It hasn’t been too long since the $99 Soleus 1.0 GPS watch came out, which has ushered in the start of the sub-$100 GPS watches (like the Timex Marathon GPS). But the Soleus 2.0 adds one specific feature: The ability to download workouts after you complete them. But at a $50 premium over the existing watch, is it worth it? Well, as usual, I set to find out.
Like all my reviews, they tend to be pretty in depth (perhaps overly so) – but that’s just my trademark DC Rainmaker way of doing things. Think of them more like reference guides than quick and easy summaries. I try and cover every conceivable thing you might do with the device and then poke at it a bit more. My goal is to leave no stone unturned – both the good and the bad. I bought this particular unit back a month or so ago when GroupOn had it on sale.
Lastly, at the end of the day keep in mind I’m just like any other regular triathlete out there. I write these reviews because I’m inherently a curious person with a technology background (my day job), and thus I try and be as complete as I can. But, if I’ve missed something or if you spot something that doesn’t quite jive – just let me know and I’ll be happy to get it all sorted out. Also, because the technology world constantly changes, I try and go back and update these reviews as new features and functionality are added – or if bugs are fixed.
The Soleus 2.0 comes boxed with an outer shell, sorta like a secondary wrapper.
Once you’ve removed the outer shell, you’ve got the box hanging out inside:
From there, you can pull the insides out of the yellow box and you’ll find the watch on a small box stand, along with the accessories below it.
Below is the full contents of the box once emptied out. You’ve got the watch itself, the USB charging clip, and the manual/quick start guide.
The manual covers both the Soleus 2.0 GPS and the 3.0 GPS. At present, the 3.0 GPS watch hasn’t been made available or released yet. Though my understanding is that it’ll add HRM support.
The USB charging can charge (and download) from both the Soleus 1.0 GPS running watch as well as the Soleus 2.0 GPS running watch (and presumably 3.0 as well). The only difference between the 1.0 and 2.0 watches is really just the cable that comes with them. In this case, the cable with the 2.0 has four prongs, which gives you the extra data connections. Whereas the 1.0 has only two prongs.
And finally, in the box we’ve got the watch itself.
The Soleus watch is inline with other small form factor running watches in the same category. Below I’ve lined up the Soleus 1.0 watch (left), then the 2.0, then the Timex Marathon GPS, then the FR70, and finally the FR60.
As you can see, the Soleus 1.0 and 2.0 are identical. The only difference is the printing on the watch bezel. Taking that a step further, the only difference between the Timex Marathon GPS and the Soleus units is the band form factor and buttons. Functionally and software-wise, all three watches are the same watch with different paint jobs.
Taking a closer look at the Soleus 2.0’s exterior, you can see the contact points for downloading and charging. Additionally, the warning about water sports. I’ve used it in the water (shower) without issue (including rains during runs) – though I haven’t gone swimming (lap) with it.
With that, let’s get into the running!
Before we start our run, we’ll probably want to configure a couple of the user settings. The unit allows you to configure gender, weight, and age. The primary reason for this is to assist in basic calorie calculations.
Once that’s done, you’ll want to set the watch units to either show in miles or kilometers. This will carry through to pace metrics (minutes/mile or minutes/kilometer), as well as speed units (MPH/KPH).
Finally, with all that set, we’re ready to roll. To start the watch and have it receive GPS signal, you’ll press the GPS button on the left hand side. Typically it finds satellites in less than 30 seconds. In fact, I’ll give credit here in that the Soleus is one of the few GPS watches that had no issues tracking my entire flight correctly without dropouts AND showing the full speed (many watches cut off the speeds at over 100MPH). Of course, it’s irrelevant to running – but I was happy to see it performed well in this test.
As you run, the unit will display your current time up top, and your time, distance and pace. You can swap between pace and speed by pressing the left button.
