We’ve reviewed eight of the best watches to help you keep track of your progress and maintain momentum during triathlon racing and training.

Find more group tests from Triathlon Plus in our other best triathlon gear reviews.

Soleus GPS 1.0
£99.99 (no HRM)
www.soleusrunning.com

The Soleus GPS 1.0 is primarily a running watch, but it is still worth considering if you’re not looking to spend the earth. In the States it retails at a bargain $99, but in the UK it’s been converted to £99 which isn’t so low considering that its performance features are thin on the ground. It gives you the basics like distance, pace and calories but lacks a couple of key functions like heart rate and computer connectivity. On the plus side, you can save 30 hours worth of workouts on the watch itself so it’s not a deal breaker. It’s nice and easy to use straight from the box and we were soon training without having spent hours digesting the instructions. It’s light on your wrist, the buttons are easy to press (all six of them) and the rechargeable battery lasted several days at a time. The onscreen digits are tiny though, so it’s hard to see while you’re running. While there’s no separate cycling mode, it’ll still give you speed and distance no matter what sport you’re doing.

Verdict
Low-cost running watch that also proves useful for cycling if you can see the tiny digits.

Performance 3/5
Value 4/5
Overall 3/5

Bryton Cardio 30 GPS
£139.99 (no HRM)
www.brytonsport.com, www.zyro.co.uk

The Cardio 30 GPS is no bigger than an old-school Casio digital watch and yet it has many of the same features as its bigger and pricier competitors. For example, it has separate running and cycling modes with distance, time, pace and optional heart rate, as well as the ability to upload interval workouts using the BrytonSport online software. This same software also allows you to track your workouts on a map and analyse your performances. It looks like a real bargain on the face of it, but it’s let down by a few usability issues. The main one is that the digits are so small and spidery that you can barely read them while you’re training. The buttons are poor too, performing different functions depending how long you hold them down for. It’s by no means intuitive and had us pulling our hair out at times. Still, if you can get to grips with the user interface and small digits, you’ll have a three-in-one triathlon GPS watch at a superb price.

Verdict
Budget multisport GPS watch that’s let down by frustrating controls and a tiny screen.

Performance 2/5
Value 4/5
Overall 3/5


Suunto Quest
£170 (includes HRM, no pods)
www.suunto.com

The Quest isn’t particularly feature-laden but its strength lies in its simplicity – you can train with it every day without having to read the instructions. We tested it with separate foot pod (£75) and bike pod (£50) to measure speed and distance, which were easier than expected to use. The tiny foot pod weighs next to nothing and easily clips onto your running shoes, giving you instant speed and distance metrics without having to wait for a satellite connection. The lack of an internal GPS means the watch is slimmer and lighter than its satellite counterparts and doesn’t need charging up every few days. The display is big and clear and the digits are large enough to read even when you’re sprinting. At the end of workouts it gives you a breakdown of your performance and if you want to you can link it to Suunto Movescount online software. It also measures Training Effect, helping you to keep your workouts at the right intensity. A GPS Pod is also available, but with pods costing between £60 and £110 you might be better off with an all-in-one solution such as a Timex or Garmin.

Verdict
Easy to use and fun to wear but buying the bike and run pods will hit you hard in the wallet.

Performance 4/5
Value 3/5
Overall 3/5

Nike+ Sportwatch GPS
£179.99 (no HRM)
www.nikerunning.com

The Nike+ Sportwatch is aimed primarily at runners rather than triathletes but thanks to the optional Polar dual-band heart-rate belt, you can use it for swimming too. It’s powered by an internal Tom Tom GPS unit but it comes with a foot pod too, so that you can also use it on a treadmill as well as out in the open. After training you plug it directly into your computer via a neat USB connection in the strap. The Nike+ Connect software then does all sorts of funky things like allowing you to accept new challenges, that you can join via the Nike+ Connect Software, and playing short celebrity videos to congratulate you when you hit various milestones. It’s just a shame that the watch doesn’t let you analyse your performances to any great depth. And it’s of limited use when you’re cycling too. The Nike+ only gives speed in terms of pace (mins/mile or mins/km) and it has an annoying tap-screen function that gets triggered every time you hit a bump which can get frustrating.

Verdict
User-friendly watch for running and swimming, but you’ll need a separate computer for cycling.

Performance 3/5
Value 3/5
Overall 3/5

Timex Ironman Global Trainer
£250 (no HRM)
www.timexironman.com

What strikes you when you strap on a Global Trainer is its sheer size. In reality it’s not that much bigger than the two Garmin watches reviewed here, but somehow it feels like you’re wearing a kitchen clock. It uses an internal GPS to give separate swim, bike and run modes which you can customise to your heart’s content. You could have altitude, time, pace and heart rate on one screen and then switch to another screen at the tap of a button. It’s ANT+ compatible too, so you can connect it wirelessly to any other ANT+ enabled devices such as cycle power meters and heart-rate belts. Like other watches, the GPS doesn’t work well during open water swimming, but otherwise it’s a versatile and reliable training companion. If you’ve used a Timex Ironman watch before you’ll feel at home with the menu system and once you get past its size it’s a powerful training tool at a great price.

