Sunday, January 6, 2013

GPS Watches...I want YOUR reviews!

Do you run with a GPS watch?  Which one? Why did you pick that model?  Have you had others? What are you planning on buying next, or are you happy with watch X?  Do you think GPS watches are for sissies?  Do you use a smartphone app?  I want to know everything!

I am seeking some input just because I feel like a lot of the reviews out there are pretty stale old "one run and review" kinds of posts, except for DC Rainmaker, who goes so in-depth it is amazing.  That said, he has such enormous experience and expectations with many of the pieces he tests, and I am more interested in those of us who can only afford one piece of kit.

Given that I am training for a 50-mile ultra, I have had it in my mind that I need a Suunto Ambit or a Garmin Fenix.  My reasoning is that they have a huge battery potential and are geared towards epic outdoor activity, even multi-day adventures in the wilderness.  I keep telling Moira that they have many useful features for work, etc.

Well, that is just plain ridiculous because those watches cost $400 for Fenix without heart rate ($40 with), and $500 for an Ambit without heart rate ($550 with).  As you may or may not recall, I work for a non-profit environmental outfit. My many pairs of running shoes belie my relative poverty! Yeah...$500 for a running watch is not happening.

After all, people have been running ultras for decades without 30-hour battery life in their high-zoot GPS.  I actually had sworn off GPS for a full year before now.  In 2012 I did not use a GPS watch for a single run. As of this week, though, I had enough of the data-free life.  If I am going to legitimately reclaim my ultramarathon swagger, I need to drop some weight and start logging hard miles.  No shortcuts to a 50-mile finish.

I have 8 months, so I have plenty of time. I will probably run a few marathons this summer on trails (maybe one that is a an actual sanctioned race, the rest will just be 26-30 mile long runs on camping weekends in Michigan). January, February, and March are all about base-building, weight loss, strength, and general diet/fitness.  I need data to know I am actually doing well.  I need motivation.

In short, I do actually need a GPS watch, and even Moira agrees. I trained for all my other distance races using GPS watches and I love the data.  I love logging in and seeing all my hard work on glowing graphs and stuff.  All that said, I really don't need massive info broken down in microscopic bits. I don't NEED an Ambit or a Fenix.  What I need is distance, average pace, elapsed time, and that's about it.  I can get by with one of the $100-$150 jobs out there.

In reading many reviews and obsessing over my purchase, I had it down to several watches in that price range, a range I can actually almost afford.  As I have not had a watch in a year, I have been carrying my iPhone on runs.  That is easy in winter in Michigan, as I usually run with a Nike Element jacket, which has a perfect iPhone cubby.  When it warms up, I hate carrying anything at all, though.

Using the iPhone, I have tried several apps, Strava and the latest Nike+ apps made the final cut.  The Strava app is OK, but I don't care for the community stuff...it is always pushing you to participate in their community online.  I just want a pretty place to look at my data and maps! And I don't think it is all that pretty, honestly.

Given that I am a solo runner now, though, I do like some encouragement.  Maybe that is why I gravitated towards the newest Nike+ app.  I actually smile at the cheesy "attaboys" it gives you, and I think they have come along way in terms of reliability, provision of useful data, and user-interface.  I used Nike+ when I started running, but soon found the world of Garmin and used that for two years.  In 2011 I used a Suunto t6c all year (not a GPS, but it has a footpod for distance) mostly because I was exclusively running trail races and typical pace and distance were sort of meaningless...I cared about heart rate, duration, and elevation.

Anyway, lately I have ten using the new Nike+ app and I like it, so I went ahead and bought a Nike+ GPS watch.  These have been out a while now, and they were both loved and loathed when they were first on the scene.  Most reviews you will find are old, old, old...and not very relevant to the product as it stands now. It has has dozens of firmware upgrades, and the website is great in my opinion, in a basics-only-perfect-for-Average-Guy kind of way.  I like the animated maps, the colorful interface, the goal setting stuff, and the way it translates between the watch the iPhone app, and the internet...it is all seamless and "computing-cloudy."

