Sunday, June 16, 2013

G-Shock #25: GB-6900 Bluetooth Reprise

It has been more than a year ago I reviewed my GB-6900-4JF. Although I was pretty enthusiast about this watch, I couldn’t really test this watch where it was made for, pairing with a mobile phone via Bluetooth 4.0.
Outside Japan the watch only works currently with iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5. The contract with my provider ends next week, so I could easily change my contract and get an iPhone 5. I got the biggest available, 64GB. Quite an investment, but luckily my girlfriend wanted my iPhone 4, so I could get some extra funds. Actually, it's not the price of the iPhone that made me wait for a while to get one. Frankly I am not to happy with the new lightning connection. I have several docks at home, which became useless at once. I should sew Apple for replacing my docks at home and at work. And now I have the iPhone 5, I actually do not think it is much faster than my good old iPhone 4. Only the camera function is faster and better and frankly, I also do not like the cheap plastic light weight of the device. Like a good old screwback DW-5X00, the heavier and more ergonomic iPhone 4 felt qualitatively better. But, hey, we are here to talk Bluetooth G-Shocks.
As soon as I got my iPhone in, I also ordered a GB-6900AA. I choose the brown version. The main reason I choose the brown version is that I don’t wanted another white G-Shock and the brown version is the other one with the least bleu (bloo?) details. Also, I am a big chocolate lover. I would have been most happy though, if it was possible to get a red or a yellow version (yellow might even go well with some blue accents).
The GB-6900AA is, except maybe for one or two exceptions, in the Netherlands not available on-line. This policy might also apply in other countries. Do a little search on-line and you’ll find out you don’t trip over web shops selling this model. The reason for this is that Casio wants the consumer well informed about the watch, before they buy a Bluetooth G-Shock and that the buyer also gets good after service. When I was reading our regional newspaper about a month ago, I can see why.
I actually looked over this article (above), but luckily my brother Paul informed me. Cintha Rood, a Dutch fashion reporter for the collective regional papers of the Netherlands, wrote a quite negative review of this model. I think she clearly received this watch without a good explanation how it works. Frankly, I don’t think it is very wise to let an somewhat older fashion reporter review a high tech watch. While I see in street fashion that girls and young women are still wearing big wristwatches and there is even a new trend in wearing grandfather's old mechanicals, this reporter claims that wrist watches are old fashioned and is stupid to turn your wrist to see what time it is. It's simply better to take your phone out of your pocket or bag, if you want to know the time, duh. On the same page she also wrote an enthusiastic article about how “the 60’s curl” came back in street fashion (old news to me, I had seen them already a year ago at our school). I do not think you should do a tech review if you have some cultural education or art background. Did it ever occur to you that in movies most actors (unless projected as über nerds) wholeheartedly claim they hate science, mathematics, physics, etc (except for Winnie Cooper of The Wonder Years, she became later a famous gifted mathematician).
The G-SHOCK+ App icon is shown on the left, under the Shazam icon.
Connecting to iPhone.
Pairing with iPhone
Well, after reading this article, I wanted to test it myself. I had to order this watch via a custom transaction (as it isn’t available on-line here). As I have often contact with someone of that shop and with someone who had demonstrated me his GB-6900AA to me, I thought I was on the safe side. Let's try if I'm smart enough to connect the GB-6900AA to my iPhone. First thing you have to do is instal the G-Shock+ app from the Apple App Store. After installing and opening the app I was advised to watch a YouTube video about how to connect your GB-6900AA. So I tried the step by step “Connect your Bluetooth G-Shock with your iPhone for dummies” video method. If you stop the video in every step and apply the step to your iPhone, it actually works pretty fast. Before I knew it, my iPhone was connected. It proved I had a little more patience and technical insight than the fashion reporter.
So, if connected and “paired” (synchronized with the iPhone), what does this watch do? Actually the possibilities seem a bit limited by what is possible to send to the watch via Bluetooth by the iPhone and the Casio software. Note these functions are more or less meant to alert you discrete, rather than let you grab your phone out of your ppocket on every bleep, as not everyone is like Cintha Rood. This is why you can customize your notifications to vibration only. First of all it can give an alert for incoming calls. To bad the caller ID is not sent too. Also, SMS (text messages) are not supported. Who actually uses text messages nowadays, when you’ve got WhatsApp, iMessage and Line nowadays? Unfortunately these apps are also not supported.
Simple test about how strong the Bluetooth signal is.
Alerts I actually didn’t expect are those from Facebook, Twitter and Weibo (the Chinese Twitter counterpart). The Facebook notification alerts include Messages, Notifications and Friend Requests. The watch can inform you also about incoming mails from all your e-mail accounts. Actually, in practice, e-mail notifications tend to come often before the mails are downloaded on the Phone itself. Interesting. Apparently new in the latest update is that also the calendar is synchronized with the watch. Notifications are shown with an icon and a text, scrolling twice through the display. Unfortunately, if you missed the text, I haven’t found a way to get the text scrolling again.
The result of losing the link in the video above. Yep, I lost contact at school.
In my experience, most of the notifications are for e-mails. I have connected my 4 most important e-mail accounts to the G-Shock+ app. Unfortunately I couldn’t get my school Exchange account not added, but this has probably to do with the way these are set up.
The hardest to catch icon. Got it thanks to Roel in Belgium! SNS is Social Network Service. It's followed by the icon of the Social Network that created this notification or the messenger.
Icons from the "Demo Mode". When Bluetooth not activated press the MODE button for about 3 seconds. It seems some icons have changed with G-SHOCK+ updates.
Ooops, link lost...
iPhones are synced to the Apple servers time, which are pretty accurate. Usually the time is less than 0.5 seconds of the real Atomic time. Yes, I am actually such a nerd who sometimes checks the deviation of the server time to the Atomic time (Emerald Time app, by Emerald Sequoia). When you toggle Auto Time Adjustment in the Time Adjustment menu on, the watch will automatically sync the time. When this actually happens I can’t find, but I noticed it happened during daytime. When the time signal is sent to the watch, for about 35 seconds a Clock icon and AT appears in the display. If you find this annoying (I have only seen this happen once), you can also turn off Auto Time Update. With an accuracy of less than 15 seconds a month, I think it is not a real important function, unless you travel a lot between different time zones. Then this function is actually pretty handy.
