Digitally Curious - A Vintage LCD Watch Blog

Digitally Curious - A Vintage LCD Watch Blog

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  • Thursday, March 12th, 2009 - 12:22 pm
  • Casio AT-550 [320] Janus Finger Trace Touch Sensor calculator watch

  • **I think I promised to put the AX-510 article, but I just had to put this one first!**

    Today's watch is Casio's one and only "Janus" touch sensor finger trace calculator watch. Model AT-550, module 320. Code name "Janus Finger Trace Touch Sensor Calc"

    Here's mine. It's Mint. And by mint, I mean it is brand new in box with tag and manual. What's that in ebay lingo? NIBWTM? ;)

    This watch was introduced in 1984 and shipped in a rather simple box just like any other Casio watch from that era. (At least that's what I think - I'm not the original owner, but I am pretty sure that this is the original box as that's what the original owner told me when he sold me this watch.)

    At first glance, it looks like an ordinary Casio Janus. What is a Janus?? For many years in the 80's, Casio used the word "Janus" to refer to their analog/digital combination watches. I think this was because the greek god Janus had two faces.

    Let's take a closer look. The watch construction features a Cr plated base metal case with stainless steel snapback.

    This is attached to a very nice stainless steel band with the common locking clasp. (A leather band option was also available.)

    There is a crown on the right side that controls the obvious--the analog movement; and two buttons on the left side control the digital movement.

    So, everything about this watch screams normal. I would even go as far as to say boring! Even upon closer inspection, the watch looks just like any other Casio. *YAWN* Isn't this just a regular analog-digital? What's so special about this watch??

    What makes this watch a $200+ collector's item (if mint) is its touch sensor calculator. As Casio clearly shows in their 1984 catalog, this watch has a touch sensor that allows you to DRAW your numbers directly onto its glass screen.

    And indeed, you can draw on the screen. Even though I was very very skeptical at first, it works incredibly well. The number input is very intuitive, with almost no learning curve. You just draw any of these characters listed below, not including the brackets.

    [ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 + - × ÷ = . ]

    The watch will even recognize common variations for number input. For example, you can input 8 as two circles on top of each other, or as a continuous line that intersects in the middle. Each time the watch recognizes your input, it will beep once to acknowledge it. You can turn this beep off, if you wish. If you make a mistake, you just have to press the upper left button to undo your last input.

    The calculator itself is limited to simple 8-digit arithmetics, but I never fail to get a "wow" when showing this watch to people. Then they faint when I tell them that the watch is from 1984. Even though people are used to touch-screens on their iPhones and GPS devices, they just don't expect that technology to be applied in an analog watch from the 80's.

    Now, many people who buy this watch used will complain that the input method doesn't work properly. This isn't because the method is flawed, but rather because of the scratches that are on their used watch. The entire glass plate acts as a sensor, so any scratches on the surface (or even a dirty finger) will hinder the watch's input recognition system. By the way, the glass "talks" to the electronics via a very thin "zebra" strip on the right top edge of the glass. It is very cleverly camouflaged in the inner black trim, and only distinguishable if you've seen the disassembly of the watch.

    Well even if the touch sensor quits on you, you can still use the regular functions like a daily alarm, hourly signal, stopwatch and day/date/month display. None of those utilize the touch sensor, which is quite a shame.

    As far as I know, this watch was only produced/sold in 1984. Then it was discontinued and never made again. It all makes sense to me. I can't imagine a lot of people buying this watch, as it looks so simple and cost so much. You can see an advert for this exact watch, with a sale price of $99.95, in the Feb 1984 issue of Popular Science, page 129. That's a lot of money!

    (Don't call that number, On The Run went out of business a looooong time ago.)

    Casio made some other watches with the same touch sensor technology, both before and after this model, but this was their only Janus model.

    Because it was only made for a short period and was not popular during its production run, this model is very rare. It has a very odd supply/demand curve: very very few people want it, but even fewer people have it.

    One last thing: I just love those old school Casio boxes; don't you?

