Casio WSD-F20A review

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by Edwin – on November 9th, 2018

The smartwatch market continues to evolve, with high street brand names jumping aboard the bandwagon as well. Casio’s pedigree in the field of horology has been proven time and again, and their latest attempt in an Android-powered smartwatch that will not shirk at the sight of adventure would be the Pro Trek Smart WSD-F20A. Following Japanese wisdom, this is the second iteration of an outdoor Android-powered timepiece by the Japanese company, targeting those who live an active lifestyle and want a rugged timepiece that does more than just keep track of time.

Taking over from where the Casio Smart Outdoor Watch WSD-F10 left off, the WSD-F20A certainly passes off as its predecessor at first glance. However, the WSD-F20A is anything but similar underneath the hood, shedding some weight in terms of design to be even thinner. What makes the WSD-F20A stand out would be the addition of built-in GPS capability, letting you head outdoors without having to tote around a dedicated GPS device or have it tethered to your smartphone. The Casio WSD-F20A is compatible with Android 4.3 or later and iOS 9 or later, giving you an idea on the broadness of its compatibility with modern day smartphones.

Where does the WSD-F20A fit in?
Let me play it straight from the very beginning: the Casio WSD-F20A is not a cheap timepiece with its recommended retail price of $399 that clearly places it on the high-end shelf where smartwatches are concerned. However, do take note that the WSD-F20A is not meant to be on a similar playing field with the likes of the Apple Watch series, the Samsung Galaxy Wear range, or to mingle with the LG Watch Sport.

In fact, the WSD-F20A has a very specific target group: folks who would like to spend their free time outdoors, enjoying an evening hike on a trail that would take several hours to circumnavigate, as well as hit the dirt trail in unfamiliar places. This would place it in the curious position of where non-Android powered timepieces from Suunto and Garmin reside. Running on Wear OS by Google, the WSD-F20A brings the potential of Google’s operating system robustness married to tracking capability that caters to a myriad of outdoor activities including hiking, canoeing, and cycling. If you happen to head out for a spot of skiing or other kinds of snow sports on your holidays or during the winter, then those would fit in nicely with the WSD-F20A’s capabilities as well.

Design
Casio does not hide the fact that the WSD-F20A is an outdoor timepiece, hence eliminating the headache of trying to figure out what an outdoor watch that is also equally at home in a tuxedo should look like. It is a large timepiece, measuring 61.7mm x 57.7mm x 15.3mm while tipping the scales at 90 grams. On the outside would be a plastic case with faux metal finish, covered by a stocky protective bezel that comes in black. It does lack the hulking, angled look of a G-Shock, which I believe would go some way in further enhancing its robustness. Silver metal stud screws help keep everything in place, providing a reassuring sense of security and display of strength.

I do spend a fair amount of time outdoors and under the sun. That translates to plenty of opportunities to sweat, and with many watches, a stink will build up over time on the straps. Having worn the WSD-F20A on most days of the week, I noticed that the straps did not retain any sweat smell at all, although perhaps my wiping it with a wet tissue at the end of each working day did contribute to such a situation. Wearing it while typing is not advisable, as it is guaranteed to get in the way with your computer keyboard, perhaps as a reminder that this is meant to be worn when you are duking it out with nature.

Some people might not welcome the inflexible band as it is not the most comfortable feeling in the world, but then again you would not expect 5-star accommodation when you are fording a river and glamping. I did not have any issues with chafing on my skin, although perhaps my rather slender wrist did not have enough flesh to prevent the WSD-F20A from slipping after a while due to vigorous hand movements.

If there is one major design flaw about the WSD-F20A that I found irritating, it would be the charging method. It relies on a magnetic charging terminal that disconnects all too easily with the slightest of movements. I understand that this is to prevent any kind of unwanted horror stories of the charging connector being broken off due to an accident, or perhaps making it more difficult to waterproof, but it would be best to lay down the WSD-F20A on a large, flat surface as it charges while ensuring the surrounding area is free from movement of any kind.

On the right side of the WSD-F20A lies a trio of large buttons, which will trigger the Tool, Power and App functions. Pressing them yields the desired result most of the time, and I say so because there were instances where I had to press the same button a couple of times in order to access the function that I wanted. The Power button also doubles up as the only path to return to the “home screen”, so to speak, and it is cleverly protected by a couple of button guards in order to prevent you from shutting down your smartwatch by accident. As for the Tool and App buttons, those can be customized to be assigned to various functions, but by default the App button will launch the maps, while Tool will bring the compass to life.

In terms of sensors, there is a pressure sensor that handles both air pressure and altitude readings, while the accelerometer, gyrometer, and magnetic compass are self-explanatory. Bluetooth connectivity arrives in the form of Bluetooth 4.1 (Low Energy), while it also has built-in 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi connectivity.

There is even a built-in microphone that comes in handy to let you bark “OK Google” and issue commands for your smartphone to work through. I also like the fact that I am alerted to incoming e-mail and WhatsApp messages through a gentle vibration, although replying on such a small display is painfully slow as it would be far more convenient to speak out the reply instead.

Display
Within the bezel lies a 1.32-inch dual layer display: one a color TFT LCD display at 320 x 300 pixels while the other is a monochrome LCD display. The capacitive touchscreen features an anti-fouling coating that comes in handy when the elements are involved. To date, I have found the touchscreen display to be quite responsive, while transitions are smooth without any kind of lag. The only times when there is any noticeable lag would be while the WSD-F20A is downloading a map via Wi-Fi, and I try to access various apps and tools in quick succession. In order to maximize battery life, the timepiece will also switch to the monochrome display automatically once the battery dips below a certain level.

The screen has 5 different levels of brightness, although it would be nice to see a bar that indicates the brightness level in the user interface. I personally found the screen readable even under direct sunlight, and wearing my UV-rated sunglasses did not require me to fiddle with the brightness setting that I am comfortable with (level 2 out of 5).

There is a number of pre-installed watch faces to select from, depending on where you would like to go for the day. Both outdoor and everyday use watch faces are available, and you can opt to download additional watch face designs from the Google Play store when you get bored of the existing designs.

Battery life
Casio claims that the WSD-F20A is able to last for up to 2 days on average if measurements are taken every half a dozen minutes, or up to 6 hours with accuracy priority turned on alongside per-second measurement, with both scenarios requiring GPS to be turned on. When the GPS module is turned off, do expect normal use to last anywhere from one to two days, while in timekeeping mode only, the WSD-F20A is touted to last for more than a month. I have yet to test timekeeping mode only, but I would not be that sanguine. After all, if I were to simply have it in timekeeping mode, I would be better off investing in one of the more affordable Casio G-Shock models.

Maps and other apps
Here’s a tip: if you were to pre-download a particular area beforehand, do so via Wi-Fi. It will save you a whole lot of trouble and time. You can choose between Google Maps and Mapbox, and have the option of toggling different modes on the maps to suit the visual representation that you can best identify with.

With terrain and satellite views to choose from, in addition to a standard Google Maps-style view, you will feel right at home on the tiny display. It will rely on Mapbox, which uses OpenMapStreet’s data as opposed to Google Maps’ API. If you would like to wear the WSD-F20A on your runs and do not mind casual record keeping, the Google Fit Workout should be adequate. However, there are other alternatives such as ViewRanger, Strava and Runkeeper.

The WSD-F20A’s ability to run third-party tracking apps makes it extremely appealing, making it far more versatile than its predecessor. Do take note that hikers would benefit the most from the WSD-F20A. While it has the software to be used by runners and cyclists, it works best when you are in the middle of the woods, enjoying the trail and nature around you. There is a location finder app that will let you check out your existing location, with the option to include voice notes or memos, but it will not log your performance nor keep track of your cadence.

Neither does the WSD-F20A come with a built-in heart rate monitor, so you might want to have a fitness band that does so on the other wrist. There is not much to complain about GPS performance in the WSD-F20A, where it takes slightly more than 10 seconds to find a lock when outdoors. With the GPS chipset supporting GLONASS and Michibiki satellite systems, you do not have to worry about its tracking performance.

Is it tough enough?
Is the Casio WSD-F20A tough enough for your outdoor forays? The answer is relative to the kind of extreme activities that you are used to. It is comforting to know that the WSD-F20A arrives with MIL-STD-810G standard military-grade levels of protection, being water-resistant up to 50 meters deep, ruling out diving and water sports. So far, my one month’s use of it has seen it enter hot and humid jungles, go through a 3-hour fishing expedition by wading through rivers and using a pneumatic spear, and even having it being gnawed at by an overly active Golden Retriever. I am happy to say that it has managed to live through all those instances without coming out worse for the wear, which is a testament to its build quality and durability.

Conclusion
The Casio WSD-F20A is certainly one of the best Android Wear watch for those who love to head outdoors, although if you are able to afford a Garmin Fenix 5X that is approximately one third pricier than Casio’s offering, then go for it. The downside of doing so would be losing access to the Google Play store. Go ahead if you are not too perturbed about depending on proprietary software, but I would strongly recommend the Casio WSD-F20A to anyone who is shopping around for a top notch Wear OS rugged smartwatch. However, those who are always on the lookout for the newest and the greatest might want to hold their horses for the far more expensive Casio WSD-F30 which is set to be released in January 2019, presumably at CES in Las Vegas.

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