Get the verdict on these top running watches in our best running watches review 2012
There are several factors you need to consider when buying a watch. We have listed the most important below.
Our focus is on running here but as a triathlete, if swimming with your watch is important then make sure you plump for a model that is actually waterproof. Not all of the models we’ve tested are water babies
- Battery Life
GPS-enabled watches can struggle to last more than 24 hours. Of course a full day of data acquisition isn’t normal for most, but it’s worth checking the power stats
- ANT +
ANT+ is the system most small electronic devices use to transmit data. The wireless system allows lots of data to flow between transmitters and receivers with very little chance of cross-talk or data interruption
- Custom Settings
With tons of available data displayed on very small screens, it can be handy to be able to ensure only the data you need is displayed for clarity mid-run. Customisable data fields can be a real boon for instant understanding
- Online Data Management
After your run, analysing the data is the next step. Finding a system with an online portal which suits your individual needs is as important as the device you use
- Data Accuracy
There are many debates over which brand is most accurate. Our advice is to use one brand and treat it as the truth. Given that your unit will read consistently, you’ll be able to see and collect data that is accurate to you
Wahoo Fitness Runpack
Wahoo use your smartphone to capture all the relevant data from your runs (and gym sessions). Simply fit the small ANT+ dongle into the bottom of the phone, download the free Wahoo app (the ‘fitness’ not the ‘utility’ one), fit your HRM chest strap and the optional stride sensor and head out. You’ve got the option of using an armband, carrying the phone, using a pocket or bag. The Wahoo app allows a fast auto start-up using heart-rate zones set using your basic physical metrics, or an advanced set-up can fine-tune them further. The phone displays a lot of data though it’s quite easy to see the bits you want on the jog. You can also pre-select an encouraging verbal prompt when your prescribed goals are met
A relatively affordable option, easy to use, if a little bulky for more advanced athletes.
Adidas Miscoach Pacer
MiCoach is Adidas’s answer to Nike+ but it’s different in that it serves as a live coach rather than simply a container and viewing portal for your run data. MiCoach uses zoned heart rate to structure your runs using a selection of over 3,000 run profiles on the MiCoach website. You can hear information on your progress through optional headphones and data is synched to your laptop for analysis. The layout of the website and your personal space within it is clear and managing data and adjusting your profile setting is really easy. However, it isn’t as friendly or as socially connected as Nike+. You don’t need Adidas MiCoach shoes for this unit as the stride sensor will attach to any laces and pairs with any ANT+ chest strap
Probably the nearest to a genuine virtual coaching tool of any systems we tested.
The Cardio 35 from Bryton is the smallest GPS-enabled sports watch on the market, but it’s packed with all the features a runner would need. Don’t skip the 10-minute read-through of the instructions; it makes the not-so-intuitive set-up much easier. Paired with an HRM strap, the unit delivers speed, pace and distance metrics along with stride rate, heart rate and all the normal chrono data you’d expect. The unit is also waterproof to 50m. The screen is a bit small and takes a practised eye to see numbers mid-run. Buttons are a bit firm, though it does make accidental actuation harder. Uploading run data and maps using Bryton Bridge is easy and you can also share this with other websites
Compact, good value. We’d have liked a bigger screen to read data on the go.
The GPS-enabled Nike+ Sportwatch screen splits into upper and lower portions and you choose which data fields appear in each. Choose from time, elapsed time, pace (speed) and average pace on screen. Downloading your run data to your personal Nike+ online profile, you can track your training progress, set personal goals and assess results. You can also share downloaded data with friends. As it has a GPS function there are various maps you can study as well. It’s all clearly presented, logical to follow, easy and fun to use. The Sportwatch connects to your computer via a USB cable that is used for both download and charging. The more GPS functionality you use, the faster the power drains.
Hardcore athletes will want more data detail, but amateur runners will love it.
Soleus use GPS technology to make a watch that is ideal for runners. The kit contains an HRM chest band and a clothes-peg style USB-to-dogtooth laptop charge connector. Within five minutes we’d negotiated the set-up and were running. There are three modes: Run, Chrono and HRM. The Run and HRM modes are essentially identical, offering elapsed time, distance, speed (pace), and pulse if in HRM mode. Chrono mode offers only time functions. Time and distance data is always displayed and you can toggle between any of the other data fields as the third data field in the display. The unit can store up to 30hrs of GPS data between downloads, in a max of 30 separate run files, recorded for you to analyse at a later date.
Good value with clear and simple analysis of downloaded data, but a crowded screen.
Garmin Forerunner 210
The 210 is the little brother to the 410. Naturally, being Garmin, it has GPS, which enables the watch to gather all your run data from your HRM chest monitor and foot pod. The 210 adds instant pace to the other pace settings for on-the-hoof assessment of how you’re going. One element the 210 won’t deal with is immersion in water. Unlike most other GPS sports watches, this is shower-friendly, but not pool-friendly. You can’t adjust or customise the data fields, but given they’re limited to metrics that are specific to runners (this is a pure run watch) it’s not an issue. Accuracy and speed of data update is excellent and we found the 210 one of the easiest to wear and use with a near-instant start for those spur-of-the-moment runs
All the data you need as a runner and will work on the bike. Not waterproof, though.
The colour touchscreen MotoActiv (8 or 16GB versions) has programs for loads of different activities, of which running is only one. Being ANT+, WiFi and Bluetooth-enabled, getting your data out is easy. It can be worn on a clothing clip or on its own on a watch strap. The screen is sensitive, works well and is very easy to read on the go; just as well with six data fields visible in the live mode. Tap a field to bring up multiple info on that data, tap again to return to Live. Paired with any ANT+ or Bluetooth sensor (from Polar/Garmin), the Activ becomes even more useful; our Polar chest strap allowed zoned HR training. The MotoActiv also stores and plays back music to help you through the toughest moments
User-friendly and data-rich. Bridge between the most basic and the most advanced units.
Timex Ironman Run Trainer GPX
Timex have a long association with triathlon and this ANT+ and GPS-enabled run trainer will please data-hungry athletes. It’s very easy to use. Timex allow almost full customisation of its four-tier screen. Satellite pick-up is fast and signal hold is strong. The RunTrainer comes with an HRM strap but not a run pod, though Timex say any ANT+ foot pod will work. We tested with Wahoo, Nike+ and Adidas MiCoach successfully. Of all the units tested, the Timex was the easiest to gather and access data, while still delivering the technical performance runners demand
Easy to use, reliable and adaptable, foot pod should come as standard though.
Polar RCX5 GPS
The slim RCX5 can pair with the new smaller G5 GPS (the old G1 was a tank) and can be carried in its armband or in a pocket. Alternatively, go without the GPS and clip the S3+ foot pod sensor onto your shoe laces to collect run data. Combine with the Polar HRM chest band to supply up to four lines of customisable data displayed on the large screen with up to six pages of extra detail on each metric if you want deep data. Run to a virtual pace to keep you on your toes or to heart-rate zones and automatically toggle between selected data fields. The signal was strong between all sensors and watch. Download run data via the USB Polar Data stick and you can analyse with Polar’s extensively featured Personal Trainer website
Adaptable and expandable training aid for triathletes. Data rich and easy to navigate.
The good news is that all the units on test are a lot more user-friendly than those available in recent years. GPS tech has shrunk and brands have actually bothered to ask runners, riders and swimmers what they want and need and how they want to view and use their data. We were impressed by the Soleus 3.0 for its value and quality data, just not the fiddly nature of its delivery. Wahoo prove that if you don’t mind carrying your smart phone on your run you don’t need another device. The Adidas MiCoach takes some getting used to, but it’s as near to an auto coach as you’ll get. However the star performances came from three units; the Timex, the Polar and the Garmin. Timex, for being utterly simple to use, though pricey for a foot pod-less unit. Garmin would have won if we’d just been looking for a running mate, but the Polar RCX5 was simple to use, low profile, accurate, feature-laden, equipped with a foot pod for indoor use and ready for some serious training. For this reason we have awarded it both our Peak Performer and Gold Award.