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Reviews > Electronic Devices > Watches > HighGear Axio Max Mulitfunction Watch > Test Report by John Waters
My backpacking began in 1999. I have hiked rainforests in Hawaii, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico, on glaciers in New Zealand and Iceland, 14ers in Colorado and Death Valley's deserts. I hike or snowshoe 6-8 miles (10 km-13 km) 2-3 times weekly in the Cooper Mountain range, with other day-long hikes on various other southwest and central Colorado trails. I frequently hike the mountains and deserts of Utah and Arizona as well. My daypack is 18 lb (8 kg); overnights' weigh over 25 lb (11 kg). I'm aiming to reduce my weight load by 40% or more.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
The Axio Max arrived in a 3.5 in (8.9 cm) cube box, and was packed in black foam. The steel face glaring up at me looked like it was suspended in air because the black band blended into the foam. Being a technophile, I was eager to take it out and get it on my wrist.
READING THE INSTRUCTIONS
The instructions packed in the cubic box are also about 3.5 in square (8.9 cm) with black front and rear covers. I found it interesting that Highgear managed to pack instructions in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese (I'm assuming here for these two since the country names are in Kanji or Hiragana), German, Italian, Dutch and Swedish into that little package, in two volumes, and keep both volumes to less than 0.5 in (1.27 cm). That either says they did an excellent job of writing, or they did not give really good detailed instructions. That shall be something to examine in the field test.
I've already been wearing the Axio almost exclusively since I opened the box. I have noticed that the night-light is not as readable as my full screen backlight on the other watch I use. I need my reading glasses to see some of the information. But, again, I shall go into more detail about that in the field report.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
I have been wearing this watch constantly during this test period. The only time this watch has been removed from my wrist has been when I was climbing towers or working where I was concerned that I could scratch or damage the unit.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
I used both Google Earth and my SportsTrak Pro handheld GPS to compare altitude readings. For temperature, I used a small clip on thermometer attached to my backpack shoulder straps or my Subaru dash digital thermometer. Weather Underground was used to compare barometric pressure when I was close to a local weather station. WUG is great because there are so many volunteer stations reporting and I can usually get readings pretty close to my location.
I had no problems at all using the clock and alarm functions. There was no time drift. The clock stayed right on with the national atomic clock and my cell phone. I would like to see the time zone indicator made into an icon and that space used for displaying some other value though. It seems like such a waste of space on the main dial to have T1 or T2 taking up a whole line above the time just to tell me what time zone I am looking at. My 2 cents anyway.
The alarm has been super easy to set and use. It is not very loud though. Fortunately, I set my cell phone alarm, which is VERY loud, because if I were to rely on just the Axio alarm I would have missed some early morning appointments. When wearing the Axio on my wrist it ends up under the pillow because I sleep on my side with my left arm under the pillow. That means the alarm is muffled. If it is not under the pillow it is still not too loud and I can sleep right through the alarm. The noise level is really low in our place in Canon City or out in tents in the middle of nowhere. Maybe a small vibration or a little more volume would make this a more useful alarm.
There are two regular 12/24 hour alarms, a rest alarm, a hydration alarm and 2 altitude alarms. These are easily settable. I just push the MODE button to ALARM and then the - (minus) button cycle through the clearly marked alarm types. Once on the desired alarm type, I have to hold down the ADJUST button for about 3 seconds while HOLD - Adjust flashes, then I can use the MODE button to select the desired numeric value to set using the +/- buttons. When done, a press of the ADJUST button locks in the values.
I like that I can change the bottom line of the display from Month-Day (Sep 5 for example) to just the weekday (Mon), to altitude (which will display in the feet or meters depending on how the main altitude screen is set). This is changed by the lower right push button. The display will change and display the option selected until the MODE button is used. So I can scroll through and get the altitude to show under the time and stay that way until I press the mode button again.
In the upper left just in front of the time zone indicator is a weather icon. It's been pretty accurate with storm, clouds, sun icons showing up to tell me that "YES" it really is sunny as I look all around me just in case I was not sure or "YES" it really is raining, etc.
