The digital watch is back. Seiko’s new Active Matrix EPD watch will get you excited about non analog quartz timepieces once again. Digital has been here all along you say? Yea, that is true, but no self-respecting watch lover would wear one unless doing the laundry, mowing the lawn, or engaging in some other highly pedestrian activity. Go to any country that is “watch civilized” (sorry fellow Americans, that doesn’t include the US at this point), and wear a digital watch in a business meeting or with a suit. Sure that was OK in the 1980s, but that was 20-30 years ago. This new product from Seiko reintroduces you the hassle free lifestyle of the digital watch in a polished, and highly functional little package. The holy trinity here is a great display, always accurate time, and a battery that does not need changing. Read on for all that it does below.
Seiko more or less invented the formal digital watch in the late 1970s. You know, decent looking metal case and bracelet matched with and LCD display? Everyone else was “cheapening” watches by placing them in cheaper, plastic cases. Seiko offered most of the “nicer” digital watches that I know of. Fashion conscious and the luxury aware moved away from digital and quartz watches when it became clear that everyone could have one. As such, analog and mechanical luxury watches came back into style. And here we are at the status quo. Then Seiko started playing around with a fun little technology called e-ink. They offered a few limited edition e-ink watches (for women) several years ago, but those didn’t really excite gadget lovers enough to pony-up several thousand bucks for a ladies’ timepiece. But the technology was great, and showed a lot of promise. Enter the second generation of Seiko e-ink watches. For a while I have been expecting Seiko to release another e-ink watch, and I finally saw it in March. It doesn’t have a proper name yet, being known as the “Seiko Active Matrix EPD” watch. EPD is their preferred method of using e-ink technology and it stands for “Electrophoretic display.” Unlike other e-ink watches, the Seiko EPD watch uses an active matrix display. This allows the screen to refresh itself “actively,” as is necessary in e-ink watches (as they are basically composed of light and dark particle that are either “on” or “off.” This is how they display information all the time without draining battery power. The battery is only used when changing the display.
High resolution active matrix EPD screens are used in other devices such as ebook readers like the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader. Seiko has successfully integrated this type of screen into a wrist watch. Not only that, but the watch performs many numerous functions. Those combined with the e-ink screen make this the digital watch to proudly wear this decade. When Seiko first showed me the watch, they were coy on when it might be released. Hinting that it was an early work in progress. The truth is that the Seiko Active Matrix EPD watches will be available by the end of 2010. OK, so let’s go over the main things you’ll are going to love about this watch. The movement is the Seiko caliber S770 quartz movement, has an active matrix EPD screen, and a solar cell. That is right, the watch receives power via a solar cell (not just sun light) – a first in an e-ink watch as far as I know. Like Casio Pathfinder watches, you can see the thin solar cell outlining the e-ink screen. This also gives the watch a cool retro look. The movement is also radio controlled. Meaning it receives signals from a local atomic clock. I am not sure how many bands the watch receives (four I think), but you are covered if you live in the US, Japan, and most of Europe. There you go – always accurate, never needs a battery, and has a very clear and easy to read screen.
Functionally, the watch has all the little features you’d expect (that are feasible in an e-ink display). Perpetual calendar, world time in 32 cities, dual time function, and alarms. It even has an LED light so that you can see it in the dark – another first for e-ink watches I believe. Notably missing? A chronograph (stopwatch) feature. There is a good reason for this. Ever seen how fast numbers move on a digital stopwatch? E-ink can’t move that fast. Well it probably can, but it would kill the battery. A current draw back of e-ink is the ability for the screen to refresh very rapidly. As such, you can’t have information on the screen the needs to change more than one a minute or so. A small price to pay for the tech in my opinion. The future will see all sorts of cool things with e-ink I am sure. Including color screens, and the ability for them to “refresh” rapidly. You can see the tech spec list below for the full list of features.
As you can see I have some images of a Seiko Active Martix EPD watch. This is the “show model” and is a concept – not the version that will be released (the image of that is at the top of this article). It is beautiful, sleek yet angular, and quasi futuristic. It is a futurized revision of their original 6 digit digital LCD display watch from way back when. The production model (at least for now) will be the above version like I said. While similar, it has a lot of changes. Which is actually good, cause it means that watch will likely not cost as much as if Seiko used the concept watch case and style. We want these to be affordable right? But if I was a betting man, I would wager that the concept watch from Baselworld 2010 might become a reality at some point (Japan only? Likely). It is just too nice not to consider for at least limited production.
The benefits of e-ink are easy too notice when you see the watch. The screen is very clear, has high contrast, sharp being 300dpi (dots per inch) here, and enjoys a very wide viewing angle (not so with LCD). With the LED lighting in the watch, you can see the screen at night as well. E-ink offers the ability to change any section on the screen. Meaning that you can show the time in different ways. Notice that this watch has three different styles to choose from (two of which can reserve the color tones). Though the possibilities are endless, and I am sure Seiko will offer more fun ways of displaying the time in the future. The menu and navigation of the watch feel more like basic mobile phone operating systems than watches. Graphical displays are easy to read, and the watch has five buttons used for all the functions. These graphics are a real benefit when it comes to the watch being easy to use, and user friendly. Overall, Seiko has really impressed me (again). Pushing forward with new technology and revolutionizing quartz watches (again).
You’ll be able to get the watch in black coated steel, brushed and polished steel, or in a gold tone coated steel (see reference numbers below in tech spec list). The watch will be large (good thing) at 45.5mm wide, with a nice tapering bracelet. Like I said, the design of the watch indicates to me that it will not be extremely expensive – or limited. Which is important because Seiko wants the watch to be accessible. So what about availability? Well I am not sure yet. Perhaps there will be a worldwide launch to begin, but I foresee that the EPD watch will be available first in Japan, and then other markets. Price? Not sure yet. We will see. Either way, I am very excited to get one of these on my wrist, and I know I will see them on plenty of other wrists as well. Seiko will likely continue to develop the design and technology. The next logical step for Seiko after the release is to design and offer more trend and stylized e-ink watches to encourage wide adoption of the technology.
TECH SPECS FROM SEIKO:
Radio Controlled Active Matrix EPD Worldtimer
Caliber S770 movement
-Time indication for hour, minute and second
-Calendar indication for year, month, date and day of the week
-Perpetual calendar up to December 31, 2060
-World time function for 32 cities with daylight saving time capability
-Dual time function
-3-channel daily / single-time alarm function
-Sound demonstration function
-Automatic radio wave reception function with manual reception capability
-Automatic time correction function
-Battery level indicator
-Power reserve: 9 months (41 months in ‘sleep’ mode)
-Overcharge prevention function
-Power save function
-Accuracy: 15 seconds per month (when not receiving the radio signal)
-Movement dimensions: 30.9 x 32.9 mm, thickness: 5.7 mm (excluding solar cells)
-Case and band: Stainless steel (SDGA001J)
-Stainless steel with gold-tone hard coating (SDGA002J)
-Stainless steel with black hard coating (SDGA003J)
-Clasp type: Three-fold with push button release
-Glass: Sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating
-Water resistance: 10bar
-Case dimensions: 45.5 x 46.0 mm, thickness: 9.5 mm