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A number of these technologies are legitimately useful. Others are confusing or imprecise, many drain batteries faster than you can say “uh-oh,” and in a few cases they just plain don’t work.
So the wisest designers have spent the past year focusing their efforts on perfecting some of these increasingly familiar functions. GPS-in-a-watch isn’t exactly new, for instance, but now a GPS linkup enables a training watch to track your speed and distance traveledand it works with pinpoint precision. Ditto on the altimeter side, where the good news includes longer lasting batteries and readings that are now accurate to one meter.
Overall, however, it seems that simplicity is about to emerge as the killer app: “You won’t need to read an instruction book or put on your glasses,” promises Avocet president Bud Hoffacker. We’ll see about that.
Meanwhile, here are the top watches available in four categories: navigators, trainers, dive-ready timepieces, andbecause no review would be complete without themthe classics.
All prices in U.S. dollars
With the introduction of the Vertech in 1993, Avocet invented the altimeter watch. The Avocet Vertech II Alpin ($160; www.avocet.com) updates the original by doubling battery life to four years and by boosting precision: The Alpin’s correct-to-one-meter altimeter is as dead-on as any you’ll find.
Two years ago, Casio raised the gimmickry bar with a digital camera–watch combo. This year, it’s taking more of an omnibus approach. The Casio Pathfinder Tool Triple ($200; www.casiousa.com) features a compass, altimeter, stopwatch, barometer, and thermometer.
The Victorinox Swiss Army SC 1000 ($395; www.swissarmy.com) comes from a company that banks on classic, simple styling. This watch adds an appropriately retro, low-tech twist: The bezel flips up to reveal a solar compass (which points to truenot magneticnorth).
Current endurance-training doctrine exalts the high-intensity interval workoutwhich is what the Adidas Flux 40 ($85; www.valdawn.com) is all about. A programmable 20-interval timer facilitates fartlek and other mixed-speed runs. And fractions of seconds are prominently displayed in a separate window.
The Nike Triax Stamina ($149; www.nike.com) features all the standard training gewgawscountdown timer, lap and workout recall, average-pace readoutbut the sell here is ergonomics: a curved casing that fits snugly and comfortably during a run, and an angled face that’s easy to read.
What’s impressive about the slim Oakley D.5 ($160; www.oakley.com) is how potently it performs simple tasks. As a training watch, it remembers 90 different lap times and 45 different workouts. As a travel watch, it displays the time from two zones at once.
The Timex Ironman Speed and Distance System ($225; www.timex.com) is a milestone watch. By communicating with a Garmin GPS unit, which straps onto your arm or belt, the watch can calculate your exact pace and the distance you’ve run or biked. It’s a vast improvement over existing pedometer technologies.
The women’s Wenger Commando Chronograph ($250; www.wengerna.com) proves that a training watch can be straight-up chicrather than digital-watch chic. The classic analog face doubles as a stopwatch, with separate dials for tracking tenths of a second, seconds, and minutes.
The sturdy, sun- or artificial-light-powered Citizen Eco-Drive Sailhawk ($425; www.citizenwatch.com) is a dive-ready, rather than dive-specific, watch; its ideal user is the scuba diver who happens to be sailing around the world. It’s got a stopwatch and a rotating bezel for diving, and it can track the time and date in 22 time zones and 30 citiesand do it under 328 feet [100 meters] of water.
Under a hundred feet of water [30.5 meters], no one can hear your watch screamwhich is why the Freestyle Viper ($80; www.freestyleusa.com) features a vibrating alarm. Other sell points: water resistance to 500 feet [152 meters] and a notably easy-to-read display.
The oversize Panerai Luminor Submersible 1000 Meter ($4,950; www.panerai.com) is hot among fashionistas, but it also has a distinctive performance claim: It’s water-resistant to 3,281 feet [1,000 meters]. (Personal testing of this feature is not recommended: No scuba diver has ever returned alive from below 1,100 feet [335 meters].)
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer II ($3,800; www.rolex.com) is the durable, water-resistant, self-winding sequel to the mountaineering watch originally created for Sir John Hunt, the leader of the 1953 expedition that put Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary on top of Everest.
The Tag Heuer Kirium Formula 1 ($1,895; www.tagheuer.com) can parse seconds into hundredthsjust in case you really do need to time an auto race. The first digital model in the company’s 140-year history, the watch also incorporates an analog display andthis is criticalstill looks like a Tag.
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