An Android Wear watch for hikers
- Plenty of sensors
- Great hiking features
- Versatile two-layer screen
- A bit bulky
- Typical Android Wear battery life
- Low-end CPU
- Android Wear 2.0
- Dual-core 1GHz Cortex-A7 CPU
- Manufacturer: Casio
- Review Price: £450.00
WHAT IS THE CASIO PRO TREK SMART WSD-F20?
The Casio WSD-F20 is a watch made for active people. It looks more like a top-end runner’s watch, rejecting the style-obsessed blueprint of the majority of smartwatches.
But this isn’t an everyday sport watch, because it runs Android Wear. It’s Casio’s second Android Wear watch, following the WSD-F10.
This new version doesn’t radically improve battery life but it does add GPS, making it a much better tracker of outdoor activities. However, serious athletes may still prefer the Garmin Forerunner 935 or Fenix 5X, thanks to superior battery life – even if they have less smartwatch credibility.
CASIO WSD-F20 – DESIGN AND DISPLAY
The Casio WSD-F20 wears its size as if to prove its serious sports watch status. Although it isn’t distinctly thicker than some more normal-looking Wear watches, its face is oversized and the bezel super-chunky.
Like a true dedicated sports watch, however, its bulk makes it easier to fit in proper ruggedisation. As well as having a screen recessed beneath its surround – which makes smashing the glass far less likely – the Casio WSD-F20 has been tested against the MIL-STD-810G standard. This encompasses a whole series of ‘military-grade’ conditions for temperature, pressure, shock impact and more.
Probably the most important offering is water resistance. The Casio WSD-F20 is water-resistant up to 50 metres, or five atmospheres of pressure. It sounds impressive, but as a result of the added pressure caused by your movement, this actually only equates to “swim-proofing”. Digging deeper into Casio’s documentation, diving and windsurfing aren’t recommended while wearing this watch.
It’s a shame, but this isn’t the main premise of such a watch – nor alternatives such as the Garmin Fenix 5. I find the Casio WSD-F20 less comfortable than the Fenix 3, but this is largely a result of the latter’s more flexible, better-ventilated strap. There isn’t too much in it as – despite the bulk – this watch isn’t uncomfortably heavy.
The Casio WSD-F20 does feel pretty solid, although not quite as overtly as some of Garmin’s best. While the inner frame of the watch is stainless steel, the outer parts of the shell are plastic.
The screen is covered with “mineral glass”, which isn’t as hard as Sapphire. However, thanks to the chunky raised bezel, I can see trouble only if the face lands directly on a rock. That’s would be bad news no matter what the coating, though. The glass also has an amusingly dubbed “anti-fouling” coating, designed to repel finger marks and other stains.
This watch looks the part, although I do much prefer the sober design of the Garmin Fenix 5. All that bright white text around the bezel is a bit much, particularly when you should be able to memorise the functions of the three buttons without too much effort.
All three buttons sit on the right side of the watch. One is the standard Android Wear button, flicking between the apps menu and watch face. The top one launches the ‘Tool’ part of the Casio WSD-F20, offering such functionality as a compass. The bottom button launches the main location-tracking app. We’ll deal with these parts in more detail on the next page.
First let’s tackle the screen, which is one of the more interesting parts of the Casio WSD-F20. It’s a circular display aside from a small, inoffensive cut-out at the bottom; it uses a two-layer LCD panel.
When used normally, you see a standard 1.32-inch colour LCD screen of 320 x 300 pixels. It’s reasonably sharp, lacking the slight fuzziness you get with OLEDs that aren’t particularly pixel dense. However, outdoors, visibility isn’t as good as the Samsung Gear S3’s bright OLED display or the Garmin Fenix 5’s screen, which feeds off ambient light.
With one of the simpler watch faces, the Casio WSD-F20 switches to a non-backlit monochrome second layer when not in use, which helps to save battery. This layer is transflective, made clearer on a sunny day rather than diminished by it.
The watch also has a watch-only Timepiece mode that extends the battery from a day or so to a month. It’s handy if all you’ll want is a watch some of the time – and it also gets rid of any outdoors visibility issues since it just uses the secondary display layer.
Display quality isn’t jaw-dropping, with a slight recessed look to the main display layer, but the duo-personality style makes up for this.
CASIO WSD-F20 – FITNESS TRACKING
It’s important to understand what the Casio WSD-F20 is about. Having used it for a while now, it’s clear this is predominantly a hiker’s watch. It could be used by runners. It could be used by cyclists. But it’s out in the middle of nowhere, on a hill where you have no mobile signal, that the WSD-F20 comes into its own.
In the Tools section, you’ll discover screens that offer information useful for hikers. There’s an altimeter, air pressure read-out, a clock showing the sunrise and sunset times, a compass and an indicator of the day’s tide levels. That last one might be good for surfers, but Casio suggests the 50-metre water resistance isn’t really good enough for surfing.
The location-finder app you launch by pressing the Casio WSD-F20’s lower button is also clearly for amblers rather than runners. It doesn’t rigorously log your performance, or analyse your cadence. Instead, you can look at your location on the watch within a second, and add voice notes and memos to places you’ve visited.
I can imagine it appealing to people who want the modern equivalent of classic map and compass navigation, without having to bring any extra kit.
One of the Casio WSD-F20’s key features is its ability to download map data for use offline. There are terrain and satellite views, as well as a standard Google Maps-style view. It doesn’t use the Google Maps API, though, but Mapbox – which in turn uses OpenMapStreet’s data.
