Last year I put together a GPS recommendations guide in August – which has become the staple of my recommendations around products. Then in November, I put a different guide together around my recommendations for the holiday.
This year, I decided to combine the two. These are my simple and straight forward recommendations based on a slew of categories. I get a lot of daily e-mail on which products to choose based on various requirements – and I think I tried to capture the gist of many of those e-mail questions in the below.
As you’ll probably notice – I have links to pick them up on Amazon – and if you use those links, it supports the site. As you also probably know, I end up buying all the products I review – merely to be able to provide support and answer questions after the fact. That cost money (sending Amazon.com home baked cookies hasn’t worked yet as a replacement for my Visa card). Of course, as long as you enjoy what you find here – then your reading is good enough in my book.
Until last year, I had to separate out the ‘Runner’ category into a few categories based primarily on size and usability. This year however, with the introduction of the FR210 last fall and the Timex Run Trainer this fall – I’ve largely consolidated my recommendation that for 95% of runners, the Garmin FR210 or the Timex Run trainer is the way to go.
Then, we got the Motorola Motoactv a few weeks ago. And I’m loving it. There are some initial growing pains – but the team has been releasing firmware updates faster than burritos at Chipotle to address these issues. And for the majority of runners not needing more than 3 hours of battery life – this device is downright awesome.
So which one to choose? Well, the FR210 is the smallest of the bunch (size wise), but it also contains the least functionality. That said, it’s an awesome watch and does the job accurately. With GPS on, you’ll get 8 hours of active battery life. A few weeks in standby (time-only) mode.
Meanwhile, Timex came on the scene back in October with a really full featured watch at sub-$200. It does a lot more than the FR210 as far as customization and general functionality, but it is also bit bigger. With GPS on, you’ll get 8 hours of active battery life. And 6 weeks in standby (time-only) mode.
And then we have the Motorola Motoactv. This is part MP3 player, part running watch. With the built-in WiFi it’ll automatically upload your runs as soon as you get home. You’ve got all the customization of a high end Garmin running watch – but with the screen clarify of an iPod Nano. Love it! Just wish the battery life and waterproofing were a bit more robust.
The Advanced (Function) Runner:
So what is an advanced function runner? Well, not necessarily an advanced runner. But rather, just someone who wants some more advanced functions – such as a lot of highly configurable settings, or things such as course navigation.
The FR610 is indeed the running watch I use day to day. While I have access to a FR910XT and…well…every other watch on the market – this one just works. And works well. For advanced runners, in my mind it’s the perfect watch. It offers more data field customization than the FR210 (so you can mix and match and data fields you’d like), and its touch screen is very different than the FR410’s touch bezel. Touch bezel = annoying, touch screen = nice. The battery with GPS on it’s about 8-9 hours, whereas in standby (time only) mode it’s a few weeks.
If however, you need longer battery life (i.e. an ultra runner) – these have 20 hours a pop, then look at either the FR310XT or the FR910XT. From a runners standpoint, the key difference is the FR910XT includes walk/run mode, whereas the FR310XT does not. Both include vibration alerts. Additionally, the FR310XT and FR910XT include additional navigation functions that the FR610 doesn’t have.
In my opinion, there’s really two key options here to look at: The FR310XT or the FR910XT. If you’re trying to save some cash, go with the FR310XT. If you can spend a couple extra bucks – then the FR910XT is the way to go. Based on nearly 7 weeks of using it now – it’s a freakin’ awesome watch. The major difference between the two is going to be in the swimming arena. The FR910XT does indoor lap swimming, whereas the FR310XT just sits there and looks pretty in the pool (basic timer only). Outdoors, the FR910XT gives you swim metrics in openwater – though I don’t quite find it as accurate as the old swimcap method (within about 10%).
So why not the RCX5? Well, honestly, I feel it’s overpriced at this juncture. Base options put it on price with the FR910XT – but without all the functionality that requires you to purchase additional accessories. I really do enjoy the watch, but I hate that the GPS pod is not included.
(Note: See the budget section for some additional triathlon watches)
If you’re a cyclist, you’ve got two options you should focus your attention on. And really, deciding between the two all comes down to one thing: Whether or not you want mapping.
