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Today Epson announced a flotilla of new watches. Not just one watch, but five different GPS watches from $99 to $399. They’ve got everything from smartphone notifications to activity tracking, and most models have optical HR too. Plus, they get into the triathlon realm with a $249 triathlon watch that’s got all the core functions most triathletes need.
This, of course, isn’t Epson’s first barbeque in the GPS watch realm. You’ll remember some of the past products they’ve announced, which I previously found to be among the most accurate GPS & optical HR measurement on the market. It was astounding. Heck, they even show distance down to the thousandths place (I.e. 3.678 miles)! But, with changes to both GPS and HR sensor in these new models, would they hold up?
Now like before, they still announced far too many models for their own good, with most of the differences simply being software tweaks (or battery size). So in order to keep my wrists available for rockin’ the slew of GPS watches this fall, I focused on one model specifically: The ProSense 307.
That’s the $249 multisport model that does swim/bike/run, plus it includes optical HR. Further, I flip-flopped on whether to call this a full in-depth review. I wasn’t able to get in an openwater swim during my time with the watch (wrong season, weird travel schedule). But I have knocked out runs, rides, and indoor swimming.
In any case, with that – let’s dive into things!
Models, Sizes, and Weights:
Now, if you remember the last time Epson released GPS watches, they literally arrived at the cave with a minivan full of GPS watch models. I could line them all up and cover the entire width of the room. This time, they’ve exerted a bit of self-control, and narrowed it down to five models. Though three of those models are just minor tweaks to battery and display. Sure, Garmin, Polar, and Suunto all have boatloads of units. But they also have far more resources. Ultimately, it’s better to be focused from a marketing standpoint.
In any case, here’s the models, and my super-short distilled blurb. ALL have GPS in them.
$99 – ProSense 17: Simple GPS running watch, activity tracking, smartphone notifications
$149 – ProSense 57: Everything above, plus optical HR sensor
$249 – ProSense 307: Everything above, plus pool/openwater swimming and cycling support
$349 – ProSense 347: Everything above, but with double the battery life (46hrs GPS)
$399 – ProSense 367: Everything above, but with Sapphire glass
In that context, it’s actually not too bad. When we first had a conference call back in August about it, I was driving to Eurobike in the RV and pulled over at a rest stop to chat with them. I think I audibly sighed when they said they had five models. I thought I was on mute. But they quickly said to let them explain their logic, and after explaining it I get what they were going for.
I still think some combination of the naming and model count is a mess to explain to a customer at a running shop, but that’s not my problem.
Since I don’t have all the watches (just the ProSense 307), here’s generic PR images of all the units for your fashionista selection assistance. Yes…all the units. You can hover above each one to get the specific model and color variant. 11 variants in total.
Now, as I mentioned, I’ve only got the ProSense 307 (the middle bear), which allows me all the functionality they have in the series, but just with the smaller battery life and non-Sapphire glass. I’ve always thought Sapphire glass on any GPS watch is usually silly (but every vendor does it of course).
So, here’s a look at how the ProSense 307 compares to a few other GPS multi-sport watches from a sizing standpoint:
And then, the weight side of things:
Got all that? Good!
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I don’t have boxes for an unboxing. Rather, I got it in a Ziploc baggie months ago. But fear not, the August Ziploc vintage is a fine month.
The unit is pretty straightforward, and virtually all settings can be changed either on the unit itself or via the mobile and desktop/web apps. That’s a nice touch, as most watches out there tend to offer a subset of settings on each individual platform. Cool stuff.
In any case, the watch has five buttons. Three on the right, and two on the left. Additionally, the watch face in a default configuration will go to sleep automatically if there’s no movement after a few minutes (Suunto and others do the same to save battery if just left on desk/table). On your wrist, it’ll never fall asleep because the tiny movements you make are sufficient to keep it awake.
Next, to get to the daily activity stats, you’ll simply press the up button once. This will show your total steps, calories (including BMR), as well as current heart rate.
Note that you can change your step target if you’d like (default is 10,000 steps) in the settings options, as well as whether or not activity tracking is enabled at all. There are no other options/settings related to activity tracking though.
You can customize the extra data pages displayed (beyond just the summary one above), within the desktop app options. By default, all of these are off except the ‘Daily Activity Summary’.