The manual says "NOTE: If you wear the watch on a daily basis in TIME or ALTI-BARO mode with altitude display, you
must scroll to a view without altitude to begin the forecasting process. This process takes 12 hours." Wow. Actually, I have set the time display to show time in the center and then altitude in place of the calendar date. I did not notice that the weather icon was not working, but maybe I switched the display back to time and date before the weather icon needed to be reset. Or, maybe it is just so darn sunny here in Colorado that I would not have noticed the sunny icon was not changing.
The regular display is VERY easy to read in all lighted situations, even in bright full sunlight. However, I had trouble reading the backlight in low light. It works pretty well in pure darkness, but, in my opinion, there was not enough contrast in low light (enough clarity due to bleeding of the backlight between characters) and I had difficulty reading the display, especially the small icons and values. I figured out that running through the TIME settings to the CONTRAST setting solved my problem well. The CONTRAST function is set at zero (0) by default. I set the contrast to its maximum value of 5 and the backlight is now clearly readable in low light and dark.
The calendar runs to the year 2057. I am 61 now, so I would be 108 when the watch runs out. No doubt my clock will probably run out first ... maybe.
The compass function works great. The +/- buttons don't do anything in this mode except bring the display back. After about 25 seconds the compass display will blank and put up 3 dashes (to conserve battery life) and to get the display back I need to press either the + or - buttons. The manual says to calibrate the compass frequently, however I calibrated it one time when I took it out of the box and checked it several times against my pocket compass and my GPS and it has been right on without additional calibration. However, I would be sure to check the calibration if this were the only compass I was using and my life depended on it. It is very simple to calibrate. I did not bother with declination adjustments since the readings were so close to my reference devices, but making such adjustment is also very simple.
Of all the functions, this is still the most confusing to me. Since the altitude is obtained by barometric pressure, when I set the altitude, the reference for that altitude is the current barometric pressure read by the watch. When barometric pressure changes for reasons other than altitude, the altitude reading can be misleading. For example, if I am at 5,000 ft (1524 m) and the pressure is 1000 millibars, under normal circumstances there is an equation to calculate the changing altitude based upon the barometric pressure and temperature.
A = 1,000 x ( K -- B ), where
A is the altitude indicated on the face of the altimeter, in feet
K is the pressure setting at sea-level, in inches of mercury
B is the actual barometric pressure at the location of the altimeter.
If a storm is coming in and the barometer drops 100 mb and I do not change my physical altitude, the watch will indicate a rise in altitude because air pressure is lower at a higher altitude. The watch doesn't know that I am in the same spot. Temperature also affects the calculation. So an altimeter that depends on barometric pressure needs to be calibrated often to a known reference point and there must be an awareness to fast changes in pressure and temperature unrelated to altitude. I found that it is best to keep a good topo map handy to do those calibrations. When on a mountain peak and a storm comes in, I can be off quite a bit.
Setting the values is easy though. I just change the altitude in feet (default) and change the barometric pressure to a known reference. I used the local reading from the airport nearby to do my first calibration. To get the right values set up, I needed to be AT the airport or at the location I picked to use for the reference. This will not work unless I am right at the reference point. Once the initial barometric setting is entered, as I was told by our High Gear contact, I was to leave the barometric setting alone and change ONLY the altitude to make future calibrations. I was told to leave the sea level value alone.
The display can be changed from millibars to inches (for example, from 1020 to 30.12) just by using the + button. Adjustments can be made in either measurement unit.
Altitude can be displayed in either feet or meters and switching back and forth is quite easy by pressing the + button. Holding the + button down for 3 seconds will change the default display unit.
Barometric readings are very unreliable in a moving vehicle, in an air-conditioned or heated room with forced air (because air pressure is increased by the blowers) and definitely in a pressurized or moving aircraft. Standing still in constant barometric pressure with weather that is not changing, the altimeter will work well. It compared to my GPS within 3 ft (.9 m) under stable conditions. Add a rapidly moving thunderstorm to the mix and I the altimeter would indicate I was rising like Mary Poppins dozens of feet (meters) into the air.
The altimeter fluctuates, but not as rapidly as my GPS. When I am hiking, my GPS will show me up and down several feet (meters) as I walk along because the GPS is recalculating satellite information. The Axio Max stays stable unless it sees a barometric pressure change. That also means it depends on the inclination of the watch. I noticed that I can change the altitude reading by positioning the watch vertical or horizontal since each position will have a slight change in pressure. A good reading is when the watch is stable for 30 seconds in any position though.
