Breitling Aerospace B55
Smart watch specially designed for aviation use.
Chronograph, Dual Timezone plus UTC, and connectivity to Android or iOS devices.
Brilliant approach to the Smart/Connected Watch genre. In our view, the class leading offering in this arena to date.
Communication between smart phone and watch is two way, and leverages on the strengths of each.
A bit pricey for a quartz watch, and the second most expensive Breitling in production.
We wrote at length about the Breitling Exospace B55 when we first received the detailed and technical information on the watch. In that article (click here), we expounded on our thoughts on the new genre of watches which is now competing for wrist real estate: the Smart/Connected watch. A watch which not only tells the time, but also is connected via one’s smart phone into the world and beyond. Cool concept. But not so easy to implement. Most of these so called Smart/Connected Watches are severely lacking in one or another. And in our view, the Breitling Exospace B55 seems to be the best effort to date.
Recommended reading: Our musings on the Smart/Connected Watch genre. And our initial impressions on the Exospace B55.
The Breitling Exospace B55
The Smart Features
We begin with what makes the watch smart. And we begin by saying that this implementation of the smart watch is the best we have come across to date. Breitling has chosen to use each device at its strengths. The phone is superior to the watch as it has better ergonomic interface, and a larger screen. And watch is superior to the phone as it is wearable, conveniently strapped to the wrist. It also is has superior ergonomics in many of the standard watch functions like telling the time, second timezone, and chronograph functions. And the balance, we feel is quite well chosen.
The iPhone app which we tested was well behaved and worked flawlessly after the 10 seconds or so it takes to pair with the watch. The app uses the real estate afforded by the large iPhone’s screen to good stead. And the displays are logical and clear. The interaction between the watch and iPhone is two way. There is a small lag in the communication as we observed, but we are hopeful that this will reduce in the next releases of the iPhone app and/or watch firmware.
The B55 can be used to display alerts the user that a message is received by the phone. The user can then view and respond to the message on the Smartphone. The B55 does no more than to alert the user. But the full array of settings and readings is available on the iPhone.
In usage, especially for its intended use in a flight cockpit, the B55 can be used to record divers timings essential to flying an aircraft. The B55 keeps track of flight times, split times, lap times etc. During flight, the watch is the superior instrument as it is strapped on one’s wrist. But once the flight lands, the data captured can be downloaded for tracking and analysis to the SmartPhone. Of course, the data can also be exported as a database on the phone to other platforms for further analysis.
The case, dial and hands
The case is 46mm diameter, 15.25mm height solid titanium with a rotating bezel. The case is well made. The unidirectional bezel clicks with an assuring satisfaction.
The design is based on the the Breitling Cockpit B50. However, the B55 dial is visually it simpler and more legible than the rather crowded B50. This is largely due to the lack of compass bearings markers which is engraved on the B50’s bezel, and thankfully absent on the B55.
Like on the B50, the B55 has a “Tilt” mode to save power. The LCD backlighting goes blank after a short time out, but is reactivated when the watch senses the user tilts his wrist at a more than 35° angle, or when the crown is pressed. Not only quite clever, but also quite telling that the designers are also practicing pilots. One can keep one’s hands on the aircraft controls instead of fiddling to turn the backlight on the watch.
The entire dial layout intelligently laid out, a particularly important and highly desirable feature considering the mass of information it is capable of displaying. The two LCD displays are also used to alert the user of messages incoming from the connected Smartphone. Messages like WhatsApp, SMS, email, calls are displayed, but the user is not able to interact with the Smartphone through the B55. The watch is merely used to alert the user, as it is always on one’s wrist, it has the advantage of being always near/on-line.
Hands are traditional with SuperLuminova coating. And very visible, even in the dark.
The movement: Breitling Caliber B55
The movement is the house manufactured Breitling Caliber B55. Breitling labels the movement as SuperQuartz. This is a special quartz movement which is temperature compensated for the oscillation behavior of the quartz crystals. The result is a higher accuracy and Brietling specifies their SuperQuartz with an accuracy of less than 15 seconds a year. This is interesting, and perhaps point to the conservative nature of the family owned Breitling. The B55 is based on the ETA Thermoline series of movements, which specifies accuracy to 10 seconds per annum.
The movement is not visible on the B55 as it comes with a closed back.
