(Before we start, you can find my massive Black Friday 2017 deals post here, expect a massive churn on that post over the next 5 days, as we go through both Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This guide attempts as best as possible to take into account pricing there, though I’ve also made it clear where specific price points may change recommendations.)
Exactly one year later to the day, it’s time for some new winter 2017-2018 sports tech recommendation goodness. Gadgets galore!
My goal here being to give my specific recommendations – exactly the same recommendations I’d give to my own friends and family. This post isn’t here to list every option on the market in an effort to make every manufacturer happy. Of course, as more and more companies get into the market, there ends up being more and more possible scenarios as the products expand in functionality.
Finally, if you use either the Amazon or Clever Training links, you help support the site. I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers exclusive benefits on all products purchased. You can read more about the benefits of this partnership here. You can pick up most devices below through Clever Training using the links in the tables. By doing so, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get to enjoy the significant partnership benefits that are just for DC Rainmaker readers (like saving 10% on non-clearance/deep-sale items). And, if you are picking up items that are more than $75, you can get free US shipping as well.
With that, let’s dive into it!
Running GPS Watches
In 2017 we actually have seen very little new movement in the running-only GPS realm. Instead, what we’ve seen to date is the addition of a plethora of mid-range all-around fitness/sports watches that also do a mid-range job of running. What’s mid-range? Well, it means they can, of course, do things like GPS tracking of where you are, pace, distance, and laps. But most also do basic intervals and sometimes customized downloadable workouts. Whereas in most cases you get more complex recovery and training load features in higher-end features.
Also, we’ve had a bunch of new models in that same mid-range realm in the last 60-90 days that are definitely all-arounders. Things like the Fitbit Ionic, Apple Watch Series 3, Vivoactive 3, and to a far lesser extent, Samsung Gear Sport.
Road Running – Best All Arounder: Garmin Vivoactive 3, Polar M430, Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR
All three of those watches make great running watches, and all released in the last 6 months, and all very close in price (especially with Black Friday sales). All have optical HR in them, and all can do more than just running. There are slight nuances though that are worthwhile pointing out. The Vivoactive 3 has Garmin Pay, which is contactless payments at stores (plus apps on Connect IQ). The Polar M430 meanwhile is a bit less expensive than the other options. At the other end you’ve got the Spartan Trainer Wrist HR, which is a full-blown tri watch capable of displaying running power too.
If you’re looking for the most stylish day to day option, I’d say it’s the sleek Vivoactive 3, while the Spartan Trainer is the most powerful option.
Road Running – Geekful of data: Garmin FR935
You want all the data? Go with the FR935. Why not the Fenix 5 you ask? Well, simply put the FR935 doesn’t have the ANT+ signal connection issues the Fenix 5 does with some 3rd party sensors (notably Stryd’s Running Power Meter). The FR935 not only supports ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart sensors, but also has all the new FirstBeat training load and recovery metrics that were introduced this year to both the Fenix 5 and FR935.
Plus, the FR935 is essentially just a plastic shelled Fenix 5. It’s running the same software at this point – both packed full of everything from advanced metrics to 3rd party app support for even more metrics. Also, it’s what I use for running, in the event that means something. And finally, the FR935 supports Garmin’s running power, slated to go-live in about two weeks.
Running – With Music: Fitbit Ionic, Polar M600, Apple Watch 2/3
This year we’ve seen everyone converge on the $299 price point with music (except Garmin, which missed that memo apparently). Polar was there a while back with the M600 Android Wear option, and then others came in. Some of your decision here will be based around what phone platform you use. With Apple Watch, you’ve gotta be on iOS. With the M600 you can use iOS, but it tends to work better with Android. Fitbit is across all phones, but the optical HR sensor in it isn’t quite as strong as Polar’s offerings.
Note that Apple Watch 3 LTE supports streaming with Apple Music. Fitbit supports Pandora on their unit. Polar supports offline files via Android Wear. All require Bluetooth headphones.
Running – Sub-$200 Watch
There’s lots of options in this range that are solid. The Garmin FR35 is one to look at, as is the much older Polar M400. Meanwhile, the new Polar M430 I mentioned above is only $209USD, so basically, close enough. Then virtually all of the TomTom Spark Watches are available here except the higher end bundles. The Polar M200 is another option, but to me it’s just a bit wonky compared to the other units I’ve noted.
Also, see my warning on TomTom in the next paragraph.
Running – Best Sub-$100 Watch: TomTom Runner/Spark
TomTom continues to nail this category. Their base watch often sub-$100, it’s a no-brainer. It usually floats in the $89-$99 range. It’s got GPS, a few different running modes, and some might even find the Spark for that price range as well (which nets you the other sport modes like swimming and cycling). Seriously, it’s an awesome deal.
Sure, there are other cheap no-name GPS watches in that ballpark (usually more $60-$80), but overwhelmingly the complaints I hear from folks is that the software on those platforms is flaky at best, and cumbersome at worst. In my occasional testing of units out there (I buy a lot of random stuff to try out), I find the user interfaces super-old school and support rough. It’s usually just worth an extra Starbucks Frappuccino or two to get a unit from TomTom here. Note that semi-rarely you might find an older Garmin FR15 or FR25 sub-$70 on a sale or something. I’d say the FR25 at sub-$100 would be worth it, but the FR10/FR15 at sub-$60 would be more appropriate.
A warning on TomTom: The company is basically shutting down their fitness division (albeit very slowly and non-officially). While they’ve released some new firmware updates recently, employees are being given end dates and leaving and the end is near. It’s likely TomTom will continue to support watches for some time, but there’s always a risk here that should be noted and evaluated. Given TomTom as a company isn’t going away anytime soon – I don’t expect these watches to stop working. Rather, I think we’ll just see them stop getting updates.
Hiking/Trail/Ultra Running – Best in Class: Fenix 5X
It really depends on what you wanna do in the trails. If you’re looking to navigate with maps, then frankly you’ve only got one choice: The Fenix 5X (which is the mapping one).
If however, you don’t care about maps and just want things like breadcrumb trails, then you’ve got many more options. These include the Suunto Spartan lineup as well as even the Garmin FR935. I’d caution that for any of these watches I’d look for a unit that includes a barometric altimeter as well as has a good set of tools for creating things like routes and sending them to your watch. Both Garmin and Suunto have reasonable sets of tools (or support them via 3rd party apps).
I think the best accuracy in the trees probably tends to still come from the Suunto Ambit 3 Peak, but it’s an aging watch now and is harder to recommend at this point. Also, note that the Fenix 5X does not have the ANT+ sensor connectivity issues that the 5/5S have.
|Apple Watch Series 2 & Nike+ Edition|
|Apple Watch Series 3|
|Garmin Fenix 5 (5/5S/5X)|
|Garmin Forerunner 935|
|Garmin Forerunner 935 - Tri Bundle||Amazon||Wiggle|
|Garmin Vivoactive 3|
|Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR|
$279 ($329 for metal bezels)
|TomTom Spark 3/Runner 3|
$149-$299 (Features Vary)
Triathlon GPS Watches:
This category is for what the industry calls ‘multisport’ watches, but that typically just translates to triathlon watches. They track your time/distance/etc… within the three sports – swim/bike/run. From a non-triathlon multisport aspect, these watches are often used by everyone from wind surfers to skaters, mostly because of their versatility and flexibility in configuration and display customization.
Overall Best in Class: Garmin FR935
There’s a reason that Garmin dominates the category (seriously, look at these stats) – it’s simply got the most features for the price. No other triathlon watch comes close in terms of breadth of features. And unlike competitors, Garmin offers a quick release kit for quickly moving the watch from your wrist to your bike handlebars, and then back to your wrist for running. The FR935 contains all the new training load and recovery metrics and does so across multiple sports.
Like in running, the Fenix 5 also remains a great choice here as long as you don’t care about some 3rd party ANT+ sensors that may have connectivity issues (mainly ones on your feet, though rarely some power meters). And to be fair, most people don’t have issues with other sensors.
Budget Options: Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR
Man, Suunto just nailed it with this $279 watch this season. It’s essentially a small version of the Suunto Spartan Ultra series, just without a barometric altimeter or the ultra-long battery life. It includes all the swim/bike/run goodness you could want, and unlike Garmin, they leave the optical HR sensor enabled during swimming (albeit with varying results). I suspect this will continue to be the best tri-specific budget watch for some time (various sales aside).
