Will it ever work?
In short: if you want a simple basic fitness tracker that looks like a normal watch, then the Alpiner X Alive will do fine already. If you want anything more: be very patient because there are some problems but fixes are on the way they promise. We learned from the comments on this post that the situation seems to be better when you are using an iPhone compared to using it with an Android phone, so keep that in mind also.
This review is based on using the watch with an Android phone.
The unboxing experience could be better if you care about that, but everything arrived in good condtion.
Inside the actual watch box is a large manual with instructions for all of their watches except for the Alpiner X Alive… The manual shows how to set the time and date on most of their watches using the crown… The Alpiner X Alive does not have a real crown however.
On their website and marketing materials, the Alpiner X Alive is almost always shown with the display on. This is misleading because the display is never on, except for a short time after you press the button on the crown. They list “Always on Time & Date” as a feature, but this is only the time, using the analog hands. It would be nice to have the small display show some information at all times, with reduced brightness. We understand however that for the moment the display is always off to save battery and to keep the classic watch look. So, not a real problem.
Most modern watchmakers offer an easy way to change straps, these days. Not so for Alpina, unfortunately. You need to use a small watchmaker’s tool to pry them in and out. Not very handy, and again a sign that things were rushed. We guess some kind of quick-change bands will come later. We had to wait several months for our rubber straps to arrive after contacting Alpina a dozen times. These rubber straps are difficult to resize because the pins don’t align properly with one side of the buckle, and it took us almost an hour of fiddling to do that. If you want to do any sports or shower with this watch you will need the rubber straps, so make sure you have one.
When looking for help on the website or inside the app you often end up on pages full of mistakes and wrong information. It is clear that they copied the information from another watch and then changed it a bit. But they overlooked a lot of things. We guess this will be corrected sooner or later. The user guide also no longer opens from our device since the recent updates. An example of wrong information below:
So the first impression was not a very good one. Things feel rushed and unfinished, but at least the watch itself looks very good, and the rest can be improved later on through updates.
Using the watch
Checking things on the watch can feel a bit cumbersome, but you do get used to it. After pressing the crown button, it takes some time before something is shown. This is mostly because of the hands moving out of the way of the display first. Many times this is a good thing, but the watch also does it often when the hands are not obscuring the display at all. This could be improved. Actually, the best position for the hands when using the display would be completely horizontal. Now, they move too far, usually to positions 10 and 2. When both hands are between 8 and 4, there is no reason to move them. If you get a lot of notifications, the constant movement of the hands can get annoying. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it could help a lot if the display would already come on before the hands start moving. Since the December update, the hands move faster, so it’s less of an issue now.
There is no wrist detection. The watch will also show every notification when it is not on your wrist, and each time the watch will buzz and the hands will move, using battery for no reason.
A wrist-tilt activation would also be nice. It could also save battery during workouts, and allow for example to show the date when you flick your wrist. We hope this will be implemented in the future. You can switch the display off during a workout to save battery by pressing the crown, however.
The top and bottom pushers are meant to work with the chronograph functions. It would be nice if they could also be used as shortcut buttons to quickly access information without the need to scroll through all the widgets, or to accept or decline calls, or change music volume, …, but at the moment this is not the case. They do have some extra functionality during workouts and sometimes you can change or select things with them.
It takes a lot of fiddling to charge the watch. The clamp does not align with the contacts by itself. You need to keep moving and turning the clamp until you see that the charging starts, and then put the watch down very carefully or the charging will stop again.
Vibration is too light. You can almost not feel it, and the watch will certainly not be able to wake you up when you are sleeping.
So usability could be improved but it is not a deal-breaker.
The major problem: Notifications & Stability
We have rewritten this part of our review because there have been some updates that improved the experience. Before the January 6, 2021, update we experienced a lot of problems and we could not recommend this watch. The watch rebooted often, draining the battery completely, the app crashed often, and notifications only worked when the app was running. In short: the watch and notifications were completely unreliable. We even considered sending it back and asking for a refund.
The update on January 6, 2021, fixed most of this finally: the watch no longer reboots. The app is a lot more stable but still crashes now and then when opening it. But most important: notifications also work when the app is not running. So notifications have become far more reliable on Android.
