Nowatch review: a chic stress tracker for the Goop faithful

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236496 nowatch akrales 0072.jpg
236496 nowatch akrales 0072.jpg

Modern life is stressful. The past three years have been particularly stressful thanks to a global pandemic, a worsening economy, and an aneurysm-inducing news cycle. But while most wearable companies have introduced features meant to help with mindfulness, recovery, and stress reduction, that’s not their main focus. But with the Nowatch, that’s the entire purpose.

You can tell from the name. Nowatch — pronounced Now-watch — centers on the idea that “time is now.” (You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s pronounced “no watch” given that there’s no watch.) The idea is to help you stay present and connected to the current moment. You get zero notifications, and you can’t even tell the time because there’s no screen (no watch, if you will). Instead, there’s a swappable disc made of gemstones or machined metal. But the Nowatch’s crown jewel is a Philips electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor, which gauges stress levels by measuring electrical changes in minuscule amounts of skin sweat. Using this sensor, Nowatch can purportedly predict when your stress levels will spike and send a gentle buzz to your wrist as a signal to reset and refocus.

All this is why the company dubs it an “awareable.” (I’ll give you a moment to groan at the pun.) A few years ago, I might’ve written this device off as a one-note gimmick designed to nab cash from the Goop faithful. However, stress is at an all-time high, and the American Psychiatric Association says that more Americans reported worsening mental health and anticipated increased anxiety at the start of 2023 than ever before. So I figured I might as well see if there was anything to this “time is now” schtick.

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Elegance on the wrist

I got a lot of comments from friends about the Nowatch while testing it out. It usually started out as an “oooh, what’s that wearable?” It’s easy to see why. On the wrist, the Nowatch looks more like a piece of jewelry or a minimalist analog watch.

My review unit has a 37mm case made of gold-coated stainless steel and a black vegan leather strap, and it came with two discs: a tiger’s eye and a malachite. But you can customize it however you want. There are options for silver, gold, and rose gold plating, ocean-recycled plastic or vegan leather straps, and your pick of gemstone or machined metal discs. Right now, you can choose between rose quartz, tiger’s eye, falcon’s eye, malachite, amethyst, labradorite, lapis lazuli, and white agate discs, or two different color-matched metal patterns.

I’m not the most fashionable person — the pandemic turned me into a comfy hobbit. But I felt snazzy, nay, elegant, wearing the Nowatch. It also wears like a piece of jewelry in that it doesn’t do much besides look pretty. Its health tracking is passive, and the main way of interacting with the Nowatch is through gentle vibrations. It’s rated for 5ATM of water resistance, but that doesn’t mean you should shower or do dishes while wearing the Nowatch — like some of my other plated jewelry, the case tarnished fairly quickly.

The charging dock doubles as a magnetic tool to swap out discs.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge and Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

On the plus side, the Nowatch is comfortable to wear. At 10.7mm thick, it’s nowhere near as bulky as some multisport smartwatches, and the interchangeable discs help zhuzh up outfits. If I was wearing a cool-toned shirt, I could opt for the malachite disc. For warm tones, I could just switch to tiger’s eye. It’s the sort of item you could easily wear to a formal or business occasion. The charger doubles as a tool to help swap out discs, which is another neat design choice. The bottom of the charger contains a strong magnet, and the discs themselves are also magnetic. You just place the charger over the disc, slowly pull, and then pop in the alternate disc.

The lack of a screen is good if you’re trying to cut down on distractions, but it’s not at all helpful if you’re used to any other sort of watch, including analog ones. There were plenty of times when I’d flip my wrist up expecting to see the time and get an eyeful of tiger’s eye — stylish but not useful when I just need to know what time it is.

Plenty of people wear analog or mechanical watches, which tell time and help limit phone use. In this instance, I ended up having to bring out my phone to check the time. Once I bring out my phone, I’m more likely to see notifications or feel the urge to check my messages. And isn’t that counter to staying present?

So-so health tracking

Stress tracking isn’t all wellness bologna. When you get stressed, you get a lil’ sweaty, and the electrical conductance of your skin changes. Some wearables, like the Nowatch and Fitbit Sense 2, use EDA sensors to measure those changes as a proxy for emotional and cognitive stress. It might sound like snake oil, but studies have shown it to be a pretty accurate method of gauging your physiological stress response. (That said, what happens in a lab isn’t necessarily the same as what happens on your wrist. Plus, EDA sensors alone can’t tell the difference between good and bad stress.)