Finally – all that said, note that you can find the FR920XT on sale right now for $199, through the holiday periods. I’d personally get the FR920XT over the Suunto Ambit series for purely triathlon purposes. However, if you’re doing more hiking/navigation, then the Ambit series is a better bet.
Note: For triathlon I do NOT recommend the TomTom Cardio/Spark or Vivoactive/Vivoactive HR/Vivoactive 3:
I want to be really clear on this. The reason I don’t recommend these watches is twofold, but mainly centers on the fact that they don’t support a multisport mode. Yes, it supports running, and cycling, and indoor swimming. But you can’t tie all those together in a race or training. Further, they don’t support openwater swimming.
This is pretty similar for some of the other running watches like the Polar M400/M430/M600 or Garmin FR230/235/620/630. Yes, they all support running and cycling, but none support swimming metrics and none support multisport modes. If you cycle sparingly and don’t swim, then they’re all still viable options.
|Garmin Forerunner 935|
|Garmin Forerunner 935 - Tri Bundle||Amazon||Wiggle|
|Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR|
$279 ($329 for metal bezels)
Cycling GPS Units:
This is finally the year we saw significant competition from others in the cycling head unit market, a realm that’s long been dominated by Garmin. We saw Wahoo release the ELEMNT BOLT, a very strong competitor to the Edge 520 as well as elements of the Edge 820. Polar refreshed their M460 cycling computer (budget focused) as well as Stages with their data-laden Dash head unit, and even the Xplova series. Then we’ve got still unreleased options that were floated like the Hammerhead Karoo.
Of course, Garmin has also stepped up their game too with firmware updates adding new features as well as their top-end Edge 1030.
Best All Around Cycling GPS: Garmin Edge 520 & Wahoo BOLT
This is the epic battle of the year between these two companies – both offering units at $249USD, an incredible price given the number of features packed into them. I put together a huge head to head post on these units back in August that still stands, so definitely go check that out here.
Both units have minor nuances that may make one better than the other depending on your specific use case. So you kinda want to understand that the devil’s in the details there, but virtually everyone seems happy with whichever one they select.
Note that if you’re looking for mapping, then you’ve gotta decide to what extent you want true turn by turn navigation where you can re-route if you get off-course. Neither the Edge 520 or Wahoo BOLT (or even ELEMNT) can do that. That’s basically the domain today of the Garmin Edge 820 and 1000/1030. Down the road that’ll include others like the Hammerhead Karoo…but not today.
Best Budget GPS Unit: Polar M460 or Lezyne
At about $100 cheaper than the Edge 520/Bolt is the Polar M460. It’s essentially got the core features you want on a GPS bike computer, in a rather nice little size. It can sync your rides afterwards via Bluetooth Smart, and soon also send those completed rides to Strava wirelessly, and even has Strava Live Segments. Plus it even connects to a power meter, unlike its previous generation M450.
Next, we’ve got the Lezyne Super GPS at $149. Lezyne has like 98 different models between $100 and $200, I tried to explain it all here. They’ve all got minor nuances. The strength of this unit over the Polar is the ANT+ sensor support (in addition to Bluetooth sensor support). So if you have ANT+ sensors already, you may want to consider this. Whereas if you have just Bluetooth Smart sensors you’re more of a free agent. Also, this unit features Strava Live Segments while Polar only has Strava integration. On the flipside, they don’t have a lot of the nuanced features you’ll find within the Polar or Garmin lineups. But the budget options are still really solid. Again, check out my detailed post on it to understand those specifics.
|Garmin Edge 520|
|Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT|
Year after year, swimming gets ignored by companies…and honestly, 2017 is no different than any past year. This is likely since many competitive swimmers don’t like to wear tech (or even a basic watch). So it’s hard to make inroads into the category with such a small market. Still, here’s some thoughts (which are almost identical to last year).
Indoor Pool Watch: “It’s Complicated”…with a side of Vivoactive.
This one is also messy, because I’ve previously recommended (and loved) the Garmin Swim watch. It was roughly sub-$150, but it’s also now like 4-5 years old and basically untouched. From a functionality standpoint it was great having a year-long battery life so it just hung out in your swim bag and sync’d when it was close to your computer. However, it lacked Bluetooth Smart for your phone to download that way, so it’s kinda lost favored nation status.
