As one of the pioneers of digital watches a few decades ago, Casio is well placed to adapt to the smartwatch trend. In competition with the watch-sized computers like the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear S3, how does Casio’s analogue smartwatch hybrid compare?
I have spent the last week with the new Casio Edifice EQB-501XD-1A to work out exactly what a smartwatch means, and whether we actually want all the bells and whistles Apple and Samsung are trying very hard to sell us.
Look & Feel
The Casio Edifice 501XD-1A is a good-looking modern men’s chronograph watch with a black face accented by flashes of red and dials of gunmetal grey. I’m a fan of the look and larger size of chronograph watches in general, with my day-to-day watch a traditional Tissot chronograph, and the Edifice is a great example of the modern sports chronograph watch – it would not look out of place on the wrist of an F1 driver or athlete.
The casing, bezel, strap, and three-fold clasp are all made from stainless steel, giving the watch a solid feel and reassuring weight, and the face is made from high-grade mineral glass. There are four buttons around the edge, with the Bluetooth button accented in red. In fact, the only way you would spot that the Edifice 501 is a smart watch is the subtle Bluetooth symbols on this button and on the watch face itself – this is a traditional-looking chronograph, with smart credentials neatly hidden under the hood.
To access those smart features, setup is very straightforward. First you download the Casio Watch+ app (Android/iOS), and once installed (and with Bluetooth switched on), the app tells you to press the watch’s Bluetooth button for 1.5 seconds. The app then finds and pairs with the watch with very little fuss.
The Watch+ app gives you easy access to setup the local time, a world time, an alarm, and the stopwatch – this is a sports chronograph after all! The app gets the time via the internet so keeps your watch in sync, and if you want the time for another location on your phone, you just select the city and hit the Send to watch button and see the watch hands automatically spin around to match the correct time.
Setting the alarm is as simple as setting your normal smartphone alarm, just select the time you want (or switch it off) and hit the Send to watch button. Setting an alarm on a watch with only a few buttons can be a real pain – this fixes that problem completely.
The smart features are not ground-breaking, but they do address some of the usability problems with traditional watches – namely trying to set the time and alarms by turning that tiny knob. A touchscreen smartphone makes these jobs much much easier. You can also use the Edifice without Bluetooth at all, but it is a very useful addition that makes the watch functionality better, without getting in the way.
The Bluetooth sync and app control firmly puts the Edifice 501 in the smartphone bracket, but there are two other bit of technology behind the scenes that are also worth noting.
Tough Solar is Casio’s solar charging technology, which means that as long as you don’t live in a cave, the Edifice will keep itself charged for the foreseeable future – even just from the sunlight through a window. This is one of the major advantages of a smart analogue watch like the Casio over something like the Apple Watch – you will never need to remember to charge the Edifice.
As part of Casio’s partnership with the Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 team, the Edifice can measure the measure the wearers average speed, which is a fun if not entirely useful addition for most people.
The phone finder feature, however, can be a lifesaver! If you have misplaced your phone, you can simpl press a button on the watch and the phone will sound an alarm – so you can easily find it under the sofa, in the bathroom, or wherever it has ended up.
The Edifice 501XD-1A is available for £249 at the time of review form a variety of retailers.
Some people will debate whether the Edifice 501 should really be described as a smartwatch as it does not offer the ability to read text messages or control your smartphone from your wrist, but I would contend that is exactly its strength.
I own a Sony Smartwatch 3, but in reality I only ever use it to store some music and pair with my headphones so I don’t have to take my phone with me on a run. In contrast, I can see myself using the Edifice 501 as my main watch – the smart connectivity make the watch functions easier to use, I never have to remember to charge it, and most importantly it looks and feels great.