First look at new Magellan Echo smartphone enabled running watch

This morning Magellan announced their newest entrant to the fitness market – the Magellan Echo.  Unlike many running watches, this unit takes a bit of a different approach to things.  Instead of containing a GPS chip within the unit, it leverages your smartphone to drive the experience.  Meaning that it uses your phone’s GPS in place of a traditional GPS chip in the watch, and then all of the configuration aspects are controlled via your phone.  This results in a lighter unit as well as a cheaper unit.

For some, this may remind you of the Wahoo Fitness RFLKT cycling computer which hit shelves earlier this year.  And that’s definitely true.  So true in fact that they share the same platform.  Magellan partnered with Wahoo Fitness in developing the watch, leveraging the same application programming interface (API) that the Wahoo RFLKT has.  As a result, this makes the Echo the first ‘open’ running watch.  Application developers can customize and configure any aspect of the display.  In effect, it’s a ‘blank slate’ of a watch for app developers.  But if you want to simply use it as a running watch without any 3rd party apps, it can do that as well.

I just received the watch yesterday – so my time is extremely limited (I actually met them at the airport in San Francisco for an Ocean’s Eleven style hand-off rushing out to the curb and back in again).  But, I did want to give you a first look at things, and in addition, a place to ask any questions.

How it works:

Because the watch is driven by your smartphone, it’ll require your smartphone be in range to run with it.  Think of it like a Bluetooth headset.  You can’t just talk into the Bluetooth headset a mile from your phone and expect it to work.  Same rule applies here.  So if you go out on a run, you’ll need to bring the phone along.

When you don’t want to run with it, it’ll simply display the time and date.  They have a utility that allows you to tweak this display slightly (for example, the formatting).

You can also invert the display.  Via the utility you can do white text on the black background, which you can see above.  Or you can do black text on a blank/white background, like below.

When you’re ready to go for a run, you’ll go ahead and pair up the watch to the phone.  Today I’m using the currently available version of the Wahoo Fitness app to demonstrate this.  That will continue to work, but down the road by release you’ll see this customized a bit more (both on a Magellan app side, as well as the Wahoo app side).

On the watch itself, to start the connection sequence you’ll just tap the button and it’ll connect.  The device uses Bluetooth Smart, which is a subset of Bluetooth 4.0 (which is a specific chipset level). This means you’ll need a Bluetooth 4.0 capable phone.  Right now that means any iPhone 4s or higher, or latest generation iPods or iPads (though, if you run with an iPad taped to your chest, we’ll need to chat).

While there are certainly other non-Apple devices that contain Bluetooth 4.0, none of those devices are supported at launch.  The situation on Android and Windows Phone with respect to Bluetooth 4.0 support puts both platforms into the ‘later this year’ category.  Through no fault of Magellan (or Wahoo), but simply due to lack of support on those platforms for utilization of the Bluetooth Smart device profiles.  At conferences from both companies (Google and Microsoft) last month both announced plans for full support later this year.  But we’ve also heard that repeatedly before with long-missed timelines (from Google & Samsung).  So I’ll see it when I believe it.

Back to the Echo though…

Once it connects to your phone it’ll display the data fields you’ve configured (more on that in a minute):

At this point, you’re ready to run.  In my case, I’ve set the upper right button as my start button.  So I’ll simply press it to start running.

Running with the Magellan Echo:

While running, the GPS data is fed from your phone to your watch.  Again, the unit itself doesn’t include GPS within it, it must leverage your phone’s GPS chipset.  That GPS chip will provide speed/pace, distance and then metrics related to that.

Now, as part of my final review upon launch, I’ll take a closer look at how accurate that GPS data really is compared to traditional GPS running watches with integrated GPS chipsets.  Historically speaking, in my tests GPS accuracy of phones haven’t fared too well.  And given I’m often running with phones testing other things, I haven’t seen great accuracy there either.  But I’ll take a renewed look at things as part of the review’s ‘GPS Accuracy’ section.  So even though it wouldn’t be the Magellan Echo’s fault, it ultimately would impact whether the device is useful or not.