Doing so gets you pages like these:
Note that the unit does track sleep, and you can customize your default bedtimes and wake-up times. Like most watches, it’ll use that to help a bit in determining if you’re sleeping or not. Though it’s not a strict guide.
Back on the main watch face you can change between four different watch faces using the settings panels:
Meanwhile, if from the watch face you press down, you’ll get a listing of available sports: Run, Walk, Treadmill, Bike, Pool Swim, Open Water, Triathlon, and Stopwatch. It’ll show you the distance for your last workout of each type as you tap each one, which is kinda a nice touch. I like it.
Finally, if you press enter from the watch face you’ll get the settings and history menu. It’s here you can configure things like Bluetooth settings, watch alarms, display/vibration/tone settings and so on. Pretty much the normal things you’d find in a GPS watch to tweak.
From a backlight standpoint, you can activate that by pressing the middle left button, which turns it on for a default of about 10 seconds. It’s plenty bright, and there are no issues seeing it in the dark (I’ve done both daytime and nighttime workouts). The only downside to the user interface is that the responsiveness of the unit is slow, and the buttons feel kinda mushy. Also, the screen briefly flashes and inverts each time you change a page. It’d be like what happens if your Amazon Kindle had the hiccups.
Note that the unit does have Bluetooth Smart notifications, which you can configure in terms of whether or not they display during each: Daily use, workouts, and sleep. In my case, they didn’t come through despite enabling them. So it’s something I’ll sort through with Epson. I’ve occasionally seen issues where since I’m wearing multiple watches, Apple doesn’t always send it to multiple devices (usually it does, but sometimes it doesn’t). [Update: As of this morning, it’s now happy, perhaps the final firmware update did it.]
And that…well, that’s pretty much it on the basics before we dive into sport usage. There’s no other options or fields or features to talk about beyond sports (I’ll have the apps lower down in a different section). Also, there is no 3rd party app support on the device itself.
Of course, the main reason you’d buy any of the ProSense watches is for sport usage. And previously with Epson’s watches that was basically limited to running (hence the name: RunSense). But now with the ProSense series, you get a multitude of sports to work with, including swimming as well as triathlon. All of these sports can be accessed by simply pressing the down button on the right side, which iterates through the core sport mode: Run, Walk, Treadmill, Bike, Pool Swim, Open Water, Triathlon, and Stopwatch
Once you select a sport mode, you can press the middle right button to customize specific settings for it. For example, the Run sport, we can customize things like automatic lap (AT Lap), automatic pause (AT Pause), create basic training targets like pace or target HR, or even intervals (more on that in a second). There’s also a metronome function as well the ability to save waypoints.
Note that one big gap is that there isn’t a method to connect to any sensors in any mode. Meaning, no external HR strap (if you don’t like optical HR) within running, nor cycling sensors like cadence or power meters. Even TomTom’s previously $90 GPS watch could support HR straps, so it’s a pretty weird gap. And in fact, Epson’s own $99 ProSense unit does support HR straps, making it even more odd.
Once you’ve decided on your sport, then you’ll go ahead and confirm it by selecting the ‘Start/Stop’ button. This won’t start the workout yet, but instead will initiate GPS searching as well as acquiring of the optical HR sensor.
In my experience the GPS acquisition tends to take a really long time (upwards of a minute or two, even when starting in the same spot as my previous workout). While they do provide assisted GPS caching, from talking to Epson it sounds like that’s not working from my app to my unit for some reason. Hence the delays.
Once it finds all GPS satellites, you’ll be good to go:
At this point you can press the Start/Stop button to start the actual recording of the activity.
Once recording data, you can press the up/down buttons to change the data pages. You’ll get four data pages you can customize, each with up to three pieces of information. It’s best to customize these using the app (I went with desktop):
Interestingly, you can pretty dramatically change the layouts of the fields. So that includes things like graphs as well as tracks using the compass for waypoints.
While running or riding or whatever sport you’re doing, it’ll track as you’d expect with any GPS watch. You can press the center-right button to trigger laps if you don’t have automatic lap turned on. All of this is recorded for later review online.
If you’re swimming, before you start swimming you’ll be able to configure the pool size. In my case, that’s an awesome 33 1/3rd meters.
Then, when in the pool it’ll track your laps and sets. You can press to pause in between a set, which will create sets online for later review. But from an accuracy standpoint it matched my actual swim laps/lengths.
