of research and development investment you can clearly see behind the scenes of the CZ Smart Hybrid is related to growing the larger category as much as it is about making this singular product generation great.
Accordingly, I was equally drawn to the rich capabilities of the device and its broad area of software compatibility, beyond the “whiz-bang” cool factor of a watch with both a traditional dial and a software screen. I want to pause for a minute to talk about my surprise that this “hybrid” smartwatch dial look has turned out to be so successful. When smartwatches were slowly becoming a thing over the last decade, I saw a lot of companies try to come out with products or concepts that married traditional hands and a screen in a single watch. For whatever reason, a lot of designers felt that there was something missing if you had just a screen-based smartwatch. Conversely, those designers also felt that there was something very special about the idea of enhancing a traditional-looking watch with the added benefit of more data and capabilities through a discreet screen. Many companies have tried to accomplish this in various ways, including strange solutions such as putting a traditional mechanical movement underneath a smartwatch hardware system, with the watch hands being affixed to the mechanical movement below.
Citizen’s latest attempt at combining traditional hands and a smartwatch platform includes having everything part of the same integrated system and using a high-contrast memory in pixel screen (MIPs) display. It works pretty well when taking into consideration overall style, legibility, battery life, functionality, and price. Of course, the most immediate downside of not having a fully dynamic, high-resolution touch-screen display is going to be the limitations of the displays and functions you can have. With that said, a hybrid display like this allows for many times the battery life, a more petite package, more fashion style, and many of the functions consumers seem to care about in a product.
Another sidebar topic is related to the fact that the smartwatch market is currently heavily invested in experimenting with various consumer types and what types of products they want. Right now there isn’t too much hardware or performance innovation in smartwatches as most companies are limited by the realities of lithium-ion battery life and size, exacerbated by consumer appetites to upgrade more slowly than with phones. Instead, the top performers in the category are tweaking small features while trying to wow consumers with new software applications and integrations with other services that can be enhanced with a smartwatch, or that have data that can be reported on a smartwatch. One area in which smartwatch makers see possible growth is in making products that become indispensable to various consumer groups. A good example is the hyper-focus of some smartwatch makers (such as Garmin) on particular athletic groups, while other brands (such as Apple) focus on their products serving quasi-medical functions. That still leaves a lot of groups out there and I want to think that with the CZ Smart Hybrid, Citizen believes they are tapping into a consumer niche. I’m not entirely sure how you’d define that niche, but it seems to include traditional watch lovers with “tech adopters” who like using the latest tools and services in their daily routines.
Another example of tapping into growth potential is Citizen including a microphone in the CZ Smart Hybrid, enabling speech access to Amazon Alexa or other voice-assistant services. Citizen has also made their own IoT (Internet of things) platform called Riiiver that the CZ Smart watches can integrate with. This and other features are squarely meant for folks who have created lifestyles that require regular interaction with such services and devices. One of the most relevant features in the CZ Smart Hybrid for tech adopter types is actually something I have not yet managed to review (part of my hesitation is courage) and that is the suggestion software system Citizen works with called YouQ. This might seem a bit silly now, but I fully believe that software like this will be a part of at least half the population’s life within a decade or so.
Citizen throws in terms like “IBM Watson” (a supercomputer), NASA, and AI to help describe the CZ Smart YouQ app. That is mainly because too few people are accustomed to these apps and there is likely to be a public debate at some point about how people use them. YouQ, in short, (as I understand it) tracks information about you, in order to later make recommendations to you, that you might want or need. Part of this system includes a 24-hour “Power Score,” which is related to a secret mixture of what they call your “cognitive and physical” well-being. The overall goal is to help keep people healthy, informed, on time, safe, and ideally entertained. Large, natural language model-trained software is one of the best ways we currently have to deliver a real virtual digital assistant to the masses in the foreseeable future. We aren’t quite there yet from a full consumer perspective, but a lot of the software learning and work has actually already been done. As I said, I plan to review Citizen’s YouQ in the future (I simply had enough to occupy me with the CZ Smart Hybrid’s onboard software), but did want to mention that it is available with this watch, too.
Citizen has plans for a smaller version of the CZ Smart Hybrid, but this version is 44mm wide, about 13mm thick, and has a roughly 52mm lug-to-lug distance. The case is produced from steel that has been ion-plated with a black color. The same goes for the IP steel bracelet. Citizen sells other versions of the CZ Smart Hybrid that vary the accent colors, case finishing, and strap options. I found the tapering bracelet to be a handsome alternative to the mostly rubber or silicone straps married to most smartwatches today. The CZ Smart Hybrid is also water-resistant to 30 meters (splash-resistant as they call it) and has a mineral crystal over the dial and screen. The other prominent piece of on-board hardware is the heart-rate sensor system on the rear of the watch. This is important as Citizen heavily touts the fitness and activity tracking features of the CZ Smart Hybrid.
