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Published Aug 10, 2022 2:24 PM

Digital watches are nothing new, having been the standard in readability since the 1970s, at least. At first, they were the new hotness, even superseding Swiss giants like Rolex for a brief moment in time, but were soon reduced to utility watches. Because of this, digital watches can often seem mundane, purpose-built tools rather than accessories worthy of your time and energy.

However, digital watches can still be cool, and the best digital watches are legends in their own right. Here are some of the best digital watches worthy of a place on your wrist.

The Casio G-Shock is an undeniable classic. It’s a distinctive timepiece that revolutionized electronic watches by offering durable, water-resistant, and simple digital features. The GWM5610 updates the classic “square” profile with solar timekeeping, making it one of the best military watches out there. Plus, it can withstand almost anything.

This solar G-Shock is arguably the pinnacle of practical G-Shock development, solving the issues that are inherent to all digital watches with the addition of the solar panel on the face of the watch. The solar charging capability means that if you regularly expose this watch to sunlight, it’ll stay charged, theoretically forever. Couple this with the G-Shock’s legendary durability and reliability, and you’ve got a watch that won’t quit in any circumstance.

The unfortunate reality with brutish digital wristwatches like the G-Shock is that they’re openly utilitarian. This G-Shock, like most of them, doesn’t dress up well, since hardly anything goes well with black resin. You’re also stuck with the uncomfortable stock resin strap unless you get adapters, which is an extra cost on top of the price of this watch. Finally, the pushers on this particular model of G-Shock aren’t the handiest, being very small, so I’ve found that it can be a pain if you’re wearing gloves.

Product Specs
  • Dimensions: 43.4mm x 46.5mm x 12.5mm
  • Display type: Digital date and time display
  • Complications: Digital chronograph, day-date, alarm, solar power
  • Water resistance: 200m
Why It Made The Cut
  • The best digital watch — whether it’s for men, women, or kids — will inevitably be a G-Shock. With the GWM5610, Casio has perfected the formula for a timeless classic.
PROS

Extremely durable

All but eliminates battery changes

Reliable

CONS

Doesn’t dress up well

Uncomfortable strap needs special adapters to change

Pushers are difficult to depress

The Timex Ironman was my first big kid watch growing up, and it’s no wonder, given that the Ironman was purpose-built for triathletes, and my parents figured that it would stand up to everything I threw at it. This is an affordable, wearable watch that leads the charge by having some of the best readability of any watch on the market. Not just the Pepsi to the G-Shock’s Coke, this is an underrated classic that deserves a place in anyone’s collection.

The Timex Ironman Endurance 30 is a less stodgy digital watch, offering several ergonomic choices that make it even better than some G-Shocks, with all of the durability that comes with that territory. The biggest advantage is the readability, with huge numbers on a large display for easy reading in the daytime, and the scorching blue of Timex’s trademark Indiglo backlight. The size of this is another huge advantage, with Timex nailing a wrist-hugging form factor much better than most Casio watches, making this one of the best digital watches for women since many watches these days are overly large. Finally, Timex knows its audience with the Ironman Endurance 30, putting the chronograph start/split button front and center, which when combined with the large pushers, means this is a watch that controls well even with gloves or while under stress.

Like with the G-Shock, the stock resin strap on the Timex Ironman sucks, frankly. Compounding this, unlike the G-Shocks, there’s not much of an aftermarket for adapters to use larger straps, so while the lug width on the Ironman is a serviceable 18 millimeters, and adapters do exist, they’re not as prevalent. There’s also the personal fact that the Ironman will always remind me of the late 1990s, due to the association with my childhood. It doesn’t look like the charming retro digital watch that the G-Shock square is.

