Watches for Your Inner Geek

By

This article was published by ComputorEdge, issue #2451, 2006-12-22, as a feature article, in both their print edition (on pages 17-18) and their website.

As cell phones proliferate, conventional wristwatches may gradually go the way of the dodo bird. Nonetheless, various companies are still coming out with some remarkably innovative and useful "geek watches", which would make the ideal gift for anyone who loves high-technology — especially the kind that you can use every day to quickly check not just the local time, but also the current temperature and even your current latitude and longitude.

After all, anyone can purchase a cheap wristwatch that has time, date, stopwatch, and alarm. (Er, excuse me while I hide my $15 Casio up my sleeve.) But to break the bank, or at least the piggy bank, and at the same time be able to glance at your wrist and learn the current phase of the moon — well, that takes a special kind of watch.

In this article, we will consider several of these high-tech wristwatches, drool over some of the amazing features, gasp at a few of the prices, and try to think of at least one technophile in each of our lives who really deserves a new wristwatch, regardless of the potential sticker shock — perhaps a technophile every one of us knows all too well.

One (O'clock) With Nature

Speaking of the moon's phases, we may as well begin our survey by discussing the YES watch, which informs its Earth-sensitive owner of the daily and seasonal cycles of the sun and the moon, the times for sunrise and sunset, moonrise and moonset, and the lunar phase. It naturally tracks the current time, but can present it in three different formats: analog, military, and digital. In addition, it has alerts for equinoxes and solstices, as well as new moons and full moons up to the year 2099. It does all this for any time zone, and is pre-programmed for almost 600 cities worldwide, automatically adjusting itself for daylight savings time. There are several models among their four lines, ranging in price from about $500 to $1000.

For the outdoor adventurer, perhaps a better choice would be the Suunto X9 GPS Watch, which features a compass, an altimeter, a barometer, a chronograph, and even GPS navigation. But seeing that you will have to pay almost $700 to get one, you probably will not be able to spend too much time tramping around in the wild, and instead put in some overtime at the office.

For a natural manufacturing material for a timepiece, you could certainly do worse than plain old paper. Building upon technology first developed at MIT Media Lab, E Ink bills itself as "the leading provider of electronic paper display (EPD) technologies." They invented an innovative display, which Seiko Watch Corporation put to good use in the world's first watch that uses electronic paper for its digital readout.

Introduced at the Baselworld Watch and Jewelry Show in Basel, Switzerland (where else?), the concept watch is naturally quite flexible, has an ultra-thin display which requires limited power consumption, and yet is quite readable. The electronic paper is curved, and embedded on the watch's bracelet-shaped surface. In addition to showing the time, the e-paper displays a constantly-changing mosaic pattern. The secret is in the tiny electronic circuits, which show pure black and white, thereby creating an image that possesses twice the contrast of the typical LCD monitor. Consequently, backlighting is unnecessary, which further reduces power needs.

From the Workshop to the Den

If you find yourself measuring small pieces of wood or other items during your next do-it-yourself project, and you are getting tired of picking up and putting down a tape measure, but you are too lazy to dig around in your home office for a ruler, then what you need is a Stanley Expandable Ruler Watch. It even has a built-in calculator, for adding together all of those measurements. Unfortunately, this watch appears to be difficult to find, unless you happen to live in Japan.

After you discover that your watch's mis-measurements and/or miscalculations have botched your (latest and perhaps last) do-it-yourself project, and you retreat to the family room for lower stress entertainment, you will not have to reach for the TV or cable remote controls if your wrist is sporting a Midas Remote Control Watch. It is a universal remote that controls power, channel, volume, and mute. Because it is preprogrammed for almost every make and model of TV and cable receiver on the market, you can use it for winning friends (and enemies) at your local pub.

If you are ever away from your computer, and someone offers you some files to copy (legal, of course), but you do not have a USB thumb drive on your key chain, then be glad that you gifted yourself with a 1GB USB 2.0 Executive Watch, from Mr.Gadget, of Australia. It includes a USB cable, and goes for 290 (presumably Australian) dollars.

Low-Tech Is the New Tech

Perhaps the built-in global positioning system is a bit too over-the-top for you- I mean, your gift recipient. In that case, how about keeping track of the time with a Cathode Corner Nixie Watch? Its numeric display uses two nixie tubes, which are small curved glass tubes containing cathodes and neon.

Even more nondigital is the Fossil Frank Gehry Watch, which shows the current time in words, such as "half past 3" and "9 til 4", in the architect's own handwriting. What is also unusual about it is that, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., it is in "Negative" display mode (white text on a black background), and from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., it is in the "Positive" mode (black on white).

Some consumer reviews praise the unique display style, while others condemn it, especially the "Negative" mode, which they criticize as being almost unreadable. That just goes to show that the fancy watches might not tickle every recipient's fancy.

Maybe the ol' Casio digital is not so bad after all. At least it is clearly readable.

Copyright © 2006 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.