When you leave your iPhone somewhere and walk away, the watch warns you with a Vibration Alert that you walked out of range on the phone. When you return, the watch will automatically pair again, even if you have been away for a few minutes.
Teaser from the EP Stade 3, which has been a free download on for a long time. I used a track of this EP for my Phone Finder function. You might recognize the music from this teaser from the video I made for my Rush article
The Phone Finder might be a pretty handy feature. I sometimes lay down my phone somewhere on the lab. As I have a white iPhone and the the labs are also white, I sometimes have to look good where I left it. Funny extra, instead of the pre-programmed sounds of the G-Shock+ app, you can also use a song from your music library. I couldn’t resist to use “WC” from the free download album Stade 3 by Mr Oizo (soundtrack of the movie “Wrong Cops” by Quinten Depieux). It makes me happy to find back my iPhone. Something, that should be cool, is that you can silence your iPhone again by tapping on the display. Unfortunately I most of the times can tap until I weigh and ounce (Dutch expression), but nothing happens. By restarting the Phone Finder function again, it is most of the time possible to shut off the sound after a few attempts. I have even checked closely how to tap the screen. You have to make a swipe movement from the center to the edge of the watch and tap like you do a “double click”. On paper a very good feature, in practice it does not work accurate.
[Edit: I found on a Taiwanese video a far more easier way to silence your iPhone after you found it, via your watch]   
Besides the Bluetooth notifications, the GB-6900 is of course also a wristwatch. Besides showing time, it has a 100 city (!) World Time function, 5 Alarms with a Hourly Signal, a 24 hour Stopwatch function and a 24 hour Countdown Timer function on board. The negative display is pretty good visible in darker surroundings, but if you can’t read the display anymore, you can use the backlight function. The backlight comes from two bright LEDs at the bottom of the display, which light up the display nice evenly.
That baby blue lettering (it almost is unnoticeable), would baby pink not be more nice...
...keep dreaming Sjors...
This watch costs in Europe €179.-, a fair price for a G-Shock with Bleutooth on-board. Powered with a CR2032 battery, the manual tells me that with 12 hours pairing a day, this battery will last for about 2 years. I can’t find in the manual how far the GB-6900 and iPhone can pair maximally, but here at the lab it’s about 20 to 30 meters before I get notified, while at home charging my iPhone on one end of the room was already too far while I was sitting in the other end. For serious appliances this is in my opinion far enough. The watch is paired to the iPhone with a password. The on-line instructions tell me every time you have turned off your Bleutooth and then turn it on later, you need to pair the watch, which is also written in big bold letters on the G-Shock+ Guide page on the Casio International homepage. In practice, I have turned on and off Bluetooth quite some time this week. I only had to pair it with a password again once. Most of the times the watch and iPhone found themselves without problem within a few minutes.
Casio seem to improve the G-Shock+ app constantly and more functions will become available in the near future. The information given by the GB-6900 is far from perfect. First of all, when you are called there is no contact information. I think for this problem is actually Apple Inc. to blame. Something that bothers me and would be good in a next improvement of the watch is the scrolling of the notification. You can’t always look directly when the notification comes. It is unfortunately, by my knowledge, not possible to make the text scroll again. A simple push on the upper right button (POWER) could be a solution. Notifications work OK. It’s very good you can customize your notifications. Not everyone likes all those beeps all the time. Cool is that you can even choose between three different vibration patterns! For a next update I would like to see that SMS, WhatsApp, iMessage and Line would sent notices too. Maybe the new iOS 7 will allow this. Also, when this watch was first presented at the CES 2012, the guy from Casio told it would be possible in the future to link to the music player. If you can operate the iPod function will probably be very difficult, but showing the artists and song titles would be at least cool. Also the Tap function is not working as it should. Sometimes I can silence my phone in 6, 8 or 10 taps, sometimes I need to start up the function again to silence my phone (see “Phone Finder” movie). Luckily there is the Taiwanese method.
Me, my G-Shock GB-6900AA and my father's Day present. 
Above display probably appears a few times a day. I haven't found out the frequency the time is synced with the Apple servers. If you see this, the corrected time will appear back in the screen within 35 seconds. I have only seen this screen started automatically once in the 5 days I've been testing it. 
So, with above resumé, what’s my final verdict. I still think this is a cool watch. The article in our local newspaper shows I might be a little bit more handy than the woman who wrote it, although, in my opinion the set-up was quite easy if you followed the on-line instructions and the pairing worked flawless. About the color variation, I would love a yellow and red variant. This brown is maybe nice, but I rather had a brighter color (but not white). Short after the international release, information leaked from Apple that they were working on a Bluetooth watch, often referred to as the iWatch. Hey, they weren’t that crazy at Casio! They must had gotten that idea from somewhere. The Apple version will probably be a sleek curved something. Well, it’s a watch and it will of course work perfectly with an iPhone, but knowing Apple, I think they will use glass again. It won’t be a rugged watch, I’ll guess. Also there is the Pebble watch (thanks Roel, for bringing it back to my attention), which works with Android and iPhone. It claims to view Caller ID and show SMS notifications. Not sure if this is only for Android, yet. The Pebble is only released a few months ago. With a retail price of $150.- it might be a competitor to the G-Shock Bluetooth models, but if it will be as rugged as a G-Shock? Also there is the Cookoo watch. It's a Bleutooth watch with a classic analog dial, but shows also iPhone notifications on the dial. A totally different water resist design for around €130.-. So for me, this GB-6900AA is a great step in a great direction and €179.- ( around $200 in the US) makes this watch not over priced. Let’s see the price tag as there is really coming an Apple Bluetooth watch and look if it is also 20 bar water resistant and shock proof. We’ll see what the future brings.


