“a consumer reports for the cheap” — the new york times

Cheap Watches Buying Guide

Cheap analog watches with the familiar hour and minute hands are generally considered the dressier option but tend to have few features, although some boast a second hand and date display. Cheap digital watches appeal for their casual styling and typically come with practical tools such as alarm, chronograph (stopwatch), and lap timers.

High on our list of best cheap watches are two analog models -- the Timex Men's Easy Reader T20041 (starting at $29) and the Casio Women's LTP1237D-7A (starting at $21) -- and two digital models -- the Timex Women's 1440 T5J151 (starting at $12) and the Casio Men's WS210HD-1AVCF (starting at $33).

Aside from a few gripes about minor matters, such as easily scratched crystals or vague set-up instructions, these cheap watches score with consumers for style, wearability, and functionality. Two cheap watches that don't rate due to questionable durability or performance are the analog Geneva SW-6886 (starting at $11) for women and the digital Armitron 408177 (starting at $23) for men.

Cheap Watches for Men
Cheap Watches for Women
Watches Reviews

There are several features to note when shopping for a watch. The watch crystal is especially important. Cheap watches have either an acrylic or mineral crystal, mineral being more scratch resistant. The watch's movement -- the mechanism that powers the watch -- is another item to consider. All the watches on our list use a battery-powered quartz movement, which is the most popular movement in the cheap watches segment. (More expensive watches may use an automatic or mechanical movement that relies on a spring mechanism and several intricate pieces to keep track of time.) Some cheap watches can be lit for easy night-time reading, and here Timex watches stand out with the company's proprietary Indiglo technology. Cheap watch cases tend to be made of plastic or stainless steel and popular materials for cheap watch bands include stainless steel, plastic or resin, and leather. Cheap watches are generally water resistant, not waterproof, which means they can survive a shower and a dunk in the pool but probably not deep-water scuba-diving.

Whether you choose a cheap analog watch or a cheap digital watch is largely a matter of preference. But before making your choice, be clear about the purpose you want the watch to serve. If you're looking for a simple accessory to dress up your look or telegraph the time through a visual representation, an analog watch with a leather or metal band is probably the best choice. If you like bells and whistles or want a more casual timepiece, digital is the way to go.

Cheap Watches for Men

As we researched cheap watches for men -- and there are many -- two in particular caught our attention. The analog Timex Easy Reader T20041 (starting at $29) stands apart from the crowd for its durability, accuracy, and easy-reading face. The digital Casio WS210HD-1AVCF (starting at $33) snags a place on our list of best cheap watches for men for its rugged build, accuracy, and rich feature set.

Users of the Timex Easy Reader T20041 heap praise on this cheap watch for men. The majority of comments at Walmart were posted by men at least 55 years old who laud the Indiglo feature that compensates for dim lighting and the plain dial and large numbers that make the watch easy to read for older folks whose vision isn't what it used to be. The resilience of the Timex Easy Reader T20041 is another big draw. Assessments of cheap watches for men tell of users having been loyal to this, or earlier, model(s) over the years -- one served its owner well for more than a decade -- and reports abound of its ability to survive the stress of outdoor chores, such as power washing a walkway. Men say they rely on the dependable time-keeping of the analog Easy Reader T20041 and appreciate the upmarket look of the leather band. Not everyone is thrilled with the wearability of this watch, however; on sites such as Overstock some users say the leather band is too stiff and express doubt about the quality of its leather chops.

Our second favorite among the slew of cheap watches for men, the Casio WS210HD-1AVCF, is made for the great outdoors. Despite some grumbling by several users who mention scratches on the mineral crystal, this cheap watch for men proves to be a handy and reliable time keeper. On Amazon, users commend its accuracy and solar-powered longevity. Its digital technology supports an array of features, such as tide and moon graphs that are much appreciated by surfers and fishermen and a countdown timer that's useful for keeping to a schedule. Note, though, that several users consider these functions a challenge to set and add that the instructions aren't particularly helpful. The LED face is easy to read on this cheap digital watch for men and the stainless steel band wins points for its good looks, although users caution that adjustments to the size (i.e., removing links) call for the tools, skills, and patience of a jeweler.

Frugal and committed athletes are keen on the Timex 30-Lap Ironman T53151 (starting at $24). This is another of the cheap watches for men with digital workings that are rich in the functionalities that meet the needs of swimmers, runners, power-walkers -- even medical professionals. As reviews posted at Amazon point out, users value the ability to time starts and splits and store the results in memory. They also report no problems with water seeping under the crystal while surfing. Reviews of cheap watches for men assert that the Timex 30-Lap Ironman T53151 is accurate and durable, performance qualities that have turned some users into serial buyers who replace long-lived Ironman timepieces that finally gave out with new ones.

