Sunday, August 26, 2012

Review: Casio Edifice EQWT720DC-1A

Pros: Unique combination of solar power, atomic time calibration, and automatic adjustment of hand home positions.

Cons: No detailed readout of solar charge level. Stopwatch function lacks real-world usability. Complex functionality not easily accessible without user’s manual.

MSRP: $580.00

Casio is probably not the first brand that comes to mind when you think "high-end analog watch," but the Edifice Black Label EQWT720DC-1A stands a good chance of changing that perception. To the best of my knowledge, it's the only analog watch on the market that combines solar power, atomic time calibration via radio signal, and auto-adjustment of hand home positions.

By combining those three key features, Casio has created a watch that could in theory run without any intervention for the next 87 years (until the year 2099, which is the end date for the pre-programmed calendar). It's a good thing that the manual is well-written, because you'll need it to configure the watch correctly upon first use -- and you'll want to refer to it daily for some of its more esoteric functions. This is a very complex watch.

There are three secondary dials on the watch: One for the day of the week, one for 24-hour military time, and one for a secondary time zone (which can be set to any one of 29 global city codes). The primary and secondary time zones can be quickly swapped -- a boon for jet-setters and bi-coastal folks. The watch also includes a stopwatch and alarm functions, and features a "tough" movement that is sufficiently robust for activities such as chainsaw operation. It is also waterproof to 10 atmospheres. Although the stopwatch function is accurate to 1/100th of a second, the implementation is quirky and not very readable.

The face of the watch is covered by solar cells, which charge an internal battery. The system works well, but there's a minor caveat: The user has no accurate way to determine whether the watch is fully or just partially charged. The power state of the watch can only be determined by observing the motion of the second hand: If it is moving smoothly at one-second intervals, then the watch is "sufficiently charged." If the second hand is stopped or moving at two-second intervals, that's a sign the watch has entered power-saving mode due to a low charge.

According to Casio, the watch requires 8 minutes of outdoor sunlight, 30 minutes of window sunlight, or 8 hours of indoor fluorescent lighting to maintain its charge on a daily basis. The face of the watch can easily become covered up by a shirtsleeve or jacket -- and given that the watch provides such ambiguous feedback about its power state, you might find yourself rolling up your sleeves just as a preventative measure. On the other hand, the watch is rated to operate 5 months on a full charge with no exposure to light, so there's typically little need to panic.

The atomic clock sync works well, calibrating the watch to the correct time every night based on radio transmissions from the U.S. government's atomic clock in Fort Collins, Colorado. (If you're traveling abroad, the watch also receives signals from transmitters in England, Germany, China, and Japan.) Of course, successful reception of the radio signals will depend on your location.
The "auto hand home position correction" feature is perhaps the most unique feature of the EQWT720DC-1A. If you're a fan of analog watches, you've probably experienced a watch whose hands don't line up exactly right. This is often caused by mechanical shock, and requires a trip to a repair shop to fix. The EQWT720DC-1A is able to automatically detect and correct this error condition, using LED sensors that measure hand positions every hour and provide accurate feedback to the watch movement to re-align the hands if necessary. Quite impressive.

All in all, the Casio EQWT720DC-1A is a very handsome watch with some highly unique technology. If you're the kind of person who geeks out over watch technology, then be sure to check this one out. Although the $580 MSRP is fairly steep, discounted prices are available from online retailers if you look around.