Casio Frogman GWF-D1000 Review

I eventually ended up only wearing the Frogman in circumstances where another watch would break, because I would not miss or replace it.

It was the fourth short dive of the day and I realized that I had stopped looking at the Casio while under water. For the remainder of the day I did not bother engaging the dive mode on the Frogman and sadly realized something. Even in timekeeping mode I did not use the Frogman while underwater. This was simply due to the fact that deciphering the time on its digital screen required the same effort in deciphering the time on my dive computer, which reserves a very small space on the bottom right corner for the time. As a result, my $1200 Casio Frogman became a very expensive, yet very accurate underwater compass for the rest of the day. This was the last time that I took the Frogman on a dive.

One of my many attempts at wearing the Frogman with slightly more formal attire than a rash guard.

In an effort to scale their product line upmarket, Casio a few years ago created the “Master of G Series” line of watches. Some of these are feature-packed watches made to have a more grown-up look taking advantage of a more mature, and thus wealthy, customer, while some of the rest are geared towards professionals on land (firefighters), air (pilots), and sea (fishermen and scuba divers). This is ironic since in the Frogmans very own manual it does not recommend using this watch for anything more than recreational diving. The fact that the depth gauge only operates to 80 metres out of the full 200-metre water resistance of the watch is also telling that the marketing behind this series is just trying to feed into the customer’s adventure lifestyle fantasy.

Having worn this Master of G Series Frogman for over a year and half, I am conflicted about how I feel about it, and towards Casio and their higher-priced offerings geared towards outdoor activities. I’ll get to this after we go over what this watch is and its place in the market, its design, how it wears, its daily functions, and its dive functions.

What is this watch, and who is it for?

A sneeze guard might have been handy on this occasion.

The Casio Frogman has always held a special place in the hearts of Casio G-Shock fans. It unapologetically embodies the G-Shock design aesthetic and expresses it in its grandest and purest form. Big, bulky, asymmetrical and with an extralong and very useful strap for wetsuits, this watch became the favourite for some militaries, law enforcement agencies,  and for movie and television sets as the watch of choice for policemen and military generals. Hilariously in the Netflix series Narcos, the previous-generation Frogman was used by one of the military leads set in the 1980s, a full two decades before the watch was released. It looks tough, and it is.

This watch is marketed for those who are “divers” but in reality it is just for those who love the G-Shock aesthetic and do not mind spending more than $1000 on a digital watch. This is true of any luxury watch brand and Casio should not be ridiculed for this. The marketing for this watch included a French middle-aged free diver wearing freshly adorned braces. The campaign followed him and a boat on a very meaningless quest that resulted in absolutely nothing. No discoveries, no personal bests reached, no interesting observations about an existing dive site, and no new dive sites mapped. Nothing. Marketing tactics such as this are nothing new. Companies such as Oris call a line of their divers “Pro-Divers” yet designed their lugs (and those of lesser dive watches) with custom horn-shaped lugs resulting in one not being able to wear them with actual exposure suits. This is because the given straps are simply not long enough to be properly worn over a dry suit above the wrist lock mechanism, and the clasp extension on older models is simply not even good enough to fit over a 7mm wet suit. Good luck finding a custom rubber strap maker that will make a suitable strap that would cost less than $400. This is simply done to keep the consumer coming back to them in after-sales situations, and Casio and Oris are not the only ones guilty of selling you watches that can not be used in the field as depicted in their marketing materials. We the consumer are simply being taken advantage of and most of us would never know any better. Just looking down at a “tool watch” while we are at work is satisfying enough, and these watch companies, Casio included, are well aware of this and are happy to exploit our short-sightedness. This being said, there are many tool watches out there that can play the role as a genuine dive watch and as a piece of jewelry.

This and other marketing materials have worked for Casio however. Some watch collectors initially rolled their eyes upon hearing the price and all made the same point of rather spending that money on a mechanical piece for a G-Shock “should only be a couple of hundred dollars, max!” A couple of the very same watch collectors have gone on to buy Mudmasters and Gravity Masters that are in the same price range as the Frogman.

Thus Casio has successfully penetrated the market of consumers who purchase expensive “tool watches” out of an appreciation for the art of watchmaking and that of over-engineering. In this aspect, these watches are definitely not worth their price in this case and as in the new Rangeman, but are in cases such as the Mudmaster and Gravity Master.

In the following sections, we’ll go over why this is not the case and why this watch is appropriately priced. I will then go ahead and contradict myself at the end of this piece because the watch market is no longer as simple as it used to be, making the matter of price a complicated one. This is especially true with the rapidly evolving market in GPS-enabled sports watches that some of these Master of G Series watches compete with.

The Design

The wonderfully executed caseback.

Utilizing materials such as a sapphire crystal, and a carbon fibre-reinforced strap, this watch exudes quality and toughness. The case back is a wonderfully beefy PVD-coated steel that seamlessly flows into the rubber portions of the case which add to the shock resistance of the timepiece. This is one area where this watch feels ahead and more refined than other G-Shocks and even some of the Master of G Series watches. The fit and finish of every component is seamless and tightly assembled. In other G-Shocks, the loose construction can feel a little poor but that is done for a very good reason on those watches. Those G-Shocks are meant to be taken apart, cleaned and even have the batteries changed by the user. This watch is not and even has a warning on the caseback stating “Do Not Open! Casio Authorized Service Centre’s Repair Only.”

