Timex Expedition Digital Compass Watch for Men

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A One Trick Pony

Apr 27, 2012
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Durable. Has a timer. Actually waterproof, compass actually works. Big buttons, and has a backlight.

Cons:Nylon-on-leather watchband is poorly designed on a couple of fronts. Replace it.

The Bottom Line: For the 0.02% of us who need a compass in a watch, this had the gadget factor for you. For the rest of us it's not bad, either.


The world is full of silly things, or at least things that are silly for most people to own in most situations, and at the very least utterly absurd for someone to purposefully go out and buy for very little reason at all.

So it is with watches, especially "sport" watches, which are beginning to come offered with features the purposes of which, at a short glance, are unfathomable for most people. It used to be that the pinnacle of a featureful watch was having a calculator in it (better still if you could still use it to tell the time) but now a watch's premium price tag can be justified by a barometer and altimeter, a pulse rate monitor, a step counter, an address book, or saints preserve us, a GPS receiver.

So it is with this Timex Expedition, Model 865, whose schtick is having a digital compass in it.

It used to be the height of outdoorsyness, or at least your desire to broadcast to the world your prowess at such, to have a watch with one of those spectacularly useless dime-sized button compasses on the band.  I can say this for the compass in the Expedition: Its compass actually works, and in a situation where you are in need of quick access to a rough heading might actually be useful. Despite the fact that 99% of the time I will have absolutely no use for having a compass readily available on my person at all times (my home area being in quite close proximity to a river that denotes which direction is exactly east is helpful), I bought one anyway.

I believe the primary function of the compass is so you can show off your preparedness to your mates, in the same vein as standing around at the campsite going, "yeah, well I've got a Swiss Army knife with two corkscrews on it." I didn't buy the Expedition 865 for the compass -- It didn't hurt to have it, because more gadget factor is always good -- I bought it because it also has a countdown timer function, which I use fairly regularly and most watches for some unknown reason seem to lack. I also bought it because it was cheap, and outdoorsy, and not too terribly gaudy or overstated. I've also had good luck with Timex watches in the past, especially in the department of finding them to actually be waterproof and not just claiming to be waterproof, with a manufacturer's "lifetime warranty" explicitly not covering the watch turning out to not actually be waterproof after all.

The Expedition 865 is quite waterproof. I've thought nothing of washing dishes or jumping in a swimming pool while wearing it, and it has thought nothing of it either, as I've owned it for a good three years now and I haven't managed to so much as get any condensation behind the glass, let alone fill it with liquid. I abuse it regularly, and as the famous jingle goes it's kept on ticking.

Speaking of ticking, it ticks off quite a few of the usual digital watch features, or at least those you'd expect in a watch you didn't buy from the dollar store. It tells the time and date, obviously, including the day of the week (though not the year, and thus can't figure out leap days for you), has a stopwatch feature and can do split times, incorporates a countdown timer, and can be used as an alarm clock. And, of course, it's got that digital compass. Most of the features are fairly basic. It only keeps time in one time zone, for instance, and there are no multiple alarms. The countdown timer can only be set to start at whole minutes, and for some unknown reason has a maximum countdown height of 99 minutes. The alarm is a simple on or off deal, and can't be set to only go off on certain days of the week, etc. It's sort of refreshing that most of the features are so basic, because what it does is pretty much all I ever need anyway, and while it would be nice if you could, say, set the countdown timer for precisely one hour, twelve minutes, and forty seven seconds, it leaves the user interface much simplified over many other watches I've owned. I'd even go so far as to say that mere mortals could probably figure out how to set and use all the functions of the thing without using the manual, after playing with it for five or ten minutes.

It helps that the watch face tells you, when you press a button, what pressing and holding it will do. The function of all the buttons is consistent across all features. That is to say, the "set" button does what you think it would do, and the watch will tell you "hold to set" if you press it, reminding you that you have to hold it down for some seconds to put it into "set mode," so that things don't happen to the time on your watch without your consent. It works the same way across all of the feature modes (accessed with the "mode" button, of course), and even the compass calibration gives you instructions on the watch face.

The Expedition also lights up with Timex's trademarked "Indiglo" (aka electroluminescent backing) feature, which ought not to be worth a mention, but apparently the even quite expensive designer watches are suddenly coming without lights in them these days for some reason. Rest assured that this one lights up, and the button to make it light up is a big fat easy to find one right on the face, which is another feature I like.

