Citizen Proximity Bluetooth watch-3

Say hello to the interesting Eco-Drive Proximity watch from Citizen. It is a watch that does a lot right, some things wrong, but is overall an important stepping stone in the future of the contemporary timepiece. I’ve said it many times and I will continue to say it until it is a reality, but the future of the mass-market wrist watch is in connectivity. The “smart watch” – as we refer to it now – is still in its infancy. Though 2013 will be a serious year of maturing for the segment. With the long-awaited release of the Pebble, and the almost obsessive rumors of the upcoming Apple iWatch, 2013 is the year the public at large begins to imagine what shape the next wave of personal electronics will take.

We originally debuted the Citizen Eco-Drive Proximity watch back in August of 2012. Later we received a production model to review, and finally we are sharing that review with you. To be frank I have a lot of things that I could say about this watch and what it represents. To keep all that to a minimum we have split this review up into two sections. The first section will discuss the watch itself, the second will discuss the Bluetooth connectivity and functionality with the Apple iPhone. One reason for doing this is because the two functions are in their own way, separate and you can easily have this watch and use it without any pain minus any of the Bluetooth features.

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Citizen Proximity As A Watch

As a watch, the Citizen Eco-Drive Proximity is something that existing Citizen watch owners will be familiar with but with a unique style that sets it apart. Frankly, I appreciate that Citizen wanted to tread new ground with the Proximity. The design is a sort of contemporary melding of what one thinks of when the modern world of gadgets, and the classic one of timepieces, collide. There are two versions of the Proximity, accented in either electric green (with a black colored case ref. AT7035-01E)  or blue (ref. AT7030-05E).

A 45mm wide steel case is impressively sized and made for the world versus the Japanese market. It isn’t a small watch, and it is meant to be bold in its appearance. The case design is edgy – literally. It looks to be inspired by the blade of a katana, but in a manner different than the directly katana-inspired Seiko Ananta collection. A mixture of brushed and polished surfaces make for a handsome and youthful look. I am reminded immediately that companies whose prime focus are just smart watches fail pitifully on this note. They might create interesting interfaces and user experiences, but their watches feel like cheap, unattractive, plastic toys compared to something like this from a seasoned and mature maker of timepieces. Remember that going forward friends. For whatever traditional watch brands may lack in technical experimentation and the agility of a small start up paving new ground for the smart watch, they will almost always offer better-built timepieces using higher-quality materials and more attractive designs.

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Attached to the Proximity is a stitched two-color strap that I believe is some form of plastic meant to feel like textured rubber. The overall strap looks nice with its sporty perforations, and it feels durable enough. Though it is plastic and I would have hoped for Citizen to have used either actual textiles or something else a bit more high-end. I think Citizen was experimenting here and most people will be happy, but given my personal expectations with Citizen’s top stuff, I am always asking the brand, as one of my favorites, for just a bit more.

The case itself is water resistant to 100 meters and I believe it has a mineral crystal over the dial. It is on par with other Citizen watches at this price level. The dial has a unique glossy look which feels like you are looking at a mirror from an angle. Part of this is due to the reflectivity of the applied elements which include a lot of transparent plastic. Citizen is creative with their dials, but they are always limited by the fact that they must allow in light. Behind all Citizen Eco-Drive dials is a photo-receptive cell that absorbs light as part of the Eco-Drive battery charging system. I think that what they’ve done over the years in masking this aspect is great, but there are of course limitations to what they can do and still have the watch be able to charge. The applied hour markers are a nice classic touch that interact with the electric colors and “floating” hands quite well. It isn’t the best dial Citizen has designed, but it is interesting and fresh.

Citizen Proximity Bluetooth watch-6 Citizen Proximity Bluetooth watch-9

Inside the watch is a Citizen Japan made Eco-Drive quartz movement. You don’t need to change the battery as I said, and in fact you can’t even open the case yourself. Well you can, but you shouldn’t. Let Citizen (if anyone) do that for you. Here is where I mention once again that if you buy a Japanese-made multi-function quartz movement you need to read the instructions. I know, you are smart and can figure stuff out, and how complex could a watch be? Well I think that Casio, Citizen, and Seiko got together and wanted to humble you. It isn’t universally true, but with watches like this you need to read the instructions – even to do basic things. For example, to use the chronograph, one of the things you need to do is pull out the crown first. Don’t even get me started yet on the Bluetooth connect operations.

Once you have figured out how to use the watch you’ll find that it has the time, perpetual calendar, power reserve indicator, 60 minute chronograph, and second time zone. No alarm on this watch. There of course is the Bluetooth phone connect set of features as well… One shame about the complicated way these watches are used is that if you are stuck somewhere without the guide and need to adjust something… well then often you are left guessing. While the Proximity can only connect to the iPhone, nothing on the watch itself says that. You’d think there might be notice of this on the watch itself for someone who just happens to pick one up and the salesperson doesn’t explain things that well. Anyhow, the overall rating the Proximity gets as a watch is good and comparably easy to live with and good looking as is the case with many other Citizen watches.

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Citizen Proximity As An iPhone Bluetooth Device

Here is where things get a bit more unraveled. Citizen is clearly entering new territory and their intention seems to be a proof of concept rather than a game changing device. Clearly the Proximity is the first of many such watches, and early adopters are rewarded more with anticipation for what is to come rather than a feeling that “the Bluetooth watch is finally here.” Let’s talk about the Eco-Drive Proximity as compared to some of the current competition and in light of where the technology currently is.

