Iandk had posted a detailed thread comparing several "seat-belt" style NATO straps, probably more detailed than I could ever muster. But I had alluded to doing this comparison in a couple of other threads, so I figure I should follow through with it when I get a chance.
I will be doing some mostly subjective, seat-of-the-pants comparisons on the following premium NATO straps:
-Cincy Strap Works ($24)
-BluShark AlphaShark ($32)
These NATO straps are all marketed as premium straps, primarily due to the webbing material used. Obviously, the Omega NATO is significantly more expensive than all the others combined, so one should expect it to be of the highest quality. Being as objective as I can (given that I shelled out the $$$ for the Omega), I do think that the Omega is the highest quality strap here. However, I also believe that in most instances in life, cost goes up exponentially with quality, not proportionally, so the Omega is definitely not 4~11 times better than the rest of the straps.
For this comparison, I will examine the following characteristics for these NATO straps:
Regarding wearing comfort, I find them all to be about the same for me personally. I'm sure they offer differing degrees of comfort for different people, but I don't really find any of them to be especially uncomfortable or exceedingly comfortable, so it would be pointless for me to comment about it. When I have worn each of these straps, I can wear them all day without issue. I guess I'm just not all that sensitive when it comes to on-wrist comfort. They do have different levels of thickness and stiffness, so we can examine this in the webbing comparison.
The Omega and Phenomenato does have a design difference compared to all other NATO straps I've tried, and it is a floating keeper that can be adjusted to secure the tucked end of the strap. I find this to be a game changer and it's something I wish all NATOs offer. These pictures show how the floating keeper works:
Tuck in the tail
Slide keeper to secure tail
So let's get to the comparison and pictures.
Laying the five straps side by side from L-to-R: Omega, Phenomenato, Cincy, BluShark, Timefactors
The webbing for all of these do appear to be of higher quality than the typical $12~$15 NATO straps. The weaves are denser and gives off varying degrees of sheen. The webbing also feel smoother than most typical NATO straps.
Omega: I think this is on the thicker side, perhaps 1.4mm or so. It is very smooth and pliable, not stiff at all. I think it is of very high quality. (then again, it better be at these prices! )
Phenomenato (black/grey Bond): This one is thinner than the Omega. Supposed to be 1.2mm. I like the thickness of this material a lot, as it doesn't look bulky as some NATO straps can look, and is low profile enough to fit under most cuffs.
Cincy Strap Works (Black/black Bond): This looks and feels a lot like the Phenomenato material. It is also listed at 1.2mm.
BluShark (Army Green): The AlphaShark is definitely the most heavy duty feeling of the lot. The weave is visibly coarser than the others, but it feels nice and smooth. I think it might be a tick thicker than the Omega, and definitely stiffer.
Timefactors (Black/grey Bond): This is also a thicker strap, about the same as the AlphaShark. The stiffness is similar to the AlphaShark but the weave is denser.
All of these webbings are definitely of higher quality compared to the typically NATO strap. I find the Omega, Phenomenato, and Cincy Strap Works webbing to be pretty similar in look and feel, while the BluShark is significantly coarser looking and slightly stiffer. Timefactors is somewhere in between in terms of tightness of weave and have similar stiffness as the BluShark. These pictures should be able to show the differences in weave.
To provide the feel of a premium product, I think it's important to have premium looking hardware to go with the nice webbing each of these straps uses.
L-to-R: Omega, Phenomenato, Cincy Strap Works, BluShark, Timefactors
The first of these straps I got was the Omega. For me the hardware on the Omega NATO is of a significantly higher grade than the hardware any NATO strap I've used before (not counting the fabric strap that came with the Tudor Black Bay, which is not really a NATO strap). I loved the rectangular shape of the keepers, and both the keeper and buckle are nicely polished, giving off a premium vibe.
The Phenomenato and AlphaShark uses pretty much the same style of keepers as the Omega, with the AlphaShark keepers being a bit wider and rounder in the corners. Their polished versions (both brand offer other finishes) look the same as the Omega to me and are very nice.
The Timefactors keeper is the popular angled hardware that was later used by Toxic NATOs (I often see them referred to as Toxic NATO hardware, but I believe Timefactors used them first). I'm a fan of this type of keeper as well.
The Cincy Strap Works uses standard NATO hardware. I think this may be a mistake by them. They explain on their website that standard hardware is used to keep the cost down, which is reasonable. But, for me, if I was going to pay a premium for a more premium strap, I want the whole experience. The standard hardware on the Cincy NATO takes away from the premium feel of the for me, which is a shame since I do like the webbing material. I find myself mounting my Seiko Turtle on it instead of say the Tudor BB because of the hardware.
Regarding the buckles, besides the Cincy Strap Work's standard NATO buckle, the others all feature some specialized buckles and each have their good points and I think they are all pretty good.
For workmanship, I will consider the quality of the heat sealing for the holes and tail, and stitching throughout the strap.
Omega: I think the heat sealing of the holes and tail is perfect. I'm guessing they have some high end machinery to do it. There's absolutely no detectable fuzz on all sealed surfaces by the naked eye. It all looks very clean and of high quality. The stitching is perfectly straight.
Phenomenato: The sealing of the holes and tail is nearly as perfect as the Omega. I'm not even sure if I'm really seeing it, but I think I do see the very slightest bit of fuzz around a couple of holes on a couple of the Phenomenatos I have. The tail seal is slightly glossier than the Omega, but is just as clean. The stitching does suffer a bit though, and you can see from the pictures below that it isn't perfect by any means. I do know about the story of WIZARD7 trying to find a decent stitching supplier during the development of the straps, so in that sense I think the stitching is surprisingly good. There's no getting around the fact that this is easily the sloppiest stitching job in this comparison, but since none of it is visible when the strap is worn, it isn't something that bothers me.
Cincy Strap Works: I find the seals at the holes and tail of this strap to be about average. I don't think it's as good as the Omega or Phenomenato, but it's certainly not bad. Just a little bit of jagged edges/fuzz at the tail and maybe a tiny bit of jaggedness at a few of the holes. The stitching is perfect.
BluShark: The sealing of the tail and holes on this strap is below average for this group. The tail end seems sturdy enough, but you can see a bit of white on the sealed surface, so it's not perfectly clean looking. The holes, being rectangular, are probably hard to cleanly seal since there are 90 degree edges. There are definitely a lot of fuzz and jagged edges within those rectangular holes. While I appreciate them for being distinctive, I don't think it's the best idea to have rectangular buckle holes on a nylon strap. It just feels like unecessary stress riser at all those 90 degree edges. Maybe it's a non-issue, but I do think round holes are better for longevity in nylon straps. The stitching, on the other hand, are perfect and looks great.
Timefactors: This strap brings up the rear in terms of workmanship. Of course, it is significantly cheaper than any other strap in this comparison, so that's to be expected. The seal job at the tail is particularly bad. Mine started fraying after a couple of use and I've already applyed some flame to it. The areas surrounding the holes also look kind of bad (not on this particular Bond version, but I have two other ones that look pretty bad). There is no stitching to speak of on this strap as it is all heat welded.
I hope I've been able to show enough on all of these straps to help some people make informed decisions on these premium NATO straps.
For me, I've been very impressed with the Phenomenato and have already purchased 7 of them. The thinner profile webbing, the hardware, and the feel of the webbing really does it for me. I love the Omega NATOs, but I did find them to be a bit bulky/thick and not too suitable to slide under cuffs, relegating them to mostly summer use. And as much as I like the Omega NATOs, I can't say that they are worth the extremely high retail price unless you want an official Omega branded NATO strap for your Omega. But if you want the best for your Omega, they are it.
The Phenomenato, having the same floating buckle design as the Omega, is a game changer for me and have been my favorite NATO straps since I acquired my first one. At $40, they feel like a good deal to me, but perhaps because I've bought a couple of Omega NATOs. Either way, I think they are excellent.
I feel like the Cincy Strap Works seat-belt NATO perhaps missed an opportunity to stand out. I think if they upgraded the hardware and charged the $32 that BluShark is charging for the AlphaShark, I'd like it a lot more. The standard hardware just feels like a mis-match to the nice webbing, like putting hubcaps on a BMW or something. They do offer a couple of colorways that isn't available anywhere else yet, so there's that going for them.
The BluShark AlphaShark is definitely a nice and sturdy feeling strap, but I don't find myself liking the webbing as much as the others because of the coarse look. It still looks and feels more premium than the standard NATO nylon material, but just looks a step below the others here. The hardware is pretty nice though, and if you want a beefy and high quality looking strap, I think this fits the bill nicely.
The Timefactors is the cheapest strap here by far, and the workmanship certainly shows it. I personally don't enjoy wearing it too much because it's a bit too bulky for my wrist, but I do think the webbing looks and feel good (other than the fraying tail). The hardware is also a crowd pleaser. This certainly makes a fine entry point to the premium webbing NATO strap segment.
I will post a bunch of wrist shots of these straps below. If you've read this far, I hope it has been of some help.
Cincy Strap Works (I only have the 22mm width so can't mount on the Omega PO):
One more shot of a navy Phenomenato w/Brushed hardware: