The latest craze over on the Mastodon instance that I use has been folks heaping praise on and sharing photos of their beloved CASIO watches. I believe I can credit @kev (one of the instance admins) with starting the craze, but I’m not certain of that. Either way, there’s no denying it took off like wildfire. Originally it started with an appreciation for a particular model (the F91W), but since then it has seemingly grown to encompass all CASIO watches.

I admit, I’ve not historically had an appreciation for CASIO digital watches. I’ve seen them in use all my life, but they never piqued my interest. As a minimalist in most senses of the term, the writing around the bezels always turned me off, and there was a certain aesthetic that I just didn’t care for (I can describe it only as being reminiscent of something that would be worn on Star Trek: The Next Generation).

As I saw more and more posts come in, I fell down a rabbit hole of research and exploration, and likewise came to appreciate the F91W, and other similar watches. The fact that such a precise time-keeping instrument can be made so inexpensively (you can find them for around $15), yet stay charged for three years on a single battery and keep time so precisely you only lose about a half second each year, is really astonishing.

So I decided I would give it a go for myself. While shopping at a big box store, I took a look at their watch section. I didn’t find a F91W, but I found a similar watch (a CASIO A168) that had almost identical features for only $25, and went with that option. I decided I was going to test it out for a week, which I gladly did.

The verdict? There’s a lot to appreciate about this CASIO watch. It really does everything everyone says it does, and is as reliable as they come. It’s easy to operate, and I never have to worry about charging it or going out of my way to maintain it at all. If my main purpose in wearing a watch was to keep track of the time, I’d probably stick with it. But the truth is, for me, that’s only part of the utility of a watch. And because of that, it just isn’t for me.

A screenshot showing a clock, the current date, my next appointment, a UTC clock, a thermometer, and a sunset countdown.

Above is a screenshot of the layout of my Apple Watch. I’ve had smart watches (AKA wrist computers) for half a decade now, and my personal setup has undergone many changes, but this is the best configuration that I’ve ever found, so I want to briefly highlight what’s useful about it.

My primary uses for a wrist watch are:

  1. Telling time
  2. Receiving notifications
  3. Keeping track of my daily schedule/meetings
  4. Getting real-time information about my environment
  5. Convenience features like a digital wallet (Apple Pay)
  6. Media playback controls (when mobile)

As you can see in the screenshot, all the information I need is available at-a-glance, but manages to not be too cramped.

By looking at my wrist, I can immediately see the current local time, the day of the week, and the day of the month. This is something that the CASIO watches do as well, so there’s nothing special here.

My next calendar event is listed below, so I can make sure I am never late or forgetful about an important meeting. With my job, everyone is distributed across the world, and it’s often tricky to keep track of synchronous meetings.

In that spirit, I keep a small UTC clock on the main face as well. That’s helpful not only for planning meetings with folks remotely, but also with keeping track of various meetings and happenings online.

In the bottom middle is my thermometer, so I know the high and low temperatures for my current location. That tells me what I need to wear before I leave the house, if I need to remote start my car, and overall just helps me have a more pleasant day.

And finally, I have a sunset clock, to know how much daylight I have left. It’s not particularly useful, it’s just something I like to keep track of.

For me, notifications on my wrist are the killer feature. I don’t really check my phone much, but I like knowing any time I have something new to look at. A new email, a new Signal message, a new tag on GitHub. I know being bombarded by notifications is something that turns a lot of people off of smart watches, but I don’t get distracted easily and am able to shift contexts pretty quickly, so for me they’re really invaluable. I spend much of my life online, and I’m always on board for those online events to blend in with my IRL life.

Those are the main requirements I have in a watch, but there are a few more nitpicks I’ll throw in. First, a personal requirement for me is an always-on mode. I absolutely despise having to lift my wrist or turn it at a specific angle for the screen to turn on. For a watch to be useful, I need to be able to glance down at it and see the display without changing what I’m doing with my hands. Usually that’s typing. If I can’t read the time while I’m typing something, it’s really not an effective tool for me.

I also should mention that I don’t find the fitness or health tracking features useful. I left them on for a while, but it never reliably picked up on my exercises, or would either fail to note when I was taking a break, or fail to start back after I was finished with a break. I have disabled most of those features in an effort to prolong battery life.

Battery life is the most frustrating issue with my Apple Watch, apart from it requiring an iPhone to pair with. By turning off all the features other than the ones I mentioned above, I can squeeze almost two days out of a charge. But really, it’s iffy after one day, and although I try to charge it every night, I’m not always able to do so. Having a proprietary cable to charge is also a pain, and is not convenient. I wish there was a little USB-C port somewhere that I could just plug in and do a quick charge with.

I’d also prefer watch that is much more open. There’s no reason why a watch that has the features I listed needs to be closed or proprietary. That said, other than the PineTime (which has its own issues that keep me from using it), there aren’t really that many good alternatives out there. For now, this seems to be the best option.

All that is to say, the CASIO watches are great, and the Apple Watch (or other smart watches for the matter) isn’t perfect, but for me the classic watches just don’t provide enough value to use on a daily basis. Using the CASIO for a week was a great experience, but in the end it just made me miss my Apple Watch even more.