With the Proximity, Citizen released the world’s first analog (i.e. not digital) wristwatch with the ability to connect to a phone via Bluetooth. To do that, devices like the Proximity and others use Bluetooth profile 4.0, which is a lower power consumption means of connecting to Bluetooth devices. “Low power” is key because the Proximity runs off of an internal battery that runs on light and does not need to be charged. In fact, as far as I know, it is the only Bluetooth watch that does not need to be charged. Citizen’s ability to make their existing Eco-Drive movement work with an additional power-sucking feature is impressive. Being able to merely sip on power means that the Proximity does not have a large connection range, and what it can do between phone and watch are limited. There is also an issue (at least in my experience) with the watch and phone not being able to agree on when they want to connect with one another.

We haven’t played around with every available Bluetooth-enabled wristwatch out there, but we have played with enough to know that zero among them feature a seamless experience where both devices play nice and everything works as it should, all the time. All the promise is there, but the technology just doesn’t seem to want to work. Again, my theory is that this is because of the desire to keep power consumption to a minimum. The biggest issue facing portable consumer electronic devices today remains battery life. We seriously need something new, and I demand to know who is working on this!

citizen proximity app

With that said I will add that the competitive bar for Citizen is not exactly raised very high, but the ability for people to forgive such a major brand for a device with a finicky Bluetooth experience is low. Citizen did their absolute best with the Proximity, but in the end it offers a small list of Bluetooth features mostly hampered by the watch and iPhone’s often erratic ability to properly connect – or perhaps I just didn’t look at the instructions carefully enough.

So let’s discuss what the Proximity and iPhone can do together. First, you need to enable Bluetooth on your iPhone and download the free Citizen Eco-Drive Proximity app from the App Store. Also, the watch only works with iPhone 4S and later phone models. You then need to set the app to scan while putting the watch in a “pairing” mode. This initially pairs the devices together. Once connected you have a limited amount of settings that allow you to customize the pairing experience. The most useful feature by far is “time sync” that allows your phone to update the Proximity with the correct time and date wherever you may be in the world (with phone reception).

The second most useful feature is the incoming and missed call alert. You see, unlike watches that beep, the Proximity offers a gentle vibration alert. This is great for meetings, etc.. This is also related to the new message alert. Though it does bulk e-mails and text messages into the same category. When you get a new alert, after the Proximity vibrates, you use the seconds hand which will point to somewhere on the flange ring. If you look closely, it will point to an area that says something like “CALL” or “MAIL.” Aside from these little labels and the small Bluetooth logo on the dial, you’d never know the Proximity has any phone connection features at all.

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I will say that once the iPhone and Proximity watch are connected it is rather reliable in issuing these alerts. So that is not the issue, getting the watch and phone connected are an issue. There is actually an interesting feature that has the watch (and phone) alert you if the connection is lost. That could mean a helpful reminder if you accidentally leave a particular place without one of your devices. According to Citizen, the connection range is about ten meters. Which isn’t actually all that far if you think about it.

There are three Bluetooth function modes on the watch. They are “Pair, Connect, and Disconnect.” One thing does confuse me, and that is why there is a Connect mode. I mean I understand the need to connect the devices if they are apart, but according the manual, once paired, the Proximity and your iPhone should do that automatically. These are some of the little things that require a rather detailed reading (and understanding) of the instruction manual. One feature that I was excited about I actually never figured out how to use. That is “iPhone Search.” My understanding is that gives you the ability to have your phone make a sound if it is paired with the Proximity, and is useful if you lose your iPhone under a car seat or in a bag. There is a setting for this in the app, but I never figured out how to activate it. There should be a mode for that on the watch…

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The video portion of this review discusses a few more thoughts and I encourage you view it (above). The quirks of connecting the Proximity to your iPhone can be frustrating, but they are not unique to this Bluetooth enabled watch. This is still functionally a technology in its infancy and I applaud Citizen for having the courage to release a product into the market that is not perfect, but allows for it to test and improve its competency with the “connected watch.” Citizen has experience with atomic clock radio signals and even GPS satellite signal connected watches, so Bluetooth is the logical next step.

When I wear the Proximity it isn’t for the Bluetooth features, but more for the Citizen features. It is a modern watch with useful functions and slick style. I have a feeling some people are going to buy it and not even use the Bluetooth features. The bottom line is that from an aesthetic perspective, analog watches most always beat out digital ones, and Citizen is smart to offer now (and ideally continue to improve) smartphone connected analog watches. I anticipate that in the future, the next wave of Proximity-like watches from Citizen will be compatible with more phones (namely Android and perhaps Windows), and find a place on even more wrists. When it comes down to it, this is still one of the only Bluetooth watches that allows you to retain a traditional watch wearing and using experience. The Citizen Eco-Drive Proximity watch retails for $495.

Necessary Data
>Brand: Citizen
>Model: Proximity
>Price: $495
>Size: 45mm wide
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Sometimes
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Analog watch lover who wants a new toy that plays with his phone.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Connectivity with iPhone can be spotty, and functionality remains limited.
>Best characteristic of watch: Good looking watch which proves that Japan’s major brands are serious about the future of traditional timepieces.

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