And by mapping, I mean car-GPS style maps. Both units will do breadcrumb style maps – but only the Edge 800 will breakout high resolution maps and on-road routing (meaning it actually understands what a road is, whereas the Edge 500 just follows dots you specified).
But the Edge 500 on the other hand is brilliantly simple to use, works really darn well – and is super lightweight. If you routinely ride the same routes, then go with the Edge 500. If however, you’re always looking for new routes and changing things up – then the Edge 800 is more your style. Personally I was using the Edge 500 day to day…then my wife stole it, so now I’ve got the Edge 800 instead.
Note: I can’t at this point make any recommendations on the new Joule or Joule GPS announced back in June – simply because it’s not out yet and I haven’t had any appreciable hands on time with them. I do think they may have a solid product – but until I’ve had a chance to use them, I can’t recommend them. And the old Joule just isn’t competitive pricewise anymore with the new metrics on the Edge 800 (also coming to the Edge 500 shortly). And why not the Edge 200? Well, at $150 it’s only $50 away from finding the Edge 500 on sale. And the Edge 500 does so much more.
On a Tight Budget:
If you’re on a budget, then there are two options to check out. First is the trusty Garmin FR305 – which continues to dominate the running scene, despite being nearly half a decade old. It has the vast majority of the functionality of the FR310XT – except without the waterproofing or longer battery life (or power meter support). But, if you just use it while running or cycling – it’s perfect. Especially at an average of $125.
If you’re a triathlete and really need power meter support or a fully waterproofed watch, then check out the Timex Global Trainer. It’s not as full featured as the FR310XT or FR910XT, but it does do the trick and is fully waterproofed. Depending on moon phases and tidal patterns you’ll often see it dip into the $160-$180 range – and occasionally the rare $125. Plus, with the August 2011 firmware update – the vast majority of previous satellite issues are taken care of.
There’s two options here – and both of them are very solid. First up is the FINIS Swimsense watch. It keeps track of all your laps/paces/distance and does so really well. They integrate with a number of sites, and the battery life is excellent (days). It’s very accurate in my experience and it contains features other watches don’t have (such as automated intervals, which automatically pauses the timer when you hit the wall and stop). Note, the Swimsense only works indoors.
On the other hand, you’ve now got the FR910XT that can do swimming – and it does it really well. The data fields are incredibly customizable, and the display is downright brilliant. Based on my experience in the pool – it’s just as accurate as the Swimsense (I’ve been wearing them both at the same time over the past 7 weeks).
So which one wins? Well, it depends. The FR910XT is twice as much as the Swimsense. And in my mind – the one defining difference is really the display. The FR910XT’s is just incredibly easy to read underwater with a slight twist of the wrist when pushing off the wall. The Swimsense display you get used to, but it’s not as easy to read. On the flip side, the Swimsense is considerably smaller on your wrist than the FR910XT. Finally, for those who are curious – I still have a showdown post coming between the two, and it’s actually mostly written. It’s just that I’m waiting on some final Garmin Connect pieces to get finished on the swimming side so I can give them a fair fight.
Why not the Pool-Mate Pro? Well, I find the user interface painful to use – and the service integration is nowhere near the Swimsense or Garmin FR910XT. It keeps track of laps well, but since the Swimsense is the same price – I prefer that.
As for swimming MP3 players – check back on Wednesday. Should have it out then!
Scales and Sleep:
Finally, some categories that don’t require movement! My two favorite non-active gadgets are here. First up is Zeo. This does an awesome job at forcing you to understand what you’re sleep really looks like. I’ve long since used the bedside Zeo clock for almost a year now (on and off), but the new Zeo Mobile is great if you travel a lot like me. I’ve taken it on all my trips over the past few weeks. It’s super easy to use and connects straight to your smart phone. Both the bedside clock and Zeo Mobile read your brainwaves to be able to analyze your sleep. More useful to me though, is simply the recording the data for later analysis. It’s interesting to see how much sleep I actually get – versus what I might think I get.
Then we have scales. I love the Withings WiFi scale due to its integration with everyone under the sun (Training Peaks, Sport Tracks, etc…). You step on the scale, and it sends your weight and body fat information instantly via WiFi to their service. You can use iPhone/Android/Windows 7 Phone apps to view that data, or it’ll automatically end up in one of the other sites out there that you’ve configured. While we saw this summer that the body fat readings are questionable for some, I still recommend it for weight – since that’s simply what I use it for.
