One thing that always fascinated me about Rick Grimes of The Walking Dead was that he wore a wristwatch. The battery will die, and then what will he do? Sure, he can probably find a stash of power cells and screwdrivers to pop open case backs and swap batteries to his heart’s content, but is that really top of mind during the zombie apocalypse? When safety and food are top priority, modern horological comforts just don’t make the list.
Early episodes of the show always got me thinking: what’s my zombie apocalypse watch? My stranded-on-a-desert-island timepiece that will serve me until I ultimately expire from hunger or the flesh-eating undead? We already established that quartz watches are off the table. What about a mechanical diver? A rugged Seiko SKX007 can handle almost anything I can throw at it, but mechanical parts wear out and it only tells the time. Any watch can be used as a compass, but wristwatch technology is advanced enough now that I can essentially strap a Boy Scout to my wrist. Why settle?
For starters, this watch fit for the end of times is not a Rolex Submariner, or frankly anything Swiss Made. Casio is really the brand that comes to mind, and even much of the US military agrees that G-Shocks are reliable and accurate instruments that perform with no maintenance under the most extreme conditions. You don’t just wear a G-Shock. You survive in it.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been cultivating an interest in tough and water resistant solar-powered watches that boast a few bells and whistles like altimeters, barometers and compasses, often referred to as ABC watches. Not because I’m doomsday-prepping or running off to the military, but instead because I’m searching for a hassle-free and invincible beater that can round out my collection. I’ve examined and enjoyed some G-Shocks and Pro-Treks, but I’ve always had a curiosity for Tissot’s T-Touch. Now that the brand released a solar-powered version at Baselworld this year, it was the perfect time to give the T-Touch a go-around. While Casio is the go-to brand for such instruments, I wanted to see how the Swiss do it. Normally known for being a little more attentive to details (and pricier) than their Japanese counterparts, Swiss Made watches tend to exhibit more concern for the minute touches of a luxury wristwatch that all add up to a signature experience that make it “Swiss.” I wanted to find out if the same holds true when we talk about these diehard ABC watches.
An oversized but lightweight case
This is a big watch, measuring 45mm wide, 13mm thick and 52mm lug-to-lug. Horned lugs on the case contribute to a blockier silhouette and are reminiscent of the T-Complication Squelette we reviewed not too long ago. Rated 100m water resistant, the case on the new T-Touch Solar is constructed of titanium, so while you can see the wrist presence, you’re not likely to feel it. Relative to its size, it’s a feather on the wrist, and the model I’m taking a look at has a further reduced weight given the textile strap. There’s a lot to love about the gunmetal color and barely-there weight of titanium as a case material, but if not treated properly it can be a scratch magnet and the case on the T-Touch seems prone to marks. A coated bezel around the dial features labels for each of the watch’s advanced functions as well as Arabic indexes at the poles for reading the time. The pushers and the T-Touch activator on the right side of the case are coated as well.
Carbon fiber patterned dial
The dial is really where the T-Touch begins to differentiate itself from other ABC watches. Tissot is an established name in Swiss Made luxury watches, and even in this tool watch the dial is well executed to uphold that reputation. The general layout of the dial similar to that of your basic analog-digital watch.On the top half of the dial is a carbon fiber pattern, and since this watch is solar-powered, it’s through this dial that light passes to charge the watch. It’s a cool pattern, albeit a bit plasticky and translucent. The digital display occupies the bottom half, which can be configured to display information in addition to the time. Let’s examine the basic analog timekeeping elements first and then return to the digital capabilities that really extend the utility of this watch.
When it comes to the analog components of basic timekeeping, it’s a rock-solid effort. Tissot produced a high-contrast interface by placing thick, white and luminous hands on a dark, carbon fiber and LCD background. With no seconds hand, the T-Touch appears a very still watch at first, but one of my favorite aspects of the ETA E84.301 movement is how it moves the minute hand forward every 20 seconds, and you’ll catch the advancement every now and then when you glance at the dial. Hour markers extend from the chapter ring that acts as a flange just inside the bezel, adding depth to the dial as every index appears applied. Every other hour marker is a shield that not only aids in legibility but offers guidance as to where the user should touch the sapphire crystal to activate functions like the chronograph or timer.
