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Q&Q SmileSolar Affordable Solar Watch

Updated on January 31, 2016
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Ricky loves solar devices: kettles, lights, watches, everything in between. He hopes his reviews help others make more informed purchases.

FYI: I will slowly be moving my content over to rickytheleo.blogspot.com.au, and I will also be posting new content on there from this point onwards.

My Q&Q SmileSolar watch - my latest constant companion
My Q&Q SmileSolar watch - my latest constant companion

Just over a year ago, I was looking for a nice new watch. The reasoning behind this is that I already had a beautiful (and expensive) Seiko watch which I received when I was 17. It had a timer and alarm, and was everything I wanted in terms of style. It was certainly a big jump up from a cheap-o digital watch I had gotten several years before. It was my perfect watch… except for one fatal flaw in its design.

The strap and the watch piece are joined together at odd angles, and this meant that over time, the pins which connect them would slowly bend until they could no longer hold the pieces together, and the strap would separate from the watch piece.

This would happen every three to six months. The pins are a particularly peculiar shape too, so each time one of the pins was bent out of shape, it would cost between $5 and $10 to get it replaced. Not much, to be sure, but it built up over time.

My old Seiko watch, now only fixed and worn for special occasions (currently awaiting repairs)
My old Seiko watch, now only fixed and worn for special occasions (currently awaiting repairs)

It was getting to the point that I was not wearing the watch for a month or longer each time one of the connecting pins was bent enough to fall out, because I simply couldn’t be bothered going to get it fixed yet again. But alas, I enjoyed having a watch on my wrist. I’ve worn a watch since I was only just over double-digits in age, so having a bare left wrist simply felt strange.

The search for some new wrist bling begins

I figured if I could just get a watch which cost around $40 or less, and lasted at least a year, then that would already be a fiscal improvement over the worst years with the Seiko where it would cost up to $40 a year just to replace the bent pins (up to $10 every three months). At the same time, I figured I may as well see if there are any solar watches in that price range that are affordable, because as I’ve mentioned before (e.g. at the start of previous articles here and here), I’m a bit of a sucker for solar stuff.

While looking for solar watches, one of the first results I found was the Citizen Eco-Drive, another very stylish watch. But when I saw the price of the watches in the Citizen range, despite how pretty some of these watches were, it wasn’t hard for me to turn away and keep looking.

On the other end of the price scale, as it turns out there was a surprising amount of cheap solar watches out there. But I wasn’t willing to spend even $5 on some of them. The reason was usually one of two things:

  • The reviews on these watches showed many people very disappointed in the product, with some of these watches breaking within just a few months, or
  • The watch wasn’t a true solar watch in terms of what I expected. That is, the watch had a solar component, but it was merely used to extend the regular watch battery’s life from around three years to six years.

The first dot point is an obvious one to look out for. After all, you should always (wherever possible) read reviews on the product you’re thinking about buying. Even $5 is wasted if the product will break given the slightest bump.

The second dot point, however, is one I hadn’t thought about before I began my search. Some of the watches are being advertised as “solar watches” with all the other true solar watches, however eventually they will require a battery change. I suppose technically these are solar powered to an extent, it’s just not what I was looking for.

My watch, the strap a little worse for wear by now but still holding together
My watch, the strap a little worse for wear by now but still holding together

Quirky charm

Quest & Quality (or Q&Q for short) is slowly making a good name for themselves, and I personally think this is for good reason.

Their products are simple, and keep the time well. And no, they might not be the most stylish looking time keeping devices out there, but they never claim to be, either. Oftentimes, Q&Q base their advertising on the fact that their watches are simply “fun”, and boldly coloured. So if you’re looking for a highly-stylised, status-symbol type of wrist bling, save up and buy yourself a Rolex, or solar-powered Citizen. But if you’re just looking for a solar watch which does its job well and has a certain colourful charm about it, have a look through the styles displayed on their online store. You may find yourself taken by their character, just as I was.

The plastic ball packaging that the watch came in
The plastic ball packaging that the watch came in

Packaging and Instructions

No squares or rectangles here; the packaging is a small plastic sphere, with the watch and instructions packed up inside. Simple and effective.

Instructions from the packaging
Instructions from the packaging

To allow the watch to be able to be shipped to countries speaking different languages, the folks at Q&Q obviously decided to use as few words in any particular language as possible.

As such, we’re given a set of instructions, shown through simple diagrams. The first diagrams show that you have to pull out the pin on the right of the watch piece, then turn it, to set the time. Once the time is set, push the pin back in. This is how you set the time for most analogue watches.

Through the other set of diagrams, we are shown that when the watch is working properly, its second hand will tick each second passed (as you’d expect a watch to do). If the watch starts to get to the end of its charge, the second hand will begin to tick erratically (e.g. waiting a second and then ticking a two-second interval, or possibly just not ticking properly). At this point, you should charge your watch in the sun (for 8 hours), and it will tick away each second once more.

Easy enough to understand.

Features

One of the areas which this watch could be criticised on, is its features. Many watches now will tell the time, provide an alarm (or multiple alarms), a timer/stopwatch (or multiple timers/stopwatches), have backlighting for seeing the time at night, be waterproof to a certain level, have step trackers, and sometimes more.

