HANDS-ON with the Seiko Astron GPS

The Seiko Astron GPS Solar doesn’t have the clean beauty of the NOMOS Nomos Zürich Weltzeit or the classicism and elegance of the Patek 5130 World Timer, but as a purely functional travel watch (not to mention its accuracy) that is price-accessible to far more people, it is, dare I say, just pretty damn cool and desirable.

Some may think that the target market is tech/ geeky/ gadget-loving males and geeky male watchnerds. I admit that I thought this, and I went to look at them with the expectation that I’d find them interesting in a distant-admiration sort of way, but that they were highly unlikely to really appeal to me on an aesthetic or tech-geeky level.

My preconceptions were, I admit, challenged.

I still suspect that it will appeal most to those with a liking for gadgets and for watches, but against all expectations, I found myself being really quite taken with them. Perhaps it was a lot to do with the sheer fun of pressing the GPS activation pusher and watching the seconds hand move that I liked. It is actually rather amazing, and when you think about the fact that Seiko have some one hundred patents for this watch, including for micro GPS technology, it’s really quite an astonishing little bit of wristwear.

Firstly, for a summary about the Astron GPS (including model variations), see this earlier post. This is Seiko’s first solar powered GPS watch, using a patented low-energy receiver that picks up GPS signals and identifies the time zone, time and date using at least four GPS satellites, covering thirty-nine time zones. The watch updates automatically once a day, and also on demand.

Because I have covered the specs before, I will not repeat them but focus on what it is like to have on your wrist and play with ‘in the metal’.

Firstly, size. When writing about it after its Baselworld announcement (for another blog), I mentioned that at 47mm, it would probably be too large for most people. This is another thing that I will have to retract. It is definitely large, and especially for a Seiko, but it sits on the wrist more like a 44mm case, and is quite lightweight, whether in stainless steel or titanium. The case shape and lugs mean that it is far more comfortable than you’d intuitively expect of a 47mm case.

I tried both the bracelet and the silicone strap versions. My preference is for the latter, and to some degree I think that the watch seems smaller on silicone for those whose preference is not for such a large watch, but the bracelets are solid and comfortable. The rest (colour, steel vs. titanium, the limited edition versus regular production models etc) is a matter of personal taste.

In terms of the original PR photos versus ‘in the metal’, the Astron GPS stacks up well. If you liked it in the photos, there’s a pretty strong likelihood that you will like it when you try it on. One thing that was harder to pick up in the publicity photos is that this is a very architectural watch. The dial has a lot of actual physical depth, the hour markers standing up in sharp contrast to the rest of the dial, giving it a 3D almost canyon-like effect.

So, how do you activate the GPS reception? Well you press on the pusher at 2 o’clock for six seconds, at which point the seconds hand will jump to 6 o’clock to let you know that it is ready to receive the signal. It will then jump to the hour number indicating how many satellite signals it is trying to get reception from i.e. if it jumps to 4 o’clock, it is trying to receive information from four satellites. It will then take between 30 seconds and two minutes to receive these signals, at which point your watch will sync. How accurate is it? To 1 sec.

The pusher at 4 o’clock is for setting the time zone. A quick push will show your current time zone and then jump back to regular time keeping. If you push and hold it for more than 4 seconds, you will be able to manually adjust the time zone – use the 2 o’clock (or 4 o’clock) pusher to scroll through the cities listed and then the hands can calibrate to the selected time zone. Press the 10 o’clock pusher to reset to your current time zone.

If you are wondering how important the launch of this technological advance is for Seiko, take a look at this video of its Europe launch.

If you are under any illusion of how popular this watch already is, a mere matter of weeks after its launch it has not only been a hot topic online and even been covered by generalist men’s magazines, but Seiko sold a truly astonishing one thousand odd Astron GPS watches in Japan in the first week of its launch. Yes you read correctly – 1,000.

Five days after its arrival in Sydney (not exactly known as a hotbed of Seiko aficionados), which had a far smaller initial allocation, it had sold so well that there are now two left.

If you are in Australia, the Astron GPS it is not readily available. There is one authorised dealer in Melbourne and there will be two in Sydney. At the moment, if you want to take a look/ buy/ order in Sydney, visit or phone Fredman SVW. If in Melbourne, the AD is Salera’s. If you’re not in either city, just give either AD a call. The second Sydney AD Regal is not due to have any for another couple of weeks, and their allocation is as yet unknown.

Which one do I like the most? The SAST011 – it’s the most stealthy looking one. If I was a frequent traveller across time zones, I would find this incredibly handy, and although my preferred watch case size is 36-42mm, I can see myself wearing the Astron GPS.

Seiko have a dedicated Astron website, so should you need help with operating your watch, it is close at hand.

The technological developments of the Astron GPS Solar are incredibly important to Seiko. So much so that they rank it up there with their development of the Spring Drive in 1999, the Seiko Kinetic in 1988, their first ever solar watch (1977) and of course, the world’s first quartz watch, the Astron after which this is named, which was launched in 1969.

You can read about the first Quartz Astron and its sleek 40th anniversary commemorative edition here, about the Spring Drive here, and if you still haven’t had enough of Seiko, take a look at the unusual Izul.



Categories: Hands-on, Japanese watches, Limited Editions, Seiko, Technical, Watch movements, watches

10 replies

  1. Great review! It’s a dauntingly thick watch IMO.

  2. when i read about this from the Basel report, i was really excited. i like what it can do. i like that it’s solar powered. what i wasn’t so excited about was the sometimes cluttered design of some of the versions. as more and more was written about this watch, i felt like i had to have one. but looking at the AU RRP, it sits right up there with the cost of say, a Tudor Pelagos. question then becomes, “sub $5k for a seiko” or the same money for a dress watch. the nerd in me says that the seiko is undoubtedly the no brainer. it’s technologically excited and ‘sexy’. it does more than more dress watches can. and then i also had a tip off on what the RRP was overseas: it made me slightly frustrated that in AU, we were again getting messed around (that’s a euphemism) and denied fair pricing.

    i like the watch, but i would not buy it in AU.

  3. Yup, they rip us off and then ask why we buy on the internet. There is currently a government enquiry into software and digital download pricing that I think needs to broaden its terms of reference greatly. Yes we are a long way away from a lot of sources of supply but that alone doesn’t explain what we are paying.

    Watches look to be hit especially hard by this, MSRP here is far above what is being paid in the US or EU sometimes by several thousand dollars and it’s not like a watch costs a lot to ship is it? The price of the mid range brands (Rolex, Panerai, TAG etc and even some Omega these days) is over inflated enough without us paying a premium just because we live in the Lucky Country.

  4. Interestingly, there is now a Seiko astron app (simulator) for the iPhone. Search for seiko astron in the iTunes store.

  5. You wear the watch really well in the lead photo. May I ask how big your wrist is?

    • Hi – unfortunately that’s not my wrist, but a ‘donor wrist’ for that photo. I agree that it looks really good and can’t tell you how big his wrist but it’s within normal limits, if that helps. Not particularly small, nor large.

  6. Nice review. Posted a link to it and this blog at my forum. Surprised our members from Oz never told me about this site.

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