11 sports watches that’ll help you monitor and improve your triathlon running performance – tested, rated and reviewed
When it comes to running gadgets, technology moves faster than Usain Bolt out of the blocks. Where once we had to make do with basic stopwatches and pedometers, developments like wireless ANT+ sensors and GPS mean that a simple watch or pod can now send an incredible array of data flowing from your toes to your fingertips, providing guidance and sometimes even inspiration for your training.
The latest devices give you the ability to monitor and change many specific elements of a run, from direction, to speed, to heart rate, to stride length and pace. Harnessing and understanding the data is a job in itself, but with most modern sports watches able to upload your stats to a bespoke website with a user-friendly ‘dashboard’, it’s never been easier to learn how to run further and faster.
But which one should you buy? We’ve rounded up 11 of the latest running devices and put them through their paces. Here are the results.
BEST ON TEST
TomTom Multi-Sport HRM GPS
£229.99 (includes HRM belt)
TomTom, famed for its car satnavs, also produces the gubbins for the Nike+ GPS watch. The waterproof-to-50m Multi-Sport uses a remote charging dock and navigation button. Set it to ‘running’ and get the initial GPS fix and HR strap pairing done, and you’re good to go. It records your run data automatically, so you can’t forget. You always get total time and distance, plus a field of your choice. We like the pace setting best, for keeping effort even. The ability to set goals is useful too, and the way the watch lets you know how close you are to achieving them can be a handy prompt to get a move on. There’s also a race mode where you can run against a virtual competitor. Not only is the TomTom fast, versatile and reliable but it makes potentially dull training runs fun and interesting.
Verdict: “Just the easiest and most inspiring unit on test”
Timex Marathon GPS
£99.99 (no accessories)
Timex’s watch lets you access GPS-enabled run data for under £100. A chunky monkey, it’s not exactly hard to miss, though we’d have liked a clearer screen – it’s a bit dark. When it comes to grabbing a GPS signal, it’s one of the fastest devices on test. Feature wise, it has all the usual basics you’d expect for tracking run speed, laps, pace and calorie consumption, plus a useful 400m setting for those training on a track. It only displays three data fields, but that’s enough. We like the reminder of data storage capacity and battery life when you begin GPS activity. The waterproof-to-30m Marathon GPS is the most stripped-back watch on test, but we actually rather like the simple, effective approach. After all, running is simply one foot in front of the other.
Verdict: “Good value, fast GPS fix and easy to navigate”
Nike+ SportWatch GPS
£149 (includes foot pod; Polar HRM belt £59.50)
The SportWatch screen is split horizontally and you can dictate which data fields appear in each half. Choose from time, elapsed time, pace (speed), laps and average pace. We love the ‘tap to lap’ function, where you simply tap the watch to mark a lap. Upload your run data to your Nike+ dashboard and you can get your geek on, tracking progress, setting goals and assessing results in myriad useful ways. Being GPS-enabled, there are the obligatory maps of your route to pore over, too. It’s all clearly presented and easy and fun to use. The watch connects to your computer via a hidden USB tab for download and charging. Expect hard use (with GPS and the optional HRM chest strap) to require a recharge after eight hours.
Verdict: “Serious athletes will want more management and data detail, but amateur runners will love it”
Bryton Cardio 40 E
£149.99 (no accessories; £189.99 with HRM belt)
“It’s like a telly on your wrist,” is how one tester’s nine-year-old son summed up the Cardio 40. It’s certainly quite a big unit, though slim for a GPS device. The screen is big, as are the digits, and we never misread the data, even with four fields displayed. The Bryton has tons of data options, including the key pace, distance, stride and lap choices, each with their own sub-options, so you’ll always find what you need from each run. We found the built-in stride length sensor particularly useful, to see the difference it can make to pace and heart rate. The company has its own Bryton Bridge dashboard that you can upload your run data to, and it’s both easy and clear to understand what your body has achieved. Bryton claims a 14-day battery life in watch mode and eight with GPS running.
Verdict: “Slim and feature-rich, with a big, clear screen and great download dashboard”
Garmin Forerunner 210
£179.99 (includes HRM belt; foot pod £59.99)
Garmin wanted to make its ANT+ compatible, GPS-enabled FR210 as easy to use as possible, so it’s stripped it back, not quite to the bones but to the essentials. So, the standard speed, pace, distance and time metrics are measured, plus some cool options for intervals, but the options for displaying them are limited. That said, we had everything we needed, and though the screen is small, we managed to spot the digits at pace. The FR210 comes with Garmin’s latest HRM strap (it’s available without this for £30 less), which fixes the old version’s habit of occasionally dropping signal. If you run indoors on a track or treadmill you’ll need to fit the optional foot pod, which can also be used outdoors in place of GPS. The watch will shrug off splashes but it’s not swimproof.
