Smartwatches face a number of hurdles. Many simply don’t look like watches most people would want to wear, and battery life limitations make them another device you need to keep charged. Citizen addresses both of these issues with its Eco-Drive Proximity—it looks and feels like a high-end watch, and it’s solar-powered, so you won’t have to worry about regular charging. At $495 (direct), it’s actually more affordable than most Citizen watches, but still far more expensive than competing smartwatches like the Pebble or the Metawatch Strata. Functionality here is also pared down significantly when compared with the competition. If you can afford it, the Proximity is easily the best looking smartwatch around, but you sacrifice some usability in the bargain.
Design, Features, and Setup
It turns out the best looking smartwatch comes from an actual watch maker—go figure. The Eco-Drive Proximity looks and feels a lot like Citizen’s more traditional Perpetual Chrono watches, complete with stainless steel cases and a watch face adorned with all manner of intricately machined dials, markers, and ticking hands. The level of detail and precision in its design is impressive, even if that’s to be expected. It’s a sizable and substantial watch with a build quality that honestly puts the Pebble or Metawatch to shame—this thing could probably stop a bullet.
The watch face has a mildly iridescent, reflective sheen with glowing accents. It comes in either black with green highlights or silver with blue highlights; the former gives off a more hacker vibe, while the latter hides its nerdy guts a bit better. The black leather strap is perforated and lined with a nylon backing. It’s a handsome timepiece, no doubt, but I’m not sold on the bold color accents—it’s more geek chic than boardroom bound.
Setup can be a bit cumbersome, and the tiny engravings with confusing abbreviations will have you referring to the user manual well after the watch is paired. At the crux of the Proximity’s operation is the rotating crown on the side and a mode dial at the six o’clock position. The crown has three positions: The innermost locks modes, the middle lets you change modes, and the outermost lets you access mode-specific features.
The Proximity connects to the iPhone 4S or later using low-energy Bluetooth 4.0—I tested with an iPhone 5. You’ll need to download the free iOS app and set the mode dial to the PR position, then select scan in the app and find the Proximity. After that, you’re all set. Like its name suggests, the Proximity will automatically re-pair with your device when in range, so you only have to do this once.
Usage and Notifications
The Proximity essentially only has two “smart” features. First and foremost, it can alert you to incoming notifications. The key word here is alert—unlike the Pebble or Metawatch, the Proximity just tells you if you have an incoming call, email, or calendar event. It doesn’t give any more context or information. On top of that, the alerts can be a bit difficult to decipher at first. Basically, the second hand will swing to one of four positions: CALL, ACT, LL, or MAIL. CALL just means call. ACT means the Proximity is in the process of doing something, like syncing time or attempting to re-connect. LL indicates a lost connection. MAIL means either an incoming email or, curiously, a calendar event. Even more curious, the Proximity doesn’t actually use your iPhone’s native mail app for email alerts; you have to enter your email IMAP settings into the app and set the mail checking interval. It takes some time to learn all the abbreviations and alerts, but in my tests they were pretty instantaneous. The Proximity also vibrates on alerts, but it was so gentle that I didn’t notice it every time.
The second feature is the ability to remotely trigger your iPhone to vibrate and sound off an alarm. This is actually a pretty useful trick, as I can’t tell you how often I misplace my phone. To trigger the alarm, simply press and hold the two buttons that flank the crown. Your iPhone will vibrate and play a jingle that sounds eerily similar to “Under the Sea.” The alarm also sounds regardless of whether your iPhone is set to silent or not.
Like other Eco-Drive watches, the Proximity is solar powered, meaning you’ll never have to charge it. It charges when exposed to both natural and artificial light—perfect for the windowless PCMag Labs. Really, though, this is a huge advantage over the Pebble or Metawatch, both of which need to be charged at least once a week. A smartwatch shouldn’t add another battery meter to keep an eye on.
The Citizen Eco-Drive Proximity is far and away the best looking smartwatch out there—it looks and feels like one of Citizen’s normal, high-end watches. Compared with the Pebble or Metawatch, however, the Proximity is lacking in the features department, which is ostensibly the reason you get a watch like this in the first place. It feels more like a high-end watch first, with its smartwatch features as an afterthought. If you were already in the market for a nice timepiece, though, and the smart notification features are just an added bonus, the Proximity is a sharp-looking and capable device.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc