Timepiece of the century

If any of you had a feeling that my inexpensive watch story on this blog was incomplete and needed a kind of sequel, you were probably right, and now, the time has finally come to tie it off. But in order to do this properly, I need to first recall how it all started for me long ago.

My first “serious” wristwatch I was able to buy myself was a Casio F-201W. Shortly afterwards, I could afford a model on a metal band. And this model was a “true” Illuminator, the W-756D. I didn’t consider it cool overall but it did the job pretty well, so it was cool enough for me. This model, along with a humble but full-steel three-hander MTP-1219A, guided me through the toughest times of my life I can remember. Then, as these times were about to be over, I started collecting more and more interesting watches, including quite expensive ones, but still returned to the Illuminator series from time to time, including my first solar-powered watch, the W-S200HD, and the notorious AQ-160 where I discovered a possibility to switch to the other module’s firmware by resoldering a jumper on the board, after which the world time function disappeared but the moon calendar and tide graph appeared. But all this was a long time ago. After these two models, I hadn’t owned anything from this series for all these years until 2023 when I purchased an AW-80 and AMW-870 I have already reviewed here. But now, the time has come to look at the practicality from a bit different angle, and I want to conclude my budget timepiece saga with another great, CR2025-powered, but this time fully digital Casio Illuminator.

Casio AE-2000W

Why the AE-2000W? Well, this particular lineup — AE-1000W, AE-1100W, AE-1200WH, AE-1400WH and AE-2000W — is functionally fully identical so you can literally choose by the looks and your own design preferences only, e.g. if you like a 5-button setup with the light button on the front plate, you can choose AE-1400WH, if you look for a square-shaped one to replace your boring cheapo F-201W, you can choose AE-1200WH and so on. I, however, have finally settled upon the AE-2000W as my day-to-day beater watch because it still has two features the others (even the newer and a bit different AE-1500WH and AE-3000W models) don’t have: its glass is mineral and flat (and actually protected by the bezel, by the way) and its water resistance is 20 bar rated (WR200). Yes, every other AE-illuminator (except the AE-2100W which is essentially an AE-1000W with all the external goodies from AE-2000W, but I never saw any major store selling it here; probably because a large batch of them had faulty displays) has WR100 and acrylic glass. Not to mention the AE-2000W (and AE-2100W, but again, who cares?) has an actual stainless steel insert (not just a faceplate like in W-756D, but an insert) between the bezel and the case around the screen, compared to the cheaper models where all the silver-colored elements, if there are any, actually consist of painted plastic, and that paint, as we know, tends to peel off over time. And I, remembering the same thing happened on my W-756D (which did, however, have a metal cover on a part of its body) and W-S200HD (which didn’t) and anticipating the same thing to happen on the AW-80 if I wear it 24/7 (which I’m tending not to), am actually very glad that any non-metal body parts of the AE-2000W are not painted in silver.

The model number itself though reminds me of even earlier times, the times of my childhood, when everything around us automatically got 50% cooler if it had the number 2000 in its name. Yeah, anticipating the upcoming millenium was a big deal in the 1990s (and I think it started in 1980s or even 1970s). Even into the first half of the 2000s, some product and company brands incorporated this number to show they’re living up to the standards of the new century. And yes, despite being first released in 2010 (as a “higher-end” version of AE-1000W released the same year), this Casio model definitely shares almost all the coolness attributes with what we had expected from an inexpensive electronic watch back in the nineties, while being much cheaper yet more presentably looking than most G-Shocks we could afford back then and even now. Indeed, IRL it looks and feels like a serious tool it definitely is, almost like a “poor man’s ProTrek” (and I would gladly use that title hadn’t it already been earned by the friggin’ Sports Gear subseries and the SGW100 in particular), not like an oversized plastic toyish gizmo that most digital G-Shocks and Illuminators, unfortunately, still look like. Only the single-LED amber backlight reveals its “lower-class” origins, but it works just fine and is forgivable for the quality of everything else here.

