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May 28, 2010 Comments (0) Grab Bag, Outdoor Tech, Reviews

Casio Pathfinder Watch Review

CasioPathfinder-001cI’m fairly tech savvy.  I’ve been using computers since the infancy of the Web, have been a PDA geek since the early Palm days, and am generally addicted to tech gadgets.  I’ve even built most of my home computers from component parts.  When it comes to VCR’s and watches though I’ve always had some sort of mental block when operating the fancier varieties.



I abdicate VCR setting duties to my wife, thus evading the issue altogether.  In watches, I took the cop out route and have generally used plain old analog watches that don’t do much more than simply tell the time.  I have to admit that when I found out I was going to be reviewing the Casio Pathfinder, I approached it with some mixed emotions.  I’ve used Casio watches a fair bit over the years, especially while in the service, but I was a little intimidated by the digital compass, barometer, and altimeter that Pathfinder had.  This isn’t the first high tech watch I’ve tested recently but I’m still coming to terms with just how much that watch companies are packing into the devices these days.

CasioPathfinder-002aThe Pathfinder series has been with Casio for a while now and there are currently at least 19 varieties of Pathfinder.  The one I received for review is the PAW2000-1.  The PAW2000-1 is a Solar powered watch, with Atomic time and a Triple Sensor (Altimeter, Barometer, and Thermometer).  That isn’t all the Pathfinder does though, it has the full range of features folks expect in a digital watch these days including a calendar, stopwatch, alarm, etc.  Probably the easiest way to give you a fast run down on the features is to take a look at the factory specs:

– Multi-Band Atomic Timekeeping Multi-Band Atomic Timekeeping 
– Tough Solar Power
– Digital Compass Measures and displays direction as one of 16 points 
– Altimeter Measuring range: -700 to 10,000 m (-2,300 to 32,800 ft)
– Barometer Display range: 260 to 1,100 hPa (7.65 to 32.45 inHg)
– Thermometer Display range: -10 to 60 C (14 to 140 F)
– Autolight Full Auto EL Backlight with Afterglow
– 100M Water Resistant
– Sunrise/Sunset DataDisplays sunrise time and sunset time for a specific date,
– World Time 31 times zones (48 cities), city code display, daylight saving on/off
– 5 Daily Alarms
– Hourly Time Signal
– Countdown Timer
– Full Auto Calendar (Pre-programmed until the year 2099)
– 12/24 Hour Formats
– Accuracy +/-15 seconds per month (with no signal calibration)
– Storage Battery Solar Rechargeable Battery
– Battery Power Indicator
– Power Saving Function
– Approx. battery life 5 months on full charge with Power Saving Function (without further exposure to light)

So, what does all that mean to the lay person?  Well the Solar power is a nice feature.  It means with regular exposure to daylight you won’t need to change batteries too often.  The Atomic Time is a slick feature.  The watch updates wirelessly, daily, with the Atomic clock in Denver so that you always have the correct time. It will even account for Daylight Savings Time in the updates.  The Altimeter, Barometer and Thermometer are nice features for the outdoorsman.  They let you keep tabs on the weather, particularly on longer trips where you won’t be able to check up on changing forecasts.  The Pathfinder also lets you keep an eyeball on your elevation changes which can be handy for figuring out where you are on a topographic map when hiking in hilly or mountainous terrain and let you keep an eye on the weather changes as you shift altitude.  The digital compass naturally is extremely useful for orienting your map and for navigation.

IMG_2240aThe Pathfinder came to me well packed, first in a cardboard box which in turn housed a neat, sturdy, pressboard sort of inner watch case.  My kids wanted the box.  They were marginally interested in the watch, but they tried fighting over the box until I told them I still needed it.  Inside the nifty wood box was the Pathfinder itself.  Initial impressions of the watch were very good.  It’s a sleek, modern looking, digital watch that’s much more svelte than I had anticipated.  I’m used to multifunction, water resistant watches with rubber bands being big, clunky things, however the Pathfinder is anything but.  It may not be quite as streamlined as a basic analog watch, but its pretty trim none the less.  The rubberized band is or the two piece variety, hinged and attached via a pin.  I like this set up for a couple of reasons.  First off, it allows the band to flex more and seem more comfortable on my wrist than with a one piece molded band.  It also makes it easy to replace the band if needed as well.