Instead, your next best bet is the Vivoactive HR, which usually sits around $150-$170 these days. And it’s just as capable in the pool. Plus, it has running and cycling and activity tracking and all sorts of other jazz. Still, I wish there was a Garmin Swim2 with Bluetooth…and done. Until then, my recommendation just stays the same as last year.
Openwater Swim: No good answer
Quite frankly, nobody makes a good dedicated outdoor swim watch. Your best bet here is to either get one of the multisport/triathlon watches for openwater swim mode (on your wrist). If so, check out the budget triathlon section. You’ll find the FR920XT or Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR series is your best bet. I seem to get marginally (barely) better openwater swim accuracy out of the Suunto series. Otherwise just use any GPS you have and plop it in your swimcap using the swimcap method.
MP3 Players: FINIS Neptune
Two years ago FINIS came out with the FINIS Duo in the weeks before my guide. And that’s a good little unit, which built upon the original SwiMP3 and fixed the charging issues found there. However, I personally prefer the slightly older FINIS Neptune
This has been my mainstay recommendation for a swimming MP3 player for about a few years now, mostly because I like the display aspect, since it makes it easy to get things queued up, while the sound quality is also just fine for a pool. And then finally, the buttons also makes it easy. If I look at reader feedback, most are quite happy as well there – with the only complaints coming from folks that require swappage of the device after significant use (which FINIS covers).
|FINIS Neptune Swimming MP3 Player|
|Garmin Forerunner 920XT|
|Garmin Vivoactive HR|
|Safer Swimmer OWS Buoy|
Sensors & Mounts:
If you’re getting any of the units listed above, you may be in the market for accessories. Obviously, some bundles include accessories, while others do not. Here’s what I recommend based on having entire buckets worth of accessories to test with.
In general, almost nothing has changed here in that I strongly favor dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart sensors over single-channel version (I.e. ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart only). These sensors are available in almost all categories now. The reason for going dual is simple: It allows you the flexibility to choose whichever device you want and know it’ll work with it. Be it using it with apps like Zwift or Strava on Bluetooth Smart, or your Garmin head unit on ANT+. Or both at once!
Heart Rate Sensor (Optical): Scosche Rhythm+
This is my primary and singular running/cycling/hiking/etc heart rate sensor (when not testing something else). I just love it. While I liked the Mio Link wrist straps, I’ve found the signal too weak in some cases and then also not quite as stable as the Scosche from a measurement standpoint. The Scosche is dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, so it can transmit to just about anything. I’ve used it now as my primary strap for almost two years. You’ll see it in almost all my tests these days. Note that I do really like the Polar OH-1, and I think the accuracy is just as good there as on the Scosche, however, since it’s not dual ANT+/BLE, it loses the top spot.
Heart Rate Sensor (non-Optical): Wahoo TICKR or 4iiii Viiiiva
Looking for a non-optical HR strap? I mostly use the basic Wahoo TICKR, though occasionally also the 4iiii Viiiiva. The TICKR is nice in that it has small LED’s on it so I can validate the battery hasn’t died. Whereas the Viiiiva has a boatload of extra features around ANT+ to BLE conversion, offline storage, etc…
Note, that I don’t find much value in the Wahoo TICKR X. Lots of cool concepts in theory, none of which I ever use.
Speed/Cadence (Combo): Wahoo BlueSCv2
Wahoo’s BlueSCv2 is what I use when I want a combo speed/cadence sensor, which includes both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart (dual) Thus, two for the price of one. I love this model though because of the quick release bands making it easy to move between bikes if you need to. You’ll find this on all my bikes where I’m doing power meter testing, as I use the magnets as a ‘known good’ for validating cadence readings.
If however, you’re looking for a cheaper (ANT+ only) combo option, just simply pick up the Garmin GSC-10 – which usually hovers around $30-$35. Bontrager also has a dual option out these days too, but I haven’t tried it yet.
Cadence-Only: Wahoo RPMv2
This one is another unit that you’ll find on many of my test bikes, mostly because of portability. I also take it with me travelling when I’m using a hotel spin bike. It’s a small pod that attaches to the side of your bike crank and it transmits on both ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart, so you can use it with your Garmin device or your smartphone.
Note that technically I find the Garmin cadence-only attachment system slightly better than Wahoo’s, as it doesn’t require zipties. But that’s not enough to sway me from dual ANT+/BLE.
