Monday, November 21, 2011

The Timex E-Altimeter, a Subaru for your wrist

(editors note: the above video is pretty much an exact representation of my life, with or without this watch).

For some time I'd been looking for a more elegant altimeter option, preferably one that was analog. Although digital watches have their purpose, I've always been fond of pure analog or analog/digital hybrid watches for casual wear. The problem with analog altimeters is they are far less functional than their digital brethren. My Suunto Vector keeps dead accurate altitude, logs total ascent and descent in the mountains down to one meter increments, has multiple alarms including altitude alarms, timers, a thermometer, a barometer, and many other features. Quite simply, no pure analog watch can do all that.

Suunto Vector on Lower Wolf Jaw.

However, some (if not all) people would argue the Vector is about as stylish as a big yellow blob with giant numbers cannot possibly be. While I'm not exactly on GQs best dressed list with my Kevin Arnold eqsue styling, even I can't help but feel a little strange sporting the giant yellow blob to work, and it definitely isn't an after hours watch. So I was looking for something a little more versatile, I guess you could say I was looking for a lifestyle watch with some functionality. You know, kinda like a Subaru complete with with some climbing and environmental activism stickers and a roof rack, but for your wrist!

Analog altimeter watches are hard to find and the only option on the market was the $400 St Moritz Topo, a nice looking watch and one that on a good sale day could be had for closer to a reasonable $200. Still, I wasn't in love with the St Moritz. Suunto also made a few more elegant looking digital watches with stainless or titanium cases that functioned similar to my Vector, but they were still digital watches and they were almost 2X the cost of my $200 Vector, though they offered the exact same functionality. Then Timex came out with it's stylish E-Instrumets analog series, and I couldn't help but notice the E-Altimeter (along with the other models, which would make for an awesome single watch if all the features could be combined).

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension

The Timex E-Altimeter is a very basic but very good looking analog altimeter. As matter of fact, though Timex makes excellent functional watches, you wouldn't know it was a Timex if the name wasn't on it. It's substantially built with heft and size you'd expect from a quality time piece. The face is wonderful looking with great depth and separation. Often, finely designed watches on the Internet lose the 3 dimensional separation that makes them beautiful and easy to read in person, and this watch is no different. The E-Altimeter is designed in Germany, so it's definitely a step up from your typical mass produced Asian wrist pieces.

Of course, it being a Timex has it's advantage...PRICE! Any of the E-Instruments series can be found for under $150 via a little shopping. The E-Altimeter usually sells for around $130-200 retail, depending on color and band material. As a watch affectionado without the deep pockets of a watch affectionado, I have no reservations in saying that if a much more affluent name brand put it's label on this watch it could justify selling it for 3-5X Timex MSRP!

The E-Altimeter isn't laden with functionality, it will tell you your current altitude, your max altitude and your minimum altitude, and of course the time. It has no alarms, chronographs or any other useful features beyond a backlit Indiglo display. I guess if I could add one or two features to it I'd probably ask for a way to calculate total ascent. Perhaps a 4th button that would show total ascent as a reading on the altimeter. Beyond that a chronograph would be nice.

While it's certainly not going to replace my Suunto for keeping detailed track of vertical feet in the mountains, it's the type of watch you can transition from a hike to a nice dinner with without going, "oh man I forgot to take this thing off." Sure the Titanium Suunto could do equally well, but I've always looked at digital watches as childish in a formal setting. If you view digital differently, go with the metal Suunto (X-Lander or Observer) as an all around watch since it cost about the same as a plastic Suunto and a E-Altimeter combined. Suunto makes a few more elegant but less featured digital options (the Elementum series) that cost about 3X what the E-Altimeter cost, which in my opinion is a little too much for too little!

As far as tool versus toy, I consider my altimeter my most useful navigation tool in the mountains and on the water. While on trails I can pinpoint my position based on contour intervals intersecting with the trail, off trail it's even more essential for navigation and positioning. Because altimeters work by adjusting to barometric pressure it is also a tool for monitoring storms in the mountains or on the water. Suffice to say, I always feel uneasy when I don't have my altimeter with me.

Even an analog altimeter can be used to monitor the weather. If you are camped and the altitude continues to rise, the pressure is dropping. If the altitude falls, the pressure is rising. This alone or coupled with cloud formations, wind patterns and other factors can give you a really precise look at the weather forecast without any outside data.

Which leads to the next reason the E-Altimeter is so nice, since I can wear it to work on a Thursday or Friday (without looking ridiculous) I will assure myself of having an altimeter over the weekend. All too often I arrive at the trail head wearing my Seiko chronograph, which I then debate taking off and leaving in the car where it could be stolen, or leaving on even though I really don't need it and could damage it. Of course, while some argue you don’t really need to keep time in the wilderness, I disagree whole heartedly. Even a basic watch is useful for many things, including orienting yourself and assuring yourself time to find and set up camp.

Hands on I really like the Timex E-Altimeter, it is dead accurate in elevation due to the digital altimeter with analog readout, it looks stylish, it is extremely well built and detailed, and it's equally functional at a formal gathering as it is in the mountains!

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionMy only gripe with the black version I got, is that the brushed metal does show scratches quite easily. As a matter of fact, I scratched the metal pulling on plastic at the climbing gym, something I never would have expected. The glass face, however, seems as scratch resistant as my Seiko, which has taken quite a few direct hits over the years. If you are concerned about scratching it up, I’d recommend the silver versions, which should hide minor scratches a lot better than the black version.

Although the Timex E-Altimeter it is primarily a lifestyle type watch, I really like the versatility of it, especially when taking multifaceted vacations where part of the trip is going to be outdoors and the other part is going to be more mainstream or urban activities. And I'm sure every hiker or climber has had to take a trip to some location for a wedding, funeral, bachelor party, or job function that also happened to be a prime outdoors location, with this watch no more juggling two watches or forgetting to take off the ugly yellow blob when going from the mountains to something more formal!

(all images and video of Timex products via Timex)