Michael Kors Access review: A fashion-first approach to Android Wear

What can Michael Kors bring to the Dylan version of its Android Wear smartwatch? A lot of good intentions, and a not-so-svelte design.

If the Michael Kors Access has taught me anything, it’s that Android Wear watches from fashion-first brands—like Michael Kors—can’t spin Google’s smartwatch story in an entirely different direction. I’ve been testing the Dylan version of the Access for the last two weeks, and while it’s a perfectly good-looking watch, I can’t say it offers dramatically better materials or design compared to the best Android Wear watches from tech-first manufacturers like LG, Huawei, and Motorola.

The Dylan version of the Access bears the familiar “MK” logo on the top of its crown, but that almost invisible flourish will always be a little secret between you and your watch. Beyond that, we can admire the Dylan’s chunky lugs, chiseled bezel, and stark, monochrome palette. The design is effectively butch for anyone who needs that vibe from a watch, but unless you’re already familiar with Michael Kors timepieces, no one will spot the Access on your wrist and ask, “Yo, brah, are you wearing Michael Kors?”

michael kors access crown and lugs Jon Phillips

Chunky and architectural, the Dylan protrudes just about 12mm off of your wrist. And those aren’t screw heads on the lugs. They’re buttons, and you press them to pop out the strap pins.

Nonetheless, the Access version of Dylan looks very similar to the analog Dylan: more or less the same case and silicone strap, but with two fewer buttons, and, of course, a digital display for Android Wear. The Access also comes pre-loaded with various watch faces that preach the Michael Kors aesthetic a bit more loudly. So, if you just can’t lower yourself to buy a smartwatch from a tech-first manufacturer, you can jump aboard the Michael Kors train, confident that one of the designer’s watch faces will telegraph your brand affinities.

And the Access costs only $350 for the Dylan model I reviewed. That’s a notable—but not egregious—pricing premium compared to Wear watches from the tech companies.

Big, bulky and brand-correct

The Dylan version of Michael Kors Access has a bulky 46mm case. It’s big. There’s also a 44.5mm Bradshaw version that’s more gender-neutral. Both watches have stainless steel cases, but you can choose from a variety of finishes and straps. My review specimen came with a black case and silicone strap, but the Dylan is also sold with silver- and rose gold-colored cases and a leather strap.

michael kors access falling glitz face Jon Phillips

This still photo of the Falling Glitz watch face can’t even begin to illustate the showy animation that plays in real life. This one definitely belongs on the rose gold Bradshaw version of the watch.

The Bradshaw has a much wider variety of case colors, and comes with either metal bracelets or leather straps. Prices vary across the line-up, and the most expensive version is a $395 Bradshaw model with a gold-tone case and matching pavé bracelet.

Do you want more than one strap? Michael Kors says the only “supported” options are Michael Kors silicone bands at $40 a pop, and leather bands at $50. For what it’s worth, the lug width of the Dylan model is 22mm, but its strap pins measure 12.5mm.

michael kors access bradshaw trio Michael Kors

The Bradshaw version of the Michael Kors Access is slightly smaller at 44.5mm, and comes in many more looks. At the far right we see the gold-tone look with pavé bracelet—the most expensive model at $395.

But let’s go back to that really big case. Because the Dylan is so thick (about 12mm), I actually found it difficult to fit inside the cuffs of some long-sleeved shirts. That’s a first for me, and I’ve worn scads of analog watches, smartwatches and activity trackers.

The Michael Kors Access is also the heaviest wearable I’ve ever put on my wrist. Android Wear supports a few gestures that let you navigate its user interface with a flick of your wrist, and none of them are comfortable with a watch this heavy. Maybe if I had the wrists of Brock Lester I wouldn’t mind, but with my tech-journo anatomy, I see repetitive stress disorder in my future.

michael kors access digital face Jon Phillips

The Dylan’s silicone strap is comfortable and grippy.

If you can get past the size and weight, you’re left with a design that aligns just about right with the Dylan’s $350 price tag. The black steel case looks almost glossy but held up very well when I whapped it repeatedly with the sharp edge of a metal ruler. I also like the silicon strap. Its grooved texturing helps give the watch a bit more visual ID, and I love all silicone straps for their form-fitting grippiness. Just be prepared to keep it clean, as those grooves are magnets for dirt and debris.

For my own watches, I pick much more traditional, classic designs. But if I styled my hair with a razor-fade pompadour or maybe listened to Pitbull, I could totally see myself wearing the Dylan Access.

Strong battery life and a sun-friendly display

OK, let’s get into the guts. I won’t rehash Android Wear software specifics, but I will share that the Michael Kors Access was running Android Wear 1.5, so it’s definitely not a launch platform for the imminent Android Wear 2.0, which you can read about here. But there’s still a surprise hiding inside the watch: Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor.

michael kors access extra shot Jon Phillips

The Notes complication has a very subtle star scene animation, and reveals steps progress, the current weather and time zone differentials.

