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Reviews > Electronic Devices > Watches > Freestyle Nomad Watch > Test Report by Tom Callahan
FREESTYLE NOMAD WATCH
For the past 20 years I have lived off and on in Washington State, backpacking in the Cascade Mountains. I get out regularly on day hikes and multi-day trips and usually try to include a good off trail scramble. During the winter I get out snowshoeing at every opportunity. I also enjoy glacier climbing, summiting prominent peaks like Mt. Rainier (14K ft/4K m) and Mt. Baker (10K ft/3K m). My pack weight will range from 15 - 50 lbs (7 - 23 kg) depending on the season and the length and type of trip.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
The Freestyle Nomad is a multi-function watch with 8 modes:
- Time & Date
The Nomad watch arrived in its retail box. Taking the lid off revealed the watch mounted on a display stand. Inside the stand were the directions and instructions for the care of the watch. The watch had a product tag listing the major features plus a Freestyle hang tag.
Taking the watch off the stand I was impressed with the nice feel of it. The watch felt sturdy with a good weight but not overly heavy. The body of the watch is stainless steel with 4 black rubber control buttons, 2 on each side. The watch body is roughly circular in shape with a diameter of 2 in (5 cm) and a thickness of 0.5 in (1.3 cm). The face of the watch is also roughly circular with a diameter of 1.4 in (3 cm). The face of the watch is surrounded by hard rubber. This rubber comes in white, black and yellow. I requested yellow which is what I received. The watch face is slightly recessed, below the yellow rubber.
The watch band is gray rubber that is soft and flexible, also with a sturdy feel to it. The band tapers from the watch body to a width of 1.8 in (2.2 cm). The total length of the watch and band is 10 in (25.5 cm). The watch band is secure by means of a metal buckle.
The back of the watch body described the watch's water resistance as "30 METERS H2O" (100 ft). In the instruction sheet the water resistance was also noted as "30 meters H2O" (100 ft). This water resistance rating of 30 m (100 ft) was different than the product info on the Freestyle web site. The web site listed the water resistance as "100 meters" (330 ft) for the Nomad. I emailed Freestyle Customer Service and asked about this. Within 24 hours I received a reply back stating the Nomad has a water resistance of 30 m (100 ft). Freestyle has since updated the Nomad product information to reflect the 30 m (100 ft) water resistance.
I was very anxious to check out the watch functions. I naturally left the directions in the stand and began playing with the buttons to see how easy it was to figure out how the watch worked. In short order I was able to find the button that scrolls through the 8 modes and the backlight button. But this is a sophisticated piece of gear and next I did read the directions and worked though the different features.
READING THE INSTRUCTIONS
The instructions clearly described the steps for each of the 8 watch functions. The four buttons were designated as S1, S2, S3 and S4 which made it easy to follow all the steps. It is also nice that any function or feature is reached by only pressing one button at a time. I have had other multi-function watches that relied upon 2 button combinations which were awkward and difficult to remember.
Regarding the altimeter and barometer functions, while the instructions provided easy to follow directions to calibrate each of these functions, there was no description of the interrelationship of these functions. Nor was there any background information provided to help understand the appropriate way to calibrate these functions. A little more explanation in this area would help ensure the watch is being used with the best achievable accuracy, as well as understand the limitations of these functions.
TRYING IT OUT
While wearing the watch it felt comfortable on my wrist. It is not excessively heavy. The size of the watch body fits well on the back of my wrist. It is a bit larger than a basic wrist watch. But it is definitely smaller than many other multi-function outdoor watches on the market. The control buttons are easy to reach and are easily activated. The backlight is available in all 8 functions. It provides a bright enough light to make the display very visible. One press of the button and the watch stays illuminated for about 4 seconds.
INITIAL REPORT SUMMARY - Oct. 29, 2008
I am very pleased with the Freestyle Nomad watch. It is built well and looks to be very rugged. I really like having all the 8 functions in a single wristwatch. The control buttons are easy to operate. The directions provided clear directions to operate the different watch functions.
