I bought this Suunto Observer for all the wrong reasons – price. I’ve never been enamored with its style, preferring the classic, simple looks of the Vector, the rugged and slightly blingier look of the X-Lander and the clean, hi-tech Euro-style of the Light Black Core. But this Observer popped up recently on the WUS FS forum and my ‘frugal’ gene kicked in hard. For about half the street price of a new Suunto Observer in Canada (if you can ever find one in stock), I picked up a pristine Observer with positive display, stainless steel case and elastomer strap.
I began shopping for my first Suunto some seventeen months ago. I had PM’d Suunto Forum moderator Jeff, asking for his advice. As you know, he’s a huge Vector fan and that’s what he recommended. I had been considering the then new Core, but was worried about the reliability of its module, something that still seems to be an issue today.
As a long-distance motorcyclist, the critical functions I need are for a watch are to display two time zones and weather trend. The compass feature is nice to have, but not essential, and the altimeter serves as an entertainment function more than anything else.
Style is all about personal preference. The Observer feels almost dainty compared to what I’ve been wearing lately, despite its specs. The 43mm bezel excl. sensor and pushers is a good size, offset by the 31mm Xtal (smaller than both Pathfinders’ 32mm Xtals), giving an optical illusion that the watch is ‘small’. I was not overly enthralled with the Observer's style. If I were King, I’d put the Suuntos guts into the PRG-40 case - the big, tough, macho looking Hummer of the watch world. I'd appreciate the Observer's SS case and rubber strap, conservative style a lot more if I still worked in an office, but I don’t anymore. I think the PAW1300 does equally well if one must look 'presentable' at the office.
The Observer has a clean, uncluttered ‘European’ style, while the Pathfinders are typically Japanese – busy with lots of detail. The PRG40 looks cartoonish; big, thick (17mm), lumpy and with lots of protrusions. Call it ‘character’. I like it! The PAW1300 is more refined looking, slim (12mm), and unobtrusive looking. The Observer squeezes between the Casios in case thickness (14mm.) Oddly, the Observer’s style has grown on me and I like it now.
No doubt, the Observer wins the quality feel contest. The SS case has and SS pushers are solid. The strap, two-tone black with grey-lined holes, is soft and pliable; much nicer feeling than the plasticky Casio straps. The Observer’s strap is short, though, like the PRG40 is; I have a medium (?) size 7-1/4 in. wrist and the tail of the strap extends perhaps only 3/4-inch beyond the keeper. The strap FEELS short for some reason.
The Observer is good as long as you don't place it next to the two Pathfinders. The PRG40 wins the legibility contest by a mile; it has the highest contrast dial and the main digits are the largest. The PAW1300's dial is slightly beige (and less contrasty than the 40) and the Suunto has the least contrast. The main digits on the Suunto are smaller than the two Pathfinders, and the Observer has a narrower angle of view for reading the LCD readouts.
I still like the looks of the PRG40's dial, fonts, font size and contrast the best of any digital watch (including a number of G-Shocks) I own.
For me, this is where the Observer KILLS the two Pathfinders. In the 'Time' mode (the mode I use most often), the Observer rocks! It shows: time of day, day of week, month, date AND barometric pressure. Neither of the two Pathfinders show all this info without switching to another mode or view. I LIKE THIS FEATURE A LOT!
Think about it. You’re stuck in a meeting and your mind is really on motorcycling, golf or some other outdoor activity. One glance at the Observer tells you the time, date and weather trend; no need to push a button (like you must do on a Pathfinder) to view ALL that info in one glance. The Observer shows barometric trend IN ALL MAJOR MODES (Time – Alti – Baro – Comp). The Pathinders cannot do this.
Features (I use):
I like the dual-time function; it's the sole reason I chose the Observer over the better looking IMHO Vector and X-Lander. It has three alarms, which are sufficient, though pale compared to the Pathfinders' five alarms.
OK, let me get this off my chest. The Observer's alarms are useless. You won't hear it if you're a heavy sleeper; you MAY hear it in the middle of an office meeting if you’re listening for it; you won't hear it if you're walking on the street with mid-day traffic.
I used a digital sound meter to test the alarm volumes. Alarm loudness testing results (measured 12 inches from the watch face): PRG40, 55 dBA; PAW1300, 57 dBA; Observer, did not register. This is a sore point for me. If I had paid ‘retail’ for the Observer, I would have returned it on account of the inaudible alarms. But I didn’t pay retail, so I’ll live with unusable alarms.
Barometer – The Observer’s baro trend arrow shows 6 hours’ worth of barometric pressure trend. The ‘head’ of the arrow shows the trend for the past 3 hours (measured hourly); the ‘tail’ of the arrow shows the air pressure changes for the period 3-6 hours ago. The Pathfinders chart barometric pressure for the past 24 hours, measured every 2 hours. Which is ‘better’? I don’t know. I’m a ‘big picture’ guy, so the Suunto’s 2-part arrow display suits me just fine.
The PAW1300 wins the timekeeping accuracy/zero maintenance award, equipped with a atomic timekeeping and a solar battery. The Observer comes in a close second with a DIY battery kit from Suunto (includes a battery, new battery cover, new o-ring, and battery changing tool – $8.25 Cdn.) The PRG40 loses here; it needs 4 batteries.
The Observer's backlight stays on for 10 secs. when activated; that seems longer than the Pathfinders. The Pathfinders have a dedicated button for backlight. The PRG40 has the largest light button and is easiest to use. The PAW1300’s light button is small. You have to push and hold the Observer’s Mode (at 2:00 o’clock) button to activate the backlight.
The Pathfinders are more convenient for accessing ABC functions because they have dedicated buttons for these; one push and you're there. On the Suunto, you have to scroll through the menu. Scrolling is a PITA.
The Observer’s elastomer strap is the thickest, softest and most luxurious feeling of the trio, 25mm wide at the lugs tapering down to 19mm at the last hole. The PRG40’s strap is 25mm at the lugs tapering down to 22mm at the last hole; the PAW1300’s strap (the longest of the three and capable of strapping onto the sleeve of a light jacket) 21mm wide at the lugs tapering down to 19mm at the last hole.
After owning and using the two Casio Pathfinders for more than a year, I found they weren’t meeting my motorcycle touring needs – having a portable weather station and the capability to have dual time zones.
There is no ‘best’ watch here, but there are best choices depending on what your needs are.
For me, the Suunto Observer will be my watch of choice when I’m on the road for ten or twenty days at a time. With the Suunto, I am able to see at one glance: barometric pressure trend for the past 6 hours, local time, and home time. The Observer is also stylish enough for those who have to dress for an office environment, but it’s also the most expensive watch of the three.
Choose the Casio PAW1300 if you’re keen on a zero-maintenance ABC with precise atomic timekeeping and solar battery. If you need multiple alarms that work, this is the watch for you. Solar power means you can use the alarms and other functions to your heart’s content without worrying about the battery. The PAW1300 is also styled to suit office attire and boasts having the thinnest profile of this trio. It’s available for about $80 USD less than the Observer. When I’ve got a busy day with multiple appointments and meetings, this is my undisputed ‘alarm’ watch and the one I grab.
The PRG40 is the oldest technology in Casio’s Pathfinder lineup. That means it’s the most affordable of the three, but it’s biggest downside is that it needs 4 batteries. That can be a bit of a pricey proposition if you use battery-burning functions like the compass and alarms (which are very good – i.e., loud.) The PRG40 oozes character and has one of the most distinct looks in watchdom.
I'm happy to answer any questions you may have on any of these ABCs.
Cheers from Edmonton, Alberta.