No Frills, No Fuss

G-Shock DW-5600E Review: Just How Tough Is a $40 Plastic Watch?


June 13, 2018 Reviews By Photo by Hunter D. Kelley
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The DW-5600E is not the iconic original G-Shock, though you wouldn’t know from looking at it. The 5600 series first hit the scene in 1987 and has been in production in one form or another since then, and the current iteration is pretty much the most basic G-Shock you can buy. Save for a few small details here or there, it’s incredibly similar to the original but uses a plastic case in place of the original’s blacked-out stainless steel.

That might sound like a mark against the DW-5600E right off the bat, but the cheaper material works in the watch’s favor. For one, it means you can buy it for around $40 at your local Wal-Mart or Target. Secondly, because plastic has an elasticity to it that metal just doesn’t have, is absorbs shocks better. Given that G-Shock’s creator, Kikuo Ibe, set out to engineer a timepiece that could withstand careless wear without any issue, it’s not in any way out of line with the brand’s ethos.

Which brings us to this review. I wanted to see just how much abuse the most basic G-Shock could withstand before failing, and my torture testing went far beyond the occasional knock on a door jamb; I threw it, dropped it, hit it with a hammer and ran over it with my car to find its breaking point. And I was surprised to find how much abuse it could take.

The Good: If you want a truly tough-as-nails watch I’m not entirely sure you can do better than the DW-5600E. Well, maybe you could, but I don’t know how I’d feel about dropping anything more expensive three stories onto concrete – and that’s the point. For just $40 you get the toughest watch you could need, and while the DW-5600E is incredibly simple, with no frills to speak of, this is refreshing in and of itself. There’s no fuss with this watch — it just does its job, and it does it well.

Who They’re For: Anyone who needs or wants a beater watch and doesn’t want to spend much money. The good ol’ G-Shock has been the timepiece of choice amongst military servicepeople, police, firefighters, construction workers, et cetera — so if that’s you, this is as good a choice as any. If that isn’t you, but you still need something to wear while camping or working on DIY projects, this is still an excellent choice, especially if you don’t want to spend a lot of money on something you know will see some type of abuse.

Watch Out For: Most people probably won’t be buying the DW-5600E for its chronograph functionality and alarm, but they’re there. Setting these things up, as well as the time and date, is a little clunky and take some time to figure out. The recessed buttons — which you’ll need to be pushing a lot to set the time — certainly don’t help in this regard. This is more of an annoyance than a fatal flaw. The DW-5600E does have a fatal flaw, though, and it’s an inability to withstand the force of a Volvo station wagon’s driver’s side tire. More on this in a second.

Alternatives: The Timex Ironman Original is another tough, functional and cheap digital watch with roots in the 1980s. While the list price at $67 is a bit more than the G-Shock’s, there’s an extra degree of functionality in the Ironman. For example, the chronograph features are more extensive on the Ironman (which makes sense, given that it’s billed as a sports timepieces) and the exposed pushers are easier to use than the recessed buttons on the G-Shock; a “Night-Mode” is a nice touch, too. The Ironman is also rated as “shock-proof,” though I couldn’t tell you how it fares compared to the G-Shock. It’s probably still more than enough.

Review: Strap the DW-5600E to your wrist, and you’ll notice that it doesn’t really look or feel like most other G-Shocks you can buy right now. They’re massive, chunky, heavy and covered in countless nubs and facets. The DW-5600E, on the other hand, is comparably minimal. At 42.8mm wide and 13.4mm thick, it doesn’t wear much larger than most big sports watches you can buy today. Its design, still firmly rooted in its 1980s upbringing, is far more mundane. Fumble through its many functions — time, countdown timer, stopwatch, alarm, backlight — via its tiny, recessed buttons, and you’ll get an equally ’80s-tastic nostalgia blast.

So the DW-5600E is not like a modern G-Shock regarding aesthetics, nor does it have a large amount of functionality, but it’s still a pure distillation of what Ibe aimed to produce – namely, a nearly indestructible watch. More specifically, Ibe stipulated an ability to withstand 100 meters of water pressure and survive a 10-meter fall (10-year battery life was initially stipulated though not initially achieved). The watch is rated to 200 meters of water resistance, and since I’m not a diver, I’ll have to take Ibe’s word for it. But the 10-meter fall? I have a few things to say about that.