The aesthetic damage on the Frogman.

The metal keeper and buckle are of very high quality and will collect scratches and dents along the way. Some reviewers in the past have complained about this, but the many scratches and marks on this watch remind me of when they occurred and in reality make the watch look nicer and more purposeful.

The buttons are very easy to use even with thick winter gloves/5mm wet suit gloves and the digital LCD display is of a noticeable higher quality than other G-Shocks. The non-functional “screws” on the front face of the watch make the watch look more utilitarian and offers a nice balance to the asymmetrical case which favours the opposite side with the two pronounced Mode and Adjust buttons.

The main computer module is attached to the substantial strap by two giant lug bars which look like they need an Allen wrench to adjust. After the abuse that this watch has received on my wrist, the strap is only a little looser than when new. This level of abuse is something that normally would not happen to others so it’s not something to be overly concerned about, especially if you are considering buying this watch as a fashion item. This abuse included incidents such as the watch experiencing a fall down the stairs while being worn (the hand railing broke resulting in my awkward tumble), getting scratched by branches as I ran with it on some trails, getting stuck on a line and supporting my body weight briefly, and lastly getting snagged on an unfamiliar BCD (buoyancy compensating device – the vest a scuba diver wears which is attached to his air tank and regulator) resulting in the biggest series of aesthetic damages to the watch. This damage was limited to the metal keepers and buckle, and the rubber of the case and strap.

How It Wears

Wearing a watch of this size, it should be obvious to the user that this watch will not fit under the cuff of a dress shirt and will pose difficulties while trying to put on winter jackets with elastic cuffs. Other than its size, it wears very comfortably and feels very secure. It does attract attention from others who are wearing G-Shocks and I have been approached by only two people asking what it was. Both of them were wearing G-Shocks and winced when I told them the price and its features. This watch has presence and gets noticed. If you are willing to spend this much money on a G-Shock that really looks the part, you will be very happy with this watch. It is very top heavy, however, and needs to be worn on the snug side to keep the watch from violently flopping all over the place as you move throughout your day. A word of caution however: I would not recommend buying this watch unseen and unworn first because of this. If your wrist size is in-between the holes allotted on the strap, the watch will either be too tight, or it will move around too much to be comfortable. 

Daily Functions

Like most other G-Shocks, the Frogman comes with World Time, 5 alarms plus a customizable hourly chime, stopwatch, countdown timer, solar power and the usage of atomic signals to update the time. Additionally, the Frogman features a tide graph which is an estimate based on your time zone, a very accurate and useful compass, a dive mode with an accurate depth gauge, a dive log which can save up to 20 dives, a rapid ascent alarm, a mode set for recording your current conditions (depth, time, temperature), an air and water temperature gauge, and a moon phase indicator.

For charging and receiving the atomic signal I keep this watch on a south-facing windowsill and on most nights it has no issue receiving the signal from Colorado. I am based in southern Ontario, Canada. The only nights which give the Frogman some issues and cause it to occasionally miss the signal are on Friday and Saturday evenings when there is naturally more mobile phone activity throughout the city. During my extensive use of the Frogman, never did the battery level indicator go below medium.

The light is very crisp and clear on land and in water, but the speaker does have an issue on land. When worn not too tightly, the speaker is barely audible on land. This will annoy the user if they like their watch snug on their wrist, and with such a top-heavy watch, most will prefer to wear it this way. Underwater it transmits sound just fine and is not overly muffled by a wet suit.

The compass is simply delightful to use and utilizes the small circular screen to mimic an analogue compass in addition to a large numeric digital readout. Unlike some other watches by Casio that feature a compass, the Frogman is tilt-corrected for use underwater.

The only feature which I sorely missed on this watch was the sunrise/sunset feature which I have on my first-generation Rangeman. I typically use this feature on a daily basis and now thankfully have it on my Garmin which resides on my right wrist on most days.

Dive Functions

I was very excited when the most recent iteration of the Frogman was announced. I had never been attracted to the previous versions for they did not offer any functionality that was useful for diving besides a timer. In reality, my excitement would prove in time to have been misplaced for the dive functions on this watch are very rudimentary and not a good substitute for a basic backup dive computer.

A look at the Dive Mode in action.

The maximum depth, time/date, and temperature sensor are all that is recorded for your dive logs. Temperature, and depth profiles for the duration of your dive are not displayed, thus not giving you much information about the dive that you already would know by looking at your basic analogue Submersible Pressure Gauges (SPG). To justify the price, the Frogman needs a safety stop calculator which can be done without having to redesign the screen layout. Having actual detailed dive profiles would require different screens and a more robust operating system, and they are sorely missed, especially at this elevated price point. I don’t expect features such as air integration and nitrogen estimates in the Frogman, for basic dive computers in the $500 range do not have these either. Furthermore the ascent alarm of the Frogman did on occasion go off when I raised my hand, or changed my orientation on a dive. I had not experienced this with any other dive computer and it does result in your dive buddy signalling and asking you if everything is okay.

