(Before we start note that obviously Black Friday is around the corner and as such we tend to see good deals on gadgets. As well as the big sales, some of which end this Saturday night. I’ve tried to note in this guide where products often go on sale, and account for it accordingly.)
Each year around this time I publish my complete guide of sports tech recommendations, covering a wide range of sport gadget areas. 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.
One could try and write recommendations for every possible edge case, but realistically I think there’s probably already too many categories below as it is. Plus, that’s what the comments section is for. I try as best as possible to answer all those quirky edge-case questions.
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 most items). And, if you are picking up items that are more than $49, you can get free US shipping as well.
With that, let’s dive into it!
Running GPS Watches:
This year we saw a handful of new running-specific watches, but overall, not too many. We lost companies like TomTom’s wearables, so that hurt the running-specific options a fair bit. On the flip-side, we did gain more options in the mid-range fitness tracker market, which can definitely be used for running (for example, the Fitbit Versa’s of the world). We also gained more options in the triathlon/multisport-specific range, which can also be used for just running (but can often be overkill too).
Ultimately though, this particular section hasn’t really changed a ton since last year. Mostly because there haven’t been any massive updates to most of these watches. Sure, all companies advanced the bar forward, but most of it was evolutionary served with a side of brand/model name tweaking. The Fenix 5 became the Fenix 5 Plus, the Suunto Spartan Ultra became the Suunto 9, the Vivoactive 3 slapped some music on it to get the Vivoactive 3 Music, and the Apple Watch went from 3 to 4. None of these were major new models, all of them minor increments.
Road Running – Best All Arounder GPS Watch: Garmin Vivoactive 3, Polar M430, Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR
All three of those watches make great running watches, all are about a year old, and all very close in price (especially with Black Friday sales) – roughly $200-250USD or less. 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, but not as sleek as the others.
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. Note my goal for this section was to keep the options to under/around $250 inclusive of GPS, which is why the Apple Watch isn’t in here.
Road Running – Geekful of data: Garmin Forerunner 645/645 Music
Last year I recommended the FR935 for this, which was mostly because Garmin hadn’t yet refreshed their higher end Forerunner running-specific watch. This year though we’ve got the newer Forerunner 645 and 645 Music (645M). The music edition includes the ability to load music onto it (including Spotify), which you connect to Bluetooth headphones of your choice.
While you could consider something like the Forerunner 935 or Fenix 5/5 Plus instead for this geekful role, the reality is that for running specifically, neither watch will give you any additional data beyond what the Forerunner 645/645M does. The features are identical there (for running).
The Forerunner 645 series connects to not just Garmin’s own running power app (with an RD-POD or HRM-TRI/RUN straps), but also running power from Stryd and RunScribe. The FR645 also supports both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart sensors, but also has all the new FirstBeat training load and recovery metrics that were introduced last year to both the Fenix 5 series and FR935.
GPS accuracy wise I haven’t had any problems and virtually nobody else has had issues either. Optical HR accuracy is OK, about the norm for Garmin, which lately seems about the same as Suunto and in the ballpark of Polar depending on exact scenario.
Running – With Music: Fitbit Ionic, Polar M600, Apple Watch (any GPS variety), Vivoactive 3 Music
Over the last two years we’ve seen everyone converge on the sub-$300 price point with music. Polar was there a long while back with the M600 WearOS (Android Wear) option, and then others came in. Some of your decision here will be based around what phone platform you use, and what music 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. Garmin is also across all phone platforms.
Next will be what music platform you use. If you’re just doing regular MP3/etc files, then it won’t matter. But if you’re into streaming platforms, then offline caching of music providers is important. Here’s where things stand as of today:
Apple Watch: Apple Music (note: Spotify did release an app last week, but it doesn’t actually cache music offline)
Fitbit: Pandora, Deezer
Garmin: Spotify, iHeartRadio, Deezer
Polar: Spotify, Google Music
Note that as of today while Garmin’s FR645 Music and Fenix 5 Plus series support Spotify, the Vivoactive 3 Music app for Spotify hasn’t been released by Garmin, so you can’t get Spotify on it yet. Soon hopefully. Also note that some of these watches support music platforms you’ve never heard of before, so you can double-check for smaller platforms on the brands’ websites. Oh, and all these watches require Bluetooth headphones.
As for a specific recommendation between those units, they’re all pretty good for running. I’d say that the Fitbit Ionic is the least geeky in terms of data, with the Apple Watch closely behind it (but with the Apple Watch you can use 3rd party apps for far more geekness). Then Polar, and finally Garmin. All of those devices support 3rd party apps, though Fitbit’s app lineup is the least impressive of the bunch.
Running – Sub-$200 Watch
There’s lots of options in this range that are solid. The Garmin Forerunner 35 is one to look at, as is the Polar M430 (the older M400 is solid too, though sans optical HR sensor). If you don’t mind bringing your phone with you for GPS tracks, the Fitbit Versa sits at $199 (it doesn’t need your phone for simple distance though), and will undoubtedly probably see some sale action more frequently. Also, during the sales, I suspect we’ll even find the Vivoactive 3 or Fitbit Ionic hitting $200 or just above it. Those watches from both companies seem to be perpetually on sale competing against each other.
Running – Best Sub-$100 Watch: It’s tricky
For years I was able to basically point folks towards the TomTom series of watches for this price point. But that’s no longer the case (see note in a second on that). There are some cheap no-name watches in this price bucket, but honestly you get what you pay for – mainly in terms of software platforms and such. Sometimes you’ll see Garmin’s Forerunner 10/15/25/30 lower end watches below $100 on sale, in which case – go forth! They all measure GPS distance quite well, and some also have optical HR sensors. Ideally you’d get a model that can connect to your phone via Bluetooth Smart (some of the older ones can’t). I’ve also seen the Polar M400 flirt below $100 (or mainly 100EUR in Europe), so that’s a steal if you can grab that – easily besting the other options.
Just a warning on TomTom: The company has ceased US sales of their wearables, and I think still technically sells/clearances units in Europe. Either way, those divisions are gutted these days, and the company hasn’t made any fitness related announcements in the last year since they announced they were spinning down those divisions. While you can no doubt find TomTom watches for under $100, I’d be very hesitant to treat it as anything other than a short-term buy. TomTom’s watches absolutely require TomTom’s servers remain functional to even setup the watch. So long-term it wouldn’t be a good plan.
Hiking/Trail/Ultra Running – Best in Class: Fenix 5 Plus Series
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 5 Plus series or Fenix 5X (non-Plus). Sure, the Apple Watch with 3rd party apps can do some limited offline maps, but let’s be honest – that’s not a great option battery wise for anything but the shortest of day hikes.
I used the Fenix 5 Plus series a bunch this summer in the mountains, and it was great. Personally I use the middle-one (not the S or X editions), as that’s the size I prefer. It’s my ‘daily driver’ watch when I’m not testing a bunch of other things on my wrists. And of course it includes music and contactless payments (though, I rarely end up using contactless payments on my watch since my phone usually does the trick anyway). Still, I have used it in rare cases where I forgot my credit card on a ride/etc.
Note that if you’re looking for 95% of the Fenix 5 hiking/outdoors features but don’t want to spend as much as a new car, then you can pick up the new Garmin Instinct. It sits at $299 and has almost all the core software hiking/trail/etc features of the Garmin Fenix 5 series.
While Suunto makes the Suunto 9, it’s hard to call that the best all-around option for hiking and such as it doesn’t have maps. If you don’t care about maps though, the new ultra tracking features of the Suunto 9 (where it turns up GPS for up to two minutes at a time but still gives a legit GPS track) are fascinating and well executed – so consider that a close runner-up. I just wish the rest of the watch was as full featured. Note that if looking at the slightly older Fenix 5X for maps specifically, note that it does not have the ANT+ sensor connectivity issues that the baseline Fenix 5/5S have (the Plus series doesn’t have these issues either).
As for the Polar Vantage V, I think it’s simply too soon in the development cycle for that. Plus, you can’t even navigate on it yet (sometime next year according to Polar). And why not the Samsung Galaxy Gear? Well, simple: It takes about 7 months to get GPS signal each time you go outside. Seriously, even though that was the issue with the last watch, it still remains the issue here. Not to mention GPS accuracy is questionable.
|‘2018 Gadget Recommendations: Running’ compatible||Price||Amazon Link||Clever Training - Save a bunch with Clever Training VIP program||Review|
|Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated December 18th, 2018 @ 8:25 pm|
|Apple Watch Series 3||$279/$379 (cellular)||Link||N/A||Link|
|Apple Watch Series 4||$399/$499 (cellular)||Link||N/A||Link|
|Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)||$699/699EUR||Link||Link||Link|
|Garmin Forerunner 645||$399/$449 (with music)||Link||Link|
|Garmin Forerunner 935||$499||Link||Link||Link|
|Garmin Vivoactive 3||$269||Link||Link||Link|
|Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music||$299||Link||Link||Link|
|Suunto 9 Baro||$599 (non-baro is $499)||Link||Link||Link|
|Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR||$279 ($329 for metal bezels)||Link||Link||Link|
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 windsurfers to skaters, mostly because of their versatility and flexibility in configuration and display customization.
Note that the minimum