Speed-Only: Wahoo SPEED
This is Wahoo’s dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart speed-only sensor. I’ve been using it on my bike since (with a review I haven’t quite finished taking photos for…for over a year). It simply attaches to your wheel hub and that’s it. No magnets or anything else to deal with.
Running Footpods (ANT+): The Timex, Suunto, and Garmin mini-footpods (whatever is cheapest that day)
As long as you pick up any of those three above they all work the exact same way and all function with any ANT+ device. In other words, just pick up whatever is cheapest that day. Ensure that you aren’t picking up the giganto footpods of yesteryear. It’s hard finding an ANT+ only footpod these days aside from the Garmin one.
If/when in doubt, check out my post on ‘All you ever wanted to know about the ANT+ footpod’.
Running Footpods (Bluetooth Smart): Milestone Pod
For $29 you won’t find a better deal for a footpod out there. Or heck, any sensor at all. It works great for me, and connects to everything from Strava to a Garmin FR935/Fenix5 (or any 2017 Garmin watch). I’ve been using it for close to a year now.
Note that technically Stryd’s footpod based power meter is also Bluetooth Smart footpod compliant, but that’s a wee bit of overkill in terms of price for just a footpod.
Best ANT+ to BLE Bridging Solution: 4iiii Viiiiva & NPE CABLE
While this may seem an odd category, I keep getting requests for it – so I’m putting it here to assist folks in my recommendation. There is really only one other competitor in this space, which is the Mio Velo. However, I find that 4iiii has done a much better job with the overall ‘package’ on the Viiiiva, which just got a huge pile of cool updates even this week (years after release), including the ability to save data while away from the phone and the ability to work with ANT+ gym equipment (something Garmin watches used to do). Oh, and it’s still a dual ANT+/BLE HR strap.
Meanwhile, NPE CABLE is a tiny little pod that you can stash anywhere. It translates a slew of protocols, including ANT+ FE-C. It’s awesome because it’s not a HR strap, and has a fair bit of geek functionality built-in for those that want it.
Bike Computer Mounts (just computer): Barfly Mounts
I love my Barfly, specifically for triathlon, the TT/Aero Barfly. I reviewed it back here, but it just works perfectly. While K-Edge does make some great (and really darn sturdy) mounts for Garmin units, I simply don’t think your Garmin unit needs that much mount durability to justify the price. Note that I easily recommend the Barfly for just the bike computer, but if you plan on attaching an action camera to the same mount, read the next section.
One of the other things I do love about the new Barfly units though is that in the box it has compatibility pieces for every bike computer out there. Garmin, Polar, Wahoo, Mio, etc…. Seriously, all of them. Even has a GoPro mount built in (which is still pretty good). The integration story with BarFly now is awesome and brilliant.
Bike Computer with Action Cam Combo Mount: K-Edge Combo Mounts & BarFly Prime
In the event you’re going to hang an action cam from your bike computer mount, that’s where I typically recommend you transition away from the Barfly mount and more to the K-Edge mount, due to the stability for cameras. Read more on that in my action-cam section though. Seriously, I’ve bought more K-Edge mounts from the store around the corner than I know why I’ve bought them. Actually, I buy so many because sometimes I’ll mount 2-3 mounts on just the front bars alone for action cam comparative testing. These mounts stay-put and make everything awesome.
That said however, I’ve got no issues with the new Barfly rear seat post action cam mount, it’s rock solid too. And their Prime matches what K-Edge has and I’ve been using it lately too in that it’s aluminum based. Plus, it has all the mount adapters for different bike computers in the box.
|4iiii Viiiiva ANT+ to Bluetooth Smart HR Strap & Bridge|
|Barfly Prime Out-Front Mount|
|Barfly Tate Labs Road Bike Handlebar Mount|
|Barfly Tate Labs Timetrial/Triathlon Bike Mount|
|Garmin ANT+ Running Footpod (Mini)|
|K-Edge Action Cam Mounts|
|K-Edge Garmin/GoPro Combo Out-Front Mount (Cycling)|
|K-Edge GoPro Saddle Mount|
|Wahoo Blue SCv2 - Bluetooth Smart/ANT+ Speed/Cadence Sensor|
|Wahoo RPM (Bluetooth Smart/ANT+ Cadence Sensor)|
|Wahoo RPM+SPEED Bundle (Dual ANT+/BLE)|
|Wahoo SPEED ANT+/BLE Sensor|
|Wahoo TICKR X (Original)|
Weight Scales (WiFi):
I wrote an entire post about WiFi weight scales two winters ago, and virtually all of it still applies since very little has changed, so it’s probably best to just read that weighty awesomeness. That post also covers how to get the Fitbit/Withings scales to feed data into Garmin Connect and other platforms.