Furthermore, the watch simply did not improve my diving experience in any manner whatsoever and simply become another piece of gear I had to put on and take off. This can be a pain when diving with thick exposure suits when the ambient temperature is high, but the waters that you are diving in that day are cold. Simply having to spend an extra amount of time ensuring that a piece of sincerely useless gear is securely on without resulting in equipment squeeze while wearing an exposure suit on a hot day is not pleasant. Redundancy in one’s trim is good to have, but carrying needless gear is just a waste and distracts from the dive itself.

As a result these features feel like a gimmick in practise and would be of use for the most recreational of divers, which leads me to the biggest problem I have with this watch and Casio. This is the price and what else is on offer today in the market by other manufacturers.

Conclusion

Casio as of the last couple of years has received a challenge from smart watches, activity trackers and GPS-enabled sports watches and based on their recent efforts it is obvious that they have been blindsided and are desperately trying to keep up and stay relevant. Sadly, they are executing this very poorly in every case where their offerings are severely dated and overpriced.

With their most recent Rangeman, Casio has tried to implement GPS mapping but only could do so by using waypoints due to it’s limited operating system. This functionality can be had in a Garmin ForeTrex 401 for less than $200. The Rangeman almost costs $1000 Canadian. A Garmin Fenix 5+ which has full actual maps and a bevy of other modern and useful features regarding GPS mapping costs about the same as the new Rangeman. Notice I did not include any of the dozens of other features a Fenix series has. The Fenix series of watches by Garmin are also ridiculously tough with their use of composites so the G-Shock does not have a real world advantage in this matter either. The new Rangeman also requires an external charger if the GPS features are used so the comfort in your watch being self-reliant for power is also not the case here. I genuinely was and I am still astonished by why and how many within the watch industry and very educated collectors and consumers are excited for this watch. The allure of a G-Shock should in reality only go so far.

Casio has recently implemented step trackers as well in their G-Shocks but this also falls short of many activity trackers in the market for the same price. These are attractive options for those who want the very most basic of activity-tracking features but must have a G-Shock.

Yet another watch made obsolete by the Garmin Descent Mk 1

The Frogman comes with very rudimentary diving features that resemble the earliest dive computers and it costs $1200 Canadian. My Garmin Descent Mark 1 cost $1250. This is a big problem. My Garmin Descent is an actual full-featured dive computer that also uses GPS to guide one back to their boat or the shore in case they get lost after a dive at the surface due to an incident or an unexpected strong drift. The Garmin has several dive modes and is customizable as well and it is my backup to my Shearwater Perdix Ai. The Garmin is also a fully featured GPS-enabled sports watch that I use on a daily basis for working out and for activity-tracking purposes.

Making matters worse, manufacturers like Shearwater have released full technical dive computers which can be worn daily as watches. This Shearwater Teric can be worn by more people than the Frogman and on many more occasions as it is now not uncommon to see men and women wearing GPS-enabled sports watches at formal events with formal attire. This landscape is changing at a rate that Casio can not ever hope to compete in.

The build quality of the Frogman and the most recent Rangeman however are fantastic and worth every penny for users who want the G-Shock look with some recreational “adventure” features. Whether that be a cumbersome GPS waypoint system or basic dive information, these watches will make those who rarely use these features very happy.

If you are an avid diver or hiker I would not recommend these watches. Get a Garmin, the aforementioned Shearwater Teric or a Suunto instead. The battery lives on these watches are amazing and you will actually use the data productively to plan out your day and future activities.

Personally I was very happy with my Frogman and have used it to its maximum potential and will never do so again. Not only has it simply been replaced and made obsolete by the Garmin, but it also does not offer an easy “at a glance” reading of the time that a good analogue dive watch does. To time anything while in timekeeping mode as well, one would have to cycle through the menus to reach the stopwatch making it obsolete when compared to a conventional diving bezel. I now only wear this watch when I know I am about to embark on an activity that might break another watch. This is true because if my Frogman does indeed break, I would not miss it.

In conclusion I would not recommend this watch to anyone unless they want unparalleled build quality in a G-Shock. Otherwise you would be better served elsewhere either by Casio itself or by another brand for a lot less money. It should also be noted that these modern devices are starting to have very real medical importance and are starting to approach medical-grade devices. Casio has been the leader in digital sports watches for decades and now is being overtaken by other brands which are a lot more functional and reasonable in terms of price, and modern features such as activity tracking, heart rate and sleep monitoring, just to name a few. As someone who has loved all of Casio’s offerings since I was a child, I am worried about the brand being left behind and in a few years. Casio should not be concerned about those who use their watches as daily tools to tell the time, or love them for the fashion aspect. Casio does however need to address those who use these watches in professional and near professional “enthusiast” circumstances, for there are many better options out there in the market, and they keep advancing at a pace that Casio has shown themselves incapable of matching.

Time of writing August 1st 2018