The Nike+ watch is also found far, far cheaper now than when it came out, and it has a backup shoe pod for when GPS signals cut out or you hit a tunnel or tree cover.  I like that, even though it isn't very accurate, it at least records SOMEthing to keep the run going.  My Garmin Forerunner lost signal in the first mile of the Chicago Marathon in 2010 and I never got it back until mile 3...so basically I was doing mental math the entire race...which was a nightmare.

Anyway, the Nike+ watch works great for me, and it isn't a half bad looking watch either.  Plus it can be found for under $150.  I feel like if the reliability, price, and software were as good as they are now when it first came out, this would have been a big hit right off the bat.  As it stands, it is seen as sort of older tech, and people have quite moved on.  That is too bad because in my experience, Nike+ is sort of like the third or fourth year a car model is on the road...the bugs have been worked out quite a bit. It isn't perfect, but none of these GPS watches are, and after all it is somewhat affordable, and is fun for an average mid-packer.

Getting all bent out of shape over the exact precision and features of a GPS watch are sort of funny anyway.  To me, I think the fact that a watch can talk to satellites in outer space to track your every move and beam info into computer servers around the world and that you can pick up your telephone an instant later and see all your data and all the data for every run you have ever tracked...well, it is pretty ridiculous and we are pretty damn spoiled. It reminds me of the Louis C.K. routine to that effect where he makes fun of people who are upset that it takes a few seconds for the smartphone to update Facebook.

I was able to buy this watch at Target for cheap and now I can use an easy internet interface and my smartphone to keep a good log of my runs to see my basic progress.  That is plenty of tech for me.  When rubber meets the trail I really don't care what my watch says anyway, I will be going with my guts.

So tell me your stories of GPS highs and lows. What are your favorites? Your nightmares? Leave a comment, I want to get some personal experiences out there from my readers!

34 comments:

Peter Larson said...

I've tried a bunch of GPS watches, but reviewing them is tough, DC Rainmaker is really the go-to soure. The Timex Run Trainer keeps crashing on me, the Motorola MotoActv is very cool, but suffered from some major 1st version flaws, and inability to import data easily into SportTracks made it a bear to use. If they'd improve the battery life, fix the headphone jack, etc. it could be a top player, but sadly seems they may be dropping it. Soleus makes some cool, basic watches if all you need is pace and distance.

For the past 3 years I've almost exclusively used the Garmin 205 or 305. Old tech but it works and does everything I need. Finaly upgraded to the 610 (Xmas present) and am loving it so far. The only reason I wanted an upgrade was so I could have a watch that would double as an everyday wristwatch, which is not possible with the 205/305!

Pete

Anonymous said...

Hi, I have tried some Android apps, and am very happy with Runkeeper, that gives voice feedback in the ear. But - when I first ran a halfmarathon in Oslo, the GPS for the first time messed up bigtime. After some kilometers something happened to the tracker, so it did not stick to my route, but was jumping all over the place. Frustrated by this I got a Garmin 610, that I imagine has a more reliable GPS receiver. But I am not really pleased with it, since it is too much hassle to have to get my laptop, find the USB-ANT-stick, and sit still and wait for the stick and watch to talk together for quite some time before it updates to the computer. And if that wasn't enough, the watch takes forever to receive GPS signals before I can start running. Runkeeper finds my location and is ready to go in a heartbeat, but the Garmin takes several minutes, and often needs a restart before ready to go. When running though, I really like the 610.
I tried to pair my Runkeeper app with a Polar bluetooth hartbeatmonitor, but is really not to recommend. Lots of problems usually it lost connectivity somewhere along the way, and then not really being able to connect again.

So what I am looking for is something that is as good as Garmin on the road, and as quick and easy as an android app before and after running. Give me that, and I am willing to pay quite a lot!

Zak said...

Thanks, guys! Pete, I ran the 205 from the time it came out until I switched to the Suunto t6c. I agree, it was reliable for me, too. You are right that it was crazy to think of wearing it as a regular watch!

Thanks for the input...I think you will love the 610 from what I have read. It sounds like they really have the touch screen thing figured out and it looks great, too!

Zak said...

