The Casio Protrek PRW-2500 is one hundred percent function. It is definitely not a dress watch or simply for telling the time, no this is a rugged “man watch”, packed with features and tools – wholly designed for outdoor pursuits, such as hiking, climbing and kayaking.
The wife and I are keen hikers and its this pastime that got me browsing for ABC (Altimeter, Barometer, Compass) watches in the first place. I quietly whispered to myself… I don’t need one… I have managed perfectly well all these years without a fully fledged weather/navigational aid strapped to my wrist. Then I saw them. All neatly lined up flaunting their technological prowess. I’d stopped nibbling the bait. Now positively hooked and reeled in, I had to have one! Would you like a cup of tea dear?
Information gathering would be required. I take an analytical (some might say anal) approach to research, prioritising the “must have” features. Sometimes a compromise somewhere along the line has to be made – losing some functionality over a more worthy feature for example.
The leading ABC wristwatch manufacturers are Casio’s Protrek division, Japan and Suunto, Finland. Suunto is recognized as the go to tool for sensor accuracy whereas Casio Protrek for “G-Shock” like durability, atomic timekeeping, 200m water resistance and solar power. This is where the compromises start to creep in.
The battleground: Suunto Core vs. Casio Protrek PRW-2500.
I had whittled down my selection. Many hours had passed and comparisons made. I agreed with most ABC enthusiasts that Suunto’s Core had the edge in the sensor implementation department and some of the feature sets are untouchable. But the Protrek kept calling out – it simply had more things I liked and needed than the Core. And that is how it should be. Its a personal thing – a watch needs to feel right on the wrist (and in the head!) if it doesn’t, for whatever reason, it will end up in a drawer or sold.
Having mentioned both manufacturers you may have been expecting a direct comparison between the two models, however I should point out that I don’t own a Suunto Core so it would be based on too many assumptions and thus wouldn’t be very useful. I shall however, through the course of the appraisal, refer to the Core timepiece and provide a few notes as to why I chose the Casio PRW-2500. Also I don’t want to turn this review into a user manual experience or a “how to do this” guide, though I may touch upon some aspects if relevant to the topic.
Okay, so we will come back to that later. For now lets concentrate on the PRW-2500. During the course of my research I had looked at two other Casio’s. The PRW-1500 and PRW-2000. The first I discounted purely because of the non standard lugs (if at all possible I prefer standard lugs so that I can retrofit a NATO band). The PRW-2000 has standard 22mm lugs, but lacks a tide graph (and moon phase) which is important to me as I live next to the sea and regularly walk along the beach (don’t want to get cut off by the briney!).
That pretty much determined it would be the PRW-2500. Incidentally, as I would be removing the OEM strap I decided upon the black resin case over the titanium version (PRW-2500T), not only did this save a lot of cash, but I think the black case (PRW-2500-1ER) looks more purposeful in the field.
I checked around the web for the best deals and Amazon once again came up trumps. A package duly arrived the very next morning.
The watch itself comes within a real wooden box, which in turn is inside a sturdy cardboard box which contains the comprehensive instruction manual. As with all new purchases prior to buying I had downloaded the PDF manual from Casio to get a head start on things. See link at the bottom of this review.
Once unboxed the first thing that struck me was the size and secondly the LCD legibility. Don’t get me wrong the LCD is perfectly acceptable (bright) in most light conditions, but when viewed at certain angles, at say dusk, the display is noticeably darker than a regular Casio LCD. I should mention the Suunto Core at this juncture – its renowned rather unfavourably for its negative LCD in low light conditions and that was one of a few reasons why I decided upon the Casio. I love the look of the Core, but would have to choose the positive display. Alas the positive Core doesn’t look half as cool the All Black Core. Drat!
Unlike the negative display Core, the Protrek’s darker LCD is wholly attributable to the duplex screen.
The PRW-2500 like other Protrek ABC’s uses two LCD screens sandwiched together. Overlaying information is quite a dynamic approach (it basically declutters the display) and its especially useful when using the ABC and tide graph operations – in fact its not used for any other functionality. Because there are two screens a slight degradation in readability is apparent, especially when compared side by side with another Casio without duplex.