The quartz movement has functions that if it were on a mechanical movement would lay claim to a Grande Complication title. In addition to a perpetual calendar, it has a 1/100th of a second flyback chronograph, 7 daily alarms, a countdown/countup feature, two timezones plus UTC. Of course, the B55 being a quartz movement, all these functions are a few lines of code on the applets which is loaded into the watch. But what is impressive how Breitling has designed the dial and ergonomics to be able to display this huge mass of data. The ergonomics is excellent.
As the B55 carries communication capabilities, it required additional certification by the InfoComm Development Authority of Singapore for “Type Approval” for the watch to operate in Singapore. This process took about 10 months, and this is why the watch is only being introduced to the Singapore market in Feb 2016 when the watch was announced in BaselWorld 2015.
The watch charges via a small magnetically connected port (like the Apple Macbook power attachment) on the side of the case. Interestingly each charge will provide the B55 with two months of autonomy.
The Breitling Exospace B55, in our view, opens the door to lead this new genre of Smart/Connected watches. This is the first we have seen and tested which is specially equipped for a specific application (in the B55, flying in the cockpit) but also one which is the first we have encountered where the communications between watch and Smartphone is two way.
The watch is beautifully made, quite large at 44mm x 15.112mm, but not uncomfortably so, especially as it is constructed from a titanium case and the quartz movement is not quite as heavy as a maillechort or brass mechanical movement.
The competitive landscape is quite bare. The other Smart/Connected offerings are probably a generation behind in our view. Those from technology companies, like the Apple Watch, the Huawei Watch, the Samsung Gear communicate mostly in one dimension to the Smartphone. In addition all these devices look like electronic gadgets, and toys. None feature nicely designed or finished cases or any dial to speak of (just a display screen), as a case in point.
Offerings by traditional watch companies are still in its early stages of maturity, with the leaders probably being the TAG Heuer Connected. The TAG Heuer Connected looks like a traditional wristwatch, even though it too lacks a physical dial. The dial is a display on the screen. But the fit and finish of the case and band is solid. TAG has also partnered with tech giant Google to deliver the technology. A very smart move. However, the current TAG offering is still rather limited. Other than the ability to change dials, it offer some fitness features, but are very limited in its capabilities. The watch does display of alerts from the phone, but not much else. The TAG play is on the downloadable dials, and perhaps future proofing with features/functions not yet available.
Traditional sports oriented watches like those by Polar, Suunto, Garmin are arguably more well developed and advanced. All offer the ability to attach sensors like GPS, heart rate monitors, cadence sensors, step sensors, power meters. And the ability of the watch to record the data, and then download to a smart device (though most often a computer or to a website) for storage and analysis. But none of these look like a presentable watch which can appeal to a horology enthusiast. All are made of plastic, and designed to pair with sports attire.
On the other hand, the Breitling Exospace B55 looks like a high end watch. The fit and finish of the titanium case is nice. It has a real and nicely designed and finished dial. The watch features are excellent. And when connected to a Smartphone, it works flawlessly, leveraging on the strengths of each platform. Communication between watch and phone is two way, and quite comprehensive, at least for the targeted aviation intended market.
Is there more that can be delivered by a Smart/Connected Watch? We certainly think and hope so, but for now, we think the Breitling Exospace B55 is the next wave forward. What do you think?
Breitling Exospace B55 Technical Specs
Caliber Breitling B55 (Manufacture)
Movement SuperQuartz™, thermocompensated quartz electronic, analog and 12/24 hr LCD digital display, display backlighting, EOL indicator
Chronograph 1/100th second, max. 99 hrs 59 min. 59 sec., flyback function, electronic tachymeter, chronograph (lap timer, flight times)
Calendar Digital, perpetual, with weeks indication
Case Black titanium
Back With screws
Battery type/life Rechargeable battery
Connectivity Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
Water resistance 100 m (330 ft)
Bezel Unidirectional, ratcheted
Crown Non screw-locked, two gaskets, integrated pushpiece
Crystal Sapphire, glareproofed both sides
Diameter 46.00 mm
Interhorn width 24/20 mm
Thickness 15.25 mm
Weight (without strap) 80,00 gr.
Other functions Countdown timer, 7 daily alarms, CountDown/CountUp Clock, (max. 99 days, 23 hrs 59 min. 59.99 sec.) with independent alarm, UTC worldtime; pairing possiblity (Bluetooth Low Energy) with a smartphone (dedicated Application) for data transfer and «remote» settings