Review: Citizen Eco-Drive Proximity

“Smart, or stylish?” That’s the question facing casual watch aficionados looking for a new, high-tech addition to their collection.

On one hand (er, wrist), you’ve got the Pebble and other smartwatch upstarts, which come with built-in smartphone connectivity, customizable screens, and burgeoning developer communities eager to feed their app ecosystems. They also, by and large, look like uninspired pieces of mass-produced Chinese plastic, and that’s because they are.

On the “stylish” end of the spectrum is … not much. Except this: Citizen’s Eco-Drive Proximity.

By all outward appearances, the Proximity looks like any another chronograph in a sea of handsome analog watches. It has all the features you’d expect, including a 24-hour dial, day and date, perpetual calendar and second time zone. But housed within its slightly oversized 46mm case is a Bluetooth 4.0 radio, so it’s capable of passing data over the new low-energy connectivity standard appearing in newer smartphones, including the iPhone 5 and 4S. And for now, the Promixity is only compatible with those Apple devices.

Initial pairing is relatively easy. After downloading Citizen’s notably low-rent iOS app, you can link the watch to your phone with a few turns and clicks on the crown.

The gee-whiz feature is the automatic time sync that takes place whenever you land in a different time zone. Once connected, the Citizen learns the current time from your phone, and the watch’s hands spin around to the correct positions — a welcome bit of easy magic, considering the initial setup is a tedious finger dance.

But actually, I’m OK with that. I still like the fact that it never needs charging. Even though there aren’t any solar cells visible on the dial, the watch does have them. They’re hidden away beneath the dial, and yet they still work perfectly. And even when its flagship connectivity features aren’t behaving, it’s still a damn handsome watch. It feels solid, and it looks good at the office, out to dinner, or on the weekend — something very few other “smart” watches on the market can claim.

However, those things can be said of almost all of Citizen’s EcoDrive watches. The big distinguishing feature here is the Bluetooth syncing and notifications, and they just don’t work that well.

UPDATE, Sunday Feb 24: The review now describes the Proximity as an analog watch, not a mechanical watch.

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