Indeed, if this watch was released back in 2000 (even for the price it was released in 2010), it would become a wonder for most of those who could not afford more prestigious watches or didn’t think they would ever need them (remember that even MTPs/LTPs were still made of painted brass instead of stainless steel back then), a low-budget pinnacle of the decade and the whole century. It might, although that’s unlikely, even outperform the phenomenon of F-91W and MQ-24. But in 2010, when anyone with spare $100 would rather buy a cheap phone of terrible quality than a cheap watch of good quality (or even a pair of them), the hype was over and this model never caught the wave of popularity it deserved. And the next year’s epic failure with a cringey-looking AE-1100W and a “higher-end” AE-2100W with faulty components just made the situation even worse. In 2012 though, Casio attempted to revive the hype (or at least the reputation of the lineup) by releasing the only square model in this set, the AE-1200WH, that resembles some vintage Seiko used by James Bond in the Octopussy movie (don’t ask me anything about it, call me a heretic but I only recognize the Craig’s timeline as the true one), and people even dubbed it “Casio Royale”… I really facepalmed when I first saw this moniker, but I doubt it was given by Casio themselves, more likely it was the same bunch of “geniuses” who first called the GA-2100 “CasiOak”. Yes, the 1200 was (and still is) very good for its price (they even added a second LED to the backlight) and thus became one of the most popular digital watches of the previous decade, so popular that even Skmei started copying its design along with the other famous Casio models (yes, just let that sink in). But it was too bloody late anyway, and instead of becoming an iconic low-cost, best-value electronic watch to be loved by everybody, it, as well as the entire AE series, only became loved by those who still were interested in wristwatches in general, and “watches as tools and not jewellery” in particular. Speaking of which, the mere existence of watch blog/forum snobs discussing with serious faces whether or not something like Rolex or Panerai can be considered a tool watch just drives me mad. A real tool watch for real people is on my wrist right now. I think it should be outlawed to discuss whether a $5000+ piece of inaccurately ticking metal can be a tool watch while over a half of the Earth’s population is starving and has nothing to wear. Not saying such issues would never be possible in a really healthy society, but on the other hand, in a really healthy society, mechanical watches would be much cheaper than quartz as they perform their function of telling the time much more poorly, and such a thing as luxury product market wouldn’t exist at all even on a conceptual level.

But I digress, let’s get back to the current state of things and the AE-2000W which makes it not so depressing. As I said, I chose this model over the 1200 or other options because it has WR200 rating, a flat mineral glass crystal protected by the bezel, a true metal insert and, what I didn’t mention yet, more useful area percentage taken by the display that also allowed to make the main digit font a bit larger and legible than the usual. I also really like the texture of the buttons (not too small, not too big, very comfortable to press) and the fact that this watch doesn’t have any fake screws — the four front-side screws are real and actually do hold the bezel in place. Also, if all that is not enough for you in terms of entering the G-Shock realm, here’s another fact: the module is held in place inside the case with four little soft bumpers between itself and the backplate. Another thing is the strap. It’s very comfortable (almost MQ-24-grade comfortable) while looks and feels very durable (we’ll see how long it lasts), and it has large grooves on the inside to prevent the keeper from moving around by itself (a common problem for budget Casio straps that are usually stiffer and don’t have grooves that big, like the ones in AW-49H or AW-80 or even F-91W). The keeper itself also looks like it’s going to last much longer than usually. So, after the stock straps used in MQ-24/MQ-71 and in G-2900F, this is the third one that I actually don’t want to change for a NATO or a metal bracelet, as it already is perfectly fine for me in its factory state and, just like with G-Shocks, also plays an important role in the impact protection of the watch. But how well will this strap actually hold up? Only time will tell. Including the time this watch itself will tell me.

If you ask me about the downsides of this model, I just cannot think of any right away. Probably, they could make the case a bit thinner (to resemble a ProTrek even more) and make the protective bezel part out of metal too. They could make the strap just a tidbit shorter, so that I wouldn’t have to move the keeper up to the very bumper zone. They could move the LCD screen closer to the glass and make it have a bit better viewing angle when looking from below. They could implement a pulsing light alarm feature, like in DW-5600E, or introduce an ability to manually edit the timezone database right on the watch itself, or expose a digital count adjustment menu for accuracy correction similar to what was done in Elektronika-55 series watches. But all these are very minor things to complain about, especially for this sub-$100 price. Also, I saw someone on the Internets complaining that the backlight amber LED in this watch is pathetically weak, and AE-1200WH and AE-1400WH are much better as they have two LEDs instead of one. I don’t know what they are talking about but you can read the entire screen, even the top-right indicators, using this single LED. If the light is so weak that you cannot do this, it just means the time has come to replace the battery, nothing else. Speaking of replacing the battery, it can be done by mere mortals without special tools and only requires a small screwdriver and probably tweezers. Just make sure to put the rubber o-ring exactly in place afterwards, and probably lubricate it with something hydrophobic before screwing the caseback. And then you won’t have to worry about replacing it again for a long, long time…