The only things notable since then is that Fitbit released an updated scale this past fall, though the shifts are minor (a unit is on the way to me). Additionally, Withings was bought by Nokia. Nokia has mostly done things to screw up all the good Withings has done, but the scale pieces remain relatively unscathed from a connectivity perspective at this point.
Best Options: Fitbit Aria or Withings Body
I’ve been including little snippets of these scales in my Fitbit Surge and Withings Activité reviews. Overall, either scale is a solid option and really just depends on if you’re aligned to either of those platforms already (Fitbit or Withings). If not, poke at the slight differences with 3rd party partners, and see if either of those partnerships matters. Failing that…flip a coin.
Seriously – they’re near identical scales (exempting the more advanced Withings Body Cardio with advanced metrics like Pulse Wave Velocity). Any other relevant differences are partnerships or platforms. And, again, they’re both great scales. I use them both, frankly just depending on which bathroom I’m in.
*The one exception here is the new Garmin Index scale, if you’re heavily aligned to Garmin and want advanced metrics. But otherwise, I think all of the fancier/higher end scales are overkill compared to these usually $100/sub-$100 options above.
|Fitbit Aria WiFi Weight Scale|
|Garmin Index WiFi Scale|
|Withings Body WiFi Scale|
Best All Arounder Action Cam: GoPro Hero6 Black
With GoPro’s Hero6 Black they pull away from the pack this year. It’s just an awesome camera that I use daily in shooting. The inclusion of higher frame rates and resolutions (like 4K60), as well as stabilization, make it easy for me to use the footage across many scenarios. Most notable is the new graphics processor, which while could be mistaken for a marketing spin, the dynamic range performance is awesome (I.e. dark trees to bright field on a mountain bike).
That waterproofing is just key to not having to think or worry about the camera, especially in aquatic situations – especially the beach or with a family. Plus, the size of it is slightly smaller than the VIRB Ultra 30 once you include those cases. The back touchscreen is brilliantly clear, and the video quality is equally as awesome – especially the new linear modes. The new voice control also allows you to not only shout stressfully at your family on that long road trip, but at your camera as well. Plus, the WiFi upload is handy for having all your videos in one spot (even if the quality is degraded). Also, for pros, the ability to record the three internal mic audio tracks to separate .WAV tracks is very helpful. As is the RAW photo mode.
Best Cam for Sports Metrics: Garmin VIRB Ultra 30
If you don’t mind having to take a case along for waterproofing, then go with the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30. I think this may be the best product Garmin has released in years. Most people don’t understand how far Garmin has come in the action cam market in the last few years until you’ve used one. They threw down the gauntlet this year, and from a features standpoint they largely came out on top.
The ability to overlay metrics on it – like power, speed, pace, etc… is so far above and ahead what GoPro has, it’s not even funny. They do a hundred times more stuff than GoPro does in this area, and they do it on desktop and mobile platforms. It’s not even close to a competition, Garmin dominates when it comes to these metrics.
So why not just use the GoPro combined with a Garmin wearable to record the data and mix after the fact? Well, it’s just one more thing to deal with. For me, I find the time savings worth it. So if I’m shooting something that I want to share that type of info (I.e. a ride or something else that would have data overlaid), I’m going to go for the VIRB Ultra 30.
Best 360 Cam: Garmin VIRB 360
I have almost every 360 cam out there in the consumer realm, and the vast majority of them suck. Usually the problem is that they may claim to be 4K, but that’s not the effective resolution that you’ll see on the screen. Instead, that’s closer to 720p at best. With the VIRB 360 they’ve got two 4K lenses, and give you a total of 5.7K of resolution. The clarity is awesome.
But Garmin’s strength is all the data overlay pieces as well as stabilization. The only other cam that has stabilization that approaches this level is Rylo (just announced last week). And while I’m impressed with that camera, I’d call it the ‘best 360 camera that’s not a good 360 camera’. Meaning, it’s great at taking 360° footage and making it flat (1080p), but as a 360° camera? Not as much.