Some people probably wouldn’t even notice it – in bright conditions it isn’t noticable, see pictures above and below – I’d say its 10% or so darker than a standard LCD in dim to low light. Of course there is full auto wrist flick/manual press button EL (Electroluminesence) for night or low light conditions.
Returning to the size for a moment. Its a big watch (56.3 x 50.6 x 15.0mm), dwarfing the Casio AMW320R (which in itself is huge – so that is saying something!). The ABC buttons adorn the right side of the case and the MODE (all other operations) button lower left. ADJUST (all settings) and LIGHT buttons are situated just below the bezel in the 6 o’clock position. Although quite a beast it is totally in proportion, light as the proverbial feather (81g) and even for someone with skinny wrists (like me), wears well, even on the stock resin strap – due in no small part to the unique plastic comfort “wings” that mould the strap to the wrist (regardless of girth).
I must say, I don’t really like resin straps. Its not the look, I like that, its more to do with comfort factor. Lets face it they get sweaty and I find the keeper requires continual adjustment to stay in place. Also life expectancy for a daily wearer is not high, usually around the two year mark in my experience. The PRW-2500 band is actually one of the most attractive I’ve seen on a modern Casio – a combination of gunmetal inserts and black resin with subtle “Protrek” branding and “Triple Sensor” etched into the steels surface. To get the best out of the sensor, ABC watches really need to be worn over clothing whenever possible, however the band is not quite long enough to comfortably fasten around a winter coat cuff, but fine for a summer weight shirt or light rain jacket.
I was slightly reluctant to remove the OEM band, but the versatility of a NATO outweighed any qualms. The PRW-2500 lug size is 22mm so I ordered three NATO straps in two coloured stripe combinations (black/grey, orange/black and green/black). This model doesn’t use spring bars, instead employs a screw, a screw headed rod and hollow tube system. Unlike G-Shock’s the screw heads are slotted (opposed to cross) and require two screwdrivers of similar tip dimensions (2.4mm works) to remove – one for butting, the other for unscrewing. The right hand side – viewed from the front – should be turned as that is the screw end – the left hand side is the screw headed rod assembly). I used my Stanley 6 Piece Precision Screwdriver Set for this. Its a little fiddly, as the resin band doesn’t want to lay flat. I ended up wedging the watch, face down, into a microfibre cloth with a finger on the watch back to keep it steady. With fingers and thumbs all over the place it was like a mini version of the game Twister! I also used sturdy electrical insulation tape around the resin lugs just in case the screwdriver slipped. The screws are quite tight, some say they are glued in with Loctite and require warming up in water beforehand, but in all honesty, I think it was made all the more difficult by the way the watch simply wouldn’t sit still! After a bit of huffing and puffing the strap was off and on went a NATO.
Much better feel and fit. And with no excess strap, its snag free.
With the after market modding out of the way its time to take stock. This is gadget watch make no mistake. With a feature list almost as long as this review!
The basics first. Multi-Band 6 atomic timekeeping. This was a high priority. Call me shallow, but I decided after my previous purchase, another Casio (Gulfman GW-9110-1ER Multi-Band 6) that I wouldn’t buy another Casio that didn’t have Atomic timekeeping – its great – no need to set the time again (as long as there is a time signal!). Tough Solar, again a must have and equppied as standard – no batteries to replace in the field a bonus. Whether or not the “tough” part is as hardcore as G-Shock remains to be seen, but its meant to be pretty close in build quality, though the mineral crystal is a little more exposed than a regular “G”.
Casio crams in a ton of functionality into their Protrek range (formerly known as Pathfinder in the United States) and no exception here – this watch must be the most comprehensive “at a glance” models on the market. Standard PRW-2500 features include 12/24 hour format, auto calendar, day of the week, DST, battery level indicator, power saving function plus a 24 hour, 1/100 second chronograph with split timing, 5 daily alarms (no Snooze though), hourly time signal, world time in 48 cities (31 time zones) and a user selectable 1-60 minute countdown timer, with yacht racing timer functionality and progress signals. Not too keen on the latter – I prefer a regular 24 hour timer.