As with most digital Illuminators, this watch is full of small but interesting details. For example, it doesn’t have the stupid world map present in other models of this lineup and even the newer AE-3000W model (just to make it clear, AE-1500WH, that doesn’t have it either, is newer than AE-3000W: the former came out in 2021 and the latter in 2016). But it does have an analog time LCD subdial right on the vertical axis of the watch just above the main display. This subdial always shows the current home time regardless of which mode the watch is in. I always thought that this subdial (or similar functional, not decorative, analog graphs) is what actually makes the entire AE series an AE series, as AE most probably stood for “analog electronic” since the very 1980s, but the release of AE-3000W and then AE-1500WH brutally violated this tradition. And guess what: here, this subdial even has individual minute/second markers, but it doesn’t look as obnoxious as in AE-1200WH or AE-1000W. Same goes for the visual 10-second period counter (which turns into 0.1-second counter in the stopwatch or timer mode, and shows a nice “scanning” animation when switching between any modes) to the left of this subdial and the set of three functional indicators to the right: they are very subtle and don’t draw much attention when it is not necessary. In fact, this is probably the first Illuminator among these where the main display visually takes more than a half of the entire dial, and other elements just look as auxiliary as they ought to be. Someone might say it was only done right in AE-1500WH (which is one of the most legible digital watches in the world, just shouldn’t have been assigned an AE model prefix), but first, compare the release years of these two, second, compare their linear dimensions, third, what prevented Casio from equipping the 1500 with a mineral glass and giving it a better water resistance rating? Too many things done wrong for one thing done right. Although both of them are extraordinarily great as field watches.

Unlike AW-80, the test screen here (also called by the usual Mode+Adjust+Search combo) doesn’t display any segments that are actually unused. This test screen, however, actually shows 3198-10 as the module board revision, but 3198 is the module from AE-1000W, this one has 3199. So, as these watches were released at the same time, this means the module firmware itself is capable of operating in both “world map” and “10-second counter” modes, probably a matter of the jumper configuration on the board. Another interesting detail is something mentioned in the manual as the “Auto Display” function. It can be turned on by holding down the Search button for 3 seconds, and turned off by pressing any button afterwards. The manual doesn’t really explain what this function does except saying “Auto Display continually changes the contents of the digital display”. What it really does is auto-scrolling between all the four world time zone presets you have set up. Yes, this series allows you to select three time zones to scroll through with the Search button in the regular timekeeping mode (making it four screens in total including your home time). And this “auto display” feature makes it scroll automatically every two seconds. That’s it. By the way, as all other watches in the AE series (except a totally different AE-1300WH which is focused on countdown timers and has a dot matrix area), this watch really pays a lot of attention to world time features. You get your selection of UTC and 48 world cities, use the aforementioned quick display for the three of them in addition to your home one, and you can individually turn DST flag on and off for every single one of them except the UTC, of course. Do you already get the idea of what I’m about to tell you? Yes, that means 48 bits of information we can set right away. Now, let’s add the selection of 49 zones for each of the three additional screens (117649 combinations in total) and it turns out we easily can encode 64 bits using just the world time feature of this watch without affecting the home time at all. But then, there also are five friggin’ alarms that can be set to one of the three states: off, 1-on or daily. Even without turning them on, just by setting the time on them, we can encode |5 * log2(24 * 60)| = 52 bits. And then, there is a 24-hour countdown timer that can be set with 1-second resolution. Again, even without turning it on, it allows us to encode another |log2(24 * 60 * 60)| = 16 bits. So, these three features alone — world time, alarms and countdown timer — give us 132 bits of data to hide, and that’s more than enough even for an AES encryption key. Which is why I won’t even proceed further with my calculations (as it is not the main purpose of this post) but I hope you get the gist of the datarunner capabilities of any Illuminator in this series.

