Monday, September 25, 2017

Seiko Prospex Alpinist Solar Titanium Multi-Sensor SBEB013 (Similar to SBEB015, SBEB017, SBEB019, SBEB035 & SBEB037) – A Good Start Against Established Competitors, A Review (plus Video)

The Seiko Prospex Alpinist SBEB013 is my first solar, digital display and ABC (Altimeter, Barometer & Compass) watch from the Seiko family. It is also the third ABC (Altimeter, Barometer & Compass) multi-sensor watch in my collection. I already have the Casio Protrek as well as the Tissot T-Touch. It would be interesting to note the differences in functionality as well as capabilities of the various makes. I will make such a comparison in a special box section later in this review.

It is difficult to get an example of this watch in Kuala Lumpur as Seiko does not officially offer this model here in Malaysia. Through the internet, via Amazon, I was able to source one from a merchant operating out of Japan. Within a week, the package was on my table.

The Packaging

The SBEB013 comes with a quality double cardboard box package. The outer box uses a thinner cardboard material painted in black with the brand logo as well as the Prospex logo on the top of the box in silver. The dimension of the outer box is 12 cm by 9 cm by 8 cm. Inside this box contains the main watch box as well as the manual, warranty and a special instruction booklet on how to resize the bracelet. Included also is a tool for the bracelet resizing. This is a first time I’ve seen Seiko give a resizing tool as part of the presentation package.

The inner box is the main watch box and is made out of a more substantial cardboard material. It opens into two separate pieces and is large enough to accommodate the watch on a black pillow. The dimension of the inner box is 9.5 cm by 7.5 cm by 7.5 cm. It is painted in olive green with a map motive that has key mountains of the world marked on it. It sets the mood for the user of the watch; an adventurer mountaineer. I rather like this styling of watch box. Much livelier that the more conservatively drab single-dark-colour design found on most watch packaging.



The Dimensions

The watch has a typical circular watch casing paired with metallic bracelet. It has a lug-to-lug size of 56.5 mm, a dial face width of 44.9 mm and a thickness of 14.5 mm. The watch casing is made out of a combination of materials such as stainless steel and plastic resin while the bracelet is made out titanium. Overall, the watch weighs in at 101 gm.



The titanium bracelet has a three-point safety clasp with a divers’ extension mechanism. It fits the 20 mm wide lugs and it tapers to 18 mm at the clasp. The clasp has the typical Seiko design with the logo stamped on the locking flap and has four micro-adjustment points for close fitting.



The way the end-links are arranged is rather interesting. Instead of linking directly to the watch casing, they are attached to another piece made out of titanium. This section fits snugly next to the watch casing and the deep lugs. The bottom piece has 7 dimples stamped onto the surface whereas the top piece has a clean surface (more about this later). Connected to these pieces are the end-links made out of resin which extends behind the titanium plate right up to the case-back. The end-links can be taken off the watch by accessing the lug pins via the pass-through lug holes.



The glass that protects the large LCD screen is a domed Hardlex crystal made in-house by Seiko. I was actually surprised that Seiko chose a domed shaped glass instead of a flat plane glass for this digital watch. It is actually makes it more difficult to view the LCD screen if looking from an angle when compared to a flat glass.

The fixed bezel is screwed on the watch casing via four visible screws. On the bezel are descriptions of the various functions for the six buttons on the side of the SBEB013. An image of a triangle is located at the 12 o’clock while the words “SOLAR” and “ALTIMETER” are located on the opposite side. I am not sure why the altimeter function was given a special mention when this watch is also capable of provide compass bearing as well as barometric reading. I can only speculate that it to reinforce the mountaineering angle for this watch.



On both sides of the watch casing are six plastic buttons fit flushed to the surface. These are the buttons that allow one to access the various functions on the watch.

When viewed from the side. You will see the curvature of the watch casing as well as the lugs to enable it to sit comfortable on the wrist.



The case-back is a flat stainless steel panel screwed down with four screws. Basic information about the watch is sandblasted on the surface. Do note that the watch is made in China.

The Dial

The information on the dial is presented digitally. There is a dark band surrounding the edge of the dial where the solar panel is located as well as additional printed text in white such as the brand and logo logo as well as some description of various functions. There are also hour markers printed on this band.

The LCD screen is a positive display screen where information is presented in black over a grey background.

The Capabilities

The SBEB013 is a solar powered watch. Information is generated on the large LCD screen digitally.
It comes with a number of functionalities that makes it a very capable adventure watch. The Seiko caliber powering this watch is the S822 and it has the following functions:
  1. Solar power with 5 months of energy reserve plus a power saving function that can extend the functionality even longer
  2. Chronograph (1/100 second measurement for 10 hours total)
  3. World time (35 cities, 7 continents highest peaks, Mt. Fuji)
  4. Perpetual calendar (until December 31, 2062)
  5. Digital compass with magnetic sensor accuracy: ± 10° (measurement range 0 to 359°)
  6. Digital temperature with sensor accuracy: ± 3° C (measurement range: -10 to 60°C)
  7. Digital pressure with sensor accuracy: ± 3 hPa (measurement range 300 to 1100 hPa)
  8. Digital altimeter with sensor accuracy: ± (altitude difference 3% + 30 m) for altitude 6,000 m or less, ± (altitude difference 3% + 45 m) for altitude 6000 m or more. Measurement range -699 m to 9164 m
  9. Mountaineering data recording function to calculate the speed of the climb and the consumption energy among others; data can be recorded up to 15 times, 24 hours a day
  10. Alarm (3 programmable alarm time daily)
  11. Contrast adjustment function for LCD brightness
  12. Water resistance at 10 atmosphere or 100 meters
  13. Timing accuracy with average monthly difference of ± 20 seconds
  14. Backlight function for dial illumination
For more information, please read the manual which I have included at the end of this review.