SkyForce6 said...

Nice article and review Sjors :)

I was not aware about the online sale restrictions surrounding this model. But I could still find it on eBay tough around $180! My fave in this series is the steel blue one though, I find that very fitting for the Bluetooth name!

I am surprised to see those blue letters on the resin. On all the pictures I have seen the letters look brown or grey. And in some of your pictures they do as well. But on some others they appear indeed to be a very light shade of blue.

I am a bit ambivalent regarding smartwatch G-shocks. In one hand they are very cool when new to the market but in the other hand they quickly become obsolete, will these still work with phones coming out 10 years from now? I think perhaps not! And my relationship with G-shock is that they should be long term. And so far these are not a big hit amongst us collectors. Perhaps it is the limitation to just a couple of phones and the short term aspect that prevents these from becoming a success. Also the price might be a factor. If they were below 150 USD then we would probably see some more sales.

Sincerely Joakim Agren!

Varun Reddy said...

One of the big advantages of a watch – especially over a smartphone – is how long it can operate in the field. Many watches are made to either be self powered through motion or use a small amount of energy from a battery. Think years of maintenance free time telling… that to a smart phone’s 8 hours! The best Smart Watch don’t use the latest technology. They are powered by ingenious mechanical clockwork technology that predates electricity. So when your cellphone runs out battery – you can trust the technology that keeps running on your wrist.