Casio PathFinder GPS Watch
By Jeff Porcaro
In a world of high tech gadgets the motto of gadget makers could be "Smaller is Better". With that mentality and design goal in mind, its not surprising to see companies introducing new products that just a few years ago would only be seen in James Bond movies. One such product is the new Casio GPS (Global Positioning System) Pathfinder Watch. You read right--a GPS watch. Casio combines their watch-making expertise with the latest in navigation technology, raising the wristwatch to the next level--a watch that tells you where you are.
If you buy the idea that smaller is better, then certainly the Casio GPS watch is an improvement--if it performs as advertised. And that is the purpose of this article, to let you know just how this miniature high-achieving timepiece really works.
True to the James Bond-like quality, my first reaction was how cool this device was. I proudly wore it around the office (yeah, we even test gear around the office) amidst some jeers from jealous co-workers.
The GPS watch tracks up to eight satellites at once using eight parallel receivers, or channels. The manufacturer claims that a satellite acquisition will complete in 50 seconds or less, but we found that it took longer than that when there are obstructions. If you are in the same general location and you have previously obtained a reading, satellite acquisition is quicker - about 15 to 20 seconds. We found this to be slower than hand held GPS units as they can track up to 12 satellites at a time instead of Pathfinder's eight.
Once locked onto a position from the satellites, you can add a waypoint and the watch will track your movement on the tracking screen. The track stores up to 100 points that include Latitude and Longitude (Lat/Lon), Date, and Time. The watch holds up to 10 waypoints, which are treated as a route with one starting point and nine other waypoints along that route.
The interval of measurement can be set to one of three different modes, 'One Shot' - single Measurement, 'Quick' - 5 seconds per measurement, 'Auto' - 1 minute per measurement, and 'Continuous' - 1 second per measurement. Depending on the measurement mode, your CR2 Lithium battery lasts from four hours to 12 hours. You don't need to worry about losing the precious stored data because they are stored in an EEPROM, a type of memory that is not lost when changing the battery.
Casio includes 100 of the world's mountains preprogrammed for reference, and stores up to 200 user-selected landmark locations. The watch supports Lat/Lon position format with 105 available map datum. Speed data is shown in either kilometers per hour, miles per hour, or knots. Distances can be displayed in kilometers, miles, nautical miles. We were disappointed that the common land-based UTM display format was not supported.
You can show the current position on the screen or navigate with one of three navigation screens. We found the screens to be surprisingly readable for their small .70" x .83" size. The buttons however are very small and close together, making it likely that you'll push the wrong button. The screen has a useful backlight feature for use in the dark.
The Pathfinder is water resistant for most outdoor conditions, although Casio doesn't suggest submersion. The Pathfinder also has all of the watch features you've come to expect, such as date, time and alarms.
So, is smaller better? In a general sense, maybe. But this is one case where Casio may be pushing the limits. Certainly the GPS watch is much smaller than a handheld GPS--but you don't strap a handheld model to your wrist. Weighing in at 5.5 oz with battery, some testers complained that they felt like they had a pager strapped to their wrists.
Another inconvenience was the watchband. It's the type that never fully unbuckles. Rather, you undo some overlapping clasps and hinge the band open. My wrist size was small enough that when I adjusted the watch to be tight on my wrist, I couldn't fit the unhinged band over my hand. We solved the inconvenience by throwing out the Casio band, and fitting the watch with a sports band from Chisco. AahÖinstant relief. Our testers found it curious that Casio would invest the money in the wizardry of the GPS, and then scrimp on the watchband.
Finally is the price tag. The Casio Pathfinder GPS watch has a suggested retail price of $500. I'd much rather have a $200 GPS, like the Magelan 315, and a $250 watch like the suunto Vector Altimeter/Baromoter watch than fork out the $500 for the Casio GPS watch.
Summary: If you're the type that just has to have the greatest wiz-bang gadget, and you don't have anything better to blow your money on, then you'll probably enjoy the Casio GPS Pathfinder Watch. For the rest of us, even though the watch has a plethora of cool capabilities, it is too expensive and too large to strap to your wrist. The GPS itself is quite functional, although it is not as reliable as a regular GPS in acquiring a position fix when you have geographical obstructions. Overall, we feel that this is an innovative product with lots of potential. If Casio could just reduce the Pathfinder's bulkiness. . . okay, so maybe smaller is better, as long as its small enough. Watch out James Bond, here comes Casio.
Jeff Porcaro is a Contributing Editor at GearReview.com, and co-founder. He specializes in stoves, GPS navigation, mountaineering, and trips to Utah's remote backcountry.
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