In addition to total time and distance, as well as the current pace – you can set and mark laps. You can do this manually by pressing the lap button, or automatically by using the Auto Lap feature. This function will automatically create a lap for you at a set interval. I use this on long runs, since I like to see how pace fluctuates afterwards in mile-by-mile chunks. You can customize the length of the auto-lap setting to fit your needs, and this is available across both kilometers or miles.
As you hit each lap, a lap display will tell you how far the lap was, and your current time for that lap.
After your run is completed, you’ll save the data by pressing and holding the Stop button down. After a few seconds it’ll note completion.
As a side note, there’s also a Chrono mode and basic time/interval mode. The problem with the timer mode is that all it really does is create a bunch of timers. It’s not actually helping you plan proper intervals (warm-up, work, rest, cool-down) – like virtually all other watches that offer an interval function.
The Run Data menu though is where you’ll be able to view stats about your completed runs, without having to download them to the computer.
Once in the menu, you’ll pull up files by date, and then a numeric identifier after that.
From there you can see totals, such as overall distance, time, pace and calories.
By pressing the right side navigation buttons you can iterate through some of the different data views.
One item of note that covers both Soleus watches is that it incorrectly processes stopped time into the average pace. Meaning, if you go for a 60 minute run, but spend 2 minutes at a stoplight (and pressed stop during those two minutes), it’ll incorrectly process your average time against 60 minutes rather than 58 minutes. Since the watch supports stopping and resuming, it should also correctly process average paces.
While the watch is definitely running focused, it can easily switch into a pseudo-cycling mode. In this mode, you change the view from minutes/mile to MPH (or KPH). This allows runners to take it with them in sports that may not be primary, but they’d still like tracking via the watch.
I’ve taken it on a number of rides lately. This past weekend, I took it for a mountain bike ride and was happy to see that the unit recorded very close to the same distance as the Suunto Ambit – despite plenty of sharp turns and switchbacks.
The unit itself doesn’t actually know the difference between ‘cycling’ and ‘running’, rather, it just changes the display format between the two (pace vs speed). To do so, you’d simply tap the middle-right button, which alternates between the two views. You can swap back and forth as you see fit.
In the photos above, I simply wore it on my wrist, but you can also get a cheap bike watch mount. Either the cheap Garmin or Polar mounts (usually about $10) work well, though I prefer the Garmin one since you don’t have to involve zip ties if you don’t want to.
As a timepiece (regular watch):
In addition to sporting activities, the watch is small enough to use as a regular day watch. The watch will display time zone, day of week, date, and time on the watch face by default.
The watch supports up to five alarms, which can then be configured against the different time zones you’ve set (you can set up to two time zones).
The unit supports audible alarms, but does not have a vibrating function.
The unit includes a backlight that displays for 12 seconds upon pressing the upper left button. It’s Indiglo-style (ironically, on the Timex Marathon GPS branded variant of this watch, they officially call it Indiglo, per the rest of the Timex lineup).
The time the backlight displays is not configurable, though, the contrast is. Meaning, you can adjust the darkness of the text, but not the brightness of the screen overall, or how long the light displays for.
Charging and battery life:
The unit uses a USB charging cable that you’ll plug into an existing USB port in your house. I’ve normally used it a computer (the watch cable doesn’t include a wall outlet block adapter). It actually charges fairly quickly, sitting at the airport tonight it took about 30 minutes to get 60% charged. While charging it’ll display the total charge percentage in blocks of 10%.
The unit notes a 8hr battery life. And in my experience with it and its little brother (same exact watch, different shell), I’m generally happy its battery life. For example, I had the Soleus 1.0 sitting on my desk for months and still showing the time.
And I’ve done some long activities as well, without issues. For example, I recorded a 4+ hour flight on the watch tonight from Chicago to Las Vegas. This was on about a 60% charge, and had some leftover afterwards.
Overall from a battery standpoint the unit is inline with other slimmer units in the competitive landscape.
Software and downloading:
Given the singular reason to buy the Soleus 2.0 over the Soleus 1.0 is the ability to download your workouts afterwards, I was excited to try it out. The software is downloaded free from the Soleus 2.0 portion of the Soleus Running website. It’s only available for PC at this time, but does at least install pretty quickly.