Some quick appreciation to Citizen’s engineering team for creating one of the cleverer magnetic charging dock cables that I’ve seen. In essence, Citizen engineered around the problem of the finicky connection, that is, the problem of knowing whether a charging cable is seated properly because the small terminal leads can easily disconnect. They accomplished this by using two circular lead tracks on the rear of the watch. These appear as two concentric rings on the rear of the case. Even though the two leads from the charging cable are smaller, they can connect with any part of the track they touch down on, even if the round-shaped charging cable is pivoted a bit. I found it to be a clever solution and proof of how young the smartwatch industry is if they are still trying to figure out charging-cable best practices (where there is nothing near standardization yet).
The watch case itself wears on the larger side (44mm wide) if you are accustomed to wearing traditional watches, but won’t feel large if you are coming from already wearing many smartwatch products on the market. You need to ensure a proper fit of the bracelet so that the weight (but solid feeling) steel case doesn’t move around. If you are worried about that, then I would recommend selecting one of the strap options for the CZ Smart Hybrid. I personally didn’t have any issues with the size, but admittedly wear other smartwatches for most exercise purposes. For me, the value of the CZ Smart Hybrid is in a smartwatch you can wear all the time, while in the office or in the gym.
The effect of the MIP screen, combined with traditional hands and markers in the periphery of the dial, is appealing. The CZ Smart Hybrid really feels like a traditional watch with a neat smartwatch stuck inside. The feel and look of the case are mostly traditional, and little on it suggests “smartwatch” at first glance. The watch even has a backlight (you tap the screen and four small LEDs light up to illuminate the entire dial) to help you read it in the dark because the screen looks more like a solid surface than digital information. As yet lower-quality resolution means pixels are visible. Of course, one major downside of MIPs technology is the lack of full-color or quickly animating displays that are not designed for fast refresh rates. Again, as you can see, there is no perfect screen choice for smartwatches as each type has various pluses and minuses.
My absolute favorite part of the CZ Smart Hybrid is the ability to entirely customize watch faces, using the smartphone software, and create a bespoke look for you. Citizen clearly put in a lot of software development time because they created a full graphical user interface system allowing you to customize watch faces. While the software isn’t an entirely open sandbox to play in, it does offer much more personalization and features than most of what I have seen. I think what was most interesting to me is the ability to let users not only define what information to have on their watch dial but also decide where to place it, giving users the choice to experiment with all manners of screens and sets of information. Indeed the options aren’t as robust as say on a Garmin smartwatch, but then again Garmin’s system for personalizing watch screens is painful by comparison to what Citizen has thus far developed for the CZ Smart Hybrid platform. One neat feature allows you to press and hold one of the pushers to clear all the inner indicators away from the dial and turn the screen into a simple time-only face. Pressing the pusher again returns it to the more complicated visual state.
The software interface to control the CZ Smart Hybrid from the watch itself uses a combination of the pushers and the hands which realign into an indicator arrow that moves across icons or text options. It is admittedly much easier to adjust the watch or use its features on the smartphone. With that said, the CZ Smart Hybrid watch is meant to be relatively simple, as large menus and menus buried within other menus could quickly make using the watch unwieldy. I’d say that for the second generation CZ Smart Hybrid, Citizen did strike a good balance of simplicity and on-board features when it comes to the CZ Smart Hybrid’s software interface.
It is also important to remember the solidly mid-range price of the CZ Smart Hybrid. Even this more expensive JX2005-55E version in black with the bracelet is still far less expensive than much of the competition, especially when you combine technology features with the watch case looks and style. The CZ Smart Hybrid is modern-looking and sporty, but it is also handsome and feels like a real Citizen product with personality as opposed to a generic-looking roundish wrist device with a glossy screen. Citizen has ensured that the CZ Smart Hybrid maintains its appeal as a wristwatch before it tries to be a smartwatch. It ends up doing both well, with the result being a product that has the uncommon ability to pull traditionalists into the smartwatch era.
Inside the watch is Citizen’s YF30 quartz Bluetooth smartwatch movement, which was developed by the company. Citizen claims about 18 days of battery life for the CZ Smart Hybrid, but I actually think some people might get more than that. Without a lot of connectivity, I can see this watch lasting for over a month between charges. Still, even 18 days between charges is a much more palatable concept to people with device charging fatigue. What I found interesting is that, to protect battery life apparently, the CZ Smart Hybrid will not start to charge unless the battery is under 80% full.
As I said above, the people Citizen seems to have in mind as ideal consumers for the CZ Smart Hybrid are regular folks with a fondness for fashion as much as modern technology. The fair pricing and spirited hardware plus software design of the CZ Smart Hybrid, along with its AI-powered personal suggesting application make it a win for a lot of people. Citizen clearly wants people to have fun while using the CZ Smart Hybrid and for that reason, I feel comfortable calling it an enthusiast product. If you require a smartwatch for very intense regular exercise data tracking, then a more purpose-dedicated device might be a good idea. Otherwise, Citizen’s smartwatch package for the mainstream has never been better. The retail price for the Citizen CZ Smart Hybrid reference JX2005-55E watch is $425 USD. Learn more at the Citizen website here.