Anonymous...I forgot about Runkeeper! I used that for a while myself instead of Garmin Connect. That is my main gripe with Garmin is that software. Not that it doesn't work, but it never looked appealing or got me inspired. I actually do like Movescount from Suunto, they are always updating it and refining it. I think they (Suunto) need a $200 GPS watch. I know they are stuck on foot pods for the Quest and other models, but geesh...if you can get a $100 Soleus with GPS, you should be able to get a Suunto CORE or something with GPS! As for your connectivity issues, I agree about phone apps. My iPhone never takes more than a few seconds to lock on and be ready to go. Of course, I hate carrying a phone! All that said, I know my wife appreciates it when I do, and I do have some extra piece of mind knowing that in a jam I have it there for safety. Maybe when I get the new phone, it is apparently lighter.

Peter Larson said...

MY 205/305 take a long time to sync with satellites, but after the initial connection my 610 now seems to connect instantly. I was shocked yesterday because it connected almost seconds after activating the GPS - never seen that before. Wonder if it depends on geography?

Durty Feets said...

Zak,

I've tried iPhone apps and I'm on my second garmin. I find that iPhone GPS apps are not as accurate as the newer watches and they eat up my battery. I used to have a 405 which was great but the battery started to get old and died 4 hours into my first 6 hr run. I did facebook research and found that the 310xt lasted through a Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim for a friend of mine (20hrs, I think.) I was sold. For me the battery life was key. I think I spent about 200 for the 310xt and I'm pretty happy with it. Since you going into a 50 miler, you'll need some battery life and I don't think the Moto, Nike, etc have that kind of horsepower. Ambit and Fenix are really sexy looking and I know the Ambit held up for a friends 50 miler but I'm with you, $500 is steep no matter how sexy.

Good luck.
Brad aka durtyfeets.

Irunman said...

So I use the Garmin 910XT (triathlete) that loves the swim function and on the bike it tracks everything. For just running I guess there are plenty out there. As far as GPS Aps go I really do Like Strava it is fun for me. But probably the best for just pure data crunching and looking at numbers is Training Peaks I use it myself and for all of my athletes. It gives you so much probably more than you need. Whatever way you go, have fun and Run More!!!!

Cheers,
Anthony

Zak said...

Pete, I think it might. One thing I found interesting about the Nike+ watch is that if you don't sync it for a couple days or so it searches for satellites for 2 minutes as well. BUT, if you sync it with Nike+ right before you step outside, one of the functions of the software on every login is to update satellite positions. If you do that it seems to login in in seconds.

Zak said...

Brad, you are 100% right that really none of the $100-$15-0 watches have that kind of memory horsepower. I guess for my needs anything that reliably holds a charge for 5 hours or so is plenty. Any more than that, which is probably only going to be a handful of times this year, I will likely just pre-calculate some splits and use the handy old "slip of paper" GPS! I know for my 50-mile race I won't even use GPS at all...I will have a good idea of goals for various aid stations and will just use a regular old digital watch to measure my progress against the clock.

Zak said...

Anthony, Training Peaks is another great app...another one I had forgotten about! That is a serious tool. If you have the kit (and your 910xt fits the bill) I know you can really get a hell of a lot out of the Training Peaks software. Maybe if I ever really set some goals beyond completing a race I will get that into data!

Chris said...

Garmin forever tarnished their reputation with me after using their hideous 405. Random starts and stops, charging problems, terrible interface. With that watch Garmin hit a home run of horribleness. Eventually it started to freak out every time I tried to charge it, and I went back to my much bulkier but much more reliable 305. When I'm in the market for a new, compact GPS I'll be looking at another brand.

While not very accurate, I do really enjoy using the Nike+ app on my previous generation iPod nano. I picked up a fancy watch band to house it, and use it to run with tunes and do basic distance/time tracking.

Zak said...

Thanks, Chris! I agree about the Nike+ app. With the GPS watch it is fairly accurate for me. I like the interface on the new software. Sorry your Garmin experience was so poor, I had massive issues with a 110 for a while before I got rid of it.

Al D. said...

