May 2, 2016
by Ariel Adams
In an interview with new Breitling watch brand ambassador Scott Kelly, the recently retired astronaut mentioned that, in his opinion, smarter watches like the Breitling Exospace B55 Connected (debuted here) would be the future of what professionals would wear in space. He was, of course, referring to the fact that traditional watches not only have an important part in the ongoing need for timing precision and accuracy, but the potential of the watches to interact with other systems is almost crucial to their advancement.
I review the Breilting Exospace B55 Connected today about a year after first getting an Apple Watch, and over a year after Breitling initially debuted its B55 smartwatch concept back in 2015. The smartwatch industry is growing and evolving, despite attacks by a now conservative tech industry that isn’t seeing mainstream consumer adoption of these devices as fast as they, oddly, think people should be buying new television or phone technology. Let’s face it, it is going to take a while before smartwatches hit their stride, and until then, there are going to be endless experiments on how a smartwatch should be presented, as well as continually improving technology. For me, that means now is an exciting time to live because I’m not reporting on an established market or even established products. Rather, I get to enjoy history in the making as we gradually enter the age of wearable technology that will inevitably include a host of smart, connected devices worn on the wrist.
The Breitling Exospace B55 Connected isn’t meant to be an Apple Watch or Android Wear competitor – instead offering its own approach to how connected technology should interact with the tried and true notions of wearing a wrist watch. In fact, you don’t need to use the watch as a smartwatch at all. You can just as easily enjoy the Breitling Exospace B55 Connected as as “disconnected” watch, and it will have most of the same features as other quartz-based Breitling timepieces. In one way, that makes this very different from a device that has a relatively short user life. Actually, let me begin the review by talking about battery life.
In the user manual, Breitling includes a chart for battery life that has a series of averages. They don’t even call it “battery life” but rather “autonomy,” or how long the watch can be away from a charger. The watch charges via an included USB-based chord which connects to the case via a small magnetic clip. It works well enough, but what I don’t like about this system is that if you are on the go or charging it in a bag, the cable can easily disconnect from the case.
With the screen at full “intensity” (brightness) and with both the Bluetooth connection plus notifications (beeps plus vibrations), the internal lithium-ion battery lasts for an estimated 15 days between charges. That isn’t too bad. Without notifications, you get a few more days of juice. Lower the “intensity” a bit, and you can get up to about 25 days of juice with the notifications plus connection on. You can get over 50 days of power, however, if you turn off the connections and have the intensity down when it comes to the backlight. I’d say that compared to other products in the industry, these numbers are not too bad.
The Breitling Exospace B55 Connected is easily the most expensive non-precious metal-cased smartwatch I’ve tested. It beats the $1,500 TAG Heuer Connected watch by quite a margin, with a price of about $9,000. A reasonable question is whether or not it is worth that money, but that discussion really starts with “well, it is Breitling before it is anything else.” For a product that will inevitably have technology which is not state-of-the-art in a few years then, yes, that price is a lot. For a very functional Breitling tool watch that has no other comparable competitors in the high-end watch space, it makes more sense for the typical watch-buyer demographic.
The smartwatch theory behind the Breitling Exospace B55 Connected is clever. Rather than have a watch that serves as a second screen for your phone, the idea here is to have a phone app that serves as a second screen for your watch. On top of that, you can opt to get basic notifications to your watch of incoming calls, messages, or other notifications. These incoming notifications are easy to notice, but relatively basic on purpose.
The Breitling Exospace B55 Connected apps connects to the watch via Bluetooth and allows you to do a range of things on your watch from the phone. This is important because, for the longest time, using the various features on these “Super Quartz” analog-digital Breitling watches was sort of a pain. With two small LCD screens, a crown, and two pushers, it is not exactly super easy to navigate the user interface or adjust all the settings. The app allows you to use the features of the watch so much more easily – and that includes doing this like setting the time, changing the calendar functions, setting the alarms, setting up the various chronographs and timers, etc. If anything, the app allows people to delve into the functions of the watch much more easily, but doesn’t require you to go from watch to phone all the time.
The idea is that after you set up the watch before a “mission,” (this is a pilot-style watch, after all) you can have all the information you need on your wrist and, if needed, reference the app to make changes or get more information. Again, all the info is available on the watch dial itself, but the app just opens up new options to make things more simple.
Going back to Mr. Kelly, he sees this functionality as expanding greatly in the future, allowing the watch to access various plane/ship/craft systems and operate as both a controller as well as an information terminal that is connected to everything else. The fact remains that glancing at your wrist for necessary information that you need to know on a regular basis has not been supplanted by any other means. Because of this, the desire and demand for high-quality smartwatches remains high despite the infancy of this industry.