And GoPro Fusion? Also really strong, but the stabilization just isn’t there yet (follow my YouTube channel for some cycling footage in a few hours to demonstrate this). Also, right now GoPro has largely released it targeting a more geek-like crowd and it lacks all the software aspects that Garmin has, which GoPro says are coming next year. They do a lot of good stuff, but right now the win goes to Garmin.
Best Safety Cam: Cycliq Fly6 CE & Fly12 CE
Next we’ve got the Fly6. If you’re not familiar, this isn’t an action cam per se, but it’s the closest category I’ve got. It combines a rear light (which you’d want anyway) with a camera. Basically, this is a safety cam. And not in the sense that it’s going to save your ass, but rather, it’s like an insurance policy for later. I have it on my bikes while riding around the vast majority of the time and it’s just silly easy to use.
Now, this isn’t really a replacement for a GoPro or the like, it doesn’t have that level of quality. Rather – it’s just so in the event something bad happens to you – you can prove it wasn’t your fault, or even better – catch the person if they left you at the scene.
There’s also the Fly12, which is for the front side. I’m not as big of a fan of this since it’s a bit bulky/heavy for my tastes (though, I fully understand why – given longer battery desires). But since there’s nothing else out there…the Fly12 it is.
The new CE version just came out two weeks ago, and starts shipping next week or so. While I haven’t finished my review on it, I think it’d be a mistake to order the older non-CE versions. Here’s my preview post on the new CE ones.
Action Cam Mounts: K-Edge Action Cam Mounts
Now, while I often use the Barfly for my bike computers, I really prefer the K-Edge mounts for my action cams. I’ve come to love the sturdiness of the K-Edge mounts, especially the combo mounts they’ve made (Garmin + GoPro). It’s hard to explain to someone how incredibly rock-solid these mounts are until you attach a camera to them and don’t even get a sliver of a millimeter of sway on them (unlike a stock mount). Incredible. I’ve bought front/back mounts for every bike I have, love them.
|Garmin VIRB 360|
|Garmin VIRB Ultra 30|
|GoPro Hero6 Black|
Drones for Sports:
Drones continue to become more and more popular in sports. And it’s the category I probably have the most fun playing with lately. Likely just because it’s combining a few of my passions: Photography, sports, and aviation.
Drones have advanced so much in the last 1-2 months it’s mind-boggling. Now you’ve got obstacle avoidance, person tracking, 30-minute battery life, 4K stabilized cameras are the norm, and automated cinematic moves are expected.
When it comes to drones you’ve gotta decide what you want the drone for. Is it 100% to capture sports action of yourself, or is it cinematography/photos/etc…with a side of sports action? That will help you decide which drone is best. Personally, I’ve come to prefer an all arounder, since I think it’s more useful on vacations/etc.
Best All Around Drone: DJI Spark
Wait…what? Not the DJI Mavic? Look, I love my Mavic – I really do. And yes, it obviously has better resolution (4K) than the DJI Spark, and longer flight time. But for portability the Spark can’t be beat. I can stash it in my jersey pocket and get shots like this while cycling in the alps.
Plus, for Black Friday it’s down to $399, which is nuts (the shot I got above was taken without a remote controller, just my phone). Meanwhile, my full in-depth review shows other sports usage aspects. Note that as good as the Spark (and Mavic) are, they don’t have a very good follow-me type mode for sports. In DJI parlance, it’s called ‘Active Track’, and it works fine in an empty field, but throw a few trees in the way and it quickly gets lost.
As for why not the GoPro Karma? C’mon now, nobody can seriously recommend that in comparison to anything else out there.
Best Solo Shooting Sports Action Drone: Airdog ADII
If you’re shooting yourself, then the Airdog is the clear winner here still. The Airdog is really focused on shooting sports action, and it’s really not all that great at general cinematography – though the new ADII does improve that a bit, but it’s still not my first choice for general drone footage. But the unit differs from every other drone on the market in that it has a small waterproof transmitter that you wear on your arm. That transmitter includes controls, but also GPS tracking so that the drone can follow not just your position but also your altitude.
