Android Catapult WatchReview date: 14 January 2002.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
I am an appreciator of gadgets.
It's not a perversion. It's a romantic abnormality.
You'd expect a gadget-appreciator to have a really over-the-top wristwatch, wouldn't you?
Something that displayed pulse rate and altitude and heading and SMS messages. Something with GPS. With a personal organiser sync function. With a laser pointer and a can opener and a thing for taking stones out of horses' hooves.
Well, I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you, there.
The only watch I owned, before the one you'll see in a moment, is a scratched and elderly Pulsar that I've had since high school. I only put a fresh battery in it, recently, because I changed my mobile phone to one that didn't tell the time. My old Ericsson ended up as little more than a timepiece; my new Nokia is much more useful as an actual phone. But it doesn't tell the time.
(Note: Various people have e-mailed me and said they can tell me the menu setting, setup code or voodoo ritual that'll make my Nokia display the time. When told that it's a 3810, they have all withdrawn their offer.)
I've just never seen the point of fancy watches. I don't do any of the things that fancy watch features help you with. I don't SCUBA dive, or climb mountains, or do exercise strenuous enough that target heart rates come into the picture. The only times when I need to know what time it is in New York are times when I'm sitting in front of my PC already, so worldtimeserver.com is only a click away. Rough compass headings I can find by looking at the sun. And I live in Australia, where we have some pretty rugged hills, but nothing that a Sherpa wouldn't cheerfully walk over on his way to dinner. So altimeter functions aren't going to be any use to me unless I start flying ultralights, or something.
There are various other goofy wrist-mounted devices, of course, but I can't honestly say that any of them particularly turn my crank.
And don't talk to me about 37-jewel adjusted-to-six-positions Swiss chronometers. I can appreciate the amazing mechanical engineering that goes into a Jaeger-LeCoultre, or a Baume & Mercier, or a Cartier, or even a mere Rolex. The movements look like something you'd present to an elven artificer to prove that you're worthy to have lunch with him. But no mechanical watch keeps time as well as my crappy old quartz Pulsar. So I'll get myself a mechanical watch after it becomes clear that we're headed straight to Mad-Max-ville on a handcart and so tiny little silver oxide batteries aren't going to be available much longer, OK?
Here, ladies and germs, is a watch that I might just pay for.
I didn't, but that's not the point.
It shoots BBs (ball bearings). It costs $US59 plus shipping. You can buy one here, from the same chaps that made my trebuchet. That may be all you need to know.
The Catapult Watch is made by Android, who also make various other gadgetty but relatively inexpensive timepieces (they don't list the Catapult on their site, though).
Android's watch features lean towards the fun-to-play-with-but-not-actually-useful end of the functionality spectrum, but there's nothing wrong with that as long as you're frank about it. Which the makers of the world's zootier electronic watches, and of multi-kilobuck European mechanical watches for that matter, often aren't.
Android are probably wishing they'd thought of the Hydraulic Watch idea (which made it into Dave Barry's 2001 gift guide!). Jaeger-LeCoultre are, I feel safe in saying, probably not.
As far as timekeeping functions go, the Catapult Watch is completely unremarkable. It has an hour hand, a minute hand and a second hand. Pop out the crown and you can set the time. That's it.
The Catapult Watch has one of those stylishly sparse faces with cryptic marks for the 3, 6 and 9 positions and a second hand almost too stubby to see, but practicality is not meant to be this watch's strong suit.
The big deal is that the hands are partially obscured by a little spring-loaded arm that you can use to shoot BBs at people. Or anything else that'll fit into the cup on the end of the arm, for that matter; it's sized for standard 0.177 calibre BBs, and the Backyard Artillery people are including a supply of such BBs with every watch sold, but you can just as easily shoot popcorn kernels, lentils and so on.
The Catapult Watch's trigger mechanism is a bit fiddly; it's a little sliding latch that's easy enough to pull with a fingernail, but which doesn't work as well as a little lever would. A lever would snag on things, though.
Load a projectile, pull back the latch, and there's a small ticking sound. And your projectile is, um, projected. The flingin' arm moves fast enough that a mere 30 frame per second video of a shot in progress will only give you one blurry frame of the arm in motion, but if you want to see such a video anyway, you can download a 395 kilobyte clip here.
That clip's in Microsoft's use-Windows-or-drop-dead WMV format, by the way, because I decided to see what WinXP's Windows Movie Maker was like. That application, unsurprisingly, can save nothing but WMV. Oh, and also huge DV-format AVIs, but when I saved in that format and then tried to reprocess the video to something better in the generally useful AVIedit, I got the following helpful error message:
So you get WMV. Enjoy.
The shooting mechanism, like the rest of the watch's metalwork, is stainless steel and so should last for an awful lot of shots. Which is just as well, because you'll probably find yourself dry-firing this watch quite a bit.