I took the watch with me on the Durango-Silverton Steam Engine railway trip, a 3 1/2 hour ride in vintage narrow gauge cars pulled by a black coal fired steam locomotive through wonderfully beautiful high mountain scenery. Starting at 6500 ft and rising to 9300 ft (1981 m to 2834 m), we were seated (standing all the way actually) in an open gondola car. Moving at only 12 mph (19 kph) with no pressured compartment, I figured this was a great way to test the response time of the altimeter.
I calibrated the unit at the station and away we went. The Axio was fine until we started to rise and fall on the way up to Silverton. It also did not handle the return trip well going down. The unit lagged the GPS from 30 seconds to 3 minutes but would eventually catch up or pass the GPS values. Because there was so much fluctuation, I was not able to chart the changes. Too bad there was no way to get the output of each device and chart the entire route. I was hoping to find a constant differential.
The value on the Axio would be mostly 30 ft off (9.1 m) in each direction; going up it usually would be 30 ft (9.1 m) lower and going down it would be 30 ft (9.1 m) higher. However, there were also times that it was 200 ft off (61 m) in either direction and then would, after a few minutes, catch up to within 30 ft (9.1 m) again. If we were travelling in a straight line for several minutes, the Axio and the GPS would agree to within 10 to 15 ft (3 to 4.6 m) . However, again, there were times when we stopped to pick up or drop off passengers that the Axio remained 100 to 200 feet off (30 to 61 m). So I am not sure what to expect. I was hoping to find a constant to apply and I just could not get a handle on it. I wanted to see that if the GPS said we went down 200 ft (61 m), then in 30 seconds, the Axio would catch up, etc. and that just did not happen. I guess that +/- 30 ft (+/- 9.1 m) would be a good variance to use as a rule of thumb in a stable environment for accuracy.
I checked the GPS satellites frequently to make sure there were always at least 5 or more being used across the sky and not just on the horizon. If the GPS did not see more than 5 satellites spread out, I ignored any large differential between the GPS and the Axio.
I also checked the altitude on a short hike at Poncha Pass in Colorado. Our GPS, from 7 satellites, had 9,048 feet (2.7578 km) where we stopped and the Axio had 9,052 ft (2.7590 km). That is very close indeed. We stopped and let both devices rest for 10 minutes. Air pressure according to the Axio was 29.97.
In Wolfe Creek Pass, Colorado, at 10,863 ft (3.3110 km), the GPS recorded 10,864 ft (3.3113 km) where we were and the Axio said it was 10,742 ft (3.2741 km). That is quite a difference. I let the devices rest for 10 minutes and this was maybe only 45 minutes after we made the reading that was pretty close at Poncha Pass. So I do not know why I saw this difference in 45 minutes. It may be that the outside temperature at Poncha Pass was 69 F (20.56 C) and the outside temperature at Wolf Creek Pass was 50 F (10 C). The barometric pressure dropped to 20.06 on the Axio at Wolf Creek Pass.
Instrument flight rules mandate that the sea level pressure be set to 29.92 if flying above 18,000 feet (5.486 km). Since I didn't get that high, I didn't have to do that, but the Axio will need to be set that way if I ever get that high (which is not happening in Colorado).
A really good topo map and a really good GPS that can see several satellites across the sky would be much more trustworthy to me. It is handy to have though and I see myself continuing to use this function to see about how high we climbed over a period of time and to know approximately what our altitude is without having to remove the GPS from its pouch.
I now sit in our RV writing this (no air-conditioning and no fans, just open windows) at 5685 ft (1733 m) (as shown on Google Earth) and the Axio says I am at 5693 ft (1735 m) after I re-calibrated the watch to local barometric pressure and adjusted the absolute pressure to get it to this value. The watch should now be set for my next trek.
It is important to remember that the barometric pressure setting must be corrected to sea-level. Airports and weather service reports give sea level corrected values. My home barometer does not unless I calibrate it to an airport or weather station value.