Once you’ve wrapped up the workout (of any time), you can save the workouts and get a slew of summary stats.
Most notable in here are stats driven by FirstBeat, including VO2Max and the training benefit (I.e. Lactate Threshold). These are the *exact* same stats by the exact same company that you’ll find on Garmin watches. Of course, when I say ‘exact’, I don’t mean that you’ll get as many stats as you do on a new higher end Garmin ($499+). But FirstBeat powers these stats on both companies, it’s just that Garmin has licensed a broader set of them. Still, it’s great to see Epson leveraging a well-trusted company in the industry, versus just pulling something out of thin air.
One interesting tidbit here on these metrics is that since Epson allows the optical HR sensor during a swimming session (Garmin doesn’t), you’ll get FirstBeat recovery time on swims even without a chest strap. Of course, there is a catch: Accuracy. For example, in my swim tonight I noticed that during a slightly harder interval the HR dropped out entirely for the last length (though, you wouldn’t know it looking at the below chart). During more casual laps, the HR tracked with what I’d consider mostly reasonable for my intensity.
In any case, everything that’s saved ends up on the website via either your mobile phone or via USB cable to your computer. Which, is a great segue to the next section.
Apps & Website:
Now, for those that remember my previous Epson GPS watch review, you’ll remember I thought it had excellent GPS and HR, so-so interface, and god-awful apps and site.
And more or less, that hasn’t changed much here. Technically, Epson has improved their site and apps, but ultimately, it was like going from 1987 to 2002. The mobile app is far more improved than the mobile app of a few years ago, but it’s still pretty dismal. The website will make anyone harken back to the CompuServe days. And the funny thing is that yes, it gives you the core running info just fine. But it just does it in such a clunky way that it makes you feel like you bought something from last decade.
Still, a quick tour for posterity’s sake. Starting with the mobile app, here’s the dashboard which shows you the current day. In theory, it’s syncing via the background constantly. But in reality, that doesn’t happen. It’s hours old and thousands of steps out of date right now. I can tap history to look at all the past days.
Except, don’t try and click on anything, as then it resets to showing all the days, versus zooming in on some element. Also, see above those graphs? The ones without any values on them? You can’t tap/zoom/anything them. You can’t even see the what the bars mean, because there’s no scale.
So, for example, you’ll see your 24×7 HR there, but you can’t zoom in on it to actually see what your 24×7 HR is. It’s just a squiggly red line with zero numbers. Throw a piece of spaghetti and red sauce at the wall. There, now you have your 24×7 HR data.
Next, you can tap into any given workout to see stats. On the main page you’ve got the workout categories (run/walk/bike/swim), and the latest workout there. You can then tap that workout to get more details.
You can tap any of the blocks below the graph to display any two given metrics. That works well enough.
Down below that is lap summary data, as well as the FirstBeat related metrics. But even within that there’s weird coding. Why does it show me ‘CODE-06’ and ‘CODE-04’? That shouldn’t be shown, as the text relating to that is already shown. Not to mention that the message next to CODE-04 is factually untrue since the very run itself shows me running for over 50 minutes, with HR data. The second code makes perfect sense, since I was just running with a stroller and The Peanut on a casual run.
When it comes to syncing and settings, the watch, in theory, does background sync via Bluetooth Smart, but in reality it doesn’t work for me. Epson’s looking into it. But I have to not only open the app up, but ensure that the app remains open until it finishes syncing.
Of course, it takes forever to change any settings, because every time you click on something you wait. Open up Activity Settings? Wait. Open up workout settings? Wait a hell of a long time (30+ seconds at best). Save workout settings? Wait, no, confirm. Then wait. Then confirm again.
The problem here is that you can’t do anything till it finishes thinking. Which is really too bad, because hidden in all of this are some cool features. For example, the ability to display the data fields on the watch faces is very much like what Wahoo does, and everyone loves.
And waypoints? Better than everyone else out there. In less than 5 seconds I can tap anywhere in the world and save that as a waypoint (with elevation data) and push it to the watch (albeit, that takes more waiting), and I can do that for dozens of waypoints. I can’t do that at all on Garmin’s app. Nor Suunto’s. Nor Polar’s. Nor Apple’s. Nobody’s.