To download information from your unit, you’ll go ahead and connect the watch to the USB charging cable provided. You’ll note that unlike the 1.0 watch, this charging clip has four prongs – whereas the 1.0 had two prongs. Those additional prongs allow data download.
Once you’ve got the unit connected, you’ll go ahead and launch the Soleus GPS application. However note that on my Windows 7 PC, it ONLY consistently works when I launch it ‘As administrator’. Launching it as a regular user will eventually cause the application to crash elsewhere.
This will in turn bring you to the below menu. At first glance you may want for something else to happen. But don’t, it doesn’t. The screen is as bright and white and blank as a newly fallen snowfield.
In order to download data from your watch, you’ll go ahead and click the ‘Download’ button, located off-center below the logo. Note, that both the Enter button and Download button often take 1-5 clicks, usually not right on the text themselves, but in the general vicinity, to get to work. Eventually, they usually do open up.
Once the download window opens, it’ll go ahead and download your data.
At the end of which, it’ll ask if you’d like to clear your data. I generally just leave the data on the watch until I need it cleared out. Sorta like a backup plan.
After the download finishes, you’ll want to click on ‘Enter’ to enter the remainder of the application. At this point, your brought to the below screen.
At first glance, it actually almost looks like a Windows Phone tile setup – sorta Metro UI (like Windows 8). We’ll go ahead and click on ‘Data’. In reality, all options take you to the same next screen, it’s just that depending on which button you click on it’ll default to a different tab within that screen. So to the data tab we go:
Along the top you’ve got summary information about your run. On the left side you’ll see all of your activities. These have dates, ambiguously useless names you can’t change (they’re just the date with an extra zero in them), and total miles. In the middle you have a pace graph of your run. The charge includes two heart rate zone lines on it at all times, though the watch doesn’t support a heart rate monitor. The lines are simply displayed for the fun of it. You can’t turn them off, though, you can move them up or down by adjusting your zones.
And finally, on the right side side you’ll see the 1-second recording interval and the various paces at that point in time. It’s actually kinda unusual to see this level of detail (one-second recording with avg/pace displayed) in a chart format. I like it though.
Along the top you’ve got tabs for different functions. For example, if you click the ‘Lap Data’ tab, which is next, you’ll see lap information for your run, in a bit more detail. You can’t change any of the columns – though, it covers the majority of what most users would expect.
I did like that it notes whether a lap is done automatically or manually. Note my lap 8 below. I hit the wrong button (though almost at the exact right time), but it’s kinda cool that it demarks that.
The next tabs, ‘Week Data’ and ‘Month Data’, simply show you a line chart with the total miles run each week or month. Along the side it notes your totals and averages. Again, the HR is displayed – along with ‘ascension’. The unit doesn’t support heart rate or elevations. So these are both for imaginary benefit.
Next, we’ve got the Google Map tab. This page shows you a map of where you went during the run. This page tends to work about 30% of the time. With the remainder of the time spent between crashing and not finding the internet (even when connected to the internet).
But, when it does work, it’s fairly straightforward and functional.
You’ll see the route, where you went, and using the Google Maps API, you’re able to zoom in/out and switch between aerial/map views (as well as Google Earth using the plug-in).
Next, we move onto the ‘Settings’ page. It allows you to configure all of the options on the watch, in the software itself. So I can setup auto lap here, as well as the display units (miles/kilometers), and the time format. Though, like elsewhere in the software, the heart rate portions aren’t actually of use. They don’t do anything. Overall though, I’m a big fan of allowing users to change and save settings on their computers – as it’s almost always faster than on the watch itself (though, I also note that you should allow a user to do it both ways).
The next two tabs center around deleting data. They don’t have pages themselves, and instead just pop-up boxes confirming you’d like to delete all data.
