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Will the Garmin D2 Air make pilots wear watches again?

Garmin’s new D2 Air (retail price: $499) does those essential things—as well as hundreds of others, some of which are really useful.

Unlike Garmin’s previous bulky forays into aviation watches, the D2 Air is light, comfortable, and visually appealing. Its lithium-ion battery lasts all day (10 hours) in the air with internal GPS and other power-hungry sensors on, and a full workweek (five days) on the ground in normal operation.

The D2 Air’s best new features for pilots are: built-in oxygen and pulse sensors; an altimeter; direct-to GPS navigation; airport weather reports; sunrise, sunset, and civil twilight times; and flight logging functions tied to the Garmin Pilot app. Less useful items include the Garmin Pay app (who knew Garmin even had one?); animated workouts; a buzzer that lets you know you’ve taken enough steps; and distracting alarms whenever you get an email,  receive a text, or talk on your phone. (Do I really need my watch to tell me I’m talking on the phone? Perhaps as a way to avoid prolonged butt-dials.)

The D2 Air pairs to a smartphone via Bluetooth and the Garmin Connect app, and it can link to Wi-Fi networks, too.

Garmin is a big player in wearable technology ranging from watches to dog collars, and the D2 Air is specialized for pilots the way other Garmin watches are made for hikers, runners, bikers, and fishermen.

The Garmin D2 Air is customized for pilots. Image courtesy of Garmin International.

Personally, I quit wearing watches several years ago when the battery in my last Timex Ironman died. Since a smartphone is my constant companion, I saw no point in replacing the dead battery, and the watch has resided in the bottom of a dusty desk drawer ever since.

But I’ve enjoyed test-driving the D2 Air and wearing a watch again.

It’s inobtrusive, and it has a clever sensor that somehow knows when you twist your wrist to glance at it. (If that doesn’t work, just double-tap the screen to wake it up.) Then the watch face shows a classic screen containing hour, minute, and sweep second hands. It also displays the temperature, surface wind, and the sky conditions at an airport of your choice; the day and time; and the digital time.

Other more advanced functions take some time to learn. And the eight-page Quick Start Manual that comes with the watch doesn’t do much to explain them. That requires digging into the Garmin website where the online manual resides.

Today’s gadgets can do so much that some of the biggest decisions that designers must make is what to leave out. Here, Garmin shows some laudable self-discipline by avoiding a “kitchen sink” strategy. Previous Garmin pilot watches included dubious features such as the ability to remotely control video cameras, for example, that wasted electrons.

The D2 Air avoids such pitfalls. It’s a smart, elegant, and helpful addition to any pilot’s throttle hand.

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