The Armitron 408177 is also targeted to athletes but fails to win the level of support extended to the other cheap watches for men that we researched. Users seem to like the black coloration of the resin case and band and one review posted at Target says the square-faced digital watch draws compliments from friends and colleagues. Reviews of cheap watches for men posted elsewhere say the band holds up to sweat without getting sticky or emitting a foul odor and can be worn safely in the shower. On the other hand, some users find the reverse LED face (dark background with light numbers) too dim for easy readability and report programming snafus: the watch seems to periodically reset itself to the default factory settings for time and date and is especially prone to this behavior when you hit the button to set the alarm or light up the face.

Cheap Watches for Women

Equality of buying opportunity is rife in the watch world. We found several cheap watches for women that are every bit as functional, long-lasting, and attractive as the men's varieties. Two cheap watches for women that made a big impression are the digital Timex 1440 T5J151 (starting at $12) and the analog Casio LTP1237D-7A (starting at $21).

Among cheap watches for women, the Timex 1440 T5J151 is our top pick. This model sits near the bottom of the price ladder and wins over users with its fashionable looks and quality performance. Despite its billing as a sports watch, user comments posted at Walmart indicate it's sufficiently attractive, lightweight, and comfortable to be worn all day for whatever occasion, be it on the job in health care or school or while backpacking or working out. That said, you've gotta like pink; several users note that the accent color on this cheap watch for women is more pink than the online images suggest (we found a similar version with what appears to be aqua, or turquoise, coloration). The alarm and 24-hour countdown timer and chronograph (stopwatch) functions are big selling points, although a few users remark that they're somewhat tricky to set up; one says they make the watch smarter than the reviewer. The water-resistant build of the Timex 1440 T5J151 keeps it fog-free when showering or swimming, according to users.

A fancier aesthetic marks the Casio LTP1237D-7A, which nonetheless manages to keep its grip on user-friendly functionality. In posts on Amazon about cheap watches for women users assert the classic, upscale design belies its budget price. The combination of digits and dots denoting the hours gives it an elegant look, and users say the stainless steel band and case match any outfit, rendering it suitable for the usual round of daily activities as well as special events. A few users complain that the minimal contrast between the digits/dots and shell color of the face makes it hard to read the time and others note that a quick trip to the jewelry counter is necessary to remove links on the band for a tighter fit. The Casio brand gets a shout-out in several reviews of cheap watches for women by way of references to its reputation for quality and longevity.

We found two other cheap watches for women, both analog, that bear mentioning. The Timex 2H351 Easy Reader (starting at $35) is another in the manufacturer's line of, yup, easy-to-read cheap watches. And no surprise, comments posted about this model on sites such as Sears extol its virtues for elderly users: large black numbers against a white face and Indiglo technology that lights up the face with the push of a button, enabling dark-of-night time checks. The date function is hard to see, according to some reviewers, but accurate time-keeping is a certainty. (Tip: Remember to set the date first and then the time, otherwise the date will be off by 12 hours.) Users also like the dressy gold expansion band (links can be removed to fit smaller wrists), although one describes it as dull and says the real thing pales in comparison to the picture.

With the Geneva SW-6886, the comfort, sparkle, and $10 starting price for this cheap watch for women seem to outweigh reports of severely limited durability (as in, dead on arrival or after a few wearings) and other assorted ills. In reviews on Overstock, for example, users rave about the bold, fun aesthetic of the cubic zirconia stones ringing the face and the fit and feel of the silicone strap. Some seem so pleased with the look and ease of this cheap watch for women that quality problems don't deter them from wearing one that doesn't work or buying replacements every time one breaks. Other mishaps users report concern stones that fall out, crystals that break, a silicone band that gets sweaty, and inaccurate time.

Watches Reviews

We turned up lots and lots of men's and women's watches for less than $35, which is good news for frugal buyers. Watches reviews indicate that you'll have no trouble finding a nice-looking, reliable model that fits your style, be it a simple, classic analog watch or a more feature-oriented digital model. All of our favorites exhibit the right combination of value, styling, features, and performance.

Watches Crystal.

The "crystal" on a watch doesn't refer to any gems or stones that may be set in the watch but to the clear cover that sits on top of the watch dial. The three most common watch crystals are mineral, acrylic, or sapphire. Mineral crystals are relatively scratch-resistant but not shatter-proof. Most cheap watches, including our top picks -- the men's Timex Easy Reader T20041 and Casio WS210HD-1AVCF and the women's Timex 1440 T5J151 and Casio LTP1237D-7A -- feature a mineral crystal. Acrylic is the least expensive crystal to manufacture and the least likely to shatter, but it does scratch easily (buffing may remove shallow scratches). If durability is high on your list of critical attributes, the Timex 30-Lap Ironman T53151 with its acrylic crystal may be your best choice.

At higher price points you'll find watches with a sapphire crystal, which is the most expensive to produce and the most susceptible to shattering but is notably scratch-resistant. A few watches boast a mineral-sapphire crystal (mineral base and sapphire coating), which reduces the likelihood of scratching or shattering. Invicta has developed a hybrid mineral-sapphire crystal called a "flame fusion" crystal, a key feature of the Invicta Men's 9938 Pro Diver (starting at $279).