Of course, these are kinda extreme measures that are nice to have just in case, but not for everyday life. As far as the normal usage goes, I find the AE-2000W’s extended world time management features helpful anyway. I work for a customer who has facilities located in different parts of the world, and I remember the time difference for only one of them and constantly forget about the other two I need to keep in touch with. So, I have programmed them all as the T-2, T-3 and T-4 for the main screen, and additionally set the WT mode in the main menu to display UTC. Very convenient. As these places also have different DST application rules, I’m also thankful the flags can be set and unset individually whenever needed and don’t just obey the home DST setting I use for my place here. Also, using 1-off alarms as reminders for upcoming sync-up calls is something one can get used to pretty quickly, as well as the timer that starts the entire 24-hour countdown if the setting is left at 0:00:00, so it can also be used as a reminder for something that’s about to happen a full day from now. The stopwatch also comes in handy in some situations, although I probably never had to use the split feature, so even the AE-49H-grade stopwatch is good enough for me. I also appreciate the button mute function that I use in all my G-Shocks but really missing in AW-80/AMW-870 and the 593s and their successors, and the possibility to extend the backlight duration from 1.5 seconds to 3, a feature I also got used to in G-Shocks. So, besides the split feature in the stopwatch and “auto-display”, I really can’t name a function that I’m currently not using here on a regular basis. Probably such a function might be the Adjust+Light combo to quickly swap the currently displayed timezone with the home time, but even that had been used at least once when first configuring the time and date (which were totally messed up), as the home city was set to Tokyo when it arrived to me. Other than that, despite about 60 grams of weight (which is a bit more than the 50-to-55-gram 5600 and 2900 series full-resin G-Shocks, not to mention the AWs and MQs), it really is a kind of watch to easily forget about it being on your wrist, that is, until you actually need to use it.

However, that’s me, someone with reasonable levels of paranoia who currently lives in a village and doesn’t think it’s normal to go to feed chickens while sporting a GMB2100BD or GMW-B5000D. But how about an average person in today’s connected world? Who else can fully appreciate this piece of autonomous technology when everyone around them has a smartwatch or a fitness band on the wrist, or doesn’t have anything there at all? Hipsters? Nah. They won’t understand. They will rather wear (as in wearing a piece of clothing) some “fashion”-branded garbage, or an A158WA or F-91W (both probably fake), or, if they really know their stuff, something like A700WM or A1000M at most. Some of them even may jump onto the AE-1200WH bandwagon (because cheap and square and vintage-looking and not so boring as the 593s), but that’s the limit. They might even choose a Skmei’s knockoff because they don’t give a single F about the battery life or water resistance or glass material, let alone accuracy, as they usually don’t wear watches to see the time. Cheapskates? Again, the ones who don’t fall into the Skmei/Smael/Xinjia/Naviforce/etc trap will rather choose AE-1000W, as it is functionally identical but much cheaper, and won’t care how it will actually look in 10 years and how many scratches it will collect. The 2000 is not the cheapest among all Casios and also not as hyped-up as the 1000/1200, so it is not so attractive target for cheapskates either. Regular engineers, tech geeks and nerds? Maybe, if they are fine with this watch not having any databank, radio sync or solar charging features and consider this a fair trade-off for all the other practical aspects it does have. Lastly, this watch can be a relief for people who just love digital devices and value accuracy but are generally fed up with high tech consumption overwhelming their everyday life (all those apps, notifications, constant need to keep everything charged, updated and online) yet still have to do their job that involves good timing. For such people, this watch can be a good accomplice to their Casio/Citizen/TI scientific calculator, an oldschool electronic phonebook/organizer and a cassette/CD/MP3 player with FM radio.

In short, I can highly recommend this model to anyone who really wants to put an end to their consumerism. I’ve seen some reviewers feature the AE-2000W in the short videos called something like “Watch of the day”. I’d rather call it a “Watch of the century”. Not the one we deserve, but the one we need. And until the end of this century, I’m sure it will last.