And that’s where this mostly comes down to. Epson needs to really understand that the singular reason I’d hesitate to recommend this watch at these price points is the app and website are so bad. Sure, someone from 2003 might look at them and say “Oh, that’s not too bad”. But it’s not 2003, and I don’t understand how it ended up looking like this.
Here’s the website:
And a given activity:
Again, it doesn’t look horrible, but it feels horribly outdated. Everything enumerates slowly, and in chunks. Everything has massive chunks of empty space around it. Tiles often overlap or otherwise render weird.
And you want to export? Well, they give you .GPX and .CSV. Exporting to .CSV is useless for fitness data, since no two companies do it the same. Anyone in the fitness industry who says they export common data to .CSV hasn’t touched a fitness device in 10+ years. GPX? Well, that too isn’t used by companies for fitness data either. These days it’s .TCX and .FIT – across the board, by everyone.
And why is GPX a problem specifically? Because you can’t export indoor workouts with it. And since you can’t do that, you can’t export indoor workouts to most apps, because they won’t understand the .CSV files.
What’s so strange about this is that at the same time Epson does a great job at having partnerships with many companies.
Though, disappointingly, it doesn’t seem to fully work. Some of my workouts never showed up on Strava (like the indoor ones, such as my swim today). Why? Because they send to Strava in .GPX…except, when they don’t.
And then while writing this, it wants to update my firmware. Perfect! Except, this happened:
My Kanji is rusty, but I think something is amiss. I needn’t continue, really, I think you get the point.
GPS & HR Accuracy:
As always, when I do HR and GPS comparisons, I’m aiming to compare the unit to multiple other units worn/used at the same time. So in the case of HR comparisons, that includes 2-3 other watches or chest straps, with no more than one watch per wrist (any more will impact optical HR accuracy). Remember, the chest strap isn’t always right, so it’s important to be able to know that sometimes the optical HR sensor is actually correct and the chest strap isn’t, especially in the cooler/dryer fall months like right now.
For GPS, I’m using 2-5 units as well, more with cycling since I have more places I can stash them. I like to simply go out and run/ride/whatever my normal workout routes, which usually are in/around Paris. So that includes buildings, tunnels, bridges, trees in parks, and so on. In the case of the Epson 307, all of the data used here was done in the greater Paris area. I’m looking at the individual tracks to validate those tracks are where I went.
In any case, I’m going to focus mostly on workouts in the last 5-7 days, with the most final software versions. I have more workouts on previous beta software versions, but they show some small HR and rare GPS bugs that appear to have been fixed in the final release. So no need to dwell on that.
In any case, first up is a run from Sunday. This was a run with a running stroller, where I was pushing the little one. These are always fun for optical HR accuracy, since it can cause quirks sometimes. You can look at the full raw data set here. First though, we’ll start with GPS accuracy, mostly since that’s easiest.
In this case, I was carrying a crapton of Garmin units since I was collecting data on a bunch of Connect IQ apps. All of those units were strapped to the stroller. Meanwhile, on my left wrist I had the Apple Watch Series 3 and on my right wrist the Epson ProSense 307.
As you can see from the plots, the watches were for the most part pretty close at a high level, but as you zoom in more closely you see some oddities. For example, in the first kilometer the Apple Watch and Epson both spent time in the river. I assure you, I did not.
However, later on, roles were reversed and the Garmins went for a swim while the Apple Watch and Epson stayed put. This particular section is where I go under a building for a few hundred meters that’s got one open side to the river. So it barely gets GPS signal, and often causes issues like this. It’s honestly a complete crap-shoot on whether any given unit does it right on any given day. I’ve seen some watches go months without issues here, and then boom – craps the bed randomly one day. Randomly of note, the Descent (basically, a Garmin Fenix 5X) did this correctly here.
As I continue on, things were pretty clean for the remainder of the run. All the units calmed down and did well. Though, the terrain also got easier. So that’s probably one element of it.
Throughout the remainder of that run, from a GPS standpoint there’s nothing of concern with the Epson GPS track.
Taking a peek at optical HR though, it’s got some bumps in the road. Notably the first 8 minutes. Now, as I noted earlier, I was pushing the stroller. I alternated between the left hand and right hand for a few minutes each. I don’t know which side I started with, but it’s clear that it didn’t work out well for the Epson for the first few minutes.
However, after that, all the units agreed quite nicely, save a few seconds around the 30-minute marker. Despite a fair bit of variability here, things were pretty good after the initial troubles. I could zoom in and out on the above set, but honestly, it won’t show you anything more than you can see above.
If I zoom in though (primarily when I first start out), there’s a few GPS quirks, which looking at the firmware notes appear resolved there, and largely appear related to a slight lateral offset. Once I clear the tunnel, it resets itself and is happy the remainder of the run.
Looking at the HR side of that run, here’s a perfect example of where the Epson’s optical HR sensor was correct and the chest strap and Apple Watch Series 3 weren’t.
You can see the first 7 minutes or so the Epson properly tracks a nice build in HR. Whereas the chest strap and the Apple Watch both incorrectly pegged me in the 170bpm range on an easy run.
Now, after that point, you see some slight ‘spikes’ towards the last half of the workout. These appear related to this beta firmware, and I haven’t seen them at this severity on subsequent activities. I’m not quite sure what’s caused these, but it’s not something I’ve seen after this firmware version…so…shrug.
Next, I had an indoor trainer ride to show you. But alas, you can’t export that out from Epson in any usable fitness format. So I can’t show you that. It’s too bad, because the data seemed pretty good there actually in real-time. But not even Epson’s own site can plot the darn data. It’s just blank. Interestingly enough though, it does show your HR zone splits. So somewhere in there it has the data.
Next, I had an outdoor ride to look at with tons of comparative data. It too is on a bit older firmware though, so the HR is a bit all over the place. I don’t yet know if that’s because it’s just the way it is, or because of the older firmware. I have some shorter across town rides that were just between the Epson and Apple Watch 3, but I’d rather wait and do a few more rides on it with the final firmware that I just got today and see how that shakes out.
Ultimately though, the trend I see is that on the near-final firmware in the last few days optical HR looks pretty good, and GPS looks pretty solid as well. Some minor quirks that you saw around pushing the stroller, but that’s somewhat expected, and seemed confined to the first few minutes. I’m not sure what was unique about that compared to the remainder, but it was good after that point.
(Note: All the data comparisons were done using the DCR Analyzer. If that’s of interest to you, I’ve opened it up to allow anyone to make their own comparisons between a device’s files. Just hit up the link!)
I’ve added in the Epson ProSense 307 into the product comparison tool. If there’s enough interest, I may add some of the other models down the road. The product comparison tool allows you to compare the features of watches I’ve had hands-on time with. For the purposes of below, I’ve compared the ProSense 307 against what I think are the most likely candidates people would be looking at. But you can make your own comparison chart here.
As for why I selected the FR920XT from Garmin? Well, simply put, anyone who’s considering this watch doesn’t much care about having the latest and greatest tech. And yet the FR920XT is still enormously popular and relevant. It’s also in the same price point as we go into the November tech sales.
Ultimately, the ProSense lineup (but really more specifically, the 307) is pretty interesting. It’s cool to see Epson make a play here in the triathlon realm, as well as to push a second generation unit out. As we watch TomTom’s fitness division ride off into the sunset, it’s good to know there will be another company out there introducing products into the marketplace, helping to keep up competition. Plus, the ease of use of the waypoint features, as well as ability to set data fields from the phone, is equal or better than anyone else out there.
But ultimately, despite the relative solidity of the ProSense 307 hardware, it’s the software platform that lets it down so much. Even if I presume that Epson will add in Bluetooth Smart cadence/HR/etc sensor support in the ProSense series, the mobile app and web apps really need an overhaul to make them feel relevant in this space. I want to feel like it’s 2017 every time I use them. I don’t want to feel like it’s Windows 3.1 again.
From an accuracy standpoint, the last two firmware versions (including what’s going out as final) seem to have resolved the quirks I saw in most of my HR accuracy concerns (save one segment), as well as some early beta GPS quirks. Given that Epson really nailed both GPS and HR accuracy in their previous unit (it was the only selling point), it’s good to see they appear to be on the same track here, though, I’d like to get in a few more workouts on the final software to be sure.
Ultimately, I think Epson is onto something here with their hardware, and in the case of the ProSense 307 specifically, their pricing. But, software is a super important part of the ecosystem these days, and I’m not convinced the ProSense delivers in that arena.
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