As the name suggests, this chip was designed expressly for next-generation Android Wear watches. Its 30 percent smaller than Qualcomm’s previous-generation chip, and in theory allows for thinner case designs (though, clearly, Michael Kors didn’t get the message). The Wear 2100 also has built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support, and consumes 25 percent less power than Qualcomm’s previous silicon. I never hammered the watch with excessive use, but I was happy with battery life, and finished all my days of testing with at least 30 percent battery capacity remaining.

Just like all other Android Wear watches, the Access comes with 4GB of storage for apps and music files. The watch is water-resistant to only 1 ATM, so it’s definitely not as rugged as, say, the Nixon Mission, which is good for 10 ATM.

michael kors access engine face Jon Phillips

Note the “flat tire” of missing pixels at the bottom of the display.

In terms of raw components, the watch’s 1.4-inch TFT LCD display may be the star of the show. With a resolution of 320x290, it has a “flat tire” of missing pixels at the bottom of the display. The touch display is also just a tad slow to respond to swipe gestures. These are negatives, for sure, but damn this watch is legible in sunlight.

For this we can thank transflective display tech. Colors are washed out under a bright sun, but, hey, you can easily read the screen, and that fixes a major pain point of first- and second-generation Wear watches.

michael kors access bright sunlight Jon Phillips

This image accurately illustrates how that transflective display appears on a bright, sunny day.

Customizable watch faces, heavy on glitz

You can only add so many design elements to a watch case before the hardware gets too loud and gaudy. It’s the watch face that carries at least half of the visual ID, and this puts all digital-display smartwatches at a disadvantage. Lacking moving hands and dials, they can look like sci-fi movie props instead of sophisticated accessories.

michael kors access heart face ambient Jon Phillips

Here we see the demure ambient mode of the Heart watch face. The full-color mode is gold, animated splendor.

Michael Kors tries to shore up the deficit with a collection of branded watch faces that communicate the designer’s somewhat cheesy Real Housewives aesthetic. The faces aimed at men look techy and mechanical. The ones aimed at women are heavy on costume glitz, with lots of gold accents and rendered pavé insets, and even brief animations. They’re unapologetically trashy, but like NeNe Leakes, Michael Kors appears to be in on the joke.

michael kors access close up face Jon Phillips

Here’s a custom-designed color scheme for the Digital watch face (the stock black version appears in an image above). The outer ring shows step progress. The thick yellow ring shows the hour, and then we see rings for minutes and even seconds in finer increments.

In the Access settings panel, you can customize the watch faces for different colored backgrounds, hands and accents. You can even define auto-timing modes that set one watch face for daytime (6am to 6pm), and another look that runs at night. It’s a great idea that should be built directly into Android Wear itself. Unfortunately, Michael Kors’ customization interface is confusing, and there are no help notes for customization in the app.

I was also irked by the Access’ feeble charging system. It’s just a flimsy-floppy little puck that attaches to the back of the watch with a weak magnet. It doesn’t sit flat and confidently on a nightstand until you plop on the watch, and I always had to check twice to make sure the watch was actually seated on the puck, and charging.

michael kors access charging Jon Phillips

The charging puck forms a weak magnetic bond to the watch, and slips off easily.

What’s in a name? For some, everything

When Android Wear was announced in March 2014, the available models were painfully frumpy. Even the original Moto 360, the most stylish of the bunch, looked more like a tech toy, thanks to its bizarre lug-less design. But that was more than two years ago. Tech brands like Motorola have improved their looks dramatically, and Android Wear watches like the TAG Heuer Connected ($1,500) and Fossil Q Marshal ($295-$315) provide options for consumers who simply must have a lifestyle brand on their wrists.

This is the competitive environment that Michael Kors finds itself in, and despite a fair number of drawbacks, the Access accounts for itself fairly well.

michael kors access crown closeup Jon Phillips

Push the crown to access settings, apps and contacts. The crown may bear the only visible Michael Kors logo on the physical design, but, hey, it’s there for those who care.

To be sure, the Access is big and bulky, and its charging adapter feels like an afterthought. But I give props to Michael Kors for imbuing the Access Dylan with essentially the same design as the analog Dylan, and releasing a wide range of woman-friendly Wear watches via the Access Bradshaw. The Dylan is also made of hardy, durable materials, boasts solid battery life, and is easy to read outside.

Are their better values in Android Wear? Most definitely. Do other models offer more features? Sure. But those watches can’t claim a fashion-first pedigree, and for some consumers—however dubious their logic may be—that could a deal-breaker.

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