It’s no surprise that most fitness trackers have swappable straps these days. Watches — smart or otherwise — are a fashion statement, people have different needs from their wearables, and everybody’s skin reacts differently to certain materials. But after trying out Nomad’s new glow-in-the-dark Apple Watch strap and Samsung’s hybrid eco-leather strap this week, I find myself yearning for straps that serve multiple purposes.
Nomad’s strap launched earlier this week, and it’s as straightforward as you can get. It’s the definition of business during the day, party at night. In normal lighting, all you see is a normal cream-colored strap. In the dark, it turns day-glo green. I’ll admit it’s not the most practical strap — it’s a subtler glow in person, but it’s probably not the best pick if I were to go to a theater. But the thing that spoke to me is it lets me switch up my style with next to no effort.
A more practical example would be the eco-leather strap that comes as the default on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6. Never mind that eco-leather isn’t always real leather. If it’s the look that you’re going for, it can pass both up close and from a distance. The hybrid aspect is that the underside of the strap is silicone. I’m a huge fan of this kind of strap because I don’t have to swap straps before a workout. The easiest way to ensure you stick to an exercise regimen is to eliminate as much friction as you can from the process — and it’s a big reason why I don’t opt for leather straps in my day-to-day despite preferring the look. This is specific to me, but I’ve already got to slather on sunscreen, stick in my contact lenses, get my water bottle, and sync up at least three other wearables for testing. The last thing I want is to add more steps before I can head out the door.
In both cases, it’s similar to the “day-to-night” concept — an outfit or makeup look that’s easily adaptable from one scenario to another with minimal effort on the part of the wearer. The “minimal effort” part is key.
In most cases, it’s not difficult to swap out straps. But sometimes, it can be! Straps that use standard pins are convenient in that many smartwatches and mechanical watches use them. I’ve got bad eyes and a penchant for manicures. Depending on how well the strap is made or the size of the mechanism itself, it can be a hassle to swap one strap for another. I’ve broken many a nail and chipped one too many manicures in the process. Button-based mechanisms — like Apple’s and Samsung’s new one-click straps— are less cumbersome but can still be difficult if you have limited hand mobility. There are tools you can buy to make the process easier, but then you’ve also got to dig out the tools whenever you feel like switching up your style.
The other issue is managing your strap collection. Smartwatch makers have gotten better about this over time, but sometimes straps aren’t backward- or forward-compatible. Or, say you decide you want to go up or down a size within the same watch family. Oftentimes, your existing straps may not work, and then you have a useless collection. At $60, Nomad’s strap is expensive, and if it didn’t feel like two straps in one, I’d balk at the idea of buying one in the first place — let alone having to toss it if it didn't work with my next Apple Watch. You can find much more affordable alternatives on Amazon or Etsy, but having to replace any part of a collection is an annoying prospect, regardless of cost.
If every strap you buy can work in multiple scenarios, you don’t need as many straps to begin with. My dream strap would be some kind of leather up top, with a more breathable nylon or fabric underside. (Silicone is nice, but my skin often breaks out in rashes from the contact; that never happens with fabric.) It’d be neat, if like Nomad’s glow-in-the-dark strap, you could have one that changes color depending on the light or body temperature — sort of like a mood ring. The more mileage you can get out of one strap, the less you need in your collection, and you’d have less of a need to swap them out for specific occasions.
I’m well aware this won’t appeal to everyone. Plenty of people like having a healthy strap collection, while others are happy to never switch from the default strap. At the very least, multifunctional bands would let you save time and money, without sacrificing style for folks who may lack hand dexterity. Considering how many knockoff leather hybrid straps there are and the fact Nomad’s glow-in-the-dark strap sold out in 24 hours, I don’t think I’m the only one who digs the idea.