There are still some issues however:
We contacted Alpina before purchasing this watch to ask if all Android notifications would be shown on the watch or only the ones from the apps that are shown on their website. They answered that the list of apps on their website was only an example and that in fact, all Android apps could send notifications to the watch if you allowed them to. So we went ahead and ordered the watch…
This, however, is not true at all. Notifications are indeed limited to a handful of supported apps for the moment. We could not get notifications for our emails for example. Not a single calendar app was supported at launch, but now some are supported. Alarms from your phone will not work on the watch, you need to set them in the app. You cannot see who’s calling or accept or reject a call, you only get a notification that there is an incoming or missed call. The missed call notification does show the caller ID, so we wonder why it doesn’t show on incoming calls.
If you consider this watch, make sure to check the list of supported apps. We had to switch to other apps for our e-mail and calendar to get notifications for these.
Notifications that are already handled on the phone will still show up on the watch. Since a recent update, there is no longer a need to clear them one by one, luckily. Just push the crown when you reach a notification that you had already seen, and the watch will go back to its normal functions. This is a nice improvement.
Notifications do not show emoticons, but instead display a combination of question marks and exclamation marks. Some notifications can look very weird and even insulting at times because of this. When you send a question to someone and receive “??!” as an answer, you better look at your phone.
The biggest remaining problem is that the watch loses its connection to the phone very easily. Bluetooth range seems to be a couple of meters at most. About half of our other smartwatches. So even if you have some notifications that work, you will miss some of them because the watch will lose its connection if you move a bit too far from your phone, and it will not automatically reconnect when you move back in range. You will need to open the app and wait for the watch to connect again. About a dozen times per day we have to open the app to get notifications to work again. We got reports from readers that the iOS app is more reliable and automatically reconnects by itself when the connection was lost.
We reached out to a company called MMT (Manufacture Modules Technologies) who manufactures the module, firmware, and app. They acknowledged the problems and told us that they are working on updates that will be released in the coming weeks, and that will fix the issues and will provide support for more apps. This was many months ago, and the real issues are still not solved, however.
Some good things to finish
The watch itself looks quite good. Lumen is great. After a whole night sleeping in a dark room, the hands are still clearly visible. Heart rate measurement seems to be accurate, and show the same results as our Garmin watches. Workouts are simple, and the display stays on during the whole workout. Step counting gives the same results as our Garmin Fenix watches (about 5% too high). So for basic activity tracking, this watch is fine, but if your smartwatch needs are mostly workout oriented, there are a lot of better options out there. Sleep tracking is ok, but sometimes registers too much sleep when you do not move enough in the morning. This has also improved with recent updates. The app statistics are also nice and will be enough for most people.
Battery life seems to be between 3 to 5 days for us now depending on the usage.
We really like this watch, even with all the troubles we had. A lot of them are fixed now, but the main issues remain.
The styling of this watch does not make it a watch that you would want to wear in the gym or while doing intensive sports. This watch is more for the urban city dweller who wants a stylish smartwatch and also wants some basic activity tracking. As a simple activity tracker, it will do fine. Until Alpina fixes the remaining connectivity problems, a watch like the Montblanc Summit is a better option if you are looking for a smartwatch with a more classic look, although it’s also more expensive. If you are serious about reliable activity tracking: get a Garmin, Suunto, or Polar watch.
If all you need is a luxury watch that also has a step counter and heart-rate tracking then you will already be happy with this watch. If you want more or notifications are important for you: there are better, more reliable options but these will not be hybrid watches like the Alpiner X Alive.
Update, March 2021
Today, after many months, we decided to stop wearing the watch. Each time we wore it, we immediately missed the reliability and functionality of our other smartwatches. This morning we took it off the charger, while it displayed 100% charge. We were just out of the door, as the battery percentage suddenly showed only 11%. Soon, the minute hand didn’t move anymore when we pushed the crown button, and by noon the watch was already 25 minutes behind time. Never did we have any such problem with any other watch, be it a smartwatch or a normal electronic watch. As a watch-collector, we will stay away from the Alpina brand, and the related brands that use the same technology from MMT. The watch can not be trusted and it is also clear that Android was, and still is, an afterthought for them. They seem to forget that 80% of the world is using Android and that most iOS users will prefer an Apple Watch. Other luxury watch manufacturers such as Montblanc, Tag Heuer, Louis Vuitton, and Hublot did a far better job, and at least provide you with a watch that does everything it promises.
Update June 2021
We tried the watch again. Connection issues not solved. We think it will never happen. This morning we charged the watch to 100% and 10 minutes later it reported 11% remaining. That did it for us. This was not the first time that happened. The watch goes into the drawer with the other smartwatches that we will never use again.