The main thrust of the Protrek series lies with the ABC components. Apparently the triple sensor (situated upper left on the case) was developed under the supervision of meteorologists to provide accurate and stable readings in the most demanding environments and is an improved thermally compensated design. For a casual hiker and amateur weather forecaster the data the watch provides is succinct and useful, but requires interpretation and user manipulation to get the most out of it. Incidentally, the sensor opening (two slots) are situated on top for improved performance.
I find the Barometer the most interesting function and use it on a daily basis. On the “Home” or timekeeping screen a visual record is displayed of the last 10 hours air pressure trend in the Barometric Pressure Chart (the pale green grid). The watch takes barometric readings every two hours (on the 30 minute mark of every even hour) and displays them as dots against an axis (barometric vertical, time horizontal), providing reasonable warning of impending adverse weather. By pressing the BARO button more detailed information is made available including temperature in Celsius or Fahrenheit and actual numerical pressure in hPa (Hectopascals) or InHg (Inches of Mercury). These measuring parameters can be changed in the settings menu according to personal preference.
Of course on the wrist the temperature sensor is influenced by body warmth so, as is common for ABC watches, this function only works accurately when removed from the wrist and placed out of direct sunlight for 20-30 minutes. Temperature and barometric pressure can be manually calibrated, but require reliable secondary instruments (thermometer/barometer) to adjust correctly.
As the Barometric Pressure Chart only displays in 2 hour intervals Casio cunningly added a Barometric Pressure Differential Pointer. This provides pressure changes since the last chart reading was taken. In operation the duplex purple coloured indicator points to the printed scale on the watch face (numbered 0 to 10 and 0 to -10 hPa). No change would be indicated by the arrow pointing to 0 or the three o’clock position. If significant pressure changes are recorded additional icons (up/down arrows) will appear to the right of the Barometric Pressure Chart indicating sudden or sustained rises/falls in pressure.
All the ABC functions are one touch operation and the buttons large enough to be operated using gloves. Something I really appreciate is being able to see the current time in all the ABC, world time, stopwatch and timer modes. Very useful, as are the screen headings at the 12 o’clock position of each menu item/function.
Compass operation requires the watch to be perfectly level with the horizon to be accurate. This is easier said than done and the most accurate results are attained when the watch is off the wrist and laid on a flat surface. There is no spirit level bubble like on the Sunnto Vector so results vary and even a slight deviation from horizontal will produce erroneous readings. Electronic compasses are useful tools, but whole reliance on one is not recommended for serious navigation. This feature maybe be likened to a “down the pub novelty”, but it makes a perfect secondary compass and shouldn’t be discounted – the technical limitations of watch compasses is inherent across the board.
The compass display is activated by pressing the COMP button and after a 2 second initialisation period (whereby the duplex markers rotate through 360 degrees) a compass reading is displayed via overlayed duplex cardinal markers (North is the three prong pointer), direction at 12 o’clock (e.g. SSW), and also in numeric magnetic degrees (e.g. 208°). See close up picture of compass operation to get a better idea of this explanation. Continuous readings are taken for 20 seconds before the compass shuts off to save power. A bearing memory feature enables the user to store a bearing for reference purposes – this is displayed as a direction angle and a numeric degree.
If the compass requires adjustment this can be achieved manually by using Bidirectional Calibration, Northerly Calibration and or Magnetic Declination Correction. Bidirectional Calibration is required if the watch has become magnetised or is operating in an area of high magnetic energy. Northerly Calibration simply sets the watch to North, but requires another compass to set-up correctly. Magnetic Declination Correction enables the setting of a magnetic declination angle (the difference between Magnetic North and True North) so that the watch shows True North, essential when maps indicate a specific magnetic declination angle.
The chunky bidirectional bezel is geared around the compass functions as opposed measuring elapsed time (i.e. diving) and it operates smoothly as its not ratcheted – in fact its a bit on the stiff side which is probably a good thing.
The Altimeter function measures altitude based on preset values (built in to the watch) or a user set reference altitude. The latter is by far the best way to go. All you need is your current locations altitude (which can be gleaned from the internet, a map or satnav device). Enter that into the watch while in ALTI mode by pressing ADJUST until SET appears and a beep is heard. The current altitude in (m/ft) will flash – use the COMP or ALTI buttons to decrease or increase the value to the actual altitude at your location and press ADJUST to exit. Resolution is 5m (15ft) as opposed 1m (3ft) on the Suunto Core, so its not quite as precise.