  • Filed under: watch
  • Comments!
  • » Beautiful article!
    Maybe one of my favorite watches: it looks boring but it is'nt!
    I wore it at a party once and someone asked me about that ugly, old, lame, boring watch I was wearing: analogue with digital windows were a big hit in the 80's but now they seem a bit out of style!...Then I told him that he's probably never seen a watch like this in his entire life - He laughed: "My father had one, my uncle, my brother..." I repeated: "They didn't have this watch!" I noticed other guys started laughing at me...then I knew it was time to show them: writing on the glass with the tip of my finger - and by some sort of magic the figures I drew appeared on the display with a little 'beep'...Their jaws dropped and half of them now wanted to have one..."Where did you get it? Is it new? I want it!...." They couldn't believe it's 20+ years old...They only knew touchscreens from their brandnew iPods+Phones...I was laughing...
    Now I'm the "watch guy" and whenever we meet they ask about the watch I'm wearing today and what does it do - even if it's an ugly one - they always love it! (btw LED watches will always draw attention and are good icebreakers / conversation starters)

    About your NIBWTM there's a tiny little flaw: brandnew they came with a sticker on the back showing the input pattern for the calculator and on the glass was a protective cover...
    (I'm sorry - I always have to give my 2 cents)

  • by: NerdWatcher, submitted Tuesday, March 17th, 2009 - 4:25 am
  • » I just dug out my old AT550G and took it to a watch repair shop to see if they could restore the calculator function. Lo, and behold, it was only the battery. The shop forgot about the calculator aspect and only replaced the battery. I called them and told them that the calculator function was now working and they were at a loss for words. I was expecting more and a $4.00 charge! Unfortunately, I can recall how to enter the numbers. Does anyone have the instructions?
  • by: Hal, submitted Sunday, March 22nd, 2009 - 12:41 pm
  • » i have one of these watches, never worn it though, bit nerdy, altough im thinking of bustin it one night just for the atention it seems to attract :o) i also have an instruction manual in what seems about 5000 languges including clingon.
  • by: geoff, submitted Friday, June 12th, 2009 - 10:30 am
  • » by the way i ment bustin it as in wearing it not smashing it up in case anyone was wondering ..

  • by: geoff, submitted Saturday, June 13th, 2009 - 5:36 pm
  • » I received one of these as a gift, but there was no manual included, and I can't seem to find one online. Can anyone scan it?
  • by: Josh Santangelo, submitted Wednesday, December 16th, 2009 - 1:05 pm
  • » I loved this watch and I am just starting to hunt one down again. I was in high school when I bought it from Service Merchandise. It's untimely demise came when I was on vacation in LA and had the batter replaced. He put the wrong battery in and it let out load scream of death. He handed it back and said it was broke, then hid in back until I left. I was furious. I was a little computer hacker at the time, so I tracked him down and charged several international conference calls to his home number...ahh, sweet revenge.
  • by: Kevin, submitted Friday, February 5th, 2010 - 11:41 am
  • » Like the prior poster, I bought one of these in high school (circa 1985) from a Service Merchandise store, about an hour after one of the other nerds in my computer club showed me his at a meeting (Kevin, was that you?). They were on clearance for $30 and I managed to snag the last one that store had in stock. It was stolen out of my car a year later and I've pined for that watch ever since. Funny thing is that the guy who swiped it probably had no idea of the calculator function. As I recall, once that sticker was peeled off the back, there wasn't much about the watch that betrayed this secret feature.
  • by: Scott, submitted Wednesday, February 24th, 2010 - 1:09 am
  • » I have one of these watches minus the battery...can someone please tell me what the battery model is? Thanks! mikee60369 AT aol DOT com
  • by: Michael, submitted Friday, March 5th, 2010 - 1:17 am
  • » I also own the brilliant Casio AT-55G watch. A gold one bought in Dubai by a work colleague for £50 back in 1984. Its been working ever since, and still amazes youngsters who marvel at the nearly 30 year old technology that has never been superseded.
    I have replaced the battery many times as they only last less than a year. I bought a job lot of 20 of Vartia V362's on the internet as this is much cheaper way to buy them. The shelf life is 10 years so they should last for a while. Always use silver oxide replacement batteries as alkaline ones can leak and wreak the watch.
    A hidden feature I found is to hold both buttons in for about 3 seconds. This appears to be a diagnostic mode and first shows all the LCD segments. Then press the top button and all zero's will appear and you are in a test mode. Touch any of the 9 sensor grid areas on the face of the watch and the LCD display will show the segment you have touched and by how much.
    Segment 0 is top left, segment 8 is bottom right and is shown in the left most digit on the LCD display. The right 3 digits show how much of the segment was detected from 1 to 180. Not sure what the other digits mean but they don't appear to change. I guess the processor in the watch uses this information to determine the character drawn.
    Press the bottom button to restore the watch back to normal.
    Anyone else tried this?
    Using the calculator is a doddle. Press the bottom button and CAL will appear. Although it takes some practice, you simply draw what you want like calculating pie 22/7=
    Draw 2 (wait for beep), draw 2 (wait for beep), draw an old fashioned divide symbol, a line with a dot above and below (wait for beep), draw 7 (wait for beep), draw =
    3.1428571 will appear.
    When in calculator mode, top button clears the last entry, bottom button clears the calculation on the first press, the next press will exit calculator mode.
  • by: julian, submitted Saturday, September 11th, 2010 - 4:26 am
  • » The casio AT-550 already was sold in 1983! I have a spanish cataloge from "Diciembre 1983" with the same cover picture as seen at this side. If interested, I can scan it and post to you.
  • by: Ralph Krause, submitted Saturday, September 18th, 2010 - 10:36 am
  • » I got this watch off my mates dad about 15 years ago
    as payment for puting a new braelet on one of his other watches, BARGAIN! Anyway he said he bought the watch in singapore back in 1983. The only thing is i dont have a box for it although a do have the original instruction booklet. Im asuming that the white casio box is what it would have originaly come in when new? ive looked every where for any old casio watch box 'boot fairs' 'ebay' 'charity shops' but do you think i can find one!! AAAHHHGG!!
  • by: Geoff, submitted Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 - 10:03 am
  • » I had one of these watches back in the late 80's. It fell off my wrist in the middle of a [bonified] hurricane onto the middle of a highway - where it was repetedly run over by many many vehicles. When someone found it the next day, it was destroyed! I never was able to replace it - and am still amazed to this day that it ever existed!!
  • by: Brad Goodman, submitted Tuesday, January 4th, 2011 - 8:27 am
  • » Got one of these AT-550's. I can't find the manual, but I figured out MOST of the features...except how to enter "5" on the calc. I get "9's" instead. Comments?
  • by: David, submitted Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011 - 10:32 am
  • » I bought one of these on clearance sale in 1985 or so for $30. Wore it daily for about 10 years, then put it in a drawer until the early 2000's when I sold it on eBay to some collector in Germany for $160 (it was a little beat up from 10 years of daily use, but all functions worked fine).
  • by: Marc, submitted Saturday, September 24th, 2011 - 11:04 pm
  • » Well, indeed it is an admirable piece and thank you for the very complete article. I also had one, which kept company to my also-lost PF-8000.