Close up of the Nowatch’s sensor array on the back of the case

The Nowatch has an EDA sensor made by Philips, an optical heart rate monitor, and an accelerometer.

The Nowatch can track several other health metrics thanks to an optical heart rate sensor and accelerometer. Those include steps, heart rate, respiratory rate, and your “cognitive zone.” (It’s a fancy term for your mental focus.)

Over two weeks of testing, both stress tracking and health tracking gave mixed results. On the one hand, the vibrations were effective in getting me to pause and take a few calming deep breaths. I liked it. On the other, any positive experience I had was probably due to the fact I believed in giving this an earnest go. That’s the rub with this kind of gadget. I find woo-woo wellness as cringey as the next person, but if you’re too skeptical, it’s not going to work for you at all. I could show you all kinds of data and research on how breath work and meditation can benefit your mental health and stress response. That doesn’t matter if you won’t believe it can work. If you’re not already willing to try, I doubt Nowatch is going to be the thing that convinces you otherwise.

Person looking at stress level data in the Nowatch app

You can view your stress levels within the app.

The Nowatch also encourages you to capture “moments.” You do this by pressing the crown. In the app, you should see a snapshot of your biometrics at that exact moment in time. You can then log how you felt — stressed, fine, calm, energized, or down — and even journal about it. Depending on the emotion you select, the graphic inside the app will change colors.

While I dug the vibrations, I didn’t see much value in the cognitive zone estimates. That metric measures the percentage of time when your focus is understimulated, balanced, or overstimulated. My focus runs the gamut, but during the workday, I tend to stay on track thanks to my handy-dandy Pomodoro timer app. The Nowatch would have me believe that I’m understimulated roughly 90 to 100 percent of the time. It says I’m 94 percent understimulated right now. Well, could an understimulated person write and produce a whole review?? Hmm???

But let’s put wellness on the back burner and focus on the data. On that front, the device had a spotty record of correctly recording periods when I was stressed. For instance, I recently had to give a presentation, and while I wasn’t paralyzed with fear, I always feel a little nervous. That wasn’t reflected in my data, which said I was as cool as a cucumber. Another time, I was having a relaxing day of stuffing my face over hot pot with a friend… and it said I was stressed. However, it correctly identified a couple of times when I was stressed on a call and picked up on my existential dread before a seven-mile run.

1/5

This is the main screen and Nowatch’s animated graphic depicting your stress. It can change colors based on your stress levels.

Heart rate data was accurate. My sleep stages and sleep duration metrics were mostly on par with what I got from my Oura Ring, the Amazon Halo Rise (when my cat wasn’t mucking things up), and my other wearables — same with respiratory rate. Step counts were generally in the right ballpark, except when they weren’t. On a day when my Apple Watch Ultra recorded 27,919 steps, the Nowatch reported… 164 steps.

I’m not inclined to think this is any fault of the sensors. When it’s right, it’s right. From what I can see, the wonky data is a direct result of poor connectivity.

A Bluetooth headache

The most annoying thing about my experience is that the Nowatch frequently dropped its Bluetooth connection, and reconnecting wasn’t straightforward. Granted, Nowatch told me that, while the product is available now, it’s still in beta, so that might be a kink that gets smoothed out with future updates.

Again, the screenless display wasn’t helpful here. Usually, wearable devices provide visual signals to let you know what’s up. If you see a red phone icon with a slash through it, that’s a clear indicator that you’ve lost connectivity, and you know to go troubleshoot. I never knew when the Nowatch lost its connection to my phone. That meant I could go hours before noticing I was missing huge chunks of data. It only occurred to me that something might be wrong when I went 12 hours without a single buzz or if I decided to proactively check the Nowatch app.

Nowatch app saying the device is not connected.

I’ve seen this screen way too many times in my two-week test period.

By now, most people don’t need a manual to figure out Bluetooth re-pairing or troubleshooting. We’ve done it so many times on other gadgets that the steps are engraved in our brains. You try in the app and in your phone’s Bluetooth settings and then turn the damn thing on and off again. As a last resort, there’s always a factory reset.

The Nowatch almost never easily reconnected through the app. Once in a while, it’d connect through my iPhone’s Bluetooth settings. Every now and then, my phone would say it was connected but the app wouldn’t. Sometimes I’d just close the app, hoping it’d magically reconnect by itself in a few hours. That worked, sometimes. Other times, it’d remain unpaired, and I’d have to factory reset it.