If you have Bluetooth Smart accessories – such as a Bluetooth Smart heart rate strap (like the Polar H7 or Wahoo Blue HR), then it’ll display that information as well.  Including the Wahoo Blue SC (Bluetooth Smart Speed/Cadence sensor)

Same goes for the Polar Bluetooth Smart footpod (for indoor running, or running cadence data).  In fact, if you have the Wahoo Fitness ANT+ adapter, you can also feed in any ANT+ data you’d like from ANT+ sensors including power meters, speed/cadence cycling sensors, running footpods and heart rate straps.

Just like a normal running watch, you can pause and resume your runs.  But unlike a normal running watch, you’ll customize which buttons do what.

Because I was using the non-beta Wahoo Fitness app for the majority of these screenshots, I wasn’t quite able to show all the different display modes, which are a bit more refined in the Magellan Beta, which I’ll have access to shortly and will update a few of these photos (primarily the ones with the blue/orange watches).  But you can see some of the additional modes from photos I took briefly at the airport.

Once you’re done with your run you can upload the data directly to any number of services via the Wahoo Fitness app (and Magellan will leverage the same partners).  Today that includes:

– Runkeeper
– MapMyFitness
– Strava
– Nike+
– TrainingPeaks
– 2Peak
– Ride with GPS
– Garmin Connect
– MapMyTracks
– DailyMile
– Dropbox

Or you can simply save the files in a number of standard file formats:

-PWX (Peaksware)
– TCX (Garmin)
– FIT (Garmin + most newer non-Garmin devices)
– GPX (GPS eXchange)
– CSV (For use in Excel)
– WF (Wahoo Fitness native file)

The above file formats pretty much cover every sports tracking log or platform on earth – so you’re good there.

Let’s take a closer look at the customization side though, as this is what I believe makes the watch far more appealing than your normal $150 running watch.

Customizing the data fields, display, and buttons:

Upon release in October, the unit will have its own application as well as certain 3rd party apps that they’re working with already.  Today though I can use the Wahoo Fitness application to customize the Magellan Echo.

Within the app I’ll first search out and pair to the Magellan Echo.  This is identical to searching out any other Bluetooth Smart or ANT+ accessory, and only takes a second.  Once that’s done, I can create a new profile (or use an existing one).  Each profile has settings associated with it for everything from sensors to display settings and buttons settings.  In my case, I just created one called “Magellan Echo” to keep things simple.  You can see in some of my photos I’ve set the type as ‘Running’.

Within that, I’ve gone ahead and configured the data pages as I see fit.  Now right now it’s using the Wahoo RFLKT ‘template’, so things obviously will look different in the final form (as in, the background will be a watch).  But, it still displays the same.  Here’s a few fields I created:

Now what’s cool here is that while above I set everything as running, I can also do the same for any type of workout – including cycling.  This allows me to configure cycling metrics like power meter data, there’s quite a few power meter data fields I can configure today:

This is cool in that this moves the power meter display bar down quite a bit cheaper.  The cheapest watch that does any power meter data is the FR310XT, hovering around $200.  However, the cheapest normal day to day watch that does power meter data is at $400+ (the Suunto Ambit 2/2s).

While not everyone wants to see their power meter data on their wrist, it’s actually a request I hear more often than you’d think.  So the potential to do what you’d like is pretty nice.

A pile of specifications and details:

The unit will come in three colors, which are shown below – all color variations are the same price, but there are packages which cost $50 more to get the heart rate strap.  The sample I have is black, so I snapped these shots at the airport – thus I apologize in advance that they aren’t of the highest photographic quality.  Also, the orange-looking band you see below is a non-final color, it’s a bit more reddish in the final color (like you see in the computer generated imagery down below).

Because this isn’t a review (no really, it’s not, it’s just a first glance), I won’t be talking through every aspect and specification as I normally would in separated sections.  Instead, I’ve included below some key specs they’ve included in the information they gave to me, as well as additional items I asked about.

Availability date: Roughly October-November 2013
Waterproofing: IPX7 (which means 30 minutes at 1 meter/3 feet deep) – not to be swam with, but fine for showers.
Battery: User-replaceable CR2032 coin-cell battery
Battery life: TBD – but I would typically expect something like this to be at least months
Backlight: Yes
Screen: 128×128 pixels (same as Garmin FR610)
Weight: 44g / 1.55oz
Alerts: Audible and Display (no vibrate)
Price: $149 (watch), $199 (watch + Bluetooth Smart HR strap)
Official Color Names: Warm Red Echo, Black, or Cool Blue (look, I don’t come up with the color names)

 

Initial Thoughts after Half a Day:

I’ll admit, when I first heard of the device, I was somewhat lukewarm on it.  But after playing with it a bit, I’m starting to see some of the potential here.  While I saw the potential with the Wahoo RFLKT cycling computer, I feel like the Magellan Echo has a bit more of a polished physical design to it.  It’s incredibly light.  Easily the lightest running watch I’ve ever used.  Like a small pile of Pringles chips.  And as such, it makes it more appealing to use since it feels and looks like any other running watch.

It’s clear that over the last few months Wahoo has worked with Magellan and has been adding in all of the required running-related fields to setup the stage for the Magellan Echo watch.  And in customizing my data fields, I’ve been able to very easily replicate the exact setup I typically use on the $400 Garmin FR610 that I normally run with.

Now obviously the Echo requires a phone on your person while running.  That makes it less ideal for things like triathlons where quick transitions are of importance – and phone legality is questionable.  And since the device lacks full swim-proof waterproofing, you wouldn’t want to take it on the swim leg.  But, on the flip side, it can be used to show cycling statistics – including power meter information.

I’m pretty interested to see where things go from here.  Magellan has signed on a few core 3rd party apps for launch, but those names aren’t yet released.  The key will be getting those apps actually publicly available at product availability.  Wahoo had touted the same for the Wahoo RFLKT, but those apps really failed to materialize at launch, and have largely lagged in 3rd party interest since.  The good news though is that now if app developers add in support for the Magellan Echo, it’ll work with the Wahoo RFLKT as well.  A bit of a twofer.  I expect that’ll stimulate more apps to join in.  Or at least, I hope so.

Please Note: Again, this is not a review.  It’s an early look at a pre-release product – a product some three months away.  Obviously, at this stage in development (as with any product), there are bugs.  ‘Known issues’ as it’s called in the industry.  Ones they expect to be removed by release.  But at the same time, it’s possible (though seemingly unlikely) they won’t be addressed.  I say that because I want to make it clear that since this isn’t a review I can’t state whether or not the final device is reliable and reasonably bug-free.  It could be both, or it could be neither. I’ve only had the device for 13 hours, 16 minutes and 20 seconds.  Thus, again, I haven’t dug into what works and what doesn’t.  Make sense?  Good.  Enjoy!

As always, feel free to drop any questions below and I’ll do my best to get them answered.

DC Rainmaker :

View Comments (115)

  • Ray,

    The Omate Truesmart is almost there on the integration of a phone into a waterproof smartwatch. They have 2g/3g GSM, GPS, and bluetooth (but may only be 2.1, not 4.0) - all of this running Android 4.2.2 (hopefully up to 4.3 RSN).

    http://www.omate.com/
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/omate/omate-truesmart-water-resistant-standalone-smartwa

    Now if they only had ANT+ they could completely replace my MotoActv, which is really starting to show it's age. I'm really looking forward to pairing it with the Recon Jet and a $30 pay as you go SIM chip to give me a full running/cycling setup with emergency phone capability.

    • The SIM card piece is awesome.

      The challenge we'll see however is crossing into the sports realm. This is where every other smart-watch has failed like a seagull flying into a jet engine.

      Even the LEIKR unit seems at present is looking like it's on a similar path - at least short term. Perhaps in a year or so they'll sort it out, but right now it's not pretty (and last week's news isn't pretty either).

  • Has anyone tested how close the watch needs to be to the iPhone to work reliably? Any other comparison of data-stream robustness ... I am recalling the issues mentioned in the RFLKT review.

    • OK, my fears about needed proximity of phone and echo were unfounded. I tested the placement of the phone all around my body with no issues. Echo display tracks the iPhone display only a 10th of a second delayed. I have experience no communication dropouts yet.

    • Edward,

      Echo has about the same range as RFLKT. I am not sure about what issues you are referring to?, The echo will have no problems communicating with the iPhone when located anywhere on your body or backpack.

      Hope that helps,

  • I got my Echo yesterday from Clever Training. Thanks for the discount, Ray!

    First reaction: I look like a total running nerd wearing an Echo on one wrist and a Mio Alpha on the other. It doesn't help to have a pair of Bluebud X's and a Polar Bluetooth stride sensor on as well. (If you see a big nerd with too many electronic toys running around Pacific Beach CA, say hi...)