Using the T-Touch
Not only does the T-Touch have a sapphire crystal, but it’s tactile and that’s how you use all of the watch’s extras. There is no physical “Mode” button jutting out that you can cycle through until you reach the desired function. Press the button on the side of the case for 1 second at 3 o’clock to activate the sensor. When activated, “T-Touch” will flash in the LCD display, and you can touch the corresponding area on the crystal to initiate that particular mode. Once you enter, say, the chronograph mode, the LCD display updates just like any digital watch, and you’ll see 00:00:00 and pressing the top pusher will start the stopwatch. Depending on which mode you enter, the hands may or may not be useful; if they are, as in the case of the compass, they’ll supplement the LCD reading, but if they’re not, as in the case of the chronograph, they’ll rotate until they’re overlapped and pointing at the hour marker that represents that particular function. When you’re finished using a function, simply press on center of the crystal and the LCD will revert back to the reading it displays when the Touch mode is dormant. You have 20 seconds to activate another mode before automatic shut-off of the Touch sensor.
The T-Touch really is a toolbox on the wrist. In regular timekeeping mode, you can toggle the LCD display to show a range of information. The T-Touch can store up to 2 times, so you can display the current local time in digital format in addition to the analog, or alternatively you can use the display as a GMT feature and track a second timezone, both in 24-hour format. Remaining power reserve can be displayed, however not permanently, and finally you can display the day and date, which is what I chose to show during my time with the watch. Once you activate the Touch sensor, you have a slew of functions available to you: barometric pressure (referred to as “Meteo” on the Tissot), altimer, chronograph, compass, timer, up to two alarms and a countdown timer.
The compass is particularly cool, as the alignment and movement of the hands are more like a real compass, smoothly bobbing on the pinion and guiding the way. Other compasses, like those found in the G-Shock Gravity Defier series, repurpose the seconds hand instead of adjusting the hour and minute hands to form one long needle, so the compass movement is choppier.
On the Wrist
What the T-Touch most has going for it is its wearability. Among competitors, it’ll be the most suitable for smaller wrists given its size and weight, but you might find yourself struggling to feel comfortable with such an oversized watch unless you have at least 7-inch wrists. The strap on this particular model is a combination of leather and textile, amounting to a soft and comfortable strap, and it’s complete with a signed Tissot deployant buckle. It’s a sporty watch that will go with a range of outfits, and while it’s probably okay for most office attire, it doesn’t fit in with anything remotely formal. The bracelet and lugs are integrated, so aftermarket straps are out of the question.
At a retail price of $1,150, the Tissot T-Touch Expert Solar is significantly more expensive than popular alternatives from brands like Casio and Citizen that boast similar specifications at half the price. So then what would you be paying for? Elegance. It’s not something you think you want in a watch like this, but there are a lot of wrists out there that can’t tolerate the 16mm thick and 50mm wide G-Shocks. T-Touches resemble relatively basic watches with metal bracelets and leather straps, but the wearer can unlock a ton of useful features using a cool tactile screen that’s much easier to use than a lot of comparable watches. The solar-powered aspect is a very welcome improvement over prior models, adding to its competitiveness, but Tissot is playing a little bit of a different game than Casio, emphasizing the importance of form as well as function. Not everyone wants a hunk of plastic strapped to their wrist, no matter how many bricks you can smash with it.
Although the T-Touch is cool and unique, it doesn’t feel entirely authentic as an outdoorsy watch that can take a beating. I suspect its case will fairly banged up after several months, and this particular piece is a little pricey given relative to alternatives on the market. A G-Shock with comparable specifications retails for about half of the price. If you’re in the market for a tough watch that doesn’t need any hand-holding, then you’ll have to ask yourself if the $600 premium over a top-of-the-line G-Shock is worth it when all it buys you is a tactile screen and the ability to go seamlessly from a 10-mile hike to a conference call. Perhaps if Tissot were to throw in the capability to sync with atomic clocks this particular watch would become a bit more competitive.
On a final note, it’s tough to review these types of ana-digi tool watches on any other basis than a utilitarian one, which unfairly cheapens the watch collecting hobby. If watches were solely about the functions they provide, e.g. telling the time, then there’s no point in spending more than $10. But watch collecting is about much more than that, often more art than science, and for some folks out there this particular watch will hold the je ne sais quoi that makes this worth every penny.