Zak - I've been through 2 Garmins. The first was the BRICK - don't remember the # but it was the original. Worked ok, but GPS was new then. I then got the 405 and spent more time complaining about it in the 3 years I used that. The bezel was a pain. If it got wet, forget it..all of sudden the screen was locked on a compass or some function I didn't even know was there. Finally, the battery died and that was that because you can't replace it!I got the Nike+ Sportwatch, and had bunch of trouble with it and wound up returning 2 of them due to the screen going blank in the middle of a run. But, I've had my 3rd one about 15 months and am very happy with it...accurate, good looking, links up pretty quickly. I ran a technical trail run >8hrs and the battery still had some juice in it, so not sure of the limit, but it held the signal through the thick woods. I HATE the Nike site so I export to Strava which will show me total elevation for the run (very important to me, especially in the woods). I have never used a phone app because I don't want to get it wet, and I'm pretty anal about battery life (phone and watch!). One BIG problem with the Nike+ watch is that about once a month, it'll decide to drain the battery overnite, even though it was fully charged the night before!! That's a real bummer. Even on a few runs, the battery seems to drain exceedingly fast, but like I said, it's maybe once a month, so overall I'm happy with the watch. Good luck with your training.48

Zak said...

I know what Garmin you mean, those original ones that were more for less a small (?) plastic box with a velcro strap...not so much a watch as a unit with a wrist strap. I agree on some of the limitations of he Nike+ site, but for me I like the iPhone app whenever I feel like looking at my running history. For some reason it appeals to me aesthetically which is important to me given that the data I want is pretty limited. Strava is OK, but yeah not for me I guess. I am glad there are so many options out there for us to select! I wish I could afford the Ambit not necessarily for the hardcore ABLC features, but more because I like Movescount, but I Want a GPS watch, not a foot-dod-only solution. Thanks!

Al D. said...

Zak - one site you might want to look at is Smashrun.com. You can export Nike+ info directly to it and it gives a bunch of good info on a cool looking site. However, it doesn't show the elevation total I've been looking for although they may have that is the next month or so. You can also export info to MapMyRun.com, but (this is hilarious) they say they CAN'T export the maps!! I mean the name of the site is MapMyRun. Oh well!

Zak said...

HA! That is funny about MapMyRun. I will check out Smashrun for sure. My wife just texted me to say there was another mystery box from Wolverine Worldwide at the house this afternoon....might have a run right after work!

Unknown said...

I realize it isn't a watch, but I'll cast another vote for RunKeeper. I've been using it since 2009 and it's grown well with me (from a completely new runner to now having run a few half PRs and now training for my first full). The ecosystem with RunKeeper is a big plus (as is its website). Integration with apps like GymPact, Fleetly, Mobile Shoe Tracker, etc, are all very handy.

cesalec@32spokesmtb.com said...

I have been using the Nike+ sportsband, it is light, easy to use with very basic info, and the battery has never even run lower th an half on me before, although I by far dont run your distances, I would be tempted to say it the battery will last a marathon without problems at all. Though Nike claims its accuracy might be around +/- 150meters, sometimes I which I had a GPS unit, since the nike seems to track distance very well (only in the distance mode) if you pause it several times it might give you readings of less than 500meters of your actual run, and it is damn easy to forget to unpause it =/

Therefore I was considering the nike gps watch, although I havent read enough good comments to give it a go and commit to it. Was thinking about a soleus but after reading DC Rainmaker´s review on them it was a decisively NO.

Now I am considering a much smaller simplier Garmin Fr10, which appear to be as good as any out there (though I cant comment on battery life since I dont own it yet), DC Rainmaker has an extensive review on it.

For web logging data, I used to use the Nike application and website since I was pretty much forced to it, but I have been using the www.dailymile.com website for a year now, and now I dotn even log in to Nike´s website. Dailymile is much simpler and friendlier and dont need that much...and since Nike´s redesign I find their website even worse than the first version they had...

DailyMile also synchronizes with your Nike+ and Garming devices ;)

Anonymous said...

That is why it is so good we have so much selection! I personally do not care for Daily Mile at all, after having tried it for a few weeks in late 2010. I did not like all the stuff you wade through and the social networking part of it. I prefer basic info and colorful graphics and cheesy attaboys :)

The Garmin FR10 was the other unit I was weighing when I selected the Nike+ watch recently. One thing to remember is that DC Rainmaker's review was done when the Nike+ came out and he was comparing it to other $200 watches of the day. Now, you can get it for $135 online, the same price as the Garmin FR10, and it is far better equipped in terms of reliability, faetures, and ease of cquiring satellites due to the firmware updates. Of course, it still isn't his preferred watch at the price point, which is understandable as the unit is 2 years old.

