Hands-on with the GPS-enabled Casio Pro Trek Android Wear 2.0 smartwatch
Smartwatches are still struggling to achieve anywhere close to the commercial appeal of smartphones themselves, and while the market has seen some rough patches over the course of the past year, manufacturers consider to soldier on, trying to perfect the formula for a connected wristwatch that really speaks to users. Clearly that's no small task, and far more the case than with smartphones, developing a smartwatch involves evaluating tons of trade-offs: just how much functionality does a wrist-borne wearable need? How much autonomy? Is battery life the most important goal to aim for, or should that take a back seat to style?
While other manufacturers go back and forth with their own designs, last year we saw one company step up to the plate with a smartwatch that seemed eminently confident in the type of wearable it wanted to be, as Casio launched its rugged Smart Outdoor Watch at CES 2016. It ran Android Wear, offered a hybrid time-only mode to stretch battery life, and maybe most importantly, looked perfectly at home in Casio's wristwatch lineup.
This year the company is back with a follow up, introducing the Pro Trek Smart Outdoor Watch WSD-F20. After bringing you news of the watch's debut, we got to spend some time with this wearable at CES 2017 to put together some early hands-on impressions.
Even the most popular smartwatches can come across looking a little chunkier than we'd prefer for our wearables, a hard-to-avoid-consequence of cramming in all those electronics, display tech, and a battery with enough juice to drive it all. And while other companies struggle to keep their designs down to a sensible size, Casio's found success by embracing the idea of a thick, chunky, rugged-as-all-get-out smartwatch, and the WSD-F20 only pushes that aesthetic further.
Maybe the most obvious change from last year's design is a much more pronounced bezel. Functionally, that doesn't add anything new – it doesn't twist and turn like on a Samsung smartwatch – but it does carry a bit of emotional weight, helping you feel a little more secure about wearing the watch thanks to the screen protection it offers.
Circular-screened smartwatches are among the most popular options available, and Casio doesn't do wrong by following that trend here – especially because that helps the WSD-F20 fit so gracefully in with the rest of the company's lineup. But while the choice to go in this direction may be a wise one, it's hard to overlook the increasingly dated appearance of this flat-on-the-bottom, Moto 360-style screen. Considering the users this watch is going after, that's not going to be a deal-breaker, but it is worth mentioning.
Functionally, the watch pulls off the same dual-layer LCD action as last year's model, stacking a full-color traditional smartwatch panel and a dumbwatch-like monochrome LCD on top of another. When battery life's no issue, the watch can display content through both at once, and you can stretch its operational life for weeks upon weeks by forgoing smart features and only using the simple time-only readout.
One of the most interesting things about the WSD-F20's launch is the software the smartwatch runs, and unlike every other Android Wear model shipped to date, this one arrives with the long-in-development Android Wear 2.0. That brings a refreshed UI alongside plenty of new features, many with the aim of enhancing smartwatch independence. While using older Android Wear models meant spending plenty of time on your smartphone setting things up, Android Wear 2.0 brings previously phone-only functionality to the watch itself.
Need some new watch faces, or care to try out some new Android Wear apps? No problem, with the Google Play Store accessible directly from the WSD-F20.
We'll see other smartwatches offering the same sort of feature set soon, and can look forward to updates hitting some existing models, but for the moment Casio's model is serving as a bit of a trailblazer – so if you like to be on the bleeding edge, this is a worthwhile smartwatch to consider.
Sensors and connectivity
Like the first Smart Outdoor Watch, Casio's latest model is armed with sensors ready to measure altitude, air pressure, compass orientation, and detect motion. And once again, the watch talks to the world over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi – no cellular option here, even with Android Wear 2.0.
But we still get a major upgrade along these lines with the arrival of GPS reception – and how Casio saw fit to skip that critical feature for the WSD-F10, we just can't say. Thankfully, it's here now, equipping the F20 to guide you through the wilderness as you jog, hike, or tear up the bike paths.
Knowing where you are is well and good, but it takes more than a GPS signal alone to make that information meaningful – here, Casio makes the most of this new feature by supporting offline map storage, as well as a Location Memory mode to help you record points of interest for later review.
Casio's not sharing a lot of technical data about the watch's battery just yet, but does say that users should expect endurance similar to the first-gen model: that is, a bit better than a day of full-functionality operation, or north of a month of power when you're using the monochrome LCD for time-only mode.
Also like last year's watch, you'll recharge the wearable through a unique magnetic side-mounted power port. The magnetic connector isn't the strongest we've come across, and has a habit of coming loose a little too easily, but it does help avoid the need of a slightly more bulky docking station.
All this hardware doesn't come cheap, and you can look forward to forking over about $500 for the Pro Trek Smart Outdoor Watch when sales get underway in April. That's a serious chunk of change for any smartwatch, but the fact that Casio feels confident to return to this price point – the same at which it introduced the first-gen model – does suggest that the company really feels confident that shoppers are willing to pay so much for its smartwatches. You'll have to decide for yourself if that's an investment you're willing to make; while you mull it over, check out out hands-on video of the WSD-F20 in action: