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Reviews > Electronic Devices > Watches > Freestyle Nomad Watch > Test Report by Derek Hansen
Freestyle Nomad Watch
Test Series by Derek Hansen
Photo courtesy www.freestyleusa.com
27 Oct 2008
The Freestyle Nomad watch, hereafter “Nomad” or “watch,” is a digital timepiece that includes an altimeter, barometer, and compass. The watch also has standard features available on many digital watches including a day and date calendar; a 99-lap memory chronograph; a countdown, count up, and repeat timer; five user-programmable alarms; and an electroluminescent backlight.
The watch band is made of a molded rigid plastic with a metal clasp. The band keeper has a peg that fits into one of the band notches, keeping it in place.
There are four buttons that operate the functions of the watch. In-between the buttons on the right is the sensor that helps run some of the watch functions.
The watch face is roughly 1.125 in (3 cm) in diameter. On the inside ring of the watch face are printed the button functions (starting at the top and reading clockwise: SPLIT/START, RESET/STOP, MODE, and ADJUST). Also printed on the inside ring are compass degrees (starting at the top and reading clockwise: 360, 030, 090, 150, 180, 210, 270, and 330).
The Nomad came with two pages of printed instructions covering the many functions of the watch. Without looking at the instructions, I was able to easily navigate through the major modes and was able to use the features I was more familiar with. To adjust the time on the watch, I needed to refer to the instructions.
There is no separate button to engage the backlight. Instead, one press of the ADJUST button will turn on the backlight for 3-5 seconds. Holding down the ADJUST button will turn on the adjustable settings menu for each function.
The watch came programmed in 24-hour time (my preference), but it is easy to switch to 12-hour time when adjusting in TIME mode. I was also able to toggle on/off the chime and beeps.
One item that is not listed on the website or product catalog is that the watch also has a working thermometer. I was more than pleasantly surprised to find this feature included in the watch and explained in the instructions. The thermometer, altimeter, barometer, and compass all needed to be calibrated before I could use them (the altimeter, for example, indicated I was 4 m (13 ft) below sea level).
I was able to easily calibrate the compass, thermometer, and barometer easily enough following the directions, but I had some trouble figuring out the altimeter. I was able to switch between units easily enough (ft/m), but when I tried to set the altitude, it didn’t seem to “save” this setting. The altimeter did change and indicated I was now at about 25 ft (7.6 m) above sea level (as opposed to below sea level), but that is still approximately 25 ft (7.6 m) below what I should be, based on a topographic map I used as a reference.
In any case, the altimeter is very responsive and seemed to change quickly to changes in altitude as I moved about. I will simply need more time to explore this feature during the test period.
WEBSITE & CUSTOMER SERVICE
I went to the Freestyle website to learn more about the product and found the website easy to navigate. The website has a clear menu structure and keeps the web address easy to understand. The full print product catalog is available to view online through a special viewer.
One thing I wanted to clarify was the water resistance of the watch. The website and product catalog indicate the watch is resistant to water up to 30 m (98 ft). The instructions provided a “water resistance guide” that clarified 30 m (98 ft) to mean “suitable for washing hands and light splashing.” I hope I am not the only neophyte on the planet who has believed 30 m (98 ft) to mean I can submerge this watch in water up to 30 m (98 ft) in depth! This thinking, I’m afraid, has led me to ruin more than one watch.
I didn’t want to ruin the Nomad, so I called their customer service number listed on the website. The phone navigation was easy enough and I was able to talk with an agent in under a minute. The agent was kind and confirmed that the Nomad is only resistant up to 30 m (98 ft) and that means 30 m (98 ft) of water pressure, not ft/m under water. Washing hands and light splashing is all the Nomad is able to resist. No swimming. No diving.
I am very glad to understand this nomenclature and I made an internal vow to keep the Nomad dry. During the test period, I don’t expect to swim any frozen streams, but I do expect to encounter rain and snow and moisture along the way.
My first thought with the Nomad out of the box was that “this is a big watch!” The outside dimensions are just over 2 in (5 cm) which almost covers my entire wrist. Granted, I may have small wrists, so the comparison makes the watch look even bigger. But after a while, the watch has grown on me and I don’t think much of its size, but I have had some of my friends and family notice the watch. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone comment on my watch before! I couldn’t help but explain to my friends the amazing features on the watch, including the compass and barometer. I received lots of “oohs” and “aawhs” from the crowd.
The watch face is very easy to read both day and night, thanks to the backlight. There are a few design features that I really appreciate that make the watch very usable. First, there is a mode indicator that has eight spaces for each mode. When I switch between modes, I always know visually how many button clicks I need to cycle through the watch.
The compass, altimeter, barometer, and temperature modes also show the time. This is a great feature that means I can keep track of my ascent or descent and still keep track of the time without switching modes. Another detail is when I’m in the time mode, I can hold down the SPLIT/START button to see the temperature instead of the date. In fact, in time mode, I can have quick glance or access to the following features:
I also appreciate the attention to detail made on the watch band. The small plastic band “keeper” that holds the extra length to the watch has a peg that fits into the band notches. This little detail means the keeper won’t slide off the band and keeps the extra band length tight to the watch.
So far, the watch feels comfortable against my skin. The plastic band doesn’t snag my hair and is not overly tight. The watch doesn’t slide around and does not put pressure against my wrist and back of my hand as I move.
The day after receiving the watch, I went on a short two-mile (3.2 km) hike with my kids on the Bull Run/Occoquan Trail. It was a beautiful day with moderate temperatures. The watch indicated it was 56 F (13 C) as we hiked along the trail enjoying the beautiful Fall colors. There was a storm the day before with a lot of rain. The barometer on the watch was fairly level, but showed a rising trend. I wasn’t sure if I calibrated the barometer accurately, so this is something I need to check out.
I knew the altimeter was off a little, but during the hike it was quick to show elevation change as we made our way up and down the steepest parts of the trail. We changed a few hundred feet (~60 m) in elevation and the watch’s graph accurately showed the terrain profile. I was pleased to know the sensor worked, but I need to calibrate the sensor to show my correct starting elevation. The altimeter also saves ascent and descent information, but I need more time to explore how this works.
During the hike, I brought along my regular “analog” compass. My daughter was the navigator along the trail and we stopped frequently to check our bearings. The watch seemed to be very accurate compared to the other compass. Once I figure out how to mark an angle and adjust for declination, I should be set with the compass. Both declination and bearing are features available in the menus.
When I first inspected the watch, I noticed and removed the clear plastic protecting the watch face. What I did not discover until two days later was the same plastic sheet covering the watch sensor and the back of the watch (the part against the skin). I removed this plastic with a little difficulty. With this plastic removed, I plan to re-calibrate the sensors and see if it makes any difference in the altimeter and barometer.
So far, I am very pleased with this watch. The face shows a lot of detail without being too complex. The thermometer was a pleasant and welcome surprise, and with some adjusting for ambient heat, it is very accurate.
The chronograph and timer both work as expected. I’ve used the alarm twice, but the volume isn’t terribly loud and I slept through one alarm already.
I’ve already noticed that the metal band clasp is leaving a metallic mark on the band where it rubs against the plastic. This is only noticeable when I take the watch off.
This concludes my Initial Report. The Field Report will be appended to this report in about two months from the date of this report. Please check back then for more information.
5 Jan 2009
I have worn the Nomad every day since I first received it, removing it when I feared it would be exposed to too much water (doing dishes, bathing, etc.). The watch continues to be comfortable, and the size of the watch face does not bother me, although everyone I meet seems to stare at my wrist for a few moments. I’ve been on three day hikes and three overnight backpacking trips and numerous other auxiliary activities.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
21–22 Nov 2008: Prince William Forest Park, near Dumfries, Virginia. Clear and very cold conditions with a low of 15 F (-9 C) and a high of 42 F (6 C). Had some brand-new Scouts with us and we did a hike around the park. The trail was clear with about 500 ft (152 m) of elevation change. Lots of deciduous trees and Virginia pines.
28 Nov 2008: Pohick Bay Regional Park, Virginia. Clear and cold conditions with the temperature around 30 F (-1 C). This was a day hike with family. The trail was open but covered with leaves. Elevation about 500 ft (152 m).
27 Dec 2008: Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness, north of St. George, Utah. Clear and cold conditions with about two feet of snow on the ground. I was going to attempt an overnight camp, but I wasn’t prepared for the deep snow (no snowshoes!), so this solo expedition (I was determined!) turned into a painful 6-mile (10 k) slog. The ambient temperature hovered around 40 F (7 C) with a slight wind. The rough mountain landscape was punctuated with red cliff faces, juniper, pine, and cedar trees. Elevation was 4,500 ft (1,372 m).
Calibration, Part II
After a few days of use I was still trying to figure out how to calibrate the altimeter. I noticed some plastic peeling away from the sensor and realized I must have missed this when I first inspected the watch. I wondered if this plastic was one reason the sensor may be off calibration; however, I didn’t notice any significant difference once the plastic was removed.
I spent some time researching on the web how to calibrate digital altimeters and I felt confident I was putting in the right information. What I learned was to find a weather station report from an airport or college that gives their elevation and barometer readings. I happen to live nearby the Washington Reagan National Airport and was able to easily find their weather station reading along with their sea-level elevation. I also pulled out a topographic map of where I live and got a pretty accurate reading of the altitude of my home. Armed with this information, I was able to set my barometer, which is used in conjunction with the altimeter. I also confirmed my current altitude with Google Earth, which has a pretty accurate reading of altitude for any location.
When I was calibrating the altimeter I thought the hours, minutes, and seconds corresponded to feet/meters and in the seconds place, which are represented by smaller numbers on the watch face, were some fraction of feet/meters. With this assumption, I tried over and over to set the altimeter to my present altitude: 50 ft (15.3 m). On the watch this looked like “50.00” (except there is no decimal on the watch). Unfortunately, each time I ran the calibration up to this reading, it would jump down and read something like “25.30”. No matter how many times I tried, the watch would not “stick” at “50.00”.
After a few more days I figured out my problem. The watch does not calculate “fractions” of feet/meters. The large numbers represent thousands and hundreds, and the tens and ones are represented by smaller numbers. My “ah-ha!” moment came when I realized every digit represented ft/m in order to reach the maximum sensing limit. So, a reading of 2530 means 2530 feet (or 771 m), not "25 feet 30 something-fraction-of-feet."
Once I reset the altimeter to my current elevation it seemed to work fine. The altimeter shows some variance with barometric pressure, but it seems to remain fairly accurate.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
Over this test period, I have really enjoyed using the Nomad watch. As expected, it took a little while to get used to the functions, how the buttons interact with the interface, and how to calibrate the watch, but now I am perfectly comfortable with all the features. I have found that I have to calibrate the watch, specifically the altimeter, before any hike otherwise the numbers will be off.
Overall, the watch face is clear and easy to read. I am most often in TIME mode and with a quick push of the SPLIT/START button, I get a glance at the temperature; the barometer trend graph is always showing. The altimeter works pretty well, and I’ve found it is pretty accurate as long as I keep it calibrated. While on my cross-country trip from Virginia to Utah, we drove up from Phoenix to Flagstaff, Arizona, and as we crossed up from the valley floor to the mountains, I noticed elevation signs on the freeway. Each time we drove past an elevation sign, I glanced at my watch and was happy to see it keep up with each benchmark. I’ve found that the altimeter generally remains accurate in higher elevations. While in Virginia, I would often find the watch indicating I was below sea level and so I would need to calibrate it almost daily.
During each of my hikes, I would reset the altimeter (it records your altitude gain/loss over time) so I could see my hiking results and trends. After a hike, I could see my total elevation gained, loss, and trend.
The barometer seemed to work great. When the trends would go down, I would check to see how long before rain or some heavy clouds would roll in, and sure enough, they did. I didn’t calibrate the barometer after the first time because I was less interested in the numbers as I was in the trends.
I used the chronometer backpacking in the Pine Valley Wilderness when I wanted to track my time and know my turn-around point. But mostly, I used the chronometer feature while trail running. I like how this feature keeps track of my best lap, total time, etc. Very handy.
The timer and alarms work well, as expected. The alarm can be set for altitude or barometer readings, which is a handy feature.
The temperature feature works well, but I calibrated it for wearing it on my arm, so if I took it off, it was always about 20 F (-7 C) degrees cooler. During my hike with the Scouts in the Prince William Forest Park, I took off the watch and put it by my sleeping bag. I wanted to know how cold it would be in the night. When I awoke about 6 AM, the watch only showed two dashes, “––”, and so I was disappointed. I remembered the thermometer doesn’t work below 14 F (-10 C), and when I checked the weather report after the trip, I found that the overnight low was below 15 F (-9 C), which would have put the watch outside its operating range.
The compass generally works well, but I’ve had trouble relying on it in the field. During my day hikes and most of my overnight trips, I would use the compass to compare the trail direction to the map. Since I wasn’t straying off-trail, I didn’t have a real need for the compass. However, on my trip in the Pine Valley Wilderness, the trails were completely obscured by the deep snow and I was determined to use the watch to find my way. I had some major landmarks to guide me and I had a sense of what direction I needed to go, but since all I was using was a map and the watch compass, I learned the limits of the watch very quickly. I could not lay the compass down and use it to orient my map as easily as a flat compass, so the best I could do was to take the watch off and hold it beside the map. Not as elegant, but it worked okay.
The problem is that the watch seemed to be off by many degrees. I had just driven across the country from a westerly declination to an easterly declination. I re-calibrated the compass and tried again, but the compass in the watch was pointing me almost 30 degrees off of where I knew I should be going. For this trip, the compass failed me and I pulled out my trusty Boy Scout compass and tried again. Sure enough, the Nomad was not calibrated correctly. I bushwhacked for 6 miles (10 k) and had to forego the Nomad as a directional aid. Plus, I didn't have any show shoes and the deep snow was beginning to be a drag (as well as a safety issue). Looking back, I should have spent more time calibrating the compass before my trip. I guess I had put more trust in the watch during my previous adventures and was too comfortable.
FIELD USE SUMMARY
Of all the features, it is the compass that I want more time with. I want to know if I can really use it for more serious navigation. All the other features work well and I’ve been happy with, so I will focus more time on the compass. Overall, I really like this watch and continue to wear it daily.
LONG TERM REPORT
9 Mar 2009
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
14 Jan 2009: Bull Run Occoquan Trail, Virginia. I had a lot of free time in January, so I hiked 14 miles (22.5 k) of the BROT from Fountainhead Regional Park. Elevation was from sea level to about 500 ft (152 m). Deciduous forest with occasional pine and holly trees. This is a beautiful trail with lots of stream crossings and ample water. The trail was clear, which made hiking easy, but temperatures remained around 25 F (-4 C) during the hike with cooler wind gusts.
31 Jan 2009: Centennial Trail, Flagstaff, Arizona. Trail running in the Coconino National Forest. Bristlecone Pine forest at 7000 ft (2134 m) with rocky elevations with patches of snow on the ground. The temperature was 16 F (-9 C) with dry air and bright, harsh sunlight.
7 Feb 2009: Elden Mountain, Coconino National Forest, Flagstaff, Arizona. Attempt #1. Attempted to reach the 9000 ft (2743 m) summit with my oldest son, but we ran out of time (didn’t pack a lunch!) and had to end the hike. The trail had patches of snow and the temperature hovered around 35 F (1.6 C).
28 Feb 2009: Elden Mountain, Coconino National Forest, Flagstaff, Arizona. Attempt #2. Elevation began at 6900 ft (2103 m) and we reached about 8600 ft (2621 m) before the kids tired out. The temperature cooled as we gained elevation, dropping to 32 F (0 C) at 8600 ft (2621 m). The temperature reached 45 F (7 C) as we reached the trailhead later in the afternoon.
6–7 Mar 2009: Centennial Forest, Coconino National Forest. Bristlecone Pine forest at 7000 ft (2134 m) just south west of Flagstaff, Arizona. The high temperature was 45 F (7 C) and the low was around 30 F (-1 C).
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
I have worn this watch absolutely every day in addition to the backpacking, hiking, trail running, and cycling activities I’ve engaged in. I have four recurring alarms that ring daily for different events I track (I rely on the watch to get me up in the morning). I’m always using the altimeter, barometer, and chronometer functions as I hike, and the temperature gauge continues to impress. While I haven’t used the timer while hiking, I have used it many times at home with family events. The one feature I have the least amount of confidence in is the compass!
While hiking the Bull Run Occoquan Trail I tried using the compass each time I reached trail crossings to get my bearings and direction. Despite my repeated attempts at trying to calibrate the watch, it always seemed to be about 10 degrees different than my basic Scout compass. I wondered if the watch was pointing to true north or magnetic north. I relied on the watch compass for a general heading, but the real sweat test of using the watch for a more exact bearing eluded me. That being said, I feel that I could make my way in an emergency.
The other feature that I really tested on my Bull Run hike was the chronometer. This time, I thought I would test the lap feature at each mile marker. Since the Bull Run trail has large mile markers posted along the trail, I had an easy time marking each “lap” as I hiked. As my pace evened out, I could accurately guess when I would hit the next mile marker. I missed a few laps, but I did tag most of the others. The watch also told me my best and average lap times. After 10 “laps” I stop tracking, so here are the results:
The next most notable test was when I took my three oldest kids on an attempt to summit Elden Mountain. The trail begins at 6900 ft (2103 m) and climbs steeply to the summit at 9000 ft (2743 m). We were all eager to hike and I packed my 58 L (3500 cu in) pack with all the essentials (plus some), including food and water. Our goal was to have a fun picnic at the summit, but sadly, we didn’t quite make it.
For this backpacking adventure, I really wanted to test the altimeter with some real altitude. At the trail head, I cleared the altimeter settings and calibrated the altitude to the elevation marked at the sign post: 6900 ft (2103 m). I also set the chronometer so I could keep track of our pace as we hiked. It was fun to watch the altimeter climb as we ascended. The bar graph shows a neat elevation profile at 8239 ft (2511 m), just a few hundred feet before we quit, and still a good distance from the summit.
The watch tracked the altitude, of course, but with a quick touch of the SPLIT/START button, I could see the ascent, descent, and rate of the climb.
A few hours into our hike and still going up.
Ice fields (and tired legs) kept us from reaching the top, so we stopped along the narrow trail to eat our meager lunch. Although we didn’t reach our goal, we had a fun time. As we hiked down, I again kept pace with the chronometer. With the split times, I can easily gauge my pace to predict when we would reach the next destination.
Coming back down, a few hours later, and reaching the trail head.
I wear the Nomad on my wrist and I calibrated the thermometer to account for the temperature offset from my body heat. This method works fine for me, but it can make it difficult to get an accurate reading of the outside temperature while I am hiking. During some of my other hikes, I wore the watch over my gloves, but I still had to account for the temperature offset from my initial calibration.
The watch has been well-worn and there are only a few signs of aging: slight discoloration on the white band and minor scratches on the silver metal. The watch continues to perform wonderfully and I have really enjoyed testing it during the past few months. The only real criticism, besides my moderate dislike of the compass, comes from my wife who says I should have requested the black version (she thinks the white is too “obvious.”)
I would like to thank Freestyle, Inc. and BackpackGearTest.org for providing me with the opportunity to test this product.
24 Sep 2009
Systematic cosmetic failures…
I have worn the Nomad daily since I first received it almost a year ago in October. I still get comments about the large watch face, but for the most part, I am very comfortable wearing and using the watch in all my activities. Speaking of the watch face, about a week ago I noticed the plastic ring was coming loose on one side. A gentle flick with my finger and the ring popped out on one side. Apparently the glue had dried up and become detached. I fixed this with a little super glue, but the once smooth watch face is now more irregular.
A few days later, I was putting the watch on my wrist after taking a shower, and noticed the watch band keeper split apart. I was really shocked because the plastic on the band and keeper is so thick and durable. I removed the keeper and furrowed my brow, for now the dangling watch band had become a nuisance.
The next day I experienced more failures on the band. The buckle end split, but was hanging on for dear life. The next morning the buckle end finally gave up and broke off, and I was left with a watch with two knobby-ended bands.
“Well,” I thought, “I guess this is a good time to test how to replace the band!” The next day, I picked up an inexpensive nylon band with a hook-and-loop fastener and began examining the watch to see how to remove the thick plastic stubs. In order to remove the band, I had to cut off the plastic band because it was glued to the watch! Not easy. In addition to the band being glued to the watch, the band also had spring-loaded fasteners, which I used to secure the watch to the new band.
The watch itself continues to function normally, but cosmetically, it has seen better days. I am surprised that the band has failed after 11 months of use, but I’m glad I could replace the band and still use the watch.
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