Actually, all of the buttons on the Expedition are big and fat, as opposed to those highly-sprung, tough-to-press "pinprick" buttons that are still popular on lots of digital watches. It's even possible to use the buttons while wearing gloves.

The compass feature is there, and it does what it's supposed to. By pressing the "heading" button, the date display changes to a heading display. It doesn't give you an actual compass style arrow pointing towards North, but instead displays the heading of the top of the watch (provided you hold it level, and parallel to the ground) in shorthand fashion (N, NNE, NE, E, etc.) as well as heading in degrees. Like all digital compasses it has to be calibrated before it will give you anything resembling a meaningful result, which is done by holding the heading button for a while (it will say "Hold To Cal.") and spinning around on the spot twice (which the watch's screen will also give you instructions for). You are then given the opportunity to set the magnetic declination, provided you are one of the six people on the planet that A) knows what declination is, and B) knows what the correct value should be for their particular spot on the globe. (Hint: You can look it up online, but not if you're already out in the bush.)

The bezel is marked with the cardinal directions and rotates, but very clickily. This means you can kinda-sorta use the Expedition as an orienterring compass, but since you can't lay it down on a map and line it up with the grid lines properly it's a little bit limited in that regard.

The principal issue I have with this watch is the strap, which is leather faced with woven nylon, and while very stylish and outdoorsy isn't designed with much thought. It uses the usual belt style pin-through-the-hole arrangement, and has two keepers for... well, keeping the loose end of the strap from flapping around. One of them slides freely up and down the length of the strap, and therefore constantly slips off the tail end. The other one is firmly sewn to the strap, but is placed entirely too close to the clasp so that getting the tail end of the strap through it in the first place is almost a three handed job.

Also, the inside of the strap is unwisely made of leather rather than the outside. It's also made of cheap leather, and not treated very well. Basically the instant it gets wet via sweat, which for an outdoor "sports" watch is likely to happen very soon, it gets bacteriologically active and starts to stink. Since it's so porous, and since it's made of organic leather that bacteria presumably love to munch on, it also resists pretty much any attempt at cleaning it. I managed to disinfect mine a couple of times by completely soaking it in high-proof alcohol, but this worked only up until the exact instant that all the alcohol dried out of the leather.

So, I went to the mall and spent six dollars on a nylon and Velcro "sport watch" band, similar to the ones that older Timex Expeditions came with. The Expedition 865 uses regular old spring pins to hold the band on, and can be fitted with any regular old 3/4" inch watch band. The one I bought was actually marked "for Expedition," so presumably lots of other watches in Timex's long lived and bewilderingly varied Expedition line use the same size bands.

With the stock band the Expedition 865 was serviceable. With my new one it's much better. So much better, in fact, that you might want to consider the six bucks for a new band part of the purchase price of the watch.

The casing is thick plastic, and so is the lens. The bezel with the compass markings on it sticks out quite a ways and protects the lens itself from getting scraped against things, unless you happen to rub up against something particularity pointy and ill-placed. I haven't managed to noticeably scratch mine yet, and the numbers displayed on the face are big and chunky enough that you could probably take a piece of sandpaper to the face of your watch and still be able to read it. The back is stainless steel, and is held in place with regular little tiny screws. Replacing the battery should be easy enough and just require a small screwdriver; no fancy watch clamps or oyster knives or anything else required.

As said, I've owned mine for at least three years now. I wear it everywhere, every day. It's survived multiple camping trips, getting dunked in liquid countless times, being worn when working on cars, biking, gardening, welding, running the angle grinder, and everything in between and barely shows so much as a scratch.

The compass feature is nice, but not necessary. It means that the gadget factor is there, if that's what you're looking for in a watch. Otherwise, everything else performs as advertised and as expected. The ergonomics are nice, using the thing isn't too difficult, and it seems to have durability to spare. If you can get around the silly watchband it comes with (or just replace it) you could do a lot worse in buying a sports watch than the Expedition 865, and you could pay a lot more for something a lot worse, too. Basic, inexpensive, understandable, and performs exactly as advertised -- If only everything else in the world could be so simple.

Recommended.


Recommend this product? Yes


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