When I first got my hands on the DW-5600E I tossed it over my shoulder on hardwood flooring to prove how careless you can be with a watch like this. As you’d expect, there was no visible damage. Later wearing the watch — while moving — I went out of my way to bang the G-Shock on any surface within arm’s reach, and again there were no dings, scuffs or loss of functionality. These are the sort of everyday things that could damage a more fragile timepiece, and it’s no surprise that the DW-5600E was entirely unphased by them.

Photo: Andrew Connor

So I took the watch off and gave it a few good thwacks on wood and metal surfaces…nothing. Ready to kick things up a notch, I dropped the watch from the first-floor balcony of my building. Again, nothing. So I went up one more floor. Nothing, not even a damn scuff and all functions appeared to work properly. Looking to further the abuse in a more creative manner, I go inside and grab a claw hammer.

With the watch resting face-up on a piece of wood, I delivered the kind of considered blow you’d use to drive a nail into wood with one strike – it doesn’t phase the watch. I tried it again, failing to cause any perceptible damage. I rested the watch on its side and delivered another strike, leaving just a small scuff. I then attacked the DW-5600E with several fast-paced hits to its side and face. While the watch took on a couple of small dings, it otherwise continued functioning like it was just taken out of the box.

So I climbed to the third balcony of my building and dropped the G-Shock; it landed face-down with a loud, plastic-y thud. After the long walk down I picked it up to find it fully functioning. There appeared to be some concrete dust collected on the front of the case that wiped off easily, and the only damage sustained appeared to be a slight loosening of the screw holding the resin strap onto the case. So I tried the drop again, throwing the watch up into the air a few more feet before it arced back down to the ground. Nothing. Finally, I forcefully threw the watch at the wall of the neighboring building and witnessed the G-Shock ricochet its way to the ground. No sign of any damage.

Growing frustrated that I couldn’t impart any real damage to the DW-5600E I decided one final test was in order. I considered my Volvo station wagon, nearly two tons of Swedish steel, and put the watch face down on the pavement under the front driver’s side wheel. Shifting into first I slowly roll over it over and…nothing. No damage appeared to be done. I tried again, going into reverse. Still nothing. Finally, I set the watch on its side and tried for a third time. As I rolled over the watch, I hear a pop. The case back popped off, dislodging the screen and movement slightly from their once-impervious housing.

The cracked digital display had nothing on it and the plastic case, slightly deformed as it was ground into the pavement, finally showed the serious scuffs I had been looking for. The case back was not going to attach back on. The watch was, at this point, irreversibly fucked up. The only thing working, amazingly, was the backlight. I had finally succeeded.

And yet, as I was scooping up the remains and putting them in the cupholder of my car, I wished I hadn’t succeeded. The DW-5600E had survived far more abuse than any other watch would’ve, and more than any normal wearer would possibly have put it through. I felt a lingering sadness thinking about all the life it could’ve had left; I realized, at that moment, that this plastic, bargain-bin watch had an incredible amount of personality.

Verdict: The DW-5600E is more than a plastic watch you can feel comfortable tossing around with abandon – in being able to withstand so much abuse there’s an irrefutable charm to it. It’s the kind of watch that’ll accompany you until the end…so long as you don’t run over it with your car.

What Others Are Saying:

• “I didn’t buy this watch for travel. I bought it to have adventures in. I wanted a watch that I could scale mountains, go SCUBA diving and trek through jungles with. I wanted a watch that Indiana Jones could wear. I wanted something that could withstand all the cool activities and trips and adventures that I plan to have. And that’s what I got with my G-Shock DW-5600E-1V.” — Christian Alexandersen, Worn & Wound

Key Specs

Movement: Digital quartz
Case material: Resin
Case width: 42.8mm
Water resistance: 200m
Notable functions: Countdown timer, stopwatch, alarm

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