Product Specs
  • Dimensions: 42mm x 45mm x 14.5mm
  • Display type: Digital time and date
  • Complications: 30 lap digital chronometer, alarm, day-date
  • Water resistance: 200m
Why It Made The Cut
  • The rugged Timex Ironman is as fun and user-focused as the G-Shock, but for less than half the price, making it one of the best cheap digital and sports watches.
PROS

Excellent lume

Wearable size

Easy-to-use controls

CONS

Limited aftermarket strap options

Dated Y2K styling

Uncomfortable strap

Editor’s Choice

The Nixon Regulus is one of the best retro digital watches that isn’t retro at all. It’s a completely original design, intended to look like something futuristic, yet nostalgic. Additionally, it’s an idiot-proof watch that innovates with its display, controls, and wearability, making it an excellent contender for a military watch. I personally owned the Mk1 variant of the Regulus, which was a military-only version that had no real extra functionality beyond an engraving and the fact that it came in a plastic bag rather than a box.

The biggest selling point for the Regulus is that it addresses all the issues of more common digital watches like the Casio G-Shock — almost all of them, anyway. The biggest thing that it addresses is that it allows you to see all parts of the display at any given time, and gives you full control over the chronograph function, allowing you to run two separate stopwatches and monitor them even if you flip back to the main time display. The strap is also a straightforward 24mm strap, meaning that if you don’t care for the rubber, like me, you can easily swap it for a NATO strap without any modifications from the factory.

The downside to the Regulus is that what it doesn’t improve upon relative to other digital watches, it arguably makes worse. For starters, this is a very thick watch, one of the thickest on this list, meaning that you can forget any hopes of fitting this under a shirt cuff, and even my cammies blouse cuff gets snagged on it often. Secondly, the water resistance isn’t much compared to Casio G-Shocks, and while 100 meters isn’t exactly wimpy, it undercuts the military character of the Regulus. Finally, all the innovation and design work that went into the Regulus clearly affected the price tag, since MSRP on these is well north of equivalent Casio and Timex models that maybe don’t look as cool.

Product Specs
  • Dimensions: 46mm x 52mm x 16mm
  • Display type: Dual chronograph, date, time
  • Complications: Dual chronographs, day-date, alarm
  • Water resistance: 100m
Why It Made The Cut
  • This super-stylish digital watch leans into retro-futurism by embracing harsh angles for maximum cyberpunk aesthetic, while also packing in unique features that set it apart from the rest.
PROS

Dual chronograph function for tracking multiple objects

NATO strap compatible from the factory

Idiot-proof controls and display

CONS

Extremely thick

Lower water resistance

Relatively high price

Best Retro

“Luxury digital watch” sounds like an oxymoron, but when Hamilton designed the original Pulsar P1 in the 1970s, it was the apex of space-age futurism. Now, Hamilton has brought this concept back, right down to the vintage LED display, with all the modern amenities like a sapphire crystal, solid bracelet, and the ability to view the time without pressing a button. The Hamilton PSR is the best watch to make a statement with, being truly unlike anything else currently on the market.

When James Bond strapped on his Pulsar LED watch in Live and Let Die, he was dating the movie worse than the bell-bottom suits and Wings-performed title track ever could. The idea of a metal digital watch that displayed the time with light-emitting diodes at the press of a button was novel, and this Hamilton embraces that 1970’s charm with zero shame or reservation.

Additionally, the design updates the original by featuring a sapphire crystal, more water resistance, a solid steel bracelet, and improved battery life. All of these characteristics combine to make a watch that’s still a classy, stylish way to do something different, which proves that luxury digital watches are alive and kicking.

Over $500 for a digital watch with less water resistance than a G-Shock, and less functionality than even some analog watches on the market, is a lot to ask. This isn’t a practical watch by any stretch, and it’s not supposed to be, but it’s a statement piece that fits into a small niche. The time is visible even without pressing the LED button on the PSR, but it’s dim and difficult to read at a glance, so if you can, use the LED function. Overall, this watch is a professional statement piece.

Product Specs
  • Dimensions: 40.7mm x 34.7mm x 13.5mm
  • Display type: LED time
  • Complications: N/A
  • Water resistance: 100m
Why It Made The Cut
  • The Hamilton PSR will take you back to the days when digital watches were the coolest thing to own and cost more than a Rolex.
PROS

Undeniable 1970s style

Durable stainless steel construction

A classy way to do something different

CONS

LCD display is difficult to read

Limited function

Costly compared to other watches of similar function

The Seiko SNJ025 is a watch that we love, and that we’ve featured on our lists of solar watches and dive watches, due to its fantastic durability, undeniable brutal 1980s style, and cinema link. This watch is a blend of analog and digital that nails both, bringing digital timekeeping to the world of SCUBA diving. This is one of my favorite watches that I own, and it’s perfect for those who want a sleek pro digital watch that can handle the depths of the sea and the tops of mountains.

