Sunday, January 15, 2012

G-Shock #3: Speedpass

Today’s G-Shock is quite a special model. It’s the GWS-900 Speedpass. This model is equipped with a chip. With this chip it is possible to pay at Esso and Mobil gas stations in Japan. Speedpass can be used by approximately 10000 gas stations worldwide, though I think most of these gas stations will be located in Japan and the USA. Frankly, before I had ever heard of this model, I never heard about this payment system.
The chip is located at above the display. It’s invisible, but when you want to pay with a registered Speedpass G-Shock, you need to hold the top of the watch at the chip reader of the pump. It works pretty much as using an unmanned gas station, where you commonly use your bank pass or credit card.
The G-Shock Speedpass is probably pretty much comparable with the Swatch Snowpass, which is used to pay for access to lifts and slopes in popular ski resorts around the world.
The technique used for these chips is called RFID, Radio Frequency ID. Every chip has an unique code. This code must be linked to a credit card. In the box there is a brochure (in Japanese of course…) where you can order a Speedpass credit card. As the details are all in Japanese, I can’t really make up if this credit card is really needed for this system, or that an existing credit card would work too. I think it would not be necessary to have more than one credit card. The number of the chip is laser engraved on the back of this G-Shock (for this model: A04018293).
Only this GS-900 version was released in October 2004. Normally a Speedpass keychain is used at Speedpass pumps. A watch is of course a welcome idea, when you wear your watch every day. A collector like me would be a hopeless case with just one Speedpass model. It would restrict me of wearing only one watch while driving a car. For me a key chain would be a much better solution, but for those who just have one watch, this is a good alternative. And frankly, this is a very nice looking watch. It is made in a for me favorite colors.
Although the model number GWS-900 suggests this is a (2-band) Waveceptor model, it’s actually just a Tough Solar model. It has the 2654 module. You can find this module also on the MTG-901 and MTG-911, the non Atomic versions of the MTG-900 and MTG-910. Also the 2800 has a similar or the same module. The case looks unique to me, but looks a bit like the G-3011 model with the small almost square light button.
The construction of the case, bezel and back is also pretty unique. It’s not unique that the side of a G-Shocks case consist of an upper and a bottom part, but I think I cannot remember that I know a model where the metal back is also part of the side of the case. The brushed stainless steel contrasts beautifully with the red resin of the bezel.
The 26554 module has some interesting features. Scrolling through the functions while pressing the Mode button, you’ll will find the Telememo, Worldtime, Countdown Timer, Alarm and the Stopwatch mode.
The Telememo mode is something you won’t find on a G-Shock nowadays. Before mobile phones were common used, the Telememo function was a way to store your most important telephone number. This model can store up to 30 sets of names with telephone numbers. Well, that were those days. Nowadays I can add unlimited contacts in my phone and it’s not rare to have three phone numbers available for a contact. This does not say it was an useless function, but nowadays this function is pretty obsolete.
The Worldtime Function is, compared to newer G-Shock models, less extensive, but sufficient enough as most current G-Shock models have several cities in the same time zone. This G-Shock can display 27 cities in 29 time zones.
The Countdown Timer is pretty extensive, but the downside is that the total Count Down time is only 60 minutes. On the other side it is possible to program the Countdown Timer with a Reset Timer and Auto Repeat. If Auto-Repeat is turned off the watch starts displaying Elapsed Time mode after the target time is reached. Also the Countdown Timer has a Progress Beeper, which notifies you at certain times during the Count Down progress. Personally I think a 60 minute Count Down is rather short. Just to annoy me, the Elapsed Time has a capacity of 99 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds.
I think it’s a bit strange the Alarm Mode is placed between the Countdown Timer Mode and the Stopwatch Mode. The watch can be set to 5 alarms and of course you can turn the Hourly Chime on and off.
The easy to use Stopwatch function has the unusual capacity of 99 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds. It’s a simple function with split timing, which speaks for itself.
The watch is equipped with a Full Auto Illuminator. This means you can activate the EL backlight in the dark with a simple twist of the wrist. When the EL is activated, the Speedpass logo is revealed.
The GWS-900 is solar powered. The watch contains the CTL1616 battery, which was the usual battery used in the G-Shocks of that time and if I’m correct it is still used in new Tough Solar G-Shocks.
The display of the watch is surrounded by a black metal ring, which is part of the bezel. It does not only look good, but it also adds to the Tough look of the watch. The black parts in the display are the solar cells. The ellipse eye in the upper left corner is the battery status indicator. It has quite a big display and so the time digits are unusual bug. Pretty good display for people with older eyes or bad sight. The display shows also the year, day of the week and the date. I couldn’t find it in the manual, but with the Power Save function turned on, I think the watch can store enough energy for running about 6 to 9 months without light. Best is not to drain the battery completely, so feed it light from time to time.
The GWS-900 comes in quite a big special cardboard box. It has, besides the usual Casio and G-Shock logo also the Speedpass logo printed big on it. The box has this big dimensions because of the papers packed with it. The papers are all in Japanese, so I have to guess where they are for. I think there is a folder to sign up for a Synergy Credit Card. A second folder can be used to activate the account for the chip. I think a small, credit card size plasticized paper has to be stored in your wallet as it has emergency numbers if you have questions or problems with your Speedpass.
As every chip in the Speedpass is unique, the system seems pretty safe for fraud, though a group of students of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland were able to crack the algorithm used by the RFID chip. Since then users were often asked to enter their postal code when using the Speedpass.
Although there has been experimented with it in the Chicago area, it is not possible to pay with your Speedpass in shops or (fast food) restaurants. This would be handy, especially when traveling long distance over the highway.
The look of this watch is typical for the models released around 2002/2003. The design make this watch actually look a bit beefier The red color makes this watch pretty attractive, though I can’t use the Speedpass function in my country. As a G-Shock collector I would not use this watch as a paying method, simply because I change watches regularly. If it was possible to have and use a Speedpass key-chain, I could imagine myself to get one, though with the current gas prices in Europe, it’s pretty lucrative to tank gas at the un-manned gas stations as you sometimes can get up to 10 – 12 cent discount per liter gas. I’m just a simple educational assistant and an avid G-Shock collector, so if I can save money on fuel, this means directly more money for G-Shocks.
I bought this model from a good friend of me in Chicago. Frankly I forgot what I paid for this model. Probably between $100 and $200, but it came in a lot and it really was a friend’s price. I would not be surprised such a model would cost you more. I pretty much like this model as it is pretty unique in the G-Shock line-up. I think there is maybe a similarity with the forthcoming Bluetooth G-Shocks (GB-6900), though instead with a payment system these forthcoming models make a wireless connection with your mobile phone. I do not know exactly when the Bluetooth models are released, but I heard from a trustworthy source the watch will be launched in Europe this summer.