Believe the claims and the right multisport watch will have Alistair Brownlee and Lucy Charles chasing your shadow. The hyperbole is a turn-off for committed sceptics but wade through the marketing and, though they might not win you an Olympic gold, they’ll certainly have you training smarter and racing faster.
Just be aware of the pitfalls. Many a triathlete has been lured into purchase by a long and ‘scientifically-proven’ features list only to realise a month later that 99% of its capability simply isn’t required. If you’ve never used a heart rate monitor and are training for 3-4hrs a week, for example, will your triathlon performance benefit from spending upwards of £300 on a multisport watch that monitors your aerobic capacity, run cadence and cycling fatigue rating?
Also, remember that some of the metrics offered – ground contact time, for instance – are useful but arguably maximised by the intervention of a coach. Then again, if you’re aiming for podium finishes, digging deep will be worth it. You’ll refine your training, resulting in greater gains for the same effort.
But beyond our test, do your own research to confirm the efficacy of many ‘performance-changing’ features that are on multisport watches. Take sleep tracking, which is primarily monitored by the user’s movement. The gold standard requires measuring brainwaves and eye movement, which even a top-end Garmin or Suunto can’t do. Instead, watches or bands combine an accelerometer and an algorithm to estimate the quality and quantity of your sleep. Recent Chinese research highlights just how inaccurate this method is.
Yes, your eyes don’t deceive you – that’s nearly £700 for a watch. That’s bank-breaking but, Garmin would argue, it’s warranted because of the extensive feature list, starting with the standards of speed and distance across the three disciplines (and many, many… more sports). Accuracy and pick-up is impressive thanks to multi-satellite link-up – GPS, Glonass and Galileo, as you were asking – plus a compass, gyroscope and barometric altimeter, those last three highlighting that the Fenix 5 Plus is arguably more for outdoor adventurers than pure triathletes.
Its relative bulk (86g) is also more at home canoeing and trawling the mountains than seeking out triathlon speed. A set of Bluetooth headphones will tap you into 16GB of music, albeit you can currently only stream iHeartRadio (no Spotify, though Deezer’s imminent) or transfer via Garmin Express, which is just clunky. You’re also given a huge amount of performance metrics including training status; wrist-based heart rate; customised apps from the Connect IQ store and Garmin Pay, though check the supported bank list if this is one of your key requirements.
Verdict: Brilliant watch but a few redundant features for triathletes; huge price tag 80%
Buy from garmin.com
Polar’s V800 hit the market many years ago but, due to its Bluetooth capabilities, it’s remained relevant due to a host of firmware updates. It’s now pool, open-water and triathlon compatible, and comes with useful features like SWOLF scoring (sum of time and strokes per length). It also seamlessly syncs to third-party platforms like TrainingPeaks and Strava, plus a collection of power meters.
GPS pick-up is swift, relayed on a hi-res display, though that display’s smaller than we’d like. Useful extras include running efficiency. Taken over time, this builds up a Running Index that predicts your event finish times for several run distances. Our model came with a heart-rate chest strap – in our experience, much more accurate than optical alternatives. You can go without for £339 but you’d be missing out on one of the key training metrics.
There’s an orthostatic test that measures your readiness to train, though usefulness is questionable as it fails to consider key fatigue factors like the athlete’s hormonal profile. You can tap into a world of analysis on Polar’s easy-to-use Flow app.
Buy from www.evanscycles.com
Verdict: Impressive watch that’s stood the test of time 82%
Coros will be a new one to many of you, but this visual replica of Garmin’s Forerunner 735XT is impressive, especially its battery life, which keeps ticking over for a whopping 25hrs with GPS on and 30 days in regular tracking mode. In the majority of endurance modes, including triathlon, cycling and running, GPS is impressive thanks to a lively pick-up and it maintains position well. That said, accuracy’s not great in open water. The Pace measures stride length and cadence, which is useful feature for working on run technique, and the barometer aids accurate climbing information. Syncing speed with your smartphone is swifter than Lucy Charles down Alii Drive, though the optical heart-rate sensor’s erratic. When all the information’s transferred to the Coros app, it’s nicely presented and categories like time in zones and lap pacing are always useful, albeit its third-party uploading capability is currently confined to Strava. It also lacks interval mode, which many triathletes demand. coros.com
Verdict: Amazing battery life but needs tri-specific refinement 77%
Buy from www.amazon.co.uk
The 935’s essentially a slimmed-down (49g), cheaper version of the Fenix 5, so loses additions like Pay and music, though adds Wifi connectivity for swifter home syncing to either your smartphone or laptop. There, you’ll link up to Garmin Connect, which is one of the most usable analysis platforms around. That intuitive feel stretches to functionality, which is as comprehensive as it is easy to tap into.
Scrolling and activating via the five side buttons hooks you up to GPS, which is damn impressive, even retaining a signal in the urban sprawl. One of the most useful features is Training Status that covers areas like recovery time and metabolic split between aerobic and anaerobic fuelling. It’s an intelligent system so accuracy should improve as it archives data; that said, core to the algorithm is data emanating from heart rate and, as that’s from the optical sensor, we’d question its accuracy. Delete that statement if you go for the triathlon bundle, as that comes with triathlon and swim chest straps. Sadly, that extra accuracy and reliability comes at a further £130 outlay.
Verdict: Fantastic watch but loses marks for price 81%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk
Like the Coros Pace, the Suunto 9’s major sell is its impressive battery life, coming in at 25hrs in ‘performance mode’ and up to 120hrs in simple GPS mode. That’s a big upgrade on its predecessor, the Spartan, though that’s the overriding evolution. And as the Spartan’s down to around £240 at many online stores, it’s a significant fiscal penalty. Mind you, its feature list is long and relevant, especially the solid GPS pick-up, which now uses a chipset from Sony and the company’s FusedTrack algorithm. The sapphire-crystal screen makes the information sing – exactly what you want on a grey autumn run, ride or swim… in fact, there are over 80 sport modes including indoor cycling and treadmill running. You’re given a huge amount of feedback including sleep tracking, barometric altitude and heart rate, although the optical sensor is erratic at best (an extra £50 bags you a more proven chest belt). Suunto’s Movescount analysis app is solid, but nothing more. suunto.com
Verdict: Many will love it but not evolved enough over the Spartan to justify price 78%
Buy from www.amazon.co.uk