That ensures the drone can follow you – even through the trees, which is something that causes the DJI drones challenges with their ‘Active Track’, which follows you with its camera. Yes, you can use the follow-me mode for controller following, but that’s also limited in terms of altitude changes and camera moves. With the Airdog you have numerous ways you can position the camera, both preset and on the fly.
Again, if you plan to film yourself, the Airdog is your better bet. Whereas if you have a buddy to film all your exploits, the Mavic or Spark is the better bet.
|Airdog ADII (2nd Gen)|
|DJI Mavic Pro|
$499 ($549 combo)
So…here’s the thing, in the past, I used to have a section here on activity trackers. But the market has simply gotten so big, and the features in general overlap each other on so many units. It’s nearly impossible to simply say “Go get a Fitbit” or “Go get a Polar Loop” or “Go Get a Jawbone” (actually, no, don’t get a Jawbone).
Instead, it’s really best to look at whatever activity trackers either:
A) Your friends are using
B) Your existing device is on
Seriously. If you’re motivated by competing with friends, then you want to be on the same platform as them. So if they’re all on Fitbit – go get a Fitbit. And same goes for Garmin or Withings, or anyone else.
Secondly, if you already have (for example) a Garmin device, heck, it’s likely it has an activity tracker in it. But say you want something else – in that case, get something on the same platform as that – so you can track everything in one place. It’d make no sense to have a Fitbit activity tracker and a Garmin GPS watch.
There are of course nuances to each unit out there. Some do optical HR slightly better than others. While some have more sports modes than others. And some have coaching, while others have better smartphone integration. And of course, now some even have GPS (like the Vivosmart HR+ and Vivosport). Most of them are within a pretty small price window, so it’s really best to figure out what suits you.
Next to last – the vast majority of activity trackers are roughly accurate. To that I meant that no activity tracker on the market is perfect. None. Instead, they are estimations – treat them as such. Each company tries to fine tune their algorithms for various use cases. Some might be better at guarding against false positives in the shower, but less so doing dishes. Others the inverse. What matters is that at the end of the day if your activity tracker said you only did 2,000 steps, and your goal was 10,000 steps – then you were…lazy. Meanwhile, if it says you did 9,782 steps and you think you really did 9,923 or 9,458 – just go walk around the block an extra time. It’s about tracking trends – not exacts.
Lastly, in general I prefer activity trackers that have a display on them. If I didn’t need a display, then most phones these days can track 99% of your awake time anyway. So for me, I want to be able to glance at my wrist and see how many steps I have and how far from a goal I am.
Cycling Power Meters:
Choosing a power meter is a tough decision matrix. Anyone who answers the question “Which power meter should I choose?” and instantly names a specific brand name/model upfront, is full of crap. The correct answer is “Tell me more about your usage plans?”
There are so many variables that go into that decision beyond just price. For example: How many bikes? What type of bike? What type of pedals? Do you want to move it around a lot? Race wheels or not? What do you want to measure? And on and on.
The good news is that I cover these in-depth in my Power Meter Buyer’s Guide from just a week or so ago. Nothing has changed there since then (neither in products nor in my opinions), and I don’t expect any shifts till at least next spring.
The best way to cover this section is to go read my complete winter 2017-2018 cycling trainers guide, so again like power meters, I’d go over and check out that post for all my recommendations (a massive list on a slew of categories).
Obviously, given it’s now basically the trainer season, there’s no more trainers coming out till at the earliest mid-next year, with most announcements typically happening at Eurobike in July next year (a shift from August).
Don’t Forget the Product Comparison Tool:
Ok, lots of recommendations. If there’s a category I’ve missed (entirely plausible) – just drop a note in the comments and I’ll try and come up with a recommendation and add it above.
More importantly though, you can mix and match just about everything I’ve talked about above, with in-depth comparison tables over at the product comparison calculator, which today supports: Action Cameras, Drones, Heart Rate Straps, Watches/Bike Computers, Power Meters, Activity Monitors, and Trainers.
Select product use/budget for a comparison from the drop down menus:
Note: While many running watches have a basic bike mode, only running units that are multi-sport focused are also included in the bike-only results (in addition to bike-specific units). Hiking units are those that include a Barometric Altimeter, Magnetic Compass and navigational functions.
Or select products for comparison by clicking the product boxes below:
As always, thanks for reading – and supporting the site!