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GPS run watches: 10 of the best tested and rated

GPS-equipped fitness watches will maximise each and every training session. But does the theory stand up to practice? James Witts gets with the beat…

MIO ALPHA2 

£149.95 

The Alpha2’s design is clever, that ergonomic shaping countering its rather lengthy size. Part of that hulking look is down to housing the optical sensor to measure HR. We’ve talked about accuracy of this type of monitor in the ‘Wrist-based accuracy’ box (p91), but the fact many rivals here licence Mio’s certainly adds credence to their technologies. A soft silicone strap offers physical comfort, which eases the mental anxiety of managing its limited function set.

The two buttons are so subtle to be almost intangible on the fly, and that pain’s exacerbated because the narrow display only offers one piece of data at a time. Metrics include pace and distance, though accuracy’s questionable as they’re based on an accelerometer rather than GPS, which for £150 is disappointing. 

Verdict: Comfortable on the wrist, shame about the rest 69%

SUUNTO AMBIT 3 RUN 

£220 

Suunto’s Ambit 3 Run is a stripped-down version of the Ambit Peak. It loses outdoor-adventure extras like weather information and compass, and gains run-specific attributes like run cadence and, a new addition to the Ambit series, the ability to create intervals online via the Movescount App.

Disappointingly, despite shedding some superfluous features, it still weighs 73g, which is pretty hefty for a watch, and is noticeable compared to its more streamlined brethren like the Polar M400. Suunto would argue that bulk’s down to the lengthy feature list, which includes speed, pace, distance and altitude; activity tracker including sleep monitoring; and notifications of emails, messages and calls. There’s also a nifty feature that logs your route so you can track back. 

Verdict: Plenty of features and innovations, but it's simply too large 76%

EPSON RUNSENSE SF-810B (Editor's choice)

£179.99 

The brand better known for stationery goods moved into more mobile applications recently, becoming one of the earlier adopters of wrist-based HR tech. That clinical backdrop seeps into the SF-810B aesthetics, but its buoyed by solid usability.Three measurements per screen convey a myriad of useful features including distance, lap distance, pace, speed, altitude and calories burned, which you can configure via the watch or your mobile.

Locating satellites isn’t swift but neither is it unbearably slow, and once connected it clamps on with unerring accuracy. You can set target pace with an upper and lower range – a neat real-life feature – and input intervals. There’s a run app, but it takes a while to upload data and doesn’t offer much in the way of analytical tools.

Verdict: Not the coolest looking tool but packed with impressive features 82%

The final verdict

Will this test go down in 220 folklore as the beginning of the end for the humble chest strap? Wrist-based HR watches are on the rise with four models tested including the debut from Garmin. Though not featured here, Polar has also joined the party with the A360 fitness tracker. Training by heart rate is a proven way to maximise training gains, so it’s clear that dispensing with the chest strap is an easy sell to the consumer. But accuracy doesn’t yet match its older sibling’s. That might not matter to the health-and-fitness market; for triathletes, that’s not good enough. For now, for most triathletes, chest strap remains the preferred model, though the Epson is the winner in this new category.

While many were looking to simplify their tools for monitoring progress, Sigma and Timex were doing the opposite. You could argue that relying on your smartphone’s GPS and then transmitting that information to the respective interface is a genius idea, helping them to keep price and watch weight down. To us, it handcuffs you to your smartphone for longer periods than normal. In our opinion, save the extra gadgets and componentry for the bike – not the run.

 Simplicity is seen in the Soleus GPS One and Garmin Forerunner 10, which both come in under £100. Both offer reliable GPS features and we’d happily recommend them for those new to run training tools. That said, both lose marks for lacking the ability to purchase a chest strap and begin training by heart rate.

 Despite some pretty impressive watches with feature lists that are longer than the Strictly Christmas special, the Polar M400 is the clear winner. It’s a slick-looking and comfortable beast with a myriad of useful run attributes that, combined with the impressive Flow software, will help you manage and improve your training. It’salso light, highly usable and, for the price, an absolute steal.

Related:

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Are triathlon gadgets a good thing?

Best triathlon training apps review

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