We found few complaints in watches reviews about scratched crystals on our top picks. Watches reviews posted at Walmart, for example, say the women's Timex 1440 T5J151 survives inadvertent knocks and bangs, fitness workouts, showers, and dish washing without ill effect. The men's Timex T20041 Easy Reader also passes the scratch test in watches reviews found on several sites, including Overstock. Several watches reviews at Amazon about the men's Casio S210HD-1AVCF refer to scratches on the "soft" mineral crystal that appear within days of first use or when fitting the metallic band. (User tip: Buy a protective cover for the face.) The women's Casio LTP1237D-7A is a dress watch and unlikely to suffer much exposure; indeed, we came across only one complaint about scratching in a watches review, although the wearer says the watch still looks classy. Several watches reviews on Amazon about the men's Armitron 408177 report the mineral crystal is susceptible to scratching. Reviewers of the woman's Geneva SW-6886 are mum about scratched crystals but do suggest that this model may have limited durability and usefulness.

Watches Movement.

Specifications for a watch always make reference to its "movement," which is the mechanism that keeps the time. Quartz movements are usually battery powered and are the most common, especially in the budget watches segment. Among the watches we researched, the women's Timex 1440 T5J151, Casio LTP1237D-7A, and Geneva SW-6886 and the men's Timex Easy Reader T20041, Armitron 408177, and Timex 30-Lap Ironman T53151 feature a quartz movement. A variant on the quartz theme is the men's Casio WS210HD-1AVCF, whose solar-powered battery draws energy from the sun and doesn't ever need replacing.

The two other types of watch movements are found in models priced far above the Cheapism ceiling. Some upmarket watches use the classic spring-powered, or mechanical movement -- wind it up to set the mechanism and the spring powers the watch hands. Watches with mechanical movements are very intricate, requiring tiny gears and other parts, and thus quite expensive. Watches with an automatic movement, like the Invicta 9938 Pro Diver, are similar to mechanical watches except that your natural motion while wearing the watch provides the energy to keep it running. An automatic watch may need occasional resetting because it can lose a few seconds or minutes over the course of several weeks or if you don't wear it regularly. Alternatively, you can attach the watch to an automatic watch winder, like the Belocia winder (starting at $40), which watches reviews indicate does a fine job keeping an automatic watch ticking on-time while sitting at rest on an inanimate object.

Watches with battery-powered quartz movements should keep good time as long as the battery is working. Again, we found very few negative reports in watches reviews about inaccurate time-keeping by any of our top picks. The men's Casio WS210HD-1AVCF scores for reliability in watches reviews posted at Walmart and Amazon, although a few users note that the tides function needs resetting every few days to maintain accuracy. The men's Timex Easy Reader T20041 also earns kudos for accurate time keeping in watches reviews at several sites, including Amazon. Users say the pricey Invicta 9938 Pro Diver, with its automatic movement, keeps good time if worn regularly or placed in a watch winder, although one watches review at Ashford reports that it gains a couple of minutes every day.

Wearers have little to say about the time-keeping skills of the women's Timex 1440 T5J151 or Casio LTP1237D-7A, which leads us to conclude that these two budget watches hit the mark on time. Numerous watches reviews of the former posted at Amazon and Walmart, though, run on about the sports-oriented features that accurately track workout times and pre-set durations. The Casio LTP1237D-7A is also lauded in watches reviews on Amazon, but largely for its classic and feminine styling. Female users also appreciate the accuracy and reliability of the dressy Timex 2H351 Easy Reader, according to comments posted at Walmart. The women's Geneva SW-6886 gets dinged on the time-keeping front in a couple of watches reviews that report it starts to run slow after a few months.

Watches Extra Features.

Fancy watch makers refer to a watch's extra features as "complications." Cheap analog watches tend to have few if any complications (that may mean no second hand), although models like the men's Timex Easy Reader T20041 and women's Timex 2H351 Easy Reader boast a date display. These two watches also feature the company's energy-efficient Indiglo technology, which illuminates the watch in the dark.

Digital watches, even cheap models, often sport several complications. Chronographs (a stopwatch feature), countdown timers, calendars, and alarms are popular extra features in digital watches. Some also come with lap counters and other tools; the men's Casio WS210HD-1AVCF includes a graph to track tides and moon phases. The men's Armitron 408177 features a stopwatch, lap counter, and alarms but users complain that the beeping sound that accompanies every button press to set these functions gets annoying in a hurry.

All but one of the watches we researched are water resistant to at least 99 feet. Specs for the women's Geneva SW-6886 don't mention this feature. Again, reports generally indicate that these models hold true to the stated claims.



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In this review:
  1. Best Cheap Watches
  2. Discount Watches Features Comparison Table
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