Bulova Computron Review: A Modernized LED Marvel

By: Andrew Gatto

There’s no denying the fact Bulova Watches has been on a roll in recent years with their relatively affordable vintage inspired reissue watches. They reintroduced the Lunar Pilot Chronograph “Moon Watch” in 2015 with much fanfare and gave it a face lift again in 2017.

In 2018, Bulova reissued the famed “Devil Diver”, an orange dialed dive watch that was originally from 1972. So it was without much surprise that we saw them reintroduce another vintage inspired watch at Baselworld 2019, but this time with a twist. The Bulova Computron, a digital LED “driving” watch originally from 1976, has been brought back with some cosmetic and internal updates. Offered in three case colors, the Computron is a unique watch for many reasons (not the least of which is the fact it’s a digital Bulova).

Born during the quartz crisis, the Computron was Bulova’s answer to declining mechanical watch sales and their attempt to remain innovative and relevant in difficult times. The futuristic case shape and unique quartz LED module meant the Computron stood out from the competition in the 1970s and 80s. Today, the Computron reissue is more of a nod to the past than a step forward in watch technology, but it’s an interesting take on a watch that helped Bulova overcome the quartz crisis.

The Computron’s Trapezoidal Case

The Computron’s case is about as far from traditional as you can get, which adds to its vintage 1970s charm. The shape is best described as “trapezoidal” (specifically acute trapezoidal if I remember my high school geometry correctly) and has a rectangular profile when viewed from above. Constructed of stainless steel, the review model I have is Ion Plated (IP) with a glossy black finish and black rubber strap, however gold tone and plain stainless case colors are also available with matching bracelets for the Bulova Computron.

The top of the retro-inspired digital watch features shallow grooves that add a bit of character to an otherwise plain case design. The sides are vertical slabs, only broken up by a recessed button on the left and an exposed button on the right.

The back side is short, but angles sharply towards the top. The front is the most exciting with a red tinted mineral crystal taking up most of the space which also angles towards the top. The case design is clearly straight out of the 1970s with its sharp angles and “modern” design, which Bulova nailed with this reissue. However, this design isn’t for everyone and some may describe it as plain or boring which is a fair portrayal if you are accustomed to today’s round watch designs. On wrist, the rectangular design is surprising comfortable due to its reasonable dimensions of 40mm lug to lug, 31mm wide and 13.8mm thick.

Although the black case is likely to be considered the sportiest of the three, I have found the glossy finish to show fingerprints with ease. This wouldn’t be a big deal for a traditional digital or analog watch, but the Computron requires you to press a button on the case side to read the time, which is sure to leave fingerprints.

The Quartz Module and LED Screen

The Comuptron uses a quartz module and a red LED display (blue LED display on the plain stainless steel case version) to show the time and date. Unlike other digital watches which use a low powered liquid crystal display, this LED display consumes more battery power if it were to be on all the time. This leads to the Bulova Computron’s most unique feature, an on-demand display to help prevent unnecessary battery drain. When looking at the watch, the display is blank until a button is pressed on the right side of the case. Once pressed, the time (hours:minutes) is displayed for about 5 seconds. If pressed again while the time is displayed, the seconds appear. If pressed again while the seconds is displayed, the date is displayed. If pressed again while the date is displayed, the day abbreviation is displayed. Finally, if pressed again while the day abbreviation is displayed, the second time zone time is displayed.

The on-demand display is certainly a unique concept, but in practice I found it annoying to use. When I want to know the time, I don’t want to have to use both of my hands to do so. I simply want to glance at my wrist and carry on with what I was doing without much thought or effort. With that being said, when this watch was originally released in the 1970s, the on-demand display was necessary so I give Bulova credit for sticking with the original design even in modern times.

The Rubber Strap

The black case version I have came on a black integrated rubber strap while the gold and stainless steel versions come with matching stainless steel bracelets. The rubber is soft and supple to the touch which makes for a very comfortable wearing experience. Similar to the case top, the strap has a grooved pattern that runs the length which adds a bit of style to the overall watch.

The strap has a sizable taper going from 25mm at the case to 16mm at the ends. If it wasn’t for this amount of taper, the strap would easily overwhelm the digital watch and detract from the overall design.

Overall Thoughts

I applaud Bulova for thinking outside the box and reissuing a digital LED watch when everyone else seems to be focusing on remaking analog watches from their back catalogs. The overall quality and finish of the new Computron is amazing, especially considering the relatively affordable price. With that being said, I feel this watch is a novelty piece that would be difficult to wear as an everyday watch.

Yes, the dimensions and soft rubber strap make it very comfortable on the wrist, but the on-demand display makes it impractical from my personal experience. The feature that makes this watch so different is also the feature that holds it back. But, if you are looking for something different (in both design and function) as an occasional watch, the Bulova Computron may be worth looking at.

Bulova Computron Specs:

  • Ref. 98C135
  • Case Dimensions: 40mm lug to lug, 31mm wide, 13.8mm thick
  • Weight: 80.5g
  • Case Construction: Stainless steel with black IP coating
  • Case Back: Stainless steel with battery door
  • Strap: Black rubber
  • Crystal: Red mineral crystal
  • Movement: Quartz with red LED display
  • Water Resistance: 30 meters
  • MSRP: $295 USD


 
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6 thoughts on “Bulova Computron Review: A Modernized LED Marvel”

  1. Very interesting indeed. I was interested in this watch from a driving perspective since you don’t have to turn your wrist, but if you have to use your other hand to display the time, that defeats the purpose.

    Reply
    • Great writeup and I agree with a lot of it. Would have been nice to do something like include a cheap accelerometer and turn on the display with a gesture, say two turns of the wrist. Shouldn’t add more than a couple bucks to the cost and would be a very handy feature!

      Reply
  2. Before the widespread adoption of LCD displays, ALL digital watches used LED’s and needed to be “activated” to display the time.

    It was a driving watch because other digital watches at the time required you to remove BOTH hands from the wheel.

    With a typical mechanical watch, you had to remove your left hand from the wheel to see the time, so it’s no less convenient than a standard watch. Except that during the 70’s most people were used to having their right hand leave the wheel because manual transmissions were still standard equipment on most cars. And it was your right hand that you shifted with. So crossing it over to push a button was no big deal.

    It’s easy to forget that these LED watches were once hailed as the future of all watch making. Quartz Accuracy, Solid state components (no moving parts to break), silent operation, and the only maintenance was occasional battery replacement.

    But then companies like TI flooded the market, and what was once upscale and cool, could now be bought for less than 10 bucks in the grocery store. Soon LCD’s took over and became the defacto face of digital watches.

    But there is still something really cool about the LED’s. And the Bulova Blue LED sitting on my wrist as I type this reminds me of how cool they really were.

    Reply
  3. Let me say cars have clocks today. I am old enough to remember when clocks were an expensive option in cars, so a watch like this was useful. If one opted not to buy the car’s clock some manufacturers will leave the hole on the dashboard with the wiring coming out dangling. Since cars have clocks today, this is more of a watch for some occasions or as a conversation piece. It still cool after all this years.

    Reply

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