Out of This World: Reviewing the Seiko Astron GPS Watch

Seiko Astron Outer Space bkgdThe Seiko Astron, released to great fanfare in 2012, tells time by receiving GPS signals anywhere on Earth. Was it a world-beater in our test? Click here to read our in-depth review of the Seiko Astron GPS solar watch, with original photographs by Robert Atkinson, first published in our April 2013 issue.
The last time Seiko called a new watch “Astron,” the future of timekeeping changed forever. Launched on Christmas Day, 1969, the original Seiko Astron watch was the world’s first commercially available quartz wristwatch. At the time, Seiko said of the Astron, “Someday, all watches will be made this way.” Today, it’s saying the same thing about the new Astron. Is Seiko right? Let’s find out.

If you have not read about it, the new Astron is an analog, solar-powered watch that receives GPS satellite signals and adjusts to the precise local time anywhere on Earth. It recognizes all 39 time zones, besting the top mechanical watches, which can display 37, with a manual reset. The Astron covers the globe by first determining its location using GPS, then comparing that information with an onboard database that divides the Earth’s surface into one million squares, each of which is assigned to a particular time zone. That is something no other watch can do.

The Seiko Astron differs from watches that receive terrestrial radio signals from atomic clocks. So-called RC (radio-controlled) watches receive signals when they are within range of stations in the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany and China, so they do not offer global coverage. The Astron works anywhere, even in the middle of an ocean or desert, in Antarctica, or on a Tibetan mountaintop. Seiko Astron watches also automatically recognizes which time zone they are in, while RC watches do not.

Seiko Astron Outer Space bkgd

The Astron also differs from Citizen’s limited-edition Satellite Wave, which receives GPS signals, but lacks a GPS geo-location function so it does not change time zones automatically.

Finally, though the Astron is a GPS receiver that knows precisely where it is, it can’t direct you to that new restaurant downtown, or tell you how far it is to the 14th green. It uses GPS solely to tell time.

When you take an Astron out of the box, it may have to be charged. The Astron is powered by light – any type of light will charge its battery, but sunlight is the most efficient energizer. The charging status is displayed via an “E – F” (Empty – Full) indicator between 9 and 10 o’clock. The power reserve when fully charged is two months in active mode and six months in sleep mode. In sleep mode, the Astron does not display the time until it “wakes up” by being exposed to light.  It takes only six minutes of sunlight to provide enough power for the Astron to run for one day, but going from empty to fully charged requires 65 hours of sunlight. The GPS receiver will not operate when the watch is low on power, so regular charging is important.

The Seiko Astron performs two basic types of operations with GPS signals: it can automatically and manually sync to a single satellite to make sure its local time display is accurate, and it can be manually triggered to change time zones, which requires at least four satellite signals.

The Astron automatically attempts to sync with a single GPS signal once each day. The sync can be set in motion by exposure to the sun or another strong source of light. The Astron’s programming tells it that if a strong light source is present, there’s a good chance it can receive a signal. If the Astron acquires a signal, it remembers when that happened. On subsequent days, if the watch is covered by clothing or otherwise blocked from light, it searches for the signal at the same time as the last successful attempt, assuming the chances for reception are good. To make sure it’s always on time, the Astron can also receive leap-second data. Leap seconds are added about every 18 months to account for the Earth’s slowing rotation. The most recent was added on June 30, 2012.

 

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About Mike Disher

My name is Mike Disher and I am WatchTime's technical editor. My interest in watches dates to 1972 and I caught the internet bug in 1997. In 1999 I combined these interests by joining TimeZone.com as its first full-time employee, and later that year I attended my first Basel Fair. I managed TZ from 2000-2007, and in 2008 I joined WatchTime.

Comments

  1. E Morris says:

    I am a woman and actually love this watch. Would it look stupid on the wrist of a largish woman?

  2. Harris Cohen says:

    It\'s still a Seiko and that leaves me cold.

  3. Jasson C says:

    Seiko watches are always a good option to buy because they are best in quality & reliability.

  4. Ajuweliers says:

    Great watch with nice functions, but to expensive for me.

  5. AD says:

    how about gps finding? if you want to locate yourself how long does it take to find it?

  6. JM says:

    I hope Seiko could cut down the price. They are way too expensive. With the current price, one could buy a full function GPS unit with additional useful functions.

  7. Igor Gindin says:

    Could not find my comment and answer to it. Please help.
    Thanks for expected cooperatioon.

    I. Gindin

    • Jason Francisco says:

      Hi Igor,

      We emailed you a response to your question about the Omega download on 1/24. Check your junk folder just in case. It should be from Stephen Brown.