    I do like the Echo. It's really light, and the display is quite readable. Easy to set up, too. Incorporating the Philips/Mio optical HRM technology into it would make for a real killer device. For extra credit, also incorporate the ANT+ bridge and altimeter from the RFLKT+!

    Right now I'd recommend using the Wahoo Fitness app. Even though Strava supports the Echo, there's only one fixed display and button layout. And I don't like their layout choices... WF easily uploads to Strava, of course.

    It's going to be fun watching the turf wars between dedicated fitness appliances, smart phones, smart watches, and the fitness apps / web services. And I say this as a guy who works on cloud backends for a large Korean electronics company! (Writing as an individual here.)

    • @Lars,

      Weekly Total feature will be removed via a firmware update (using the Magellan Echo Utility iOS App) within the next few weeks. It will later be replaced with the ability for apps to define pages that will be viewable in watch mode.

    • I do have the same issue, in “time-only” mode, the watch displays “Weekly Total 0″ at the bottom of the screen, even after multiple workouts.
      I am using the Wahoo fitness app.

    • @Edward,

      Thank you for the feedback and suggestions! We will continue to release firmware updates to Echo using the Magellan Echo Utility. We'll also post updates to our blog and social media outlets when a firmware update is available.

    • Ray/Richard

      Thank you for confirming the WF stride sensor support.

      Anthony

      Thanks for the clarification. Having a summary field in time-mode is a great idea, especially if the application could customize what to push there. After pushing my WF entries to SportTracks, I tend to go back and clean them off of the iPhone ... I guess I need to change that behavior.

      Having the field constantly say "0" however, somewhat annoying after a time. Perhaps it can be hidden if the app does not push any content. Having additional pages in time-mode that show statistics pushed by the app would be very nice as well. Again, hide if user's app does not push anything.

    • @Edward

      The only app that supports the weekly total field at the moment is Strava. They display your Weekly Avg miles. It was intended as a fun way for an app to still have a presence even when you are not connected. We are dabbling with removing that field from the watch screen though and giving apps 1 or more pages that you can flip through to show you things like weekly & monthly summaries, recent achievements, etc. It was an app developer's idea, not mine, so I can't take the credit. Let us now what you think about the idea!

    • The WF app added in official support for the Polar BT sensor last week. :)

      Fwiw, I'm not seeing any weekly total issues.

      I used the Strava app tonight for my run with it, agree with the comments regarding customization of it.

    • We got ours as well. It is very light but I wish it were a bit smaller overall. We set up a number of different screen profiles under Wahoo Fitness so that the displays were setup differently for running, cycling, etc. That is a very nice feature provided in WF. Each time you start a workout with a different activity, a new set of displays are synched to the watch automatically.

      We found that you had to "tap" the screen pretty hard to get it to change pages. If anyone else has issues, tap hard like playing a piano key. I had expected a touch sensitive or capacities screen, but it appears to be sensing a impact acceleration.

      We were thinking that the addition of a step counter would make this device blow the polar loop out of the water. But add a Mio HR to use when the chest strap is not attached as well ... wow, great idea.

      Richard, are you using a Polar BT stride sensor with WF app? I contacted WF and they said it was not supported at this time. Wondering if it would work anyway.

      Our only outstanding problem after clarifying a few things with Magellan is that, in "time-only" mode, the watch displays "Weekly Total 0" at the bottom of the screen, even after multiple workouts. Is that the behavior you get, Richard? Website image imply that workout summary would be pushed here. I see no configuration option in WF or Magellan's utility app. I have a support email into Magellan but they are still looking into it.

  • I did one "real" run with Strava, and just did a little walk with Wahoo Fitness. YES, it works with the stride sensor.

    Probably because of that Strava run, it now tells me my average running miles per week. I very much agree with Anthony that it'd be great to let apps have a customized "report-out" page. If you want to do something fun with the screen real estate currently used by the "average," how about "time since last exercise"? That'd motivate people!

  • Apologies for the html mess-up... if you click on the 2nd paragraph, you'll see a screenshot from WF showing the polar sensor working.