If you’re not going to use the Casio WSD-F20 for hikes, walks, long cycling trips or something similar, you’re missing out on much of this watch’s functionality.
However, there is another multi-sport tracking side. Add the Activity app and the WSD-F20 offers watch-style screens for hikes, fishing trips, cycling, canoeing and skiing.
These provide standard metrics such as elevation speed and distance as relevant, although the fishing one focuses on recording your catches and logging them on a map. I don’t canoe or fish, but I imagine the extra sensors here will be useful – as well as GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, there’s a barometer/altimeter and magnetometer.
The extra tracker screens are fairly intuitive – although, curiously, the data doesn’t seem to end up anywhere other than the Location History app on the Casio WSD-F20.
There’s no wider platform to track your stats over a period of time, other than on the watch itself. This will disappoint some – but in a way it’s refreshing to see a watch focus on the activity as you’re doing it, rather than obsessing over delivering graphs and metrics afterwards.
It goes further too, with a Moments app that can remind you when you need to take a break; have travelled a set distance or are a certain number of metres from the summit of a mountain. But I’ll admit to enjoying looking over the stats of walks and runs on my phone after doing them.
The Casio WSD-F20 does offer such functionality, but through the use of a third-party app. Google Fit Workout does the job for casual walks and runs. And now that most of the big running apps support ‘standalone’ use, alternatives such as ViewRanger, Strava and Runkeeper will work well too.
GPS performance seems solid. I found that it locks on in around 15 seconds, and I didn’t experience any strange dropouts. Looking at the routes recorded by Google Fit Workouts, accuracy is decent, if not perfect. There were no reports of me suddenly zig-zagging through non-existent roads, but I did apparently walk straight through a few buildings, simply because the regularity of GPS tracking wasn’t that intense.
Using the watch’s apps it is possible to opt for a particular level of tracking accuracy, with a battery trade-off for more precise GPS use. The GPS chipset also supports GLONASS and Michibiki, yet another satellite system, which will improve tracking performance in Australia, Singapore, Japan and other areas in that part of the world.
CASIO WSD-F20 – SOFTWARE AND PERFORMANCE
The ability to use third-party tracking apps is where the Casio WSD-F20 starts to catch up with watches such as the Garmin Fenix 5, since without Android Wear’s extra apps, it isn’t really a run tracker. The watch runs Android Wear 2.0, a huge upgrade over the original Wear. It has a much better interface, and now lets you download apps straight from the watch.
As usual, Casio’s additions to the feel of the system come in the form of watch faces. There’s a handful, including ones that show your altitude, distance travelled and air pressure 24/7. For the most part, though, I’ve been using the most basic digital watch face, because it switches to the battery-saving monochrome LCD layer after a few seconds of being idle.
After installing a few ‘essential’ apps – such as Citymapper – I had just over 2GB storage spare; the system feels quite fast for the most part, despite the use of a lower-end CPU. Casio hasn’t publicised the details of the CPU, and digging a little deeper you can understand why.
According to an app that digs into the system registry to analyse a device’s hardware, the Casio WSD-F20 has a dual-core Cortex-A7 CPU, shown as running at 1GHz. That’s just half the number of cores and a slower clock speed than the Snapdragon Wear 2100, one of the more popular wearable processors.
A potential candidate for the role of Casio WSD-F20 CPU is the MediaTek MT2601, also used by the Polar M600. MediaTek isn’t a brand some would want to see attached to a £450 watch, which might explain Casio’s reticence to reveal the CPU.
CASIO WSD-F20 – BATTERY LIFE
Casio also doesn’t provide details regarding the battery spec of the WSD-F20. However, I’ve been using it for a while now and it’s clear the extra bulk of this watch comes from the military-spec ruggedisation rather than fitting in a giant battery.
The Casio WSD-F20’s stamina is fine, but no more than the patience-testing norm of an Android Wear smartwatch. On one day of testing, for example, I used the watch to GPS-track an hour of exercise, and for the usual daily notifications.
It lasted through the day, having been fully charged at about 8:30am, before reverting to its ultra-low power mode at about 10:40am the following day. As standard, when the battery is low (around 8%, or so) it switches to its watch-only mode.
A full day and some – with a decent chunk of GPS tracking – isn’t bad for a Wear watch, but it’s miles behind a runner’s watch. The best such models will see you through up to 24 hours of GPS tracking.
My experience suggest you’ll get a few days of watch-only operation from the last few per cent of battery. Having spent far too many days with a blank screen on my wrist having forgotten to charge a smartwatch, I think this is great.
I’m not a huge fan of the Casio WSD-F20’s charging mechanism, however. It uses a MagSafe-like charger plug that hooks onto a socket on the side of the watch. It disconnects easily, which is great for avoiding damage, but since the WSD-F20 doesn’t actually lie flat thanks to its strap design, accidentally unplugging the watch is far too easy.
SHOULD I BUY THE CASIO PRO TREK SMART WSD-F20?
The Casio WSD-F20 isn’t the sort of watch I’d buy. Garmin’s far superior battery life and deeper tracking software make the Fenix 5X and Forerunner 935 far better.
However, if those watches aren’t smart enough for you, then the Casio WSD-F20 is one of the best “true” smartwatches on the market that’s also a great hiking tool. Offline maps, decent custom tracker interfaces and great ruggedisation all add serious appeal. And ‘standalone’ GPS makes this a major upgrade over the original WSD-F10 too.
Not quite a Garmin-killer, but the best Android Wear watch for hikers