The Seiko Arnie is a super-durable dive watch. Every single watch is professionally tested to withstand over 20 atmospheres of pressure, resist extreme temperatures, and is equipped with straps that can withstand the hardships of underwater adventures. This factor no doubt played a role in its predecessor, the H558, gracing the wrist of Arnold Schwarzenegger in action movie classics like Predator in his role as elite CIA paramilitary commando Alan “Dutch” Schafer. Luckily, for the rest of us, the SNJ025 wears surprisingly compact, in spite of the large diameter that includes the shroud, so you don’t have to be Arnold-sized to wear it.

Despite the fact that it wears smaller than you’d expect a 47.8-millimeter watch to wear, the SNJ025 is an extremely large watch, and there’s no hiding that, meaning that it’s not going to wear easily for smaller people. The stock rubber strap, while comfortable, traps dirt and moisture, and causes a rash for me every time I use it, which is why I swapped almost immediately to a NATO strap. Finally, a friend of mine had the experience of his dive bezel getting fouled by dirt, causing it to lose functionality.

Product Specs
  • Dimensions: 47.8mm x 51.3mm x 14.4mm
  • Display type: Analog digital hybrid display
  • Complications: Digital chronograph, alarm
  • Water resistance: 200m diver’s
Why It Made The Cut
  • As seen in the original 'Predator' film, this capable diver’s watch is one of the best digital watches for anyone wanting to pretend like they’re half as jacked as Arnold.
PROS

Linked to cinematic classics

Certified diver’s watch

Surprisingly wearable for being so large

CONS

Extremely large

Rubber strap causes rashes

Bezel can get fouled

FAQs about digital watches

Q: What should I look for when buying a digital watch?

A: When buying a digital watch, you should look for many of the same characteristics that you would when buying an analog watch. Things like legibility, durability, and ergonomics matter just as much here, but they take different forms, like the size of the numbers on the display, the backlight, and how easy it is to switch between the functions on these watches.

Q: What are the disadvantages of digital watches?

A: One of the biggest disadvantages of digital watches has been that you can’t view the time easily in low light without pressing a button, meaning it’s one extra step to check the time in low light. This is extra concerning for SCUBA divers, who can’t use the pushers on their watches underwater for fear of water infiltration. Some watches solve this by having a motion sensor that triggers the backlight when you flick your wrist.

Q: Are smartwatches and digital watches the same?

A: Technically, smartwatches are just digital watches with improved computing power and connectivity, and some digital watches blur the line with things like Bluetooth, step counters, GPS chips, and other resources. However, colloquially, smartwatches refer to wrist-mounted devices that mimic the functions of a cellular device or computer, whereas digital watches usually refer to devices that are primarily for telling the time.

Q: What is better, a digital watch or a normal watch?

A: Digital watches are easier to read precisely and quickly, down to the second, but analog watches are generally regarded as looking nicer, and certain roles like diver’s watches require that the watch be analog to facilitate the use of a dive time bezel.

Final thoughts

Digital watches are cool, and that’s a hill that I’ll die on. They’re more readable, more precise, and, overall, more user-friendly than their analog counterparts. I love my analog watches, but when it’s time to get to work, it’s on with the G-Shock. Land or sea, dressed up or all relaxed, there are digital watches that will work. All of these watches are titans in their own right, defining the landscape of digital watches in some way or another. The fact that they’re still in production with only minor changes speaks volumes as to how an effective design can stand the test of time.

Methodology 

Every watch on this list has been personally evaluated by myself, and all except the Hamilton PSR are watches that I’ve personally owned at one point or another. The PSR is a watch that I’ve worn, so I can speak to its fitment and function. Additionally, all of these watches come highly recommended by many other watch aficionados, so it’s not simply my opinion.

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