I really like the Apple Watch Ultra, but I also like watches in general. Recently, I was in a situation where I didn’t need to track any activity but still wanted to wear a tough watch that not only fitted in with a muddy, grubby, harsh environment — but could cope with it should the need arise.
I turned to the recently released Casio G-Shock GW-9500 Mudman, and while it’s not a smartwatch, it was the perfect choice for the day. Later, I wondered if this Bluetooth-free, seemingly indestructible watch could actually be an alternative to the Apple Watch Ultra. Is it? Here’s what I learned.
Choosing a watch is a very personal thing. Companies like Google and Mobvoi, both of which only make their smartwatches in one case size, don’t really seem to understand this. Apple does understand, and it makes the Apple Watch Series 9 in two case sizes and the Apple Watch Ultra 2 in a single size that fits in with its status as a “tool watch.”
I was headed out to drive a challenging off-road course in a Land Rover; I was wearing the right attire for the occasion and wanted to finish it off with the right watch. The Apple Watch Ultra would have been a great choice. It’s really tough, looks the part, and likely would have survived if it, I, or the Land Rover took a spill. But I didn’t need notifications, I wasn’t worried about health tracking, and I probably was going to leave my brand new iPhone 15 Pro Max somewhere safe anyway. It was the right watch for the job, but it wasn’t the right watch for the day.
Because watches are personal purchases, owning more than one is not uncommon among those passionate about them, and choosing the right one for the day ahead is part of the fun. I’d been waiting for the opportunity to wear the new G-Shock Mudman GW-9500. There are three different colors available: Rescue Orange, Military Green, or the Tactical Black model I wore. It costs $380 and was released in August this year.
The Mudman line hadn’t really appealed before, and I’d always been more taken with the tank-like Mudmaster G-Shock models. But with the GW-9500, Casio has reimagined the Mudman line for 2023, bringing design elements from the Mudmaster over to it and incorporating its super tough Carbon Core Guard structure for added lightness — all while retaining the mud-resistant, easy-to-push buttons that made the previous Mudman watches special.
It was definitely going to be muddy where I was going, and although I had no intention of wallowing about in it, the GW-9500 Mudman would be ideal if an accident happened or if I bashed it against bits of Land Rover.
It was an easy decision: I put the Apple Watch Ultra aside and strapped on the Mudman.
I’m glad I did, as not only was I jostled and jolted around in the Land Rover’s cabin, but it was also exceptionally muddy outside. During an ill-advised quest to get to a good vantage point to watch my friend negotiate a particularly challenging obstacle, an embarrassing slide down a slope occurred. The Mudman and I were muddier than expected, but the watch took it all in its stride, of course, and washing it off in a puddle meant it could be happily returned in a far cleaner state to my wrist. I’m not sure I would have been so happy doing any of this with the Apple Watch Ultra.
While the Mudman GW-9500 doesn’t have Bluetooth that connects it to your phone, it does have an interesting tech feature — a dual-layer LCD screen. The main LCD display shows the time and other functions, but when you press the Comp button, the second LCD illuminates to overlay a digital compass, which automatically detects magnetic north. It’s not the first time Casio has used this technology, and it previously made good use of it on the Pro Trek WSD-F30 smartwatch.
Its sensor array also allows the Mudman to show barometric readings, altitude, and the current temperature. All these functions are accessed using the various buttons on the case, while the large button at the 6 o’clock mark turns on the backlight. This is pretty important, as the LCD is quite dim, making it hard to see even in half-light. There’s no battery to charge as the watch is powered by light, and there’s no need to set the time either, as it uses Casio’s Multi-Band 6 radio calibration system.
This is a G-Shock, so it’s not a small watch, but it is surprisingly wearable. I had it on all day, outside the cuff of my top, and it was very comfortable. It’s 81 grams, which is actually lighter than the 95-gram Apple Watch Ultra, although the case is larger and thicker. But even better than this, it really did look the part during the day, and I often found myself glancing at it and really liking its chunky, robust style. No, I didn’t use the compass or need the barometer, but I wouldn’t have needed them on the Apple Watch Ultra either. But it certainly resisted the mud, and it looked brilliant doing it.
Am I saying the G-Shock GW-9500 Mudman is really an Apple Watch Ultra alternative? After all, it’s undoubtedly tough, and it’s half the price. Yes, I think it is, but I also know that it’s not. Let me explain.
It was definitely the better option for me when I went off-roading. I put my trust in G-Shock’s toughness and didn’t worry about it once, even after a much muddier encounter than I planned. It shows the time and environmental data, along with a compass, if I need to read a map.
All this makes the Mudman brilliant for the casual weekend adventurer. But at the same time, it’s obviously not a true Apple Watch Ultra alternative, as it doesn’t have the massive functionality of Apple’s largest smartwatch, any connection to your phone, GPS, or any of the health and fitness tracking features. This means it’s not a competitor, but I found it can easily be a substitute in the right situation.
Having the GW-9500 Mudman ready to wear on that day was a great reminder of why I don’t just own one watch and why I don’t only choose to wear a smartwatch all the time. Watches are as much a style statement and something to build memories with as they are timekeeping tools today, perhaps even more so, and limiting myself to a single watch — mechanical or smart — is boringly restrictive.
My experience gave me some additional food for thought, too. For the price of one Apple Watch Ultra 2, you could buy an Apple Watch Series 9 and the G-Shock GW-9500 Mudman, giving you a nice, well-rounded, best-of-all-worlds two-watch collection that should cover most situations you find yourself in — even if one of them is slipping down a steep, muddy incline while everyone laughs at you.
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