Verdict: “It’s back to basics for the FR210 and it’s a better watch for it”
Adidas MiCoach Pacer
£80 (includes foot pod and HRM belt)
MiCoach is Adidas’s live coaching system and although the Pacer has no screen, it’s more than simply a container for your run data. Choose a training plan from the miCoach website and the device will provide optional ‘voice coaching’ through headphones as you run. This is a bit alien to begin with, but you get used to it quickly. Your run data is synced via USB to your laptop for dissection and, if you feel like it, sharing. The layout of the website and your personal space within it is clear, and managing data and adjusting your training profile settings is as easy as tying your laces. The included stride sensor attaches to any laces and pairs with any ANT+ chest strap. It’s worth noting that Adidas is about to launch a smart sports watch, so you may want to hang on until that hits the shops.
Verdict: “Try as we might, we didn’t gel with the clever but hard-to-love miCoach”
Wahoo Fitness Run/Gym Pack For iPhone
£89.99 (includes HRM belt; foot pod £49.99)
Wahoo uses the computer you’re already carrying – if you’re an iPhone user – to capture all the relevant data from your runs. Simply slot the small ANT+ dongle into your phone, download the free Wahoo app (the ‘fitness’ one, not the ‘utility’ one) , fit the HRM chest strap and optional stride sensor, and head out. You’ve got the option of using an armband, holding the phone or stowing it in a pocket or bag. The app provides a fast auto start-up using heart-rate zones based on your basic physical metrics, or you can enter an advanced set-up process to fine-tune them further. The phone displays a lot of data but it’s quite easy to see the bits you want on the jog. You can also set up an encouraging, non robotic-sounding verbal prompt to let you know when your prescribed goals are met.
Verdict: “A relatively affordable option and easy to use, if a little bulky for serious athletes”
Sigma RC 14.11
£139.99 (includes HRM belt)
The bright yellow Sigma was a bit of a trial to set up, but once configured we found it easy enough to move between the data fields. We like the ability to compare current and average speeds – it’s useful for applying just the right amount of gas to stay nailed to your average speed. From a heart-rate perspective, the RC 14.11 uses targeted zonal training, much like the competition, and it’s easy and effective to use. The data you create on your runs can be quickly uploaded and analysed using the bundled Data Center v2.1 software. This is usable but not that user friendly – the v3 version is better, but costs a tenner extra. Are we down on the Sigma? No, but it’s not our first choice either.
Verdict: “Good value and works well, but not the most inspiring use of your run data”
Soleus GPS 3.0
£174.99 (includes HRM belt)
The Soleus kit includes a heart-rate monitor chest band and a ‘clothes peg’ style USB connector. Within five minutes we’d negotiated the set-up procedure, gained GPS tracking and were off running. There are three modes: Run, Chrono and HRM. The Run and HRM modes are essentially identical, offering elapsed time, distance and speed (pace), along with pulse if in HRM mode. Chrono mode offers only time functions – handy if you need to save GPS-sapping power. Time and distance data is always displayed and you can toggle between the other data fields in the third section of the display. The unit will store up to 30 hours of GPS data between downloads, which is enough for a fortnight’s worth of runs (in a maximum of 30 separate run files).
Verdict: “Simple and effective, but there are better value watches out there”
Suunto Quest GPS Pack
£225 (includes HRM belt; foot pod £75)
Suunto’s Quest kit is super-slim, so if size and bulk are important factors for you, it should definitely make your shortlist. It’s slim because the GPS portion of the watch is in a separate pod, which you lob into a pocket before you run (or ride – the Quest works just as well as a basic bike computer). With your info punched in, the unit pairs quickly with its HRM strap and the optional foot pod. The latter is useful for indoor use or prolonging battery life, and is said to be more accurate than previous Suunto stride sensors. The small screen presents info clearly and updates rapidly, and you can flick between five screens with a major/minor data size option. The Quest may be less convenient than an integrated-GPS watch but it works well enough to warrant serious consideration.
Verdict: “Lots of options for triathletes but non-integrated design means a bit of fiddling”
Polar RC3 GPS w/ HR
£249.50 (includes HRM belt; foot pod £89.50)
The RC3 is one of the most versatile and accomplished running/cycling monitors out there, and is ideal for adding structure to your training. The slim watch is quickly set up with your data – though the procedure isn’t as intuitive as some – and after a 90-second initial satellite fix (this subsequently reduces) and fitting the HRM strap, you’re ready to run. You can choose to view two or three data fields, and from seven screen options. The unit will track your heart rate and allows you to train by HR zone as well as displaying the regular stuff like calories burned, distance, speed and average speed. We love the ‘follow the arrow’ facility, which helps you find your way home in unfamiliar territory. Despite being the most expensive unit on test, it lacks a lap pace function and is only water-resistant.
Verdict: “Slim, fast to update, tons of options and great track-back feature, but no lap pacing”