Slightly cheaper than the Withings WiFi scale is the ANT+ enabled LifeSource Uc-324ant scale. This unit only does weight – but it has a display on the front and then wirelessly connects to your Garmin watch to upload data to Garmin connect. At $109 it’s considerably cheaper than the Tanita BC-1000 or the Tanita HD-351. Though the BC-1000 does do body fat (again, questionably). But neither Tanita’s have displays on them – requiring a watch.
Computerized Trainers (CompuTrainer vs TACX):
Some folks have asked me to put forth some thoughts on whether to get the TACX Trainer or the CompuTrainer. As you know, I’ve had two CompuTrainer devices I bought – and have had them for years, and have used them multiple times per week during that timeframe. Back in late October, TACX sent me a loaner TACX Bushido trainer to use for a period of time to evaluate it.
While a full In Depth review is coming very shortly on the TACX Trainer – here are my ‘preview’ thoughts between the two. The TACX trainer from a software development standpoint is far and away better than the CompuTrainer – there’s little argument is contains more features and functionality than the CompuTrainer. Further, the legal entanglement that RacerMate (the company behind CompuTrainer) has found themselves in around their new RacerMate One software suite has essentially killed that product for the foreseeable future. Though, even with that product – the functionality for the home user is still far further along in the TACX suite.
From hardware standpoint, things get tricky. The CompuTrainer is a beast – and as such can take a pounding day in and day out. It’s designed to last a decade+, and it does. The TACX trainer on the other hand is technologically superior in that it’s fully wireless – not a single wire for power or connectivity. Its mounting/bracket is also much quicker/faster for day to day use putting the bike on/off, and it’s easy to use anywhere. I can literally drag it out onto my front lawn and bike right there complete with streaming video and ANT+ data to a laptop.
Finally, there’s the support angle. The RacerMate group is pretty good with support, I’ve sent my unit in before – and their procedures are well defined and well measured by many. TACX on the other hand tends to have a bit of a bruised reputation here around support responsiveness and software bug resolution. From my perspective the TACX support team has been great for the things I’ve needed help with – but I also recognize that I likely receive special treatment – something I’ll be unable to get around.
So which one would I choose? Well, the TACX is considerably cheaper. It’s also more functional. It’s just a case of which one will last 10 years. As a geek at heart, I’d probably go the route of the TACX at this point if I were to buy a new device. I don’t believe CompuTrainer as a product can ‘catch-up’ to what the TACX unit can do from a software or hardware functionality standpoint. I should note that even as someone who lives in the world of the CompuTrainer standalone mode (read: rarely uses the software) – the TACX is still easier for the rider because all my existing ANT+ accessories pair with it – no wires required.
Tracking/Phone Sport Accessories:
There’s a few items that don’t really fit well into the categories above. First up is the Garmin GTU10 tracker. This little gum-pack sized tracking device will automatically update your location as often as every 30 seconds. You saw me use it back during Boise 70.3 Half-Ironman to track both myself and my wife.
While the web service needs a bit of work (still can’t yet create a public facing page) – the service overall works great if you’ve got close friends and family wanting to watch where you are. It’s great for long training rides, or other long endurance races.
Then we’ve got both the Wahoo ANT+ iPhone key as well as the ANT+ iPhone bike case. These both work awesome. If you’re looking to get ANT+ data onto your iPhone, the ANT+ key is the way to go. With over 100 apps support it today, there’s so much cool stuff going on. Same goes for the bike case, though being a bike case it’s better for cycling than running (though it’ll work just fine running).
And then – if you’re looking for a cell phone with ANT+ data built right in, check out the Sony Ericsson Xperia Active. This little Android phone is waterproof (swimmable!) and has ANT+ data built in. While no US carriers to my knowledge have it with contracts, you can buy an unlocked phone (new) and simply put a SIM card in it. That’s what I do. I take my iPhone SIM card card out of the iPhone and straight into it (tiny 99 cent adapter required).
As always, if you’ve got specific technical questions on any of the products – the best place for those is the comments section of that given products In Depth Review page, since most are answered there. If you’re looking for comparison stuff – most of the in-depth reviews also have a comparison guide at the end.
And finally – thanks for reading – and for supporting the blog, I appreciate it!
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