IMG_2280aThe Pathfinder allows for a pretty wide range of adjustment too, and should work for most wrist sizes without issue.  The watch case itself is of stainless steel and seems solidly made, but not overly heavy.  The PAW2000-1 comes in at only 2.3 ounces on my postal scale.  Not bad at all in my opinion.  A look at the back plate of the watch shows a neat Pathfinder mountain logo stamped into the casing just above the country of origin stamping, which in this case is Japan.  Hey that’s novel!  I’m so used to seeing everything coming from China these days that I was pleasantly surprised to see the Pathfinders being made in Japan.  Moving to the watch face and bezel we see what Casio calls the Duplex LCD.  This allows them to display more info on the screen than a single screen would allow.  While I’d guess Duplex would mean two, the screen really seems to be split in thirds.

CasioPathfinder-003aThe center portion, being the largest section, displays the primary information in each mode.  In its basic form that would be the time.  The upper portion of the screen shows the barometer graph and the date, and the lower third shows the seconds.  It’s a functional and attractive layout.  Starting at the 12:00 position on the watch you have 3 buttons positioned on the right side, the Compass button at 2:00, the Barometer at 3:00, and the Altimeter at 5:00.  Just below those, around the 6:00 position, is a button for the watch light and one to adjust your settings as needed.  In the 8:00 position is the Mode button which brings you back to the home screen and lets you cycle through some of the other watch functions like the stop watch, timer and alarm.  Finally, in the 10:00 position is the watch sensor that lets it detect atmospheric changes.  Basically 5 buttons in total, well laid out, and easy to operate. Its a pretty clean design and generally intuitive, even for someone who is generally challenged by digital watches.

IMG_2247aThe Pathfinder comes with a small but thick manual.  It looks like a phone book for G.I. Joe action figures.  When you break it down you find that part of the thickness is due it being printed in a variety of languages.  With that said, the English portion is still a whopping 112 pages.  Some of the base features were easy to use, for others the old adage RTFM came into play (Read The Manual, right?).  Fortunately, the manual is pretty well laid out and generally comprehensible.  It makes good use of diagrams and line drawings to help explain how to work things.  The type is small so if you’re getting up there in years, you may want to pull out your dollar store readers before you crack it open.  My nearly 40 year old eyes needed good light and occasionally peering over the tops of my glasses to read it, but I will admit, I’ve seen much worse.  Pulling the readers out isn’t a bad trade off for having all of the information they cram into that tiny monster of a manual.  As much as I’m one of those guys who hates sitting down and reading the manual I have to admit that it is worth doing when you first get the watch.  It’ll make it much more useful over the long run and save you having to keep going back to it as you stumble across features and find out you don’t know how to work things.  I can tell you that from experience.  I did later find out that the user guide is also available online from Casio. It’s only 12 pages in this format and is a lot easier to read!  It may be worth starting there and just tucking the book away somewhere safe.  Operation Guide 3172: http://ftp.casio.co.jp/pub/world_manual/wat/en/qw3172.pdf

CasioPathfinder-006aI wore the Pathfinder daily for about two months.  This was at work, on vacation, on a couple of camping trips and while doing yard work.  It was exposed to a temperature range from the low teens up into the high 80’s during this period, as our Western Pennsylvania spring couldn’t seem to make up its mind as to what season it really was.  I sweated in it, got it wet, wore it in the shower a couple times, and generally knocked it around.  While it wasn’t combat, or an expedition to Everest, it was a pretty good test run on day to day wear and field work and I didn’t have any real issues.  I found the Pathfinder very comfortable to wear.  The strap adjusted easily and was comfortable.  I liked that the watch lays flat too when you take it off.  There were times when I had it off but would lay it on my desk or nearby when I was working and this allowed me to still easily reference it.  It also kept it from rolling away or toppling off of stuff when I set it down too.  Aside from the obvious use of keeping track of the time and date, the two features I used the most were the digital compass and the altimeter.  I found both to be very accurate as compared to my regular compass and to topo maps of my area.