After that we’ve got the ‘Backup’ tab, which also doesn’t have a specific page. It allows you to backup everything into a .DAT file. This then allows you to utilize the next tab ‘Restore’ to restore everything back into the program. This is useful if you want to move between computers. It’s also useful because when you upgrade versions, it’ll delete all of your history without letting you know. But if you do the backup/restore, you can pull it back in safely afterwards.
Then we have the most useful tab in the entire suite. It’s labeled “MapMyRun”. This tab spits out a .TCX file that you can upload to MapMyRun. Unfortunately, it doesn’t conform to any other standards that others use for .TCX files – so you won’t be able to upload it to Garmin Connect, TrainingPeaks, Sport Tracks, or really anything else (I’ve tried).
On the bright side, when you try and import into MapMyRun – that does indeed work. To do so, you’ll need to have a MapMyRun.com account and be signed in. A free account works fine.
Once logged in, go ahead and click Workout, then click Sync device:
Then click the button one, for the .TCX file.
Then click on the dropdown menu and select ‘TCX’. Finally, click Browse to find your file and then once done, click ‘Continue’.
After a short bit of thinking, MapMyRun will come back to you with the final results. At this point, you’ll want to classify the workout and name it.
The cool part is that once it’s in MapMyRun (or any of the MapMyFitness sites), you can get elevation data as well. Further, they in turn have partner sites that allow you to move data around to other services and platforms (like your phone app).
Finally, the very last option in the Soleus software suite – ‘Print Map’. When you click on this, you receive the following single modal dialog box:
In summary, the native Soleus software is horrible. Without question, it’s the worst sports/fitness application that I’ve ever used by any sports company. Of course, it wasn’t written by a ‘sports company’, but rather – by a generic software company in Asia with likely no knowledge of sports. They were likely just writing on basic specs that allowed them to market the underlying watch to companies like Soleus (and Timex), which in turn rebrand it under their own names. This is why I often saw “NEWCO” in the software when it would have an error or crash (and it’s also listed within the filenames of some of the source files).
The software is barely functional – when it’s not crashing – and the data it exports is only useful with a single service (MapMyRun). I can’t keep track of the number of failure images I have over the last month…because I have so darn many of them. Here, a gallery full of unique crashes – each their own unique snowflake:
This comparison chart is likely better viewed expanded, so you’ll want to click on it to open it up. I’ve looked at all the sub-$200 models in the competitive landscape today. Some models like the Soleus 1.0 and Timex Marathon GPS don’t technically support downloads – so keep that in mind.
At the end of the day, the very reason they created the 2.0 watch (to allow download of data) – is the sole reason that as a package the Soleus 2.0 sucks so much. They miscalculated that they could charge $150 for a complete system that barely works, and even when it does work – it’s just downright horrid. At $150 they’ve entered the pastures of the ‘majors’ – Garmin, Timex, Nike, Polar – most notably. All of which offer products in this range with complete, full and tested software suites that ‘just work’. If they’re going to charge a premium and move out of the sub-$100 watch market, then ultimately they have to deliver software that’s competitive in the $150 market. And it just doesn’t do that today.
In my ideal world, they’d partner up with someone else to handle the software side of things. That could be a legit partnership with MapMyRun where MapMyRun develops an agent to download the data. Or it could be a partnership with TrainingPeaks. Or just someone else. Really, anyone else.
Further, the watch would have to be reduced in price. At $150 it’s simply too expensive compared to other units out there. The Nike+ unit is $16 more, with light-years more functionality. The Timex Run Trainer waffles in the same territory as well – again, bounds of functionality and stability. Or even the non-GPS FR60/FR70 – with tons of software goodness as well. The comparison chart table I have above is choke full of options that are better (another one, the Timex Global Trainer – these days at $130ish).
So, in summary, no, I can’t recommend you buy this unit. Even if it were to drop to $95 (same price as the Soleus 1.0), I still don’t think I’d recommend it as a data downloading watch. I’d recommend just paying $30 more for one of the others that has tons of functionality.
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