I tried the sportband as well, but went GPS pretty quick. I do thik the foot pods are somewhat accurate, escpecially whenpaired with the Nike+ GPS watch, as teh GPS continually calibrates the pod to your personal gait, which makes it better indoors. I bought the version with a foot pod for this reason, I sometimes run on a track and wanted that ability to track my inoor running.

In the end I selected the Nike because I like the website and I prefer the looks of the Nike+ watch itself. The FR10 and the Nike+ are basically both similarly equipped. I also like the iPhone app for Nike+, which helped my decision.

Honestly, every opetion is so good, even the sub-$100 New Balance/Soleus unit!

Michael W. said...

I have been using the Garmin FR210 for around a year now. It is accurate, reliable, and acquires a signal within 10 seconds every time (if you take it off and place it on the ground). I have had only two problems with it:

1) one run I took, it acquired a signal, and off I went on a 4 mile run. The distance was correctly measured, but my elevation was something wacky, in the thousands of feet, and my course was not correctly measured. This has happened once, and I have never had it happen again. I don't know what happened. See the two maps of the same greenway, and how they compare.

Messed up run:
http://connect.garmin.com/activity/172236669

Similar correct run:
http://connect.garmin.com/activity/252728514


2) After about 10 months, it stopped beeping. The speaker just gave out. Garmin replaced it for free, within 1 year warranty.

I am not looking for another GPS until this one is dead, it has been perfect for me. As for battery life, I am not sure the maximum, but I did have one 3 hour run on it without the battery dying.

PepeLp said...

I've wanted a GPS watch for a while, but I really need elevation info and watches with an altimeter are pricey. If I can download the run info and get elevation gained/lost, that would be terrific. All I really need is time, distance, and elevation, nothing fancy. So, can I get that info with both the Garmin FR10, and the Nike sportwatch?

Anonymous said...

Pepe - Yes, you can, it just depends on what post-run software you use. The altitude will be based off maps, though, and not particularly accurate. The altimeter watches are way better, of course, but if you just want to know after the workout, I am sure a little googling as to what software you might like will let you know. The Nike+ software has it built in, I know that. It doesn't give you totals but it shows your elevation over a run.

Joney Franklein said...

I wish to shop for a forerunner 405 and i need to understand wherever I should buy one. Or square measures} wherever GPS watches are oversubscribed would be fine.

Joney Franklein said...

Thanks that was wonderful..
Skycaddie Golf

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I know this post isn't that old, but I was just wondering if everything was still working with your watch? I'm very interested in the Nike Sportwatch, but I've read about so many people having issues with the clasp/screen fogging up in the rain, I just want to get someone elses opinion.

Zak said...

My Nike is holding up well, I love the display, and it easily finds the satellites. I like it a lot and I am impressed with the reliability, accuracy, comfort and price I agree it hasn't been that long, but I believe in it so far. I know it had some early critics when it first came out, but I believe that by sticking with it and updating the software and firmware, Nike made the Sportwatch into a great contender in the basic GPS watch category. It only has basic features, but they are all I need, and I like the interface online as well. As fro fogging, mine hasn't yet, and bring it in from long cold trail runs right into a warm house regularly. I hope it stays this way for a while!

Anonymous said...

Just found this review. Very nicely written, and I appreciate the depth of the review and the comments. My Forerunner 410 died a few months ago, it was less than 2 years-old. It had been unreliable its last few months.

Does anyone know if the Nike+ unit can show that heart rate if you buy the accessory from polar?

Zak said...

Yes, the Nike does do HR if you have the Polar strap.

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Anonymous said...

I'm new to the GPS watch arena, but discovered the fun with my phone. Problem is, I took a spill and cracked the screen on my iphone. Now I'm looking at watches. I want one that will do biking and running. I'm looking at the Forerunner 110, but these reviews got me worried about Garmin. I love the mapmyrun interface on my iphone. I remember the days of my Garmin GPS and I never was able to figure it out on my computer. I suppose things are better now.

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Toughest Watch said...

I've owned this watch about a year. Love everything about it from looks to functionality. I've owned two Ambits and so far The Suunto is a fairly thick watch, but also highly rugged. Other than this a fantastic watch.