IMG_2265aMy house shows as being 370m above sea level and the pathfinder consistently gives a reading 375m.  That’s pretty good and close enough for me.  Within 5 meters for a watch isn’t too shabby at all.  I did check the Barometer off and on, and it seems to be doing its job but honestly I’ve never taken the time to really learn the ups and downs of reading a barometer.  The Pathfinder takes readings about every two hours and the graph displayed shows the average over 24 hours.  The Casio manual does give a basic explanation of the process though and essentially breaks it down that if the graph is going down, the weather is deteriorating, if its trending upwards the weather should be getting better.  I had to look to the manual to switch the temperature from Celsius to Fahrenheit too.  It took some fumbling on my part, but the instructions helped me through it.  I was able to swap over to the value I was comfortable with and adjust the temperature.  Once I calibrated the watch with my home thermometer it seemed to work pretty well.  One thing that the manual notes though is that for the best temperature reading, you want to take the watch off so that your body heat doesn’t interfere with the ambient temperature reading.  All in all, I found the watch to be pretty accurate once I learned my way around and got things calibrated correctly for my area.  It was actually easier to do than expected too.  I tend to get a little out of sorts figuring out all the button combos needed to set and adjust things, but the Casio manual made it pretty easy to work through.  Much better than with some other watches I’ve tried in the past.

IMG_2283aI did have one minor issue while I was using the Pathfinder.  I couldn’t see the watch face if I was wearing sunglasses!  I guess the coating on my glasses didn’t play nice with the LCD display of the watch, so I constantly had to take my sunglasses off if I wanted to check the time, direction, or whatever.  Now, in fairness, I have to do that when I use my cell phone and iPod too, so it isn’t just the Casio.  Still, its not something I have to do with my old analog watch so it got pretty annoying.  I’m not sure if there’s an easy fix for that (other than not wearing sunglasses) but its something I’d love to see resolved.  The only other issue I have with some of the features aren’t specific to this model, but to solar and atomic watches in general.  Depending on your schedule, and where you work, solar may not be the best bet for you.  I worked night shift for 4 years and had a solar atomic watch at the time.  I couldn’t figure out why my watch was always dying on me and why it wasn’t getting the atomic updates, particularly during Daylight Savings Time switchovers.  It would take a week or so for my watch to catch up!  I realized after a while that I just didn’t spend enough time out in the light to keep the batteries charged.  I started leaving my watch on the windowsill during the day while I slept so that it would stay charged up.  As to the lack of atomic updates, the issue was the building I worked in.  The updates must have occurred during the night and I wasn’t getting a signal in through all the steel and concrete.  The watch wouldn’t get a clear signal until my days off when I was at home.  Now, I realize being a nocturnal creature who works or lives in a cave isn’t going to be an issue for most folks, especially for outdoorsmen who hopefully are going to be getting some good field time in out on the woods.  But, if you’re like I was, and work the graveyard shift for long stretches at a time, it may be something to consider.

CasioPathfinder-004aOverall, I have to say I was pretty pleased with the Casio Pathfinder PAW2000-1.  I think it’s a sharp looking watch, that’s light and comfortable to wear and that packs an awful lot of features into a very manageable size.  It’s also pretty easy to use, even if you can’t figure out how work your VCR (thank god for TiVo and DVR systems!).  It may take sucking it up and reading the manual a little to really make the most out of the Pathfinder, but thankfully Casio does a better than average job on making the manual easy to understand through simple and well illustrated instructions.  The PAW2000-1 model Pathfinder carries an MSRP of $380, but a quick price check online shows that you can easily knock off $100 or more from that with just some casual shopping around.  After working with this watch for the past couple of months, I’ll admit that this has the best chance out of anything I’ve seen in a long time of knocking my titanium analog watch off of my wrist permanently.   If you’re in the market for a rugged, waterproof, watch for rough work and outdoors use, the Casio Pathfinder has a lot to offer.  It’s packed full of function without the bulk of many of its competitors and its designed so that users can actually use that functionality without having to have an engineering degree from MIT too!

Visit: www.pathfinder.casio.com

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