This is a method I use and in most circumstances this needs to be done whenever you intend to use the altimeter. Remember, reliable readings are attained only when altitude remains constant. There is no altimeter/barometer lock option and as the altimeter is completely influenced by the barometric sensor (air pressure) which in turn is effected by temperature and humidity, altitude readings will be seen to rise and fall (when the pressure changes) even if you haven’t moved location! Sounds mad, but that’s how Casio ABC watches work. Hence the need for a more “hands on” approach – setting a reference altitude prior to climbing or any altitude related activity. In reality, if the altitude is referenced correctly altimeter readings should be pretty accurate (given the 5m resolution), even with subtle pressure fluctuations. If not they won’t be!
I knew all this when comparing the Suunto Core, which does have alti/baro lock and uses mean sea level pressure for stability as opposed absolute pressure – again it was a compromise – one that I was willing to take on the chin as an altimeter is not a primary tool for my current location (very flat terrain) and when I do use it I ensure it is referenced shortly beforehand.
Additional altimeter functions include: auto measurement every 5 seconds for an hour or every 5 seconds for the first 3 minutes and then every 2 minutes for 24 hours, altitude differential (the difference in altitude between a start point (manual altitude reading required) and another point along a trail for example. A log of useful climb information is stored under the MODE input including manual measurement records (14 in total, including time and date taken. Records can be deleted manually or will be overwritten when the memory is full), Max/Min altitude (with time and date), Ascent/Descent (with time and date) both stored in auto save sets (1/2).
The 6 segment Tide Graph and 8 segment Moon Phase complement the PRW-2500 display and while the purple coloured duplex Tide Graph can be turned off (press ADJUST in timekeeping mode and it is replaced by a full date, month, year format) the Moon Phase is always visible. The moon phase indicator can be reversed to suit your viewing location (N/S) i.e. Northern or Southern hemisphere.
The moon phase is automatically configured based on date and setting up a local tide doesn’t require Lunitidal Interval data, unlike some Casio watches, just one high tide time (at your location). This information can be found on the internet and most newspapers, the watch will then work out the rest from there! There are two high tides at my location and the watch corresponds accurately enough when compared directly with a Lunitidal Interval watch (they basically display the same tide information). Incidentally the watch tide time is not influenced by UTC, so make sure to adjust, during DST for example, as most tide tables in the UK (at least) are in UTC. Of course if you are else where you’ll need to figure that out! Personally, I have my tide set up in local time as its easier to glance at the graph during the summer months (DST) without subtracting an hour.
The tide graph displays 3 different ranges dependant upon the moon phase: Spring, Intermediate and Neap (the difference between high and low tide heights – Spring largest and Neap smallest). The current tide is indicated by the flashing segment as can be seen in the tide graph photo. By adjusting the date and time in the Tide menu, its possible to forecast tide times, hours, days or even months ahead with ease – very useful when planning a fishing trip or hike.
As previously mentioned the PRW-2500 utilizes a full auto EL light and when selected a flick of the wrist will automatically illuminate the display for 1 or 3 seconds duration (user selectable in settings) with afterglow.
And last but by no means least, this watch is 200m water resistant. And in all honesty that was a deal breaker. Of all the ABC watches out there Casio is the only one that I feel safe wearing around water, even if its just a summer shower. Its reassuring to know that it can handle more than a “splash” or even go snorkelling with no fear of it failing.
Looking back at the ABC watches I considered, I’m still pleased I chose the Casio Protrek PRW-2500-1ER. For casual users, such as myself, the factory defaults are “good enough” for general observations. Calibrating this watch without knowledge or accurate secondary instruments will lead to numerous errors being displayed and who wants that?
For hiking and weather watching (my main useage) its very handy and does that well enough plus lots more besides. There are always a few things that could be better or a missing function (such as sunrise and sunset times and a 24 hour timer), but overall its one of the finest in the Protrek line up and well worth the investment.
There are a quite a few different versions available around at the moment including some interesting Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) variants that are available to purchase as imports.