Here's what I like about the watch,
- comfortable fit
- 8 modes
- easy to operate control buttons
During testing I'll be paying close attention to:
- accuracy of all the functions
- ability to make adjustments and calibrations in the field
This concludes my Initial Report. The Field Report will be amended to this report in approximately two months. Please check back then for further information.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
During this phase of testing I used the Nomad watch on two overnight trips and 3 day hikes. All these trips were in the central Cascade Mountains.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
I've been very pleased with the performance of the Nomad watch. While the Nomad is larger than my regular field watch, it remained comfortable to wear, even during long days on the trail. The watch face is easy to read. The backlight provides sufficient brightness to read the watch at night. The buttons of the watch are very easy to manipulate, even when wearing gloves. The watch crystal did not scratch, however I did get a few scratches in the finish of the metal body of the watch. This clued me in to the fact the watch body is not brushed stainless steel as I originally thought and noted in my Initial Report. Rather the watch body is metal and coated with a baked enamel finish.
As I used the watch I quickly became familiar with the different functions and features. While I brought along the watch's instructions on my first few trips, I learned the functions well enough such that I leave the instructions home now.
Here's my comments on the watches modes:
Time - I encountered no problems and the watch kept accurate time.
Compass - I am still getting used to this feature. The compass heading readout is affected by how level you hold the watch. Unlike a floating needle of a traditional compass, with the electronic compass feature I didn't really have a good feedback mechanism to let me know the watch is truly level and that I was getting an accurate reading. I found the best way to accomplish this was to swing the watch left and right to home in on the correct heading. This worked OK, but I didn't feel it was as precise as I can get with a traditional compass. So I've got work on this a bit and get a better feel for leveling the watch when getting a compass bearing.
Right out of the box the compass was off by about 30 degrees so I put it through the calibration steps. However the instructions call for the user to rotate the watch to "freeze the last moving blinking dot to stay at 12-hour position." Despite rotating the watch this never really happened. But by going through the calibration mode, the watch did accurately display the correct headings when compared to my traditional hand held magnetic compass.
Altimeter - I used the watch in this mode the most. I really liked the large numeral display of the hundred and thousands units. I also liked that the watch displayed time while in Altitude mode. On nearly all my outings I had significant elevation gain, usually several thousand feet (hundreds of meters). I found the Nomad elevation to generally be within 100 ft (30 m) when compared with the map, my GPS, or in comparing the elevation reading at the trailhead at the start and then conclusion of the trip. I found the watch very easy to calibrate, either with sea level pressure or with elevation. I generally used elevation for calibration purposes.
During testing as I worked more with the watch I began to wonder how the sea level pressure, watch barometric pressure and watch altitude all inter-relate. I was under the impression that once the watch was calibrated with sea level pressure or elevation, the resulting sea level pressure would remain fixed as the baseline for the pressure sensor to use to determine elevation. But I observed changes in the sea level pressure, even when I had not recalibrated the watch. This had me a bit confused so I emailed Freestyle Customer Service. Less than 48 hrs later I received a reply that the watch's software is designed to distinguish changes in atmospheric pressure from changes in altitude, hence the automatic sea level pressure change. I don't quite know how this is possible since the watch only works off a single atmospheric pressure sensor and none of this is explained in the product instructions. I began paying closer attention to the automatic changes in sea level pressure and have found they do compare somewhat to changes in atmospheric pressure. Initially I made these comparisons with the local NOAA weather station while at home. I have also noted the relationships between the sea level pressure, watch barometric pressure and elevation at the trailhead at the start of a trip, and comparing these same parameters at the end of the trip. While the watch's ability to detect changes in atmospheric pressure are not exact (+/- 0.02 mbar), they have been close enough to keep the elevation reading within 100 ft (30 m). So I have been quite impressed with this feature. It appears to work well enough to keep the elevation reading accurate between calibrations at known points when the atmospheric pressure is changing.
Barometer - This functioned very well. I really liked the trend graph since it provided a quick and easy means of gauging the barometric pressure change. I compared the watch's barometer reading with a nearby NOAA weather station data available via the NOAA web site. I always had very good agreement. The trend was always correct and quantitatively the agreement was within 0.02 mbar.
Chronograph - While this is not a feature I would normally use, I played around with this and it worked properly.
Timer - This is a simple feature and it worked properly.
