Android Wear might have started as a wearable OS for city workers’ wrists, but that’s all set to change in 2017. Take one look at Casio’s Pro Trek Smart WSD-F20 and you’ll understand why.
First seen at CES, this rugged tracker is built for the great outdoors. Casio’s second attempt at a tough smartwatch, the big news is on-board GPS, which means it’s far happier out in the wind and rain than stuck on the 07.50 from Gunnersbury.
It also happens to be the first wearable to launch with Android 2.0 - an update that’s been long in the making, and brings a raft of new features with it.
Ahead of our full review of this hardy wrist-dwarfer, then, I strapped on the WSD-F20 for two days in the Lake District. Here are my sunburnt first impressions.
TOUGH AS NAILS
Casio learned a lot from the original Smart Outdoor WSD-F10 - namely that chunky is exactly what’s needed to survive extreme weather conditions. This new watch follows suit: available with an orange or a black shell, you won’t forget you’re wearing it. Not one bit.
Hiking up to Helm Crag, there wasn’t a single member of the group whose wrist wasn’t dwarfed by the monster Casio. At 15.3mm deep, it sits relatively high, but it’s the 56.7mm width that’s more noticeable.
In an outdoor setting, it doesn’t seem out of place, giving the reassuring sense of heft and durability, especially as you scrabble over rocks. Back at the hotel afterwards, though, let’s just say the F20 stood out at the dinner table.
It can also make the 1.32in flat-tyre display seem a little small, especially when in bright sunlight (where the display lacks punch) and given the high edges (which can make fitting fatter fingers into the edges quite a challenge).
Whether you appreciate its hulking looks will depend on whether you were ever into the G-Shock styling, but there’s no questioning the build quality. Yes, it’s bold, but it all feels bolted together well and it’s pretty striking in the wild.
Like the original, it’s also water-resistant (which is handy, given the in-built paddle-tracker) and has apparently been made to military standards, so your SAS-style schlep up Scafell should pose no problems.
PLENTY OF SENSORS
All of that bulk isn’t wasted, either: as before, there’s an air-pressure sensor, accelerometer, pyrometer and magnetic compass inside. Hit the dedicated (but remappable) ’Tool’ button to fire up the app of the same name and you’ll be able to cycle through readings which, when you’re halfway up a hill and out of breath, is actually quite handy.
The bigger news for this version, though, is the addition of low-power GPS. It means you’ll get phone-free route-tracking with pin-point accuracy. Better yet, the F20 supports full-colour offline map downloads, which, besides making for pretty face backgrounds, means that GPS is actually useful for more than just plotting.
If you can actually figure out how to do it, that is. Due to patchy Wi-Fi and using an iOS device, I had real trouble getting my F20 to actually pull in the appropriate map for my location. This is something I’m keen to focus on for the full review, as it’s one of the Casio’s potentially killer features - and I’m yet to see it work.
Elsewhere, location Memory mode is quite a handy feature, too, allowing you to drop digital breadcrumbs as you explore - if you come across an excellent viewing point, for example. Even without offline maps, your coordinates will be recorded and you can even add relevant voice memos, which feels like something that trailblazers and back-country explorers might actually make good use of.
All of that in-built kit comes at a cost, though. Yes, while in the Lake District I put the Casio through tough conditions (GPS logging a 90-minute kayaking session and a 3-hour hike, as well as variously attempting to connect to Wi-Fi and pair via Bluetooth), but I achieved less than 24 hours from a full charge - with quite significant percentage drops when logging activities.
On the one hand, that might seem fair enough from a smartwatch packed with tech. On the other, for a watch built to live outdoors, it’s frustrating to find that you wouldn’t be able to camp with it for more than a night without some form of power boost.
I’m intrigued to see how it performs in various day-to-day conditions, but, having been spoilt by the 10-day cell capacity of the Garmin Fenix 5, the Casio will need to seriously impress in other areas if the best it can do from a single charge is a little more than one day.
Its 1.32in, dual-layer LCD screen does help a little, switching off the main colour display in favour of a second, low-power monochrome screen when resting or running low. It’s attractive and doesn’t interrupt interactivity too much - but it’s a necessity in order to squeeze a little more life out of the Casio, rather than a useful option.
When you are out of juice, power is delivered via a magnetic charging socket. It’s easy to attach - but also comes undone easily, so you can’t really pick up the ticker while it’s charging. A stronger magnet is all that’s needed, but it’s one more power frustration that the Casio didn’t need.
There are difficulties elsewhere, too. The lack of a heart-rate sensor didn’t bother me too much, as I didn’t feel I needed that data while kayaking, for example, and there was plenty of other information that was more relevant (such as distance travelled and pace).
More annoying is the way activities are handled by the default app: pretty enough when using it, once you stop an activity the results are displayed in a notification only accessible from the home screen. Once that’s dismissed, I’m yet to find where activity data actually goes. There’s no obvious log app or data bank and, even if you didn’t want to use the Casio as a standalone device, there’s no immediately clear way to sync or export that data, either. Yes, you can download alternative tracking apps via the Play Store, but given how much data is recorded from the bank of sensors by default it seems a shame for that feedback to appear only once.
The overall user experience is quite clunky, too, with multi-tasking a bit of a faff. Touchscreen swipe and button combinations, together with the menu structure and inputs, don’t immediately feel intuitive, leaving a real sense that Casio thought very much hardware-first with the F20. There are aspects which add value, such as the ‘Moments’ app, which allows you to set discipline-specific alerts, such as the high tide time for fishing, or altitude alerts when you’re ascending a slope. This was more than a novelty and actually helped to make best use of the Casio’s barrage of measurement tools.
All the same, there’s an inescapable sense that the core software, beyond some attractive watch faces, needs some work to be more reliable, streamlined and logical.
CASIO PRO TREK SMART WSD-F20 IN-PROGRESS VERDICT
After two days of trekking, splashing and striding with the WSD-F20, then, there’s plenty that’s still up in the air. While it’s undoubtable that this watch is tougher than old, orange boots and trumps others with its on-board GPS, there are plenty of niggles (both software and hardware) that quickly grate.
Android Wear should be familiar to many, but the interplay between touch and buttons is already a source of irritation. Swiping left doesn’t bring up your app drawer, for example (that’s the big button on the side), but opens your watch faces. It takes time to learn, but doesn’t get more logical.
That battery life is also a worry, if this is to be taken seriously as a proper outdoor watch - which the skiing, paddling and trekking modes (among others) suggest is what Casio wants - while the apparent mishandling (and, indeed, disappearance) of logged data is simply confounding.
Until I’ve spent longer with the F20, it’s difficult to tell whether this is one that’ll grow on me or simply become too much hassle (with insufficient reward), but the early impressions suggest it might not be all the hardcore package it appears. Which would be a shame, because it's good to see Casio doing something different with Android Wear.