    And it is really elegant, I liked it because I had a calculator at hand (literally) but didn't look nerdy at all! I do believe it was extremely useful on my high school Physics exam. I think.

    I loved it but since I had not seen one in a long time, I was starting to wonder if it was a product of my imagination.

    Glad it wasn't!
  • by: Andrés S., submitted Friday, January 27th, 2012 - 9:56 am
  • » To answer the folk who was wondering how to enter "five"; the top line of number 5 should go from left to right and the rest can be continued as it should. The watch will register "5" on the display. That's actually the correct way right a "5".
  • by: Babak, submitted Wednesday, January 16th, 2013 - 7:12 pm
  • » I purchaced one of the Janus calculator watches that came with the leather band in 1987. I got it in a store along 5th Street in Pittsburgh, PA. I still own the watch and although I long lost the casio box and owners manual. I kept the watch several years in an old jewelry case and last summer bought a new battery to see it if it still had life left. It works! The watch has only minor wear and has its original leather band. I am curious how much it worth.
  • by: Todd D. Walker, submitted Friday, April 20th, 2012 - 6:53 pm
  • » I just dusted off mine, and replaced the battery. Works perfectly! I bought it new back in 1984-ish. It cost alot of money for me at the time, working part time during high school.
    Any buyers out there? Thinking of putting it on eBay.
  • by: Morten B, submitted Friday, May 24th, 2013 - 1:10 am
  • » Hi, awesome article on the Casio AT-550 [320] Janus Finger Trace Touch Sensor calculator watch. I have one I bought in 1984 that quit working about a year ago. Does anyone any idea if there is any place that could and would fix one? Thank You, Scott
  • by: Scott K., submitted Thursday, September 12th, 2013 - 8:16 pm
  • » I just bought one of these on eBay for $90! Advertised as not working, may only need a battery. I bought the battery and it works perfectly! Love the simple styling and incredible 1984 technology! Casio is my favorite 80' watch brand!
  • by: Mike Bybee, submitted Friday, September 20th, 2013 - 9:28 pm
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