Recently, I’ve gotten tired of looking at my phone. It’s all the way in my pocket, and it’s so big and clumsy and full of annoying notifications. Whenever I need to check the time or date, I end up getting sucked into some nag vortex. I just dealt with that crappy feeling for a while, but then suddenly — totally out of the blue, I’m sure — a solution came to me: I should get a watch!
The last time I wore a watch religiously was middle school. I used the timer’s memory to store stats for my friends’ RPG characters while I was DMing for them on the playground. Once it became uncool to play RPGs, around the time I got a cell phone, I was glad to give up the watch. My little brother (now 24) still has his, though. Here’s a picture of it he just sent me.
Nowadays, some watches are way better for roleplaying games than when I was a kid. But I’m not sure how much better they are for telling time. In fact, most so-called “smartwatch” features just sound like the same phone features that already drive me crazy, so I’m not sure it’s worth spending $500ish dollars on an Apple Watch. It turns out you can get into a nice watch for considerably less. Here’s the watch I’m wearing right now:
I got the gold-on-black one first. I picked this face because the numbers reminded me of Star Trek: TNG, and it looked like the clearest to read. I noted that there was a black-on-white version of this face, too. Amazon indicates that the white watch was “Model Year: 2014,” but it doesn’t specify on the black one. There are a few other face variations, including a pretty cool fake patina military-time version (MQ24-9B), but I liked the B2 style the best, and I initially preferred the black version. Later on, for reasons I’ll get into later, I got the white one, too. So $18 got me one of Apple Watch’s headlining features: swappable watch faces.
These watches are totally great. The quality is the best possible version of what you’d expect from looking at them. The “resin” band is stretchy and comfortable, and though the whole watch is pretty small, it’s so proportional that it looks almost formal. The plastic face isn’t the most durable thing in the world. I scratched it pretty good on the first day, but fortunately whatever I scraped was soft, and the color came out of the gash. Both watches reached a pretty steady, weathered-but-readable state of wear after a week or two.
The case is 35mm in diameter. It’s 8mm thick, a fair bit thinner on the wrist than a computer watch. The band is 20mm wide, and the whole watch feels slim and perfectly sized. Since it doesn’t have to show you anything but the time, this small face is perfect. It weighs 18.14 grams, which feels like nothing at all.
I noticed that the retainer (that’s what the little ring thing that holds the flappy end of the strap is called) was a little too brand-y for my taste, blasting a big Casio logo, but I immediately realized that the resin material was soft enough to flip the retainer around, so it looks blank. When I got my white one, that was the first thing I did before putting it on.
The literature says the MQ24 is water resistant down to 50 meters, but I haven’t tested that yet.
Oh, and they keep pretty good time. I set the second one by the first one three days ago, and they’re not even perceptibly out of sync. This guy tested it and says it lost “less than one second per 24 hours.” For a cheap watch, that’s really good.
Most of the Casio’s features compare favorably to the Apple Watch. It has months, maybe years of battery life, it shows no calendar appointments, makes no sounds (not even audible ticking beyond a two-inch radius), it’s slimmer by every measure, and the band material is less sweaty. Apple Watch has a few advantages, too, though, like the ability to show the weather, the moon phase, or another time zone as complications. But I figure if I can’t tell those things from looking at the sky or doing first-grade math in my head, it’s not a huge pain to look at my phone in the rare cases when I need to be sure.
There are two features that I really felt lacking from the Casio after a few days. I caught myself relying on my phone for them, which had all the unfortunate side effects of pulling me into Facebook-land that I was trying to remedy by wearing a watch. I wanted to see the date, and I wanted a backlight to check the time in the dark. Other than those features, though, the Casio is pretty much perfect for me. It has everything else I want out of a watch and none of the things I don’t want out of a computer. Oh, yeah, and it costs NINE dollars.
I don’t really know anything about Casio Computer Co., Ltd. of Japan other than basic history, but it’s pretty impressive in that respect. Casio was founded in 1946 in Shibuya, Tokyo by Tadao Kashio (樫尾忠雄), an engineer. His first big product was the “yubiwa pipe,” which basically sounds like a roach clip for cigarettes, a handy thing to have in tobacco-starved post-war Japan. Kashio and his brothers invested the yubiwa pipe profits to develop a desk-sized electro-mechanical calculator in 1954. (I am so Curating™ Wikipedia right now.) They shipped the Model 14-A, the world’s first all-electric compact calculator, in 1957, and then Casio blew up big-time.
They started making all kinds of things, and they really got into quartz watches in the 1980s. They even made those calculator watches all the coolest dudes in math class wore. So I knew Casio’s watch pedigree was primo, but I have no idea what kind of messed-up Chinese factory these watches are “cased” in. (Here’s a cool forum thread with photos of one of Casio’s high-end factories in Japan, though.) The MQ24 seems like a pretty straightforward gadget. No need for custom-designed aluminininium alloys of “exceptional purity”. I don’t know whether that’s a good or bad thing for the people making them. Here is the page on Casio’s corporate website called “Supplier Guidelines”.
