Exploring the world of watches on a budget

Retrology - Another Kind of Strap

Some time ago, the fellows behind the Retrology "Another Kind of Strap" project contacted me to review their new product, a vintage style strap, handmade in Switzerland, with a bit of technology built in. Always curious, I accepted and soon received two simple leather straps and a brief note, but no hint about what kind of electronic wizardry lurked inside. Last month, they launched their Kickstarter campaign and revealed the secret that each strap contained two near field communication (NFC) tags. 

An NFC device operates by transmitting and/or receiving data via radio waves when a tag and a reader are in very close proximity. The The Android phone's touch to share feature and The iPhone's Apple Pay are two such examples. In this case, an NFC chip is embedded in each of the two sections of the strap. It is a passive device so it requires no batteries. It is also unencoded, so the user can configure it for whatever application they like, then share that data or command with an NFC enabled device. For example, you can encode a chip with your contact information and transmit your business card, or you could write a URL so it opens that web page. This would happen automatically by touching the chipped part of the strap to a receiving phone. It is simple, clever, and has solid real-world applications – in theory anyway. In practice, I discovered it was not so simple.

The biggest issue is that Apple does not fully embrace NFC. Only the iPhone7 and above are so equipped. I use an older iPhone, and so does just about everyone else I know, including my usual cadre of Guest Bum reviewers. When I finally found someone with a newer model, I discovered that Apple still has that capability throttled back. You need a third party app to read NFC tags, and there is no way to encode them, which means if you are using an iPhone with this strap, you are relegated to being a passive recipient, and even then, only with yet another app on your phone. Android devices, on the other hand, have been in the NFC game for a while now, and allow you to read and write to the chip directly from their native settings app.

Data transmission aside, I found the straps to be very nicely made, in a straightforward, rustic style that gives them a pleasant vintage look. I received two 22mm samples, one Whiskey (tan) with a polished buckle, the other Macchiato (dark brown) with a brushed buckle. A black strap is also offered and backers may choose thread color. They are a standard 75/120mm length and available in even sizes 18-24mm. They are also quite thin, just a touch over 2mm, allowing them to fit even the impossibly tight gaps of this Moto Koure.

The tabs are shaved to eliminate any undue bulging at the lugs, and I suspect that is where the chips are hidden. The sides are waxed and the color of the leather is rich and full of character. The Macchiato color displays a nice pull-up effect when bent. The only thing that bugs me is the fact that the adjustment holes aren't straight. It's a small thing that you won't notice while wearing it, but I'm picky that way. The straps pictured on the Kickstarter page appear to be a bit more tailored than the sample straps and have two rows of stitching, but the holes are just as uneven. Some strap makers skimp on the hardware, which lets down the whole piece, but not Retrology. These buckles are clearly of high quality, with a sleek shape, nice weight, and the attractive Retrology brand name engraved on them. 

I liked the Retrology straps. They are attractive, comfortable, and will complement a wide range of watches. The fact that they are on the thin side means they can be worn with some dressier sports watches and not just big, weekend bruisers. That said, are they worth your $76 USD early bird pledge? I suppose that all comes down to whether you have a use for the NFC chips. As someone who owns no NFC enabled devices and has little desire to do so, Retrology's high-tech feature would be wasted. On the other hand, if you are an Android phone user and a bit of a tech junkie, then Another Kind of Strap might be for you. In addition to the aforementioned ideas, you could use the chip to trigger any number of simple commands or data transmissions such as physical NFC locks, or the passkey for your phone. Of course, you also need to be wearing the strap to make your NFC action work and that might not be practical for those of us who switch watches often. If this is a concern, then the $30, NFC chipped Another Kind of Keychain might be the better option. 

Both the straps and the keychains are available for pre-order on the Another Kind of Strap Kickstarter page through November 16, 2017. ⬩
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