The three black versions comprise: a standard black resin with orange “N” (PRW-2500-1CR/ER), and two toned down all black/grey versions both with a white “N” and a grey pressure chart as opposed green (PRW-2500-1A; the PRW-2500-1B is identical barring a green anodised ring around the rotating bezel). A full titanium bracelet version (PRW-2500T-7CR/ER) and a military olive green resin with a single nylon wood effect camouflage strap and green “N” (PRW-2500-3B/JF).
Similar to the PRW-2500-3B (in the military looks department) is the PRW-S2500-1JF. This top of the range resin model sports an uber cool carbon fibre strap developed by Mizuno Technics Corporation, sapphire crystal, Green “N”, additional green display elements and olive ABC buttons. The PRW-S2500-1JF is part of the RM or “Real Material” series.
The ultimate ABC watch is the Casio PRX-2500 “Manaslu”. Available in titanium (PRX-2500T-1JF) or black PVD titanium (PRX-2500YT-1JF) with regular LCD or bronze tone. This model has a PRW-1500 style lug arrangement, no rotating bezel and a scratch resistant sapphire crystal. Expect to pay a premium for this one.
The non atomic version is designated PRG-250. Visually this model is identical barring the markings “Full Auto EL Light” in place of “Multi Band 6” and “Receiving Indicator”. There are quite a few differents versions of this model too.
Full Casio PRW-2500 Specification
- Module: 3258
- PRW-2500 (Size of case / total weight) 56.3 x 50.6 x 15.0mm / 81g
- PRW-2000T (Size of case / total weight) 56.3 x 50.6 x 15.0mm / 115g
- Multi-Band Atomic Timekeeping (US, UK, Germany, Japan, China)
- Receives time calibration radio signals which keep the displayed time accurate
- Auto receive function (up to 6 times per day)
- Manual receive function
- Signal: US WWVB, UK MSF, Germany DCF77, Japan JJY40/JJY60, China BPC
- Frequency: US & UK 60kHz, Germany 77.5kHz, Japan 40/60kHz, China 68.5kHz
- Tough Solar Power
- 200M Water Resistant
- Duplex LCD
- Tide Graph (tide level for specific date and time)
- Moon Data (moon age of the specific date and moon phase graph)
- Digital Compass
- Measures and displays direction as one of 16 points
- Measuring range: 0 to 359 degrees
- Measuring unit: 1 degree
- 20 seconds continuous measurement
- Graphic direction pointer
- Bidirectional calibration and northerly calibration function
- Magnetic declination correction
- Bearing memory
- Measuring range: -700 to 10,000 m (-2,300 to 32,800 ft)
- Measuring unit: 5 m (20ft)
- Manual memory measurements (up to 14 records, including altitude, date, time)
- High altitude / Low altitude memory
- Total Ascent / Descent memory
- Others: Reference altitude setting, Altitude differential
- Display range: 260 to 1,100 hPa (7.65 to 32.45 inHg)
- Display unit: 1 hPa (0.05 inHg)
- Atmospheric pressure tendency graph
- Atmospheric pressure differential graphic
- Barometric change indicator
- Display range: -10 to 60 C (14 to 140 F)
- Display unit: 0.1 C (0.2 F)
- Low Temperature Resistant (-10 C / 14 F)
- Full Auto EL Backlight with Afterglow
- 5 Independent Daily alarms
- Hourly time signal
- World Time
- 31 times zones (48 cities + UTC), city code display, daylight saving on/off
- 1/100 second stopwatch
- Measuring capacity: 23:59’59.99″
- Measuring modes: Elapsed time, split time, 1st-2nd place times
- Countdown Timer
- Measuring unit: 1 second
- Countdown range: 1 minute to 60 minutes, (1-minute increments)
- Reset time: 1 to 5 minutes (1-minute increments)
- Others: Time-up alarm, progress beeper
- Battery level indicator
- Power saving function
- Full auto-calendar (pre-programmed until the year 2099)
- 12/24 hour formats
- Button operation tone on/off
- Accuracy: +/- 15 seconds per month (with no signal calibration)
- Storage Battery: Solar rechargeable battery
- Approx. battery life: 5-23 months (see below)
- 5 months on full charge (without further exposure to light)
- 23 months on full charge with Power Saving (without further exposure to light)