I did rather like the Casio website’s Philosophy section. Their corporate creed is “creativity and contribution”, and they have a Charter of Creativity that’s way cuter and vastly less pretentious than Apple copy. Then they have a pyramidal Casio Group Code of Conduct that’s very imperious and long. It does have subsections for “2-1. Respect for Human Rights” and “2-4. Harmony with Society”, but maybe they have to say that because they got sued or something. That’s how it goes in America, I feel like.
Anyway, as for Amazon, the U.S.-based retailer where I bought the watches for 59% off (now 55% off for black version), they are sooo great ermahgerd Ah lerve Ermazern. (Seriously, though, Amazon is a pretty aggressive company, for both competition and labor reasons, but they are pretty miraculous in other ways, mostly prices and convenience. If you’re going to buy things from there, make sure you pick a benefitting charity and always use Amazon Smile when you do it.)
Black-on-White or Gold-on-Black? ⌚️�
(That’s supposed to be Apple's new interracial watch emoji in the header, btw.)
I’m sure my first choice of a black watch was influenced by the Apple Watch. That was clearly the meme that got me thinking about watches in the first place. The screens of the Apple Watch are pretty much all black (which conveniently turns out to save precious battery life), and since Apple knows best, I probably internalized some design insecurities and assumed well-designed watches should probably be black.
I think I was wrong, though. I wore the black one for about a week and quickly realized it was taking me a stupidly long time to figure out what time it was. The following week, I went on a big camping trip, and one of the coolest teachers there wore an analog watch that caught my eye every time. It had a rugged cloth band, a metal case, and a bright, white face. It also showed the date, which was so cool to me after a week with the Casio.
What I loved about her watch was that it looked more like a tool than an ornament. Form and function were perfectly blended. And I think it largely attracted me because of how easy it was to read with the light-colored face. I also thought of the little scratches already building up on the Casio’s plastic face and the resulting decision not to bring that watch on the trip. I want a watch that can handle everything I do and tell me everything I need to know about time that I can’t see in the sky — and not a thing more. The Casio is almost there. But her watch was it.
When I got home, though, I decided to do some more testing. Since the Casio was only $9, I decided to just get the white one. I only had to wear it for a couple days before I settled the matter. Then I scoured Amazon to try and find our wilderness teacher’s watch, and I came upon this perfect fit for me.
This Is My Next Watch
Amazon price: $42.65
I’ll still wear these Casios, choosing black or white depending on the outfit. They look great with dressier clothes, but they have the opposite bro effect of those horrible, heavy, sharp-edged, flashy watches men pay thousands of dollars for. The Casio watches say “I literally only care about having a simple, beautiful experience of learning what time it is,” and that is exactly what I want people to know about me.
But in more casual situations — especially in the wilderness, which I strongly prefer to urban environments lately — I want a watch that is totally useful, while at the same time reminding me that time is beautiful. Einstein said (I’m paraphrasing) that “what time it is” is exactly the same thing as “where you are.” I want my watch to remind me to be present with that. So it just has to have that… kinda… Zen… thing that Apple blogs always think they’re talking about.
But the thing is, the Apple Watch’s battery dies all the time, and it dings when Internet stuff happens, and those are pretty much the two exact reasons why I’m tired of using my phone. The whole reason I started wanting a watch in the first place was so I could just find out what time it is without seeing any damn notifications and getting sucked into the wormhole. Then it turned out I also wanted to know the date, and a backlit screen wouldn’t hurt, either, but fortunately those are pretty standard watch features once you go above the $9 range. I also wanted a proper watch battery’s battery life (approx. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ hours), something Apple can’t offer yet.
Those aren’t the only reasons the Apple Watch doesn’t feel like it’s for me right now. I mean, aside from the optics of the $10,000-$14,000 gold Edition that contains the exact same computer as the entry-level model, they’re just being kinda mean, showing off custom Sport Bands at fashion shows while lovesick 99%ers wait until June for their basic few colors.
The real deciding factor for me was listening to two of the only civilians in the world to have spent any time with the Apple Watch talk about it for two and a half freaking hours. Their experience sounded so dreary to me, and they seemed to be trying very hard to like it. John Gruber tried to argue that the Apple Watch wasn’t “confusing” to use, and in that very monologue, he ended up calling it “confusing” by accident and then catching himself. So that doesn’t sound like the watch I want. Throw in the nightly charging and the work emails, and I start to feel like building a sundial in my front yard.
I don’t have to, though, because this totally amazing watch that will run for years is so cheap. And it shows the date. And the screen lights up. And that’s it.