Well, a thermometer on my wrist is not going to give me a very accurate ambient temperature since I give off heat. After extensive measurements using a bulb thermometer on my backpack shoulder strap, I have had readings that were from 5 to 26 degrees F off (2.78 to 14 C). For example, when it was 50 F (10 C) on the chest strap thermometer, the Axio on my wrist was reading 76 F (24.4 C), . The warmer the ambient temperature was, the smaller the differential was. Generally, when left on my wrist, the readings were always high until ambient got above my body temperature. I could not come up with a constant to apply since the temperature difference varied a lot. The only way to get a truly accurate temperature reading is to take the watch off my wrist or go to places hotter than 98.6 F (37 C).
By definition, a watch that tells time AND has a stopwatch function is a Chronograph. So the chronograph function of the Axio is a stopwatch and it handles up to 10 "runs" and can store the results in memory. I'm still interested in knowing how many people who buy watches with stopwatch functions actually use a 10 lap timer. I tried using it to time things like my granddaughter and I doing sprints and runs for soccer. It works well for timing runs. Starting it require only pressing the mode button until CHRONO appears on the dial face, and then a display with hours, minutes, seconds and decimal to 2 places (1/100 second) appears on the dial face. I press the + button to start and the - button to stop. Then I hold the - button down until HOLD appears on the screen and the counter is reset to zero and the values are moved to the appropriately numbered data slot. Then I hold the ADJUST button down and the timer is reset to zero without the data being stored.
Like the other functions, what to do with the stored data was pretty intuitively obvious once I realized that everything from the CHRONO function is stored and managed in the DATA function. I was a little confused when I got a "FULL" error displayed on the stopwatch screen until I guessed that it meant that I put all the lap times into memory and I filled up memory in each of the 10 lap timers. I finally realized that I was zeroing the values out wrong. Holding the - button down stores the value and increments the timer number. I was using that to zero out the timer each time we ran. I needed to use the MODE button to zero out the timers and not store the values.
Pressing the mode button gets me to the DATA screen. Each of the runs can be stored in memory by holding the - button down for a few seconds until the word HOLD appears on the screen. The starting altitude, the difference in altitude ("accum"), maximum altitude, and total time are stored for each "run" entered.
The run number, starting at 1, will increment each time the run is saved. I have not figured out how to increment the run numbers without stopping the clock though. Although multiple run timers are supported, multiple CONCURRENT run timers are not. A run (or what they call exercise periods) must be stopped and saved before the next period can begin.
These timers can be used to store the values from a hike. Start when I begin and stop when I end to record all the values and store them in the DATA section. Of course, this information is available in almost all new GPS units, but to have this available handily on my wrist is very neat, especially if the batteries in my GPS die and my wife has used all my spares for her camera because she forgot to bring her own. However, there is no way to export the data to a PC.
Cool timer and alarm functions are available for hydration and rest time or for whatever you want to be reminded about. I know I won't need one for eating time.
I took a leap of faith and wore the watch in the community pool playing with my granddaughter for a little more than 2 hours the other day.
With specific instructions to her not to push the buttons (because she likes the run timer), the watch came through with no damage at depths up to 6 ft (1.8 m) and with a pounding from a 9 year old. I noticed that the face of the watch collects a "bubble" around the rim that made me think it was starting to fill with water, but the water has a weird way of collecting around the outside rim to create this bubble that looks like one in a level. All is well and I now know that I can wear this watch in the water. Please read my comments posted in the Initial Report about use in the water before taking a bath or wearing this watch in the hot tub - very important.
I know that these descriptions may be detailed, but in actual use, I was able to figure out almost all functions and how to set them without referring to the manual. That says a lot for the design of this timepiece. Kudos to the developers for making this so intuitively programmable and operable. I don't think I have ever had a handheld anything that was as easy to work with as this Axio Max.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
Mountain hikes, commercial airlines, around and about town in Colorado; that covers where I have mostly used the Axio Max the past several weeks. Temperatures have been unusually high in south central Colorado, up to 85 F ( C) and it has been exceptionally dry. Ten days in Florida brought high humidity into the mix.
This watch is attractive, heavy duty, comfortable to wear, and has been reliable and fun to use. It has held up under all sorts of conditions, although I did not take it to the top of Everest. Not yet anyway.
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