When the arm's in its cocked position, you see, it obscures the face of the watch such that when a hand's close to the 12 or 6 o'clock positions, you can't see it. You can often work out the time by deduction, of course, but clicking up the arm is the more conversation-starting option.
The watch's band is an OK design; one big curved bracelet piece on either side of the timepiece itself, six normal articulated links, and an OK clasp.
The clasp has a not-quite-necessary but pleasingly gadgetty locking gate arrangement (the gate is at the bottom of this picture) to hold it closed.
In standard trim, the watch band is big enough for a quite beefy wrist. I don't have a quite beefy wrist, and the two adjustment holes on the clasp that let you use the usual spring-pin adjustment mechanism to make the band circumference about 7mm smaller weren't enough to stop the watch sliding up and down my arm like a bangle.
Fortunately, the articulated links in the band are held together with spring-pins as well, and a brief fiddle with the pointy end of a nail file let me remove one and reduce the band size by about another centimetre. Now, the watch fits my weedy 15-centimetre wrist well.
Android have a less-than-totally-helpful instruction page on this subject here.
There is, by the way, what looks like another size adjustment hole on the other end of the clasp from the first three, but you can't use that one; those are the holes into which the locking gate thing clicks.
Oh, yes. The watch comes in this natty can with see-through lid. The can also contains a little leaflet that tells you about a two year warranty that covers everything except the battery, crystal, crown, bracelet, case or plating. They forgot to say anything about springs or triggers, though, so if the arm stops pinging in short order then you're presumably covered.
Clamp the watch into your favourite small-object-torturing vise and it's easy to pop the back, see the entirely ordinary quartz movement, and replace the battery. The watch is powered by a standard SR66/SR626W type silver oxide cell.
The back of the watch has a protruding tab that means you don't need a proper case knife to get it off; a small flathead screwdriver will do, but it'll dent the case metal slightly.
You can get the back off most watches by holding them in an ordinary bench vise and using a pocketknife, actually; the proper tools just make it easier to do it with zero cosmetic damage to the case, and also make it much easier to get the back on again, especially when you're dealing with a watch like this with an annoying piece of metal over its face.
If you're wondering where to buy such tools, by the way, try here.
Since the distance from the watch's arm pivot to the ammo cup is only about 21mm (13/16ths of an inch), and since the spring power isn't enough to hurt you if you flick your finger with the arm, you can't expect this thing to shoot all that far. And it doesn't. Which is just as well, really; if you put someone's eye out with a BB, you'd be wanting something of rather greater offensive power to protect you from the consequences.
Thanks to my previous investment in a very practical tracked vehicle, I happened to have a heap of Airsoft ammunition sitting around. Airsoft pellets are 6mm plastic BBs of well-standardised mass, so they're good candidates for catapult watch range testing.
I'd just like to point out that I'm writing this with a completely straight face.
Held pretty much level and still, this watch managed to ping a 0.12 gram Airsoft ball about 1.5 metres (4 feet 11 inches), 0.2 gram ones about 1.3 metres, and 0.33 gram ones about one metre, measuring range on a flat surface, with the watch sitting only a couple of inches above that surface.
When I oiled the base of the arm, it added about a foot to the 0.2 gram range and increased the others proportionally. And you get some more extra range if the watch is significantly above the surface onto which the shot falls, as it's likely to be. The Backyard Artillery guys tell me that you can get a lot more range by artfully flicking your wrist as you fire. I have yet to master this technique.
Standard 0.177 calibre copper-plated steel BBs weigh about 0.34 grams, so they're not very good ammo for this thing. Popcorn kernels, on the other hand, vary in weight from around 0.1 to around 0.2 grams, so they should be pretty good. Not to mention very cheap.
My friends at Backyard Artillery also, by the way, say that they manage to get roughly six foot (two metre) range with a metal BB, which suggests that the watch I got might have a slightly lazy spring. Perhaps Android aren't quite as enthusiastic about ballistic standards as are Heckler and Koch.
If you just have to have Airsoft pellets but don't have Airsoft dealers in your area, you can get 0.12 gram BBs mail order from a variety of places, like for instance HobbyLink Japan, who'll sell you an 1800 BB bag for not much money here. Airsoft guns are illegal in various countries, including Australia, but the ammo's just a bag of plastic BBs and is thus rather less likely to leave you stamping license plates for the next 12 years with good behaviour.
Don't blame me if you buy a bag and get busted for importation of little plastic balls with terroristic intent, though.
At $US59 plus shipping for the watch plus some ammo, the Catapult Watch isn't cheap, but it's a darn long way from being expensive, too.
You'll know if you want one.
You'll probably know if you know someone who'd want one as a present, too.
I like mine.
RLT's page for the Catapult Watch
If you'd prefer some slightly more serious slinging, don't miss my review of the Tabletop Trebuchet!