Taking note of and recording your training-run details can help you prepare cleverly for race day. Targeted heart-rate zones, sticking to a certain pace, and watching your splits are all useful on the road. Altitude, direction and GPS information make running on mountain trails even more gratifying once you sit down to analyse the details. Seven of the nine units reviewed are brand new; Runner’s World are the first in South Africa to test the exciting new Suunto Ambit and the eagerly anticipated Garmin Forerunner 910XT.
Columbia’s introduction to the running scene is a sizeable watch with an easy-to-read face. A large mode button stands out from the rest to take you through the functions – which at first seem to be taking you into the adventure category, with a compass and temperature functions; but it then reverts to a normal running unit with stopwatch, countdown timer and splits, and does not provide GPS or elevation.
Plus: Easy to read during exercise.
Minus: The buttons and casing look heavy-duty, but the operation is flimsy.
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The popular multi-sport Forerunner 310XT has had a makeover. The main differences are cosmetic, resulting in the 910XT sporting a sleeker profile design. The on-board barometric altimeter is a new addition and measures elevation data, including ascent, descent and gradient. Together with the accurate GPS, large display screens and up to 20 hours of battery life, the 910XT is perfect for long-distance trail and stage racing.
Plus: Testers enjoyed the light weight of the large watch and the many choices of data display while running. For triathletes, the swim function is unbeatable as a training ‘buddy’.
Minus: Some may find it bulky.
Cape Union Mart
People of different fitness levels have different needs, which is why Polar’s RCX5 sets your target heart rates based on fitness criteria it collects during workouts.. The RCX5 collects more hardcore workout data than other watches – possibly too much info for a beginner, but valuable and accurate details for the training analysts out there.
Plus: Multi-sport athletes will love the dedicated cycling and swimming modes (the heart-rate sensor works under water), all easily accessible through the watch’s simple-to-use interface.
Minus: To use all the workout modes, you’ll have to employ several add-ons.
Nike Sports Band R499
The most unobtrusive measuring device for running must be the Nike Sports Band. The simple band tracks your pace and measures distance, time, and calories burned. Together with the Nike+ system it is easy to monitor your goals by reviewing last run data, weekly run data and total kilometres on the wrist unit.
Plus: Easily rechargeable by plugging into computer USB slot.
Minus: Although the USB pod portion is nifty in the way it pops off the strap and plugs into a computer, now you have two pieces – and a greater chance of losing the little pod.
Suunto are all about the adventure, and have created the Ambit as their first true GPS watch that does not need a foot pod. The GPS unit is now housed as part of the really robust casing. Phenomenally, the battery lasts for up to 50 hours with the GPS activated! We couldn’t find a tester to verify the 50 hours, but all of them really enjoyed using the 3D Compass and barometric sensor, which informs you about your location, altitude and weather conditions.
Plus: Being able to personalise screen configurations, download updates and analyse the data on Movescount.com.
Besides the standard running features of timer, countdown and 25-lap memory, the Solus provides a unique way of measuring heart rate – no strap necessary. At any time pre-, post- or during your run, simply place your finger firmly on the top ring of the watch. The current heart rate will show clearly on a generous screen, as well as the percentage of maximum and an alert if your heart rate moves outside of your set zones.
Plus: Unique strapless heart-rate monitoring.
Minus: Although the touch method works and is accurate, it takes about three seconds to register heart rate. That’s fine before and after the run, but not great while on the move.
The new Asics running-specific watch has no heart-rate monitor or GPS. Because of this they are able to create a thin, light watch with a screen that is easy to read, on a wide layout that has two lines of information running. The button placement is designed specifically for a runner’s ergonomics. The start/stop button is enlarged and placed where the right thumb will find it intuitively.
Plus: Stores up to 500 laps of data in the memory.
Minus: The strap is flimsy and two-pieced, and doesn’t integrate around the wrist very well.
If you’re looking for just speed, distance and pace then this really small GPS watch could work for you. The satellite pairing works quickly and the menu is simple to follow, with robust and responsive buttons easy to operate on the move. But the screen is way too small to glance at quickly or to display much information while running. There is a lot more information available to download, but the user interface system is not as friendly or effective as that of more advanced units.
Plus: For a watch this size, which includes GPS in the wrist unit, only the Garmin Forerunner 110 compares in terms of battery life. The battery lasts for up to 7 hours in GPS mode, and up to 35 days in simple clock mode.
Minus: To customise a lot of the settings you need to connect the watch to your computer, since most can’t be changed from the watch menu. The shoe pod doesn’t track stride rate, unlike most other pods.
Nike+ SPortWatch GPS R1 899
The Nike+ SportWatch displays huge numbers that are easy to read mid-run, and the watch’s menu – with features such as your workout history and notifications for all-time 1km, 5km, 10km and longest distance records – is easy to navigate. The Nike+ shoe pod acts as a backup if you lose your GPS signal, seamlessly recording the rest of your workout. A USB cable (provided) slots cleverly into one end of the strap, and the fitment clips away so it’s nicely protected.
Plus: You can even track your distance on a treadmill using the pod.
Minus: To customise most settings you need to connect the watch to your computer, since they can’t be changed from the watch menu. The shoe pod doesn’t track stride rate as most other pods do.
Apart from the look and a more durable strap, the FR70 is the same as the FR60, which provided running data including five heart-rate zones, calories burned and a virtual training partner. The FR70 can be paired with a wireless foot pod that will clue you in on speed, distance and cadence during your training sessions. All the data collected can be sent wireless to Garmin Connect whenever you get within range of your PC, as it uploads the information automatically.
Plus: Unlike with most Garmin watches there is no charging necessary, as the battery lasts for a year.
Minus: If you are looking for the full features available from GPS, then the FR610 or FR910XT are a lot more comprehensive then the ANT+ foot pod that the FR70 uses.