Honestly, there are a lot of functions on this watch that I may not even use. Nevertheless, I am happy to note that the user interface that Seiko incorporated into the design is very user friendly. It is very easy to understand the workings of the control buttons by virtue of the extensive notations provided on the dial as well as on the bezel.

Usability

Considering the extensive functionality for the watch, it is relatively compact. The casing is smooth without any excessive protuberances that may snag on things. The large buttons are designed such that users wearing gloves can easily operate the watch without much difficulty. Moreover, sufficient distance between the buttons minimize the unintentional push of more than one button at a time.

The digital display is large and crisp. Having the option to dim or brighten the display is a smart move by Seiko. However, Seiko may need to look into the back-light function. I feel it is rather weak and it should be brighter.



The curved watch casing provides great wrist support. The watch wraps itself along the wrist and makes it stable. As a mountaineer, you don’t want your equipment to rattle around.

The addition of the bracelet extension mechanism near the clasp is another nice touch. Generally, the mechanism is usually associated with divers. However, mountaineers too wear thick protective gear to defend them from the elements. The ability to wear the watch over their thick clothing is a key design expectation.



I mentioned earlier about the "7 dimples" at the end-link of the bottom lugs. The purpose of the dimples is so that one can physically identify the North-South alignment for the watch and hence push the correct button on the watch. Due to it being symmetrical, one can easily make a mistake.   



Peer Comparison

Here is a brief comparison of some key variables of the SBEB013 versus two other ABC watches from my collection, the Casio (Protrek PRW 3000 T7) and the Tissot (T-Touch T091.420.44.051.00).

Model
Seiko SBEB013
Casio Protrek
Tissot T-Touch
Functionality
·         ABC
·         ABC
·         ABC
·         Touch screen
Power
Solar
Solar
Solar
Materials
·         Titanium
·         Stainless steel
·         Plastic resin
·         Hardlex crystal
·         Titanium
·         Mineral crystal
·         Titanium
·         Sapphire crystal
External controls
None
Radio controlled
None
Programmable
Yes
No
No
Bracelet extension
Yes
No
Yes
Price
MYR1,826.69
MYR1,140.00
MYR3,280.00

Based on the table above, Seiko appear to have some premium over the Casio. However, in my opinion, based on just the functionality as well as other unique features, the pricing is slightly on the high side. It should be closer to Casio’s price point.

The Family

I was made to understand that the SBEB013 comes from a set of six. These are classified as Seiko Prospex Alpinist series with reference SBEB013[top left], SBEB015[top middle], SBEB017[top right], SBEB019[bottom left], SBEB035 (limited edition)[bottom middle] and SBEB037 (limited edition)[bottom right]. This series was first launch back in December 2014.


Conceptually, the Alpinist branded watches under Seiko was designed to fulfill the needs of the “Yamaotoko”; a term used in Japan used to describe a type of man known in Japan as "mountain man". The Yamaotoko spends weekends and holidays climbing many mountains in Japan with the sole purpose of conquering as many peaks of the famous Japanese Alps, both the southern and northern ranges. It can be further defined that Yamaotoko are gentlemen mountaineers unlike the modern extreme climbers you find nowadays.




Bracelet Resizing 


As highlighted earlier, the standard package came with a special bracelet resizing tool as well as a simple instruction sheet explaining how to de-link and re-link the bracelet. Unlike the pin-and-sleeve system used in most Seiko bracelet, this particular example uses the pin-and-spring system which I have not encountered before. Instead of a straight tube pin, this system uses a pin that has a thinner center piece. Also, the usual tube sleeve is now replaced by a tightly wound spring.


The resizing tool is just a thin stamped sheet metal with one end having a long pin structure while the other end having a blunt short pin structure. No hammer tapping of the tool is required to disengage the link pin. Just a simple pressure with the tool is all it takes to push out the pin. Once out, the link can be taken apart and the spring sleeve would drop out of the middle section. To put it back, one just needs to reverse the process. However, this time, the blunt end of the tool is used to ensure the pin is placed properly in the pin hole.


This is by far the quickest and most stress free bracelet sizing exercise I have ever done.  

The Price

The MRSP for the SBEB013 in Japan was YEN48,000 (before tax). This is equivalent to USD430.60 or MYR1,805.55 based on the exchange rate as at 20 September 2017. Via Amazon, the price was USD376.36 with a further USD17.28 for courier charges. In addition, Malaysian Customs added a further MYR121.40 for GST. In total, the cost of acquisition was MYR1,826.69.

As highlighted earlier, my view is that the price is on the high side. This is based purely on comparative to similar watches currently in the market. 

The Wearing Experience and Conclusion

I actually love the bezel design on the watch. It gives that industrial feel to it despite the clean lines in the design. Even with formal wear, the SBEB013 looks presentable. I have no problems wearing it with a full sleeve shirt. Below are some photos of it on my wrist.



Seiko entered the ABC watch space rather late when compared to the major players such as Casio and Tissot. Therefore, Seiko needs to come out with more models under this range to build its reputation as a serious contender to the ABC watch market. The SBEB013 is a good start. Based on the advances in technology, I expect Seiko to start incorporating mobile connectivity in such watches in the future. This will open up huge possibilities in functionality.

Below is a video of the watch on my wrist.








Photo Gallery




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