The SmileSolar’s list of features is much smaller, though this is reflected in its more affordable price. It will tell the time (of course), it’s completely solar powered, it’s very light, and it is BAR5 water resistant (i.e. water resistant up to 165 feet, or 50 metres). The SmileSolar Mini watch is all of this, except BAR10 water resistant (i.e. up to 330 feet, or 100 metres).

The SmileSolar is also very easy to keep clean, largely just by keeping it on. Its one-piece plastic watch piece and fabric strap gets cleaned plenty just by being exposed to the body wash in the shower, and the soaped-up water in the sink when washing the dishes. It could probably do with a good bleaching to get the white parts on the fabric strap white again, but it's definitely not dirty.

Its lightweight nature and sturdy designs has other benefits, too. With the old Seiko, especially because of its slightly faulty strap joint design, if I ever forgot to take it off for contact sport or chopping wood, the strap often would break that moment through the shock of hitting the ground, or the sudden stop involved in the axe finding its mark. Nothing of the like for the SmileSolar, though. I repeat, I never take it off. And I’ve fallen to the ground, managed to hit the watch strap and piece directly on solid rock, and kept the watch on when chopping wood. It’s possible all of this has been doing damage internally, but the SmileSolar certainly doesn’t show it, with the one exception being a single superficial scratch along its otherwise scratch-resistant face.

For its price, this relatively small feature list seems reasonable in my opinion, especially given that throughout its life you will not ever have to pay for a new battery.

The strap comfortably fitting around my wrist
The strap comfortably fitting around my wrist

Comfort

I can’t speak for the SmileSolar designs which come with the plastic or rubber straps, as I ordered one with a fabric strap. But while the fabric strap is a little bit stiff to begin with, it takes less than a day to begin shaping itself to your wrist shape properly, and it’s extremely comfortable once you’ve “worn it in” for a few days.

The watch piece itself, as I’ve mentioned previously, is very light. This, along with the lightweight strap, means there’s almost no getting used to excess weight on your wrist; there’s only the feeling of a watch against your skin to get used to.

That last point only really applies to someone who hasn’t worn a watch for a significant time before. If you’re like me, someone who constantly wears a watch and has for a long time, there is of course none of this to get used to. In fact, if you had a heavier watch like I did before moving to this one, the only thing you might notice is just how much lighter it is compared to a “proper” metal watch.

Solar Charging

These watches are advertised at being able to last three and a half months on a full charge. I didn’t have to perform any kind of initial charging on my own SmileSolar watch, as it was delivered already charged and ready to go.

When my watch had to last through its first winter (it arrived at the start of this winter), a particularly overcast and miserable winter too, I didn’t make any special reservations of charging it on the few cold but sunny days we managed to have. I simply kept it on my wrist, to see if it would lose its charge and need a dedicated day of charging to be back to working condition.

It didn’t need it. Indeed, I’ve barely taken the watch off since getting it, and I certainly haven’t set aside any time to leave it in the sun for the purposes of charging, because I simply haven’t had to yet.

It’s lasted through a winter, and over a year of spending five days a week indoors for my current full-time office job. Throughout this time, it’s happily survived on the little sunshine it’s seen on weekends and days off while I’m out in the garden (or otherwise spending time outside), and the weather has been warm enough for me to not need to wear a jumper (which would hide the watch from the sun).

I haven’t had to make any adjustments to wearing this watch compared to any other simple wrist-located timekeeping device, with the only exception being that I never have to worry about getting its battery replaced. This, in my opinion, is exactly how it should be with a good solar watch.

Supposedly, I’ll have to get the pins replaced at some point too, but the original set of pins the watch came with to connect the strap to the watch piece still haven’t broken. At least, yet. I’ll update this paragraph/article when (and if) a pin breaks for the first time, and what caused the damage (e.g. regular wear and tear, or something stupid I did to the watch).

Now, if you’re one of those people who never leave the indoors to feel the sun on your skin if you can help it, then yes, you may need to purposefully leave it on a sunlit windowsill every three months. But if you’re one of these people, I would probably question your purchase of a solar gadget which isn’t supposed to leave your side in the first place…

Pricing

For $40 (including free shipping), I had purchased my own watch from Q&Q, and within a week it had gotten to me, already charged and ready to go. And for a watch which is solar-powered, BAR5 water resistant, partially made from recycled materials, I’d call this a very reasonable price.

Summary

I’ll be frank: I really like this watch.

I could be a lot kinder to it, more mindful, so that I stop giving it the occasional (accidental) hard knock like I do. I was very mindful of my old watch, given its precious nature to me, and how much it cost to get it in the first place. But as I’ve moved through the years recently, I’ve quickly found that I’m a practical person. If I really love an item, I won’t put it away somewhere to look at occasionally, fearful that I might hurt it somehow. I will love using it, and I will use it at every opportunity (the only exception being if I have another tool which is genuinely more suited to the job, of course).

I’m exactly the same with this watch. I have the time on me, all the time. I don’t take it off for any physical work I have to do, whether the job is big or small. And after using it like this for some time, I’ve found that I like knowing I can do this. I like being able to just keep it on me, and not have to worry about it. Yes, the fact that a replacement watch if this one breaks will only cost $40 helps, but this watch has proven itself to happily take on day-to-day situations, which is what gives me this peace of mind.

Despite the knocks and the water, each time it’s come out the other side still Smiling. And that’s why I like it.

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