  • I would like to know if there are any others out there that run multiple apps, I don't expect anyone to run as many as I do, but I would like to know if the echo can handle multiple running apps at one time, by switching back and forth between them, I know this sounds a little off to some of you, but I like the specific data I get from different app platforms, and none of them can do what the others can, some are just a little better and getting a particular job done then another (And some just look plain better), the apps I run, in order of main use, are Strava, DigiFit, iSmooth Run, Wahoo, and Runtastic, I do have RunKeeper, but for as much as RunKeeper tries to do, and they were the first, that is the most unreliable of them all, not to mention that technical support is zilch from them, when they used to be a company that would pick up the phone every time. At the most I will run 5 apps at once when I am with one of my running clients doing personal training, giving me additional info to jot down for there weekly and monthly improvements. Again I know this appears a bit unusual, but it is an everyday occurrence for me, and I do know others that do the same, we like what we like. Oh Yeah, if anyone was guessing, the battery life is horrendous, but it is a lot better with the phone 5S, or it could simply be because I have a new phone with a fresh battery, but I can run five apps for a period of 5+ hours, if I'm not jacking with the screen too much.

  • @Robert,

    You can be paired with multiple apps at a time, but only connected to one at a time. When you re-connect to a previously paired app, the device does not need to re-sync that app's configuration (unless it has changed since last connection). So there is a way to switch back and forth, but it may not be idea for your use case.

    Preconditions:

    1. Echo has been paired with all compatible apps on your phone.
    2. The Echo configuration has not changed on any of those apps since last connecting.

    Steps:

    1. Open Application A with Echo.
    2. Connect Echo to Application A.
    3. Put Echo in Watch Mode by holding the top-left button for 1 second (Echo disconnects from Application A).
    4. Switch to Application B.
    5. Put Echo in Search Mode by holding the top-left button for 1 second.
    6. When Echo asks you to confirm or cancel connecting to Application B, press the bottom-right button to confirm.
    7. Echo is now connected to Application B.
    Repeat steps 3-7 to switch which app is connected to Echo.

    The reason we ask you to confirm or cancel connecting to an application is to alert the user which application is attempting to connect to Echo. If there are multiple apps open that have been paired with Echo with app background refreshing enabled they can fight for control, so this confirmation is necessary to give the user control over which application to connect to.

    Not sure whether the steps above will work for you, but if you are willing to go through the effort of switching between multiple apps then maybe it's not too much additional effort.

  • I got mine via amazon this week and I'm really impressed with the watch, I'm testing Strava and Wahoo at the time and I feel that is a great gadget to pair with my phone. I have been running with my phone since I have my music, my apps and also because I find it handy in case of an emergency. The integration is great, is easy to use, to setup and to enjoy.
    Is only 149 bucks...my I spent 700 on my ipad and I don't really use it that much, I really believe this will be the future of sports, since my iphone is a much faster, and stronger computer than my previous Tomtom Watch, my issue with running with my phone was the display, the Echo solves the problem of display, solves my problem of my music, is light, needs no recharge... is a fun and useful watch.

    • How do you carry your Phone? A big limitation for me is that I haven't a convenient, waterproof, sweat proof iPhone holder. I've tried various armbands- havent found one yet. perhaps putting the phone in a ziplock bag before putting in an armband as suggested by someone in this message streaming the way to go. Anyway, I don't want to goo up my new iPhone.

  • This looks like a good fit for me. I'm already an ismoothrun user, but I like the watch face concept because my phone is usually tucked in a belt, or a pocket. One question on it though. For iSmoothrun intervals does the watch beep at the start of an interval, and does it beep at the notification interval? If so then I could ditch the headphones on some of my runs. Most of the time I know what I need to do for the interval, I just don't know when it will start, or when to look down because I've done another half, or full mile.

    • @Mark,

      Visual and audible alerts are supported by the API, the app developer just needs to take implement them. The current public version of iSmoothRun does not, but they have been actively working on improvements. They are very receptive to suggestions, so feel free to contact them directly with any suggestions you have.

      http://www.ismoothrun.com/contact.php

      Thanks!

  • I use my echo with MapmyRun and love it. I'm thinking about purchasing and using wireless headphones and wonder if the bluetooth technology will allow the connection to the watch and phone and headphones and phone at the same time. I know that the echo does not pair with the operating technology, so maybe it won't be an issue. Any thoughts/

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