Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Thursday, August 28, 2014

GPS Running Watches

In the very recent past, running with a GPS watch was like wearing an iron shackle on your wrist; they were large, heavy, and expensive. The technology has come a long way. Smaller, lighter, cheaper, and much more fashionable, most of the current generation watches aren't any bigger than a basic stop watch and have many added features. A quick size comparison of three popular Garmin models stocked at ATC shows little resemblance to ye olde Medieval torture devices:

Garmin 910xt, Fenix 2, and Forerunner 10

Forerunner 10

The simplest, most affordable, and smallest offering is the Forerunner 10 at $129.99. Available in a variety of colors and two different sizes, the watch is minimal enough to work for everyday wear, so you don't have to take it on and off for runs.

The Forerunner 10's key features include the ability to track distance, pace, and time and to estimate calorie use. It can also notify you of personal records, such as fastest mile or longest run to date, and provides a "virtual pacer" so you can set target pacing goals. Data can be uploaded to Garmin Connect or imported into the analysis tool of your choice via USB.

Forerunner 220 and 620

A little bit more conspicuous in size, the Forerunner 220 and 620 watches bring added benefits with the bulk: the extra screen space provides more room for tracking your run stats, and the size seems to allow for quicker satellite acquisition than smaller watches. These two models also have longer battery life and more storage than the 10.

The 220 provides mobile phone integration to automatically upload your data, as well as training features like heart rate alerts, real-time live tracking, and a built-in accelerometer that lets you know distance and pace data even when running on an indoor track or treadmill. The 620 takes things a step further with a touch screen and the ability to estimate VO2 max, predict race times for certain distances, and suggest recovery time; it's also the first GPS running watch that provides feedback on running form (via accelerometers that measure torso movement). The 220 starts at $249.99 and the 620 at $399.99.

Forerunner 910xt

This is the big daddy watch that does it all. If you don't mind the size, the Forerunner 910xt is the triathlete's dream watch. Water resistant to 50 meters, it can track your swim, run, and your bike, including collecting data from your power meter. No need to manage different devices for all three sports, you can just use your 910xt everywhere; transition is possible with the press of a single button.

Swim metrics include swim distance, stroke identification, stroke count, and pool lengths, and GPS captures your path, which after the fact makes it easy to see how far you veered off course in an open water swim... Leave the 910xt on for your whole race and forgo a separate head unit on your bike if you prefer. If you like to watch your numbers closely on the bike, a quick release mount allows the watch to move easily from wrist to handlebars. Battery life is 20 hours, so even on a bad day it will last for your entire Ironman. The 910xt retails for $399.95 (Without the hrm bundle)

Fenix 2

If you spend any time hiking or trail running, or branch out into other adventure sports like paddling, climbing, and skiing, this will be the watch you want. Possessing all the same features as the Forerunner 620, but with a more rugged design, the Fenix also has an on-board altimeter, barometer, and compass, which are used to add a remarkably advanced set of  navigation and tracking features. Built-in sensors provide data on heading, elevation, and even weather changes, and you can leave a "bread crumb trail," marking waypoints like campsites, start/finish lines, and other points of interest. Battery life is 50 hours in GPS mode and up to five weeks in watch mode.

The future is now...the Fenix 2 integrates via Bluetooth or ANT+ with other compatible Garmin devices or smartphones, and in addition to easy data upload, you can receive text and email alerts and even use the watch as a glove-friendly remote for certain action cameras.

With a price tag of $399.99, the Fenix makes you wonder why people would spend thousands of dollars on designer wristwatches that simply look pretty and make a satisfying ticking noise when they could have a timepiece that ensures survival from snowstorm, zombie apocalypse, and bear attack.

Alright, alright... We're not sure it'll do anything for bear attack, but we wouldn't doubt it. And while snowstorm and zombie apocalypse have roughly equal odds of occurring in Austin, we say it never hurts to be prepared.

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