Review: Casio Smart Outdoor Watch WSD-F10

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — When it comes to standard digital watches, Casio stands out above all others in features, reliability, and accuracy. From their cheapest plastic tickers to their GPS-connected, solar-powered, apocalypse-proof metal masterworks, Casio generally makes the best, most usable, and most durable timepieces in every segment of the market they enter.

So when they announced their new WSD-F10 Android Wear-powered Smart Outdoor Watch, everyone, including smartwatch skeptics (me) wondered if this could be the one we’ve been waiting for – the one that would finally take the smartwatch concept and make it more than a niche toy for gadget loving geeks. Well…

One should never judge any piece of technology on looks alone, but as Apple has proved many times over, monkeys like shiny things. So, it’s good that the WSD-F10 Smart Outdoor Watch is a stunner. It lacks the gaudy metals that the fashionistas in Omotesando might be drawn to, instead sticking to the tried and tested, action/outdoors image that Casio is known for. It is, however, refined enough to handle peeking out from under a suit cuff far better than its G-Shock cousins.

Casio has included all their most famous watch faces as well as a few new ones designed specifically for the WSD-F10; being an Android Wear device, you could also use any other face you want. The bezel is nicely chunky, protecting the screen from occasional knocks; it houses three buttons, the barometric sensor, and a charging port. The watch also features an altimeter, compass, accelerometer, and gyrometer.

You can choose your WSD-F10 in one of four bezel colors: black, orange, maroon, and olive green. The colors are subtly metallic and the bezels are made from quality plastics.

The strap is a soft black rubber. Even on my peculiarly shaped wrists, the WSD-F10 was a comfortable fit, and, despite its considerable size, it disappeared after a few minutes – to the point where my first vibrating notification alert took me by surprise. Basically, it’s a proper Casio watch that happens to be able to connect to an Android phone.

The Casio DNA runs deep. While it is an Android Wear device and as such can do all the Googley things that every other Android smartwatch on the market can, the Casio extras set the WSD-F10 apart. It runs proprietary tool apps based around the watch’s built in sensors, there’s a compass, which, when coupled with the vibrant color display, is surprisingly useful – quite a bit more so than even some off Casio’s own Pro Trek watches.

The altimeter also works well and the tool tracks your altitude on a cool-looking graph, and since it also tracks negative values it makes travelling the Tokyo subway system quite interesting. The barometric info tool is clearly marked and is a great help when you see the clouds but aren’t sure how imminent the rain is.

The step and distance counter pairs with your phone and can track your activity both on the watch and on the Google Fit app or any other activity/workout monitor apps with Android Wear connectivity. It also provides sunrise/sunset times as well as a tide graph when connected to an Android device.

Casio has also enabled bluetooth pairing with their latest outdoor action camera, the Exilim EX-FR100 Outdoor Recorder.

Running all these sensors and all the other smartwatch bits and bobs does take a toll on the battery, though it easily gets through a full day of regular use. This is helped in part by a second, layered monochrome display that provides basic chronograph information without needing to turn on the full-color display (it of course becomes transparent when you use the watch’s full functionality). This feature is important – because telling the time should never take longer than it does for a standard dial or digital watch.

Casio’s only big omission with the Smart Outdoor Watch is built-in GPS. In an area with a mobile signal, this isn’t much of a problem, but the feature would be quite useful out in the wilderness where Casio is clearly hoping people will use this device (might have to wait for better battery technology).

Pairing went as usual for an Android Wear device in 2016; provided that all your software is up-to-date, there will be no problem getting up and running. As a Casio device, it performs as expected, looks good, and the data displays are well designed. The proprietary Casio tools are not only a nice addition, but I found myself using them far more often than I have on other Casio watches with the same features – just because the display looks so good. Even while running around the streets and subways of Tokyo, I got so used to using them for little things that when I finally had to return WSD-F10 to Casio, it genuinely took some readjusting to go back to not having that info at a glance.

When using the watch with Casio’s answer to the action cam, the EX-FR100 Outdoor Recorder, pairing was a bit of an interesting process that reminded me of an old Mortal Kombat fatality routine, but I got them tethered eventually. The watch doesn’t offer complete control of the camera, but you can see what you’re shooting on the display and you can take photos, shoot videos, and review your images. All of the camera’s specialized, unique features still require its own control module (but still… a watch-controlled camera is awesome). I would have liked to see at least the interval shooting options on the watch because it would make a great way to set and forget the camera while on the move.

As an aside, we should point out that that the Smart Outdoor Watch doesn’t pair with Casio’s other cameras like the EX-TR70, EX-100, and EX-ZR3600, which of course do not have detachable remote control units… so it would be nice if the watch could connect.

It wasn’t all smooth, but most of the bumps were courtesy of the operating system. Android Wear works on the WSD-F10 as with any other Android smartwatch, which means it requires considerable customization to precisely suit your needs. In the short time I had to review the device, I found myself spending so much time fine-tuning settings that it was getting in the way of life more than streamlining it. Also, voice control is hit and miss if you don’t speak standard American English (other languages were not tested), and I don’t care how cool Inspector Gadget was when you were a kid, talking into your watch looks and feels pretty silly. It’s also rude to speak into your devices on public transport in Japan, which is how one travels most of the time in Tokyo.

Personally, I found that no matter how I silenced the apps, notifications (usually social ones) continued bugging me even after being dismissed – I couldn’t escape the constant electronic nag on my wrist. I’m sure some more time and thorough customization would solve the problem, but I don’t like my mobile devices to require as much setup as a desktop gaming rig.

Subjectively, I think it’s the best looking watch (smart or dumb) Casio has made, and its large, vivid LCD screen makes using the watch’s built-in sensors much easier than on traditional models. It’s well made and withstands daily life far better than just about every other smartwatch on the market. And it’s a Casio, so it’s got the backing and heritage of the best digital watch company on the planet.

The Smart Outdoor Watch performs its Android Wear duties as well as any other device on the market, and for Android users looking at getting into wearables, this would be an excellent choice. iOS users, on the other hand, have far less functionality through the Android Wear app, and at the ¥70,000 asking price, it’s a much less exciting proposition – particularly since half of Casio’s proprietary tools (the big standout features) and pairing with the EX-FR100 action cam inexplicably require an Android phone. As a result, while Casio is more competent than the rest of the smartwatch field, ironically it’s the “smart” features that prevent the WSD-F10 from truly bringing smartwatches out of their niche geeky gadget status. For now.

In a big way, it seems like Android Wear is what’s holding this watch back. Personally, I’d like to see Casio release a non-Android version of the WSD-F10, fit it with GPS and a heart rate monitor, add the ability to connect to their other cameras, and like any fitness wearable, and if the user is so inclined, allow it to pair with all smartphones regardless of OS. Sure, untethering from a phone would lose most of the 1970s super-spy-watch-talking, and the annoying notifications, but it could truly be the best digital watch Casio has ever made, and it would appeal to more than just Android users.

(Review by Nayalan Moodley)

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