This week we’re answering a question from globetrotter Jerôme about GPS controlled watches. Jerôme is a frequent intercontinental traveler and is looking for a watch which he doesn’t have to set when stepping out of a plane in another part of the world.
Here’s Jerômes question in full:
Subject: GPS controlled watches
I am a frequent traveler and am looking at GPS time controlled watches. Most of the time my phone changes to the local time automatically as soon as I receive a carrier’s signal in the country of my destination. It would be nice if I could have a watch which does the same. Therefore I’m looking at Seiko Astron and Citizen Satelite Wave models, which obviously get the time from GPS satellites.
However, do these models change the time automatically when I step out off the plane in a different time zone? Or do they require manual operation to do so?
An interesting question, for which we couldn’t find an answer at the mentioned companies websites as well. So we made some phone calls and got the answer.
Neither the Seiko Astron – like the one we reviewed here – nor a Citizen Satellite Wave watch will automatically change the time when the wearer enters a different time zone. Let’s explain it more practical. When flying from Amsterdam to London, just leaving the airplane won’t initiate these watches to change the time automatically. A wearer intervention is needed to have the watch contact the GPS signal in order to change the time when needed.
So with these watches, there’s no such thing as sailing at the ocean, or hiking through a desert and seeing the time of the watch change because you just entered another time zone.
A slight manual intervention, however, is the only thing which has to be done to receive the absolute precise time. Mentioned GPS controlled watches then ‘know’ their position on earth and are able to determine the right time zone at that location.
We knew that, besides Seiko and Citizen, Casio has GPS controlled watches as well. We did a review of one of them, the GPW-1000RAF, here. Upon further investigation, it pointed out that these watches as well require manual intervention by the wearer to change the time to the actual one at the present location.
How about Daylight Saving Time, does the wearer have to initiate this change in time manually as well? Another ‘no’, however this time more positive. DST information is not sent to the watch by satellite but included in a database inside the watch. So even if there would not be GPS reception (inside a building or a plane) DST will be initiated automatically by the watch.
Yes and no. We found wrist devices, which could probably double as watches, able to do so. The Garmin Fenix for instance, and some Suunto models as well. These are very different devices, however, and not primarily meant as a watch. Their functions are more activity based and need GPS data for all kinds of calculations. At the same time, they will use this GPS data for location- and local time information to show in the display.
A huge difference, between real GPS-controlled watches and these GPS-controlled activity devices, is the way they handle their energy. GPS controlled watches often don’t need batteries, or manual charging, as they’re solar powered. So they do need charging of course, however not something the user has to take care of. GPS-controlled activity devices, however, have to be mains-charged by the user, often every few days. None of these automatic time-switching devices has physical hands as well. They all rely on little digital screens.
So the conclusion was clear already at the beginning of this article. No real watches exist which change the time just when entering a different time zone. But are these watches helpful for travelers? Yes, of course, they are. With only the push of a button, the watch will set itself to the correct local time, which is way easier than manually change the time on a watch. Certainly, when traveling often, like Jerôme, receiving the local time upon a push of a button will be something which becomes a natural habit soon.
More information on Seiko’s GPS-controlled watches can be found www.seikowatches.com. More information on Citizen GPS-controlled watches can be found at www.citizenwatch.com. And more information on Casio GPS-controlled watches can be found at www.casio-intl.com.
Gerard has been in the watch industry for over two decades now. He owned a watch shop in The Hague, The Netherlands, and besides that he has journalistic and photographic activities in the field of watches. Collecting watches since he... read more