  8. kenechukwu udechukwu says:

    How much is the wrist watch Seiko astron

    • Jason Francisco says:

      The watch costs $2,300.

  9. Md Irfan says:

    I\'m sure this is a nice

  10. iwan tarmat says:

    just both astron 4 hours ago and iam very impress with my black astron ceramic with black rubber strap and buckle spend us$1500,-at seiko AD in jakarta

  11. Aaron says:

    So, one minor flaw in the GPS system that could be interesting or aggravating depending on where you live . . .

    This watch apparently does not break down your GPS coordinates strictly based upon what time zone you are in. Seiko has mapped the globe into 1 million squares and assigned each of them a time zone. What possible problem does this have? What happens when a square doesn\'t follow the time zone boundary and actually falls into two time zones? Seiko assigns each square a time zone and the instruction manual of the watch even mentions that if you are close to the time zone boundary that the GPS sync might assign the watch the incorrect time zone. Nothing is mentioned as to how Seiko chooses which time zone to assign squares that fall into two time zones: 51% of area or are they using population centers to make a guess where people on that boundary might live? The earth is 510 million square kilometers so if you are using 1 million grid squares that gives you 510 square kilometers in each map square (approximation: you can\'t really divide the area of a sphere into neat squares like this and I don\'t know *exactly* what Seiko did with their mapping). So approximately 22.6 kilometers on each side of a map square. What happens if the time zone boundary runs right down the middle of a square that you live in? Do you have a 50% chance that Seiko assigned a time zone to the square, and if you live on \"wrong\" side of the square you walk out of your house each day and the watch syncs to the wrong time zone? Same problem can happen for people living in one of the corners of a map square that Seiko picked to be a different time zone than your house. This could be a major problem.

    I am no mapping expert so I don\'t know which method presents a greater data set, but with the extremely low cost of data storage in modern methods it seems that Seiko could have done a better job by using the internal database of the watch to store the coordinates of the time zone boundaries. Lots of these boundaries are on straight lines that are simple to map, and of the boundaries that move around a lot I am sure it wouldn\'t take too much storage to cover those areas with all the coordinate changes. Thus we could have had a data set where the watch calculates what time zone you are in based upon real boundaries, not boundaries made up of squares which CANNOT approximate any sort of diagonal boundary (has to be either horizontal or vertical to fit the border of a square) and still has issues with horizontal or vertical boundaries that don\'t fall exactly on the boundaries of the squares stored in internal memory.

    Maybe I am complaining about something that would only take a 99% great watch up to 100%. But I\'m just an average idiot on the street and I still see a MAJOR problem with the approach Seiko has taken.

    • Jerry says:

      You worry too much Aaron... be happy :)

      • Aaron says:

        Easy for you to say. When looking at buying this seemingly high-tech Seiko watch I have to take into consideration that I am one of the people that lives extremely close to a time zone border. My life is scheduled almost entirely around one time zone, but I can\'t have a watch that sets itself to the wrong time zone when I leave the house. Short of buying the watch to try it out I have no way of knowing what it will do.

  12. Fred Dreger says:

    I have owned this watch for a week (SAST 003) and your review is spot on. I purchased it online and was concerned about the size as I didn\'t want it to look like I was a child trying on my dads watch. While the face is large, it feels very comfortable and lightweight and does not look too large on my 6- 3/4 wrist. The only flaws I have found is that there is not enough lumibrite on the hour and minute hands and the watch is very difficult if not impossible to read in the dark. The other \"problem\" is that the crystal is so clear that when in bright sunlight the watch is sometimes hard to read because of all the brilliant reflection coming off the watch face. That said, the watch is beautiful and has a super cool factor. I am hoping the \"newness\" factor wears off soon as I am getting tired of constantly staring at it......

  13. ady skemper says:

    it will carry the great history in watch making

  14. christopher says:

    I like watches that have a special function as well as the time. Breitling Emergency 2 also comes to mind and now the Seiko GPS. Seiko at a reasonable price too!

  15. Dr twofake says:

    I read the article with interest and expected the watch to be a lot more expensive. Well done Seiko!
    A Swiss mechanical watch company would not have made one if these but if they did, the price would be closer to $20K.

  16. Ninoz Ebrahimian on Facebook says:

    iran-esfahan-park center No:360-watches gallery (mr.Haj sabbagh)

  17. Ninoz Ebrahimian on Facebook says:

    oooom i see this seiko in my workplace.in every day

  18. Stefanos Kapelas on Facebook says:

    2.300-3000$ !!!

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