Alarm - The alarm can be set to got off at a specific elevation, barometric pressure or time. I used the time alarm during this phase of testing and it worked fine. The alarm is loud enough to wake me if I am not wearing the watch and have it next to my head. But as might be expected, when wearing the watch with my arms down in my sleeping bag, it is not really audible.
Temperature - The watch does accurately display temperature, however the temperature sensor is integral to the watch body. As would be expected, when wearing the watch it displays the temperature of the watch against the skin of the wearer which is not very useful. When wearing the watch during field testing, either with or without gloves on, it typically displayed a temperature ranging from 65 to 75 F (18 to 24 C). On my snowshoe trip, even when temperatures dipped down to 5 F (-15 C), with the watch covered by the cuff of my thick glove it displayed a temperature of 65 F (18 C).
FIELD REPORT SUMMARY - January 6, 2009
Overall I have been very pleased with the Freestyle Nomad watch. It is comfortable to wear and the display is easy to read. While I like having all the different modes, I used the Altitude the most. In the Altitude mode the watch is easy to calibrate and provides accurate information. I'm particularly impressed that the watch has the ability, albeit limited, to automatically detect and adjust to changes in atmospheric pressure.
LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
During this phase of testing I wore the Freestyle Nomad watch on two winter day hikes, a cross country ski day trip, a four day backcountry ski trip to a hut system in the vicinity of Mt Rainier and an overnight climbing trip to a peak in the Olympic Mountains. Temperatures during these trips ranged from 15 to 40 F (-9 to 4 C). Weather I encountered was a mixed bag of rain, freezing rain and sunshine. Daily elevation gain or loss ranged from 1,500 to 3,900 ft (450 to 1,200 m) with a high point of 5,944 ft (1,812 m) encountered on top of Mt. Ellinor in the Olympics.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
I remain very pleased with the Nomad watch and it has held up well during testing. The face has remained clear and there are no scratches on it. The watch body only has those few scratches in the finish noted in the Field Report. The watch band and buckle show virtually now sign of wear and tear. The yellow hard rubber border around the watch face has gotten a little dingy. This may be in part due to its rubbing against the cuff of my dark blue rain shell. But even though it is a little dingy, I like the yellow border because it makes the watch easier to see if I have taken it off and laid it down in the tent.
Altimeter - This is my favorite function and one I used the most. Once properly calibrated, this function was nearly always accurate within 100 ft (30 m). This was particularly impressive on the overnight climbing trip when I gained and lost 3,900 ft (1,200 m) over the course of the weekend and had only calibrated the altimeter once, at the start of the trip. I would see this type of accuracy even when barometric pressure had changed during the day. I am still a bit perplexed how the watch can adjust the sea level pressure to compensate for changes in barometric pressure during the course of the day when the watch has not been re-calibrated. There was one instance when a significant drop in barometric pressure resulted in an elevation error of around 200 ft (60 m), but this was an exception.
Barometer - Having a barometer with me while camping is great. It has really been nice to know how fast the pressure is rising or falling to anticipate changes in the weather. As noted in my Field Report, I particularly liked the graphic that shows the pressure trend for the previous 24 hours.
Chronometer - This feature worked fine when checking it out during this phase of testing. But a lap counter/timer is not something I would use while backpacking. For down hill skiers I could see this being a fun feature, using it to time and track runs.
Timer - I used the timer when cooking meals and it worked just fine. The audible alarm is not very loud, though. When winter camping, the watch would be covered by my jacket sleeve which muted the alarm to the point that I really had to listen for it to hear it go off. This will be less of an issue when camping this summer.
Alarm - This function also worked well. But as noted in my Field Report, the audible alarm can be difficult to hear. If I took the watch off and lay it next to my head the alarm was loud enough to wake me up.
Temperature - As noted in my Field Report, the temperature displays the temperature of the wrist of the wearer. I did try using the watch attached to a clip on the shoulder strap of my pack. With this arrangement I would get an accurate reading of the outside temperature compared to small mercury thermometer I bring on most trips. But for ease of use I prefer to wear the watch on my wrist.
LONG TERM REPORT SUMMARY - Mar. 11, 2009
In summary I am very impressed with the Freestyle Nomad watch. It has proven to be a very durable watch and all functions continue to work flawlessly as the test comes to a close. The display is well laid out and the functions and features are easy to operate with the 4 buttons on the watch.
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