Nowatch app showing a “ready to start pairing?” message on the screen.

Yes, but are YOU ready, Nowatch app?

Perhaps I’m too accustomed to other smartwatches, but factory resetting is yet another instance where I found myself wishing the Nowatch had a screen. With a display, you can navigate through menus on the watch itself. Find reset in the settings, and you’re done. With Nowatch, you have to stick the device on the charger, press the crown three times, take the device off the charger, and then put it back on the charger and wait for it to vibrate. If it doesn’t vibrate, repeat the process until it does. Resetting always resulted in a successful re-pair, but it meant losing out on hours of health data. So far, I’ve had to factory reset it three times.

So far, I’ve had to factory reset it three times

Lastly, unreliable connectivity made it difficult to test or gauge battery life. You get charging reminders through the app, but if it keeps losing connection to your phone, how are you supposed to know? Its estimated battery life is roughly four days depending on usage. I ended up charging more often just in case. On the few days when connectivity remained miraculously intact, I noticed I lost about 30 percent charge per day.

Expensive enough for the Goop catalog

While this is a stylish wearable, it’s also a friggin’ expensive one. While the device itself starts at $299, you pay extra for the strap and the “watchface” discs. Out of curiosity, I tried building my exact Nowatch review unit on the company’s website.

Here’s how that breaks down:

  • Case: $299
  • Strap: $59
  • Malachite / gold disc: $139
  • Tiger’s eye / gold disc: $49
Nowatch device on top of the charging dock with the alternate disc in the foreground.

One thing I was disappointed to see was how quickly the case tarnished after 24/7 wear, especially at this price.

Before taxes and shipping, that’s a whopping $547. That’s just one configuration, but even if you pick the cheapest options, you’ll still be paying more than $350. Plus, if you want multiple discs, they range anywhere from $25 to $225. The majority, however, are in the $50–$150 range. While that is expensive, Nowatch says the discs are made from actual gemstones that are ethically sourced from Kabul, Afghanistan. The gems are also hand cut by a family-run business in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India. That likely won’t appeal to everyone, but it might for people who would naturally gravitate toward this kind of device.

Smartwatches often cost around the same, if not more. However, for that price, smartwatches offer beefier specs and more productivity features — and screens. Meanwhile, the Nowatch is primarily a stress tracker and an iffy fitness tracker. You’ve really got to be into the whole concept for this to be worth the expense.

On top of all this, Nowatch also has a membership fee. You can pay $12 monthly, $108 yearly, or $216 every three years. But the most economical option would be the free lifetime membership. That, however, is a limited-time offer.

A niche wearable for a niche crowd

Nowatch isn’t a bad wearable. It’s simply one that caters to a specific crowd — essentially, folks who are inclined to buy into the wellness industrial complex. They might have a crystal or two on their nightstand and maybe an aromatherapy night light that spews lavender essential oil in a fine mist. We all probably have that friend who’s always going on about vibrations and energy. Those are the people who’d readily believe in and benefit most from this product. If that’s you and you happen to have deep pockets, you are a grown-up and are free to spend your money however you’d like.

Nowatch laid out between two discs and the charging dock.

This particular configuration costs a little less than $600.

If that’s not you, you can jury-rig an existing smartwatch to do much of what the Nowatch does. Most smartwatches have the ability to set breathing reminders — and that’s essentially what Nowatch does, albeit in a more Goop-y way. The Apple Watch and Wear OS 3 smartwatches also let you download third-party apps like Calm. If you really want a fitness tracker with stress tracking, the $299.95 Fitbit Sense 2 is a cheaper option with a continuous EDA sensor and a lot more functionality. (Though, it has been nerfed compared to its predecessor.) Mindfulness is an industrywide trend, so there are plenty of options. They do tend to have screens, but if you’re worried about distractions, you could turn off the always-on display and disable app and text notifications.

A few years ago, I’d have poked more fun at the Nowatch. That seems too shortsighted and mean-spirited considering the past few years. Any reasonable person would be stressed and anxious given the state of the world. The only thing the Nowatch harms is your wallet, and at the very least, it’s something beautiful to look at. If you must buy it, maybe wait until they fix the Bluetooth.

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Abraham
Expert tech and gaming writer, blending computer science expertise