Verdict
Top notch triathlon training watch at a competitive price. The size may put some people off though.

Performance 4/5
Value 4/5
Overall 4/5
Triathlon Plus Top Value Award, issue 36

Garmin 310XT
£299.99 (no HRM)
www.garmin.com

For the last couple of years the 310XT has been the daddy of triathlon GPS watches, but it’s got the newer 910XT to compete with now (reviewed overleaf). It uses an internal GPS which gives you stacks of information including pace, distance and speed and can connect wirelessly to any other ANT+ compatible device such as a cycle power meter. You can use it for all three triathlon disciplines, although the GPS signal while swimming in open water was patchy at best. The battery lasts for up to 20 hours, which would easily see you through an Ironman. When you’re running the watch feels heavy on your wrist, but the screen is big enough to see four data fields at once. There are also vibrating alerts and a bright backlight, which make it easy to use in all conditions. The Garmin Connect software is great – logging your workouts and allowing you to zoom in on the fine details of every workout. We loved the 310XT for its versatility, ease of use and reliability.

Verdict
Reliable and versatile triathlon GPS watch.  Only the newer Garmin 910XT casts a shadow over it.

Performance 4/5
Value 4/5
Overall 4/5

Polar RCX5 G5
£359.50 (includes GPS and HRM)
www.polar.fi/en

The RCX5 is Polar’s flagship model and links wirelessly to a separate G5 GPS unit that you carry in a pocket or on the armband that comes provided with the watch. It doesn’t have the bulk of an internal GPS so the watch is slim, light and lasts for up to a year without needing a new battery, which is handy. It also has a unique dual-band transmitter that’ll transmit your heart rate when underwater and a Zone Optimiser that adjusts your heart-rate zones according to your fatigue levels. There are individual swim, bike and run modes that you can switch between as you train or race, but it won’t support a cycle power meter. The cigarette-lighter sized GPS unit can be a pain to carry at times but when we did carry it the unit always worked accurately and reliably. The watch itself is certainly the best heart-rate monitor we tested but whether it’s the best speed and distance watch boils down to your view on carrying a separate GPS while you train. Despite the seperate GPS unit this is still a strong performer.

Verdict
Lightweight, stylish and full of useful multisport features, although the separate GPS unit can be a pain.

Performance 4/5
Value 3/5
Overall 4/5

Garmin 910XT
£359.99 (no HRM)
www.garmin.com

The 910XT is designed for triathletes and is similar to the Garmin 310XT but with one standout feature – indoor swim metrics. When you’re ploughing up and down the lanes you can see all sorts of information including pace, distance, strokes per minute, time and stroke efficiency. It’s even more useful when you analyse your swim on a computer via the wireless ANT+ USB stick. Then you can break it down length by length to see if changes in technique make any difference to your times. The big screen and clear digits are easy to see through foggy goggles and the watch doesn’t feel as bulky as the 310XT or the Timex Global Trainer. The watch also has open water swimming, cycling and running modes while the ANT+ connectivity means it can be paired with all sorts of devices such as a power meter. In addition it also has a barometric altimeter and a new Virtual Racer feature which allows you to race yourself versus your past performances.

­Verdict
The complete performance solution for tech-minded, information hungry triathletes.

Performance 5/5
Value 4/5
Overall 4/5
Triathlon Plus Gold Award, issue 36
Triathlon Plus Peak Performer Award, issue 36

Overall Winner
Speed and distance watches have come a long way from the first ‘laptop on your wrist’ models of a decade ago. These days they’re a complete performance solution, often using wireless technology to link to a host of other devices such power meters and actual laptops. All of this makes it tough to choose the right one but your decision should ultimately be dependant on two things: how much you want to pay and how analytical you are. After all, there’s no point in buying something with the power of a NASA supercomputer if you can’t even work your toaster. So if you prefer to keep things simple we’d recommend either the Suunto Quest or the Nike+ Sportswatch for their funky good looks and ‘press and go’ user-friendliness. If you’d rather measure every heartbeat, pedal stroke and foot-step there are four great watches to choose from here – the Garmin 310XT, the Timex Global Trainer, the Polar RCX5 and the Garmin 910XT. The Timex wins in terms of value for money. It’s £50 less than its nearest priced three-in-one challenger and yet it’s reliable, versatile and user friendly despite its rather bulky exterior. As for an overall winner, we’d choose the Garmin 910XT every time. The indoor swim metrics make it a cut above the rest, but while it has more functions than its rivals it executes them better too. It’s slim, user friendly and offers real performance benefits. And while it may be the most expensive, we think that because it’s the most future-proof, it will last the longest and be a more worthwhile investment over time.

Find more group tests from Triathlon Plus in our other best triathlon gear reviews.

This review was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine. Save time and money by having every issue delivered to your door or digital device by subscribing to the print edition or buying digitally through Zinio or Apple Newsstand.

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