They may not be the highest-function watches you've ever seen, but Phosphor's line of timepieces can make a claim that virtually no other watches in the world can: they've got E Ink displays. Sure, Seiko's been teasing us all with gorgeous pieces of E Ink wrist candy for half a decade, but the critical thing about Phosphor's offerings is that they're easy on the wallet (relatively speaking) and you won't need to embark on a grueling multi-year journey through specialty jewelry shops in Asia to try to find one.
The company just recently introduced its latest line of models featuring world time capability, and we've had a chance to check them out -- all four of them, to be precise. Read on for our quick review!
If you remember our last Phosphor watch review, these new models should look very familiar -- and indeed, they're pretty much indistinguishable unless you look closely. The most notable change is the move of the control buttons to the front directly below the display. It actually looks like there's only one button here, but you can press on either side to trigger different actions, left for changing settings and right for changing view modes (more on these in a bit). On the reverse, a screw-in backing holds the battery tight; you've got 50 meters of claimed water resistance, though as is usually the case with watches, we'd be careful about over-using that capability, especially after changing the battery. The watch is available in four band styles, all of which are permanently affixed to the face: black or white rubber, black leather, and a handsome, heavy stainless steel option. The band style you choose determines the price -- rubber's cheapest, steel the most expensive -- but regardless, you'll get exactly the same metal face, so it's really just a matter of personal style. All four bands felt pretty solid and seem like they'd hold up well in the long term, though the black rubber and leather are virtually indistinguishable unless you're looking at it very closely; we might consider saving the $15 and going with rubber if black was the color we wanted. For our money, we liked the steel best -- it looks a good deal more expensive and luxurious than the other choices, and the added weight feels great on the wrist.
As functionality goes, the segmented display does a good job of clearly communicating date and time -- the most important functions for a watch, we'd argue -- but don't expect any added goodies or functionality. Were this an LCD watch, we think it'd probably be in the $30 to $50 range, so you're really paying for the E Ink here. Viewing modes include dual time, date and time, large time, small time, and a single time mode that lets you rapidly cycle through all the time zones with the left button (they're indicated at the top of the display by an abbreviated city name in that zone, a pretty common practice for digital world time watches). Changing modes requires a full flash of the display, just as with your Kindle or other e-reader; that's the nature of the E Ink beast, though it happens in a half second or so and probably won't annoy you too much. One neat bonus Phosphor has thrown in is the ability to invert any of the modes -- just hold down the left button for a second, and you switch from black-on-white to white-on-black. We're huge fans of the white-on-black just because it looks different -- turn that on with the white rubber band model and you've got a pretty stylish piece hanging off your wrist.
In strictly practical terms, it's hard to recommend Phosphor's watches -- but then again, practicality isn't really what these things are about. Instead, they've done a pretty admirable job of incorporating an extremely geeky feature (E Ink, that is) into a case and band combination that doesn't make you look like a geek. It's almost like you're having your cake and eating it too. And with this latest version, you can have your cake in 24 time zones.
We'll be giving away all four of these watches over the coming weeks, so stay tuned!