Breitling Exospace B55 – A Week on the Wrist
Mark Kelly, retired astronaut and Navy test pilot, stares off into the middle distance in the print ads Breitling is running for its new Exospace B55 Connected watch. He’s wearing a flight suit and the Exospace while, in the background, is Kelly’s former office – a runway at dusk, desert mountains looming behind. As a brand ambassador, Kelly is a perfect choice for Breitling, a brand that pretty much owns aviation and its associations within the luxury watch world. Kelly ups the game somewhat for Breitling as his astronaut status starts to encroach on Omega’s territory. What’s Kelly staring at? It hardly matters because that stare itself is so resolute, so self-assured, that all you want to do is stand beside the man and share the moment – it doesn’t matter what moment exactly – squinting with what you hope is an equal measure of grit. The watch featured to the right of Kelly in the ad reminds you that, yes, Breitling can help with that.
Dominant in the luxury aviation tool watch space, Breitling’s Professional series are the watches you might actually find on the wrist of a pilot, or astronaut, or arctic explorer. With their superior build quality, models like the Emergency, Cockpit or Aerospace underwrite the reputation of some of Breitling’s other, more ornamental, models with actual on-the-job experience. The Exospace B55 Connected that spent a week on my wrist is the newest member of the Professional series. It’s Breitling’s entry in the Swiss watch industry’s response to the so-called smart watch. Introduced as a concept over a year ago at Baselworld 2015, the Exospace that hit the market late in 2015 has, significantly, lost the WiFi-esque symbol and the “Connected” label on its dial.
Reviews often deal with what a watch is in the form of vital statistics like size and movement; what a watch is like (the experience of wearing it); and, occasionally, what a watch means. In the case of the B55, what the watch is and what it means are inextricably bound together. If, as William Gibson observed, wearables like the Apple watch only have meaning because they are nodes on a network – conduits for the rich functionality available through that network – then the Exospace is not a smartwatch. But it can do a passable imitation of one through the companion application on your smartphone. Notifications for incoming calls, emails and texts can show up on the watch’s digital display just as you would find in a Pebble or Moto, but they are not the watch’s primary purpose. The Exospace both borrows from and simultaneously inverts the smartwatch paradigm, where the watch is an extension of the phone. Everything the B55 does you can control through the watch itself via a series of menus (through the crown) and pusher presses to select an option. The Bluetooth-connected application on your phone is there as a powerful supplement, but it isn’t strictly necessary to operating the watch.
So, the Exospace is a feature-rich, luxury quartz watch, but figuring out what it means as an entry in the evolution of connected devices can’t be answered until the dust settles and a dominant model for watch/network interaction emerges. Breitling’s take on more intelligent watches is compelling because it charts a middle path that maintains its tool-watch integrity while participating in the potential of the new.
While the jury may still be out on what the B55 means, it’s easy to tell you what the Exospace is like. The 46mm silver titanium-cased version I had came with blue-accented hands and a matching blue TwinPro rubber strap. For a colour combination I would not normally have chosen for myself, the blue and blue worked extremely well. You don’t buy a Breitling to fly under anyone’s radar and the version I wore pushed me out of my comfort zone…to great effect. I knew I was wearing a Breitling, and so did everyone else. And it felt good; not just comfortable good, but out-of-character good, as though a social restriction had been lifted. In league together, the B55 and I flaunted the tyranny of IT business casual at the office. If you need something more sober, there are less rebellious combinations available including a silver titanium version with titanium bracelet that would be my choice if I were to enter a long-term relationship with the Exospace. The fit and finish are top notch and, despite its 46mm dimensions, the watch does not feel large on the wrist because of its light weight and soft, snug, rubber strap. I don’t know what alchemy Breitling uses for its anti-reflective coating, but as we’ve noted before, you have to work hard to angle the watch so that it reflects anything. The B55’s crystal is mountain-lake clear; almost invisible.
Powered by a thermocompensated Superquartz movement accurate to +/- 15 seconds per year, the B55 does need its battery charged from time to time. With the LED display and Bluetooth connectivity to your phone for notifications, Breitling estimates the watch can run for 2 months of regular use before needing a recharge. If you are a power user, mileage may vary. In a week of heavy button pressing and app testing, I only managed to drain the battery by 2 percent. With a magnetized dock for the cable on the case of the watch, charging is straightforward and swift, bringing from empty to full in under 2 hours.
The B55 is so feature-rich that it would take many pages to describe all it does. In fact, the Exospace comes with a dense manual that you may want to spend some quality time with. Once you grasp the menuing system accessed through the watch’s crown, activating the mission timer or changing the format of the date display is easy. However, using the app that comes with the watch makes for a more simple and efficient B55 experience. Changing time zones, for instance, is accomplished through a single button on the application’s well-designed user interface. Press “Swap Time” and the hands of the watch move to the selected time zone.
The B55 Application’s User Interface in Sport Mode
Available for both the iOS and Android platforms, the B55 Connected application gives you easy access to settings like the tilt angle for the LED displays, as well as the watch’s manuals and update features. There has been concern expressed on forums that the physical watch will become quickly outdated as a platform. However, the application itself and the firmware are both upgradeable through the update feature, ensuring the watch’s longevity as a tool and as an investment.
There’s more. The application acts as an analytics aggregator: that’s IT-speak for its ability to collect many records of things like lap or flight times in one place, allowing you to export these records to another program (like a spreadsheet). The “CSV Format” setting seen above tells the application how to store your information. So, even though the watch isn’t in direct competition with devices like the FitBit, if you were disciplined enough to track laps during your workout, you could store that information and track your progress through the B55’s companion application.
The smartwatch features aren’t strictly necessary to using the Exospace, but they do make it much easier to take full advantage of what the watch offers natively. The Exospace’s ability to participate in, and borrow from, the rich functionality offered by devices like fitness trackers and smartwatches will make it appealing to technophiles, but it’s excellence of craft that will appeal to watch (and Breitling) enthusiasts.
For more information, go to breitling.com
Pricing: $8,895 CDN