Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Highgear Alterra Watch

Highgear specializes in compact and affordable navigation tools for the outdoor enthusiast. They have recently introduced a tactical line of their popular products which have been made in more subdued colors. One of these watches is the Alterra also known as the Altiforce in the tactical line. Note that the link to the Alterra is not the tactical line as they are still in the works of creating this portion of their web page, but you can see the tactical line at Extreme Outfitters.

The Alterra is a lightweight (2.8oz) and advanced navigational tool/watch which is water resistant to 50 meters. The watch is made of a plastic material with a rubber band, and although it's a larger watch it's fairly streamlined and not bulky at all. The band is a good length for all sizes. I have thin wrists and there isn't too much extra strap flopping around, but enough left over for larger wrists. The band also has a slightly raised area at the end to prevent the band "keeper" from moving past the end of the band so that it stays in place.

The crystal is mineral glass so that it's resistant to scratching. The buttons are streamlined so that they don't stick out and catch on gear, but easy to push.

The battery (CR2032) is user replaceable. It doesn't require any tools...you can use a coin to open up the back to replace the battery. Any other similarly shaped/sized item can be used as well. This makes battery changes in the field easy.

The backlight on this watch I like. The reason is because when you press the light button it lights up for a few seconds, if at any time while the backlight is lit you press another button it resets the backlight time. This way you can use the watch at night and still be able to set features because the backlight will stay on until you stop pressing buttons.

I'll do a good majority of this review by going through each mode and hitting most of the functions in each mode:

Time Mode:

1. Time display in either 12 or 24 hour format, with the day and date along with one of the following also displayed on the screen: temperature, barometric pressure, altitude - or - the last screen option is the graph of the barometric pressure with the time and temperature displayed on the top and bottom.

2. Dual time display by pressing one button, hold that same button for a few seconds and the main time display will change to the second time zone.

3. When the temperature or barometric pressure are displayed there is also a weather forecast icon that displays the predicted weather for the next few hours based on the barometric pressure trends. It displays the sun, the sun partially blocked by clouds, clouds, or clouds with rain. This is the only thing I've had a problem with on this watch. This icon didn't seem to be working so the company replaced the watch. The icon worked fine while the watch was still in the box, however, when I put the watch on the icon stayed the same and never changed no matter what the weather was. It was kind of disappointing, but I can still predict the weather changes by the changes in barometric pressure.

Compass Mode:

1. Time displayed at the top of the screen.

2. degrees displayed at the bottom of the screen.

3. cardinal direction in the middle of the screen.

4. I have found this to be pretty accurate. Obviously you want to use this as a backup compass and use a regular compass when you can, but it stays pretty accurate. I would recalibrate it just before using it, which is fairly easy and they suggest setting the watch on top of a glass or can to make this easier. Good advice.

5. Adjustable declination.

6. 1 degree resolution.

Barometric Pressure Mode:

1. Can be displayed with the barometric graph in the main screen area with the sea level baro at the top and either the time, temperature, or absolute baro on the bottom. Or displayed with the temperature in the middle display with the sea level baro on top and absolute baro on the bottom.

2. This barometric pressure seems to be quite accurate when I compare it to the local weather station.

3. To get the best temperature reading, take the watch off for approximately 15-20 minutes to let the watch adjust to room temperature. Otherwise the temperature is effected by your body heat.

4. Baro pressure can be displayed in inHG or Mbar and temp can be displayed in C or F.

5. Thermometer range: 14 degrees F to 122 degrees F.

Altimeter Mode:

1. Range from -2,303ft to 30,058ft.

2. 3ft resolution

3. Current, Accumulated and maximum altitude.

4. Measurements in feet or meters.

5. Can display altitude in center with rate or time at top and temp at bottom; or graphical altitude trend in the middle with the time at the top and altitude at bottom; or ascent or descent in the middle with rate at the top and temp at the bottom.

6. Rate of ascent and descent.

7. Altitude alarm to let you know when you've reached a specified altitude.

8. 15 altitude logs which show average ascent and descent, total ascent and descent, number of hills and total time. This is a great feature for logging your trips so you can later recall.

9. Most digital altimeters I have used lose their accuracy fairly fast because they're based on barometric pressure which changes frequently. This results in constantly having to update the altitude. I have found this altimeter to be quite accurate even with baro pressure changes, and frequent altitude adjustments aren't necessary. Part of this is the quality of the instrument. Part of this is also due to a feature that this altimeter has that locks the altitude when you've been at that same basic altitude for a certain amount of time. Once locked, slight barometric pressure changes do not affect the altitude....so when you're at base camp your altitude will stay relatively accurate....once you start to move up or down, the altitude is unlocked automatically. A really great feature.

10. In the setting mode of this function you can specify 3 altitudes for known locations. This way when you want to update the altitude when you're at one of those locations it's just a matter of the push of a couple of buttons, instead of having to scroll through to get to the right altitude. This is also a very handy feature. I have my home altitude and 2 locations that I frequently hike at set in this feature.

Chronograph mode:

1. 1/100 second resolution with 24 hour max.

2. Maximum of 50 laps/20 runs.

3. Lap/split times with best and average lap times (chronograph log).

4. I haven't used this feature too much...but it's your basic stopwatch with the option to save the results for later viewing.

Ski Chronograph mode:

1. With this mode you input the base altitude and use the current altitude from the altimeter. You press start and it gives you a 10 second countdown then starts the chronograph. The chrono stops at the base altitude or you can manually stop it if you do not reach the base.

2. Calculates speed of descent.

3. I have not used this feature yet as I don't ski, however, you could use this for hiking as well if you wanted.

Alarm Mode:

1. 2 daily alarms

2. This area is where you turn the chime on and off. The chime controls the hourly chime and the button beeps....so if the chime is on the buttons will beep when pressed as well. I wish there were separate controls for each of these. I like having the hourly chime but I'd rather not have the buttons beep when I press them.

3. The alarm is louder than several other watches I've used, which I like. Not sure if it'd wake me up in the morning, but louder than other watches and sufficient for most users.

I am not easy on my watches, I do not baby them. I have worn this watch daily for a while and I have worn it swimming, hiking, camping, while at work, working out, etc, etc. The watch still looks and works like the day I got it. It has never failed and it's a very impressive watch. I can't say enough about it...especially the accuracy of the altimeter in comparison with the competition.

The only thing I would like to see on this watch that it doesn't have is a countdown timer. I use this feature a lot on my watches and it's something I'd love to have.

All in all Highgear makes some quality products and if they have a watch with the features you like...consider buying their brand.

Available in black with regular display, black with negative display, graphite with regular display.

MSRP: $170.00

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