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.
Upon release in 2018, Coros’ Pace led the way when it came to upping historically poor battery lives of multisport watches, coming in at around 25hrs with GPS on and 30 days in regular tracking mode. The rest followed but, in an industry dominated by the few, it gained them a foothold.
The Pace is more than simply longevity, though, offering feedback for numerous endurance sports, including tri. In each, pick-up and retention of GPS is swift, though its open-water readings are a little awry. Accelerometers and sensors calculate stride length and cadence, which is a useful feature for working on run technique. The inclusion of a barometer is also a neat touch for accurate climbing information, as is the algorithm that records your running motion.
Using a chest strap for reference, the wrist-based HR sensor is accurate enough on gentle jogs and bike commutes, but high-intensity sessions see either a lag or erroneous fluctuations. This isn’t solely a Coros criticism, but it’s noticeable.
Syncing between watch and phone is swift, and the info on the app is nicely presented. Parameters like time in zones and lap pacing are useful, but its third-party uploading capability is limited compared to the dominant brands: Garmin, Polar and Suunto. And it’s breaking the oligopoly of those three that’s Coros’ huge challenge. With the Pace, they’re at least in with making a dent.
Verdict: A fine effort from Coros, especially the battery life. Find it £50 cheaper and it could be a winner 80%
Buy from www.ekosport.co.uk
Sigma often create products that are packed with reliable functions, but lack an aesthetic sophistication. Often, they’re not hugely usable, either. So chapeau to the Germans for banishing those demons, starting with screen clarity. It’s easy to view on the fly, heightened by neat icons for switching between sport modes and reminding you to drink, eat and even what to eat. HR emanates from Valencell, one of the more accurate, and GPS isn’t bad either. Yet it often takes a few goes at picking up the satellite and, if it times out, you’ll need to press the relevant button to reattempt. And that’s fiddly as the buttons are awkward, especially wearing gloves. The Sigma app is cumbersome, though you can upload your workout to Strava. It also includes crash alert and sleep analysis. sigmasport.com
Verdict: A Few quibbles but an impressive list of features for the price tag 81%
Buy from www.amazon.co.uk
The V here came with HR sensor. Without it, you save £40. But that sensor is worth the extra spend as you can tap into Recovery Pro, a neat self-assessment of training readiness based on HR data. The more you use it, the more accurate it is. This next-gen multisport watch comes with power without the need for a separate sensor. The importance of wattage in cycling is clear – in running, less so. But it certainly futureproofs things, which is appreciated at the price. Training Load Pro measures muscular, cardiovascular and perceived load to deliver a training audit. Battery life’s immense at 40hrs; you can tap into 130 sports including tri; wrist-based HR is better than most; and the touchscreen is impressive. A fine training tool, yet marks are lost for a lack of run dynamics. polar.com
Verdict: Arguably Polar’s best multisport watch to date thanks to the next gen tools 85%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk
Rule number one for any sports watch: legibility. Although the watch face is similar size to the Polar and Garmins, the limited 218 x 218 resolution matrix colour screen is framed in a way that cramps and confuses the information. It also lacks clarity and crispness. Which is a shame as there are decent features beneath, including personalised training plans, deep-level metrics like estimated VO2 max and EPOC (Estimated Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption), and a host of recovery features such as analysis of your current stress levels (slightly raised by squinting at the screen!). GPS accuracy is good, improved upon over previous Suunto models thanks to the Sony chipset, but the optical HR data proved erratic, certainly to begin with before they settle down. You’re also given smart notifications but, like many here, one of the most impressive features is battery life, which comes in at up to 40hrs in power-saving mode.
Verdict: A solid watch let down by the visibility of the screen on the fly down by the visibility of the screen on the fly 75%
Buy from www.decathlon.co.uk
The Fenix 6’s feature list is huge, which adds up to a relatively bulky watch (possibly too bulky for streamlined triathletes). Still, if you’re happy to nominally affect hydro and aerodynamics – and have the money – this could be for you. A crystal-clear screen relays a host of performance information beyond the traditionals of pacing, speed and the like. As a snapshot, you have the ClimbPro feature, which details your current and upcoming climbs, the latter particularly useful for pacing and nutrition timing; a Pulse O2 sensor, which gauges how well your body’s absorbing oxygen; and Respiration Tracking, which assesses how your breathing rate changes through the day. Okay, we’re not 100% sure of its tri benefits, but it’s clearly useful for acclimatising at altitude.
Verdict: a brilliant training tool but the Forerunner is more tri-specific 82%
Buy from www.hsjohnson.com
Under £80 for a feature list as long as one of Jan Frodeno’s legs is impressive. Wrist-based HR, GPS, smartphone analysis… it’s all here. But, as you’d perhaps expect for the price, features are erratic, starting with the GPS pick-up and retention, which is moderate for both cycling and running but suffers against a busy urban backdrop. And it’s not swim-applicable. Its optical HR system from Phillips is inaccurate, especially when sprinting. Bluetooth is a positive but the connection is inconsistent. The app’s a labyrinth to navigate, too, dropping marks for usability. Mind you, the nutrition alarm and the interval-training setting are solid additions and, ironically, highlights this watch’s main flaws. While its feature list and price are long, it’s bitten off more than it can chew.
Verdict: A great price, but there are more reliable starter tri athlon watches, 72%
Buy from www.decathlon.co.uk
We were startled by the Garmin 935 a couple of moons ago. It’s been replaced by the 945, which is arguably even more impressive. Upgrades on the 935 aren’t huge but they are significant. The standouts are the capacity to play music direct from the 945 to your wireless headphones via Bluetooth and the full resolution maps, where you can plan your run and ride routes. They work brilliantly and feel luxurious. As they should at this price. The 945 has contactless payment and will also adapt its feedback if you’re training in extreme conditions, such as heat or altitude. And as you’d expect, training data is incredibly detailed and includes training status, VO2max and even blood oxygen saturation levels. Battery life’s a large 36hrs in GPS mode. Running dynamics are provided, but you’ll need the bundle package that comes in at a mighty £650. Still, if you’re committed to self-analysis, you know you’ll find the money. garmin.com
Verdict The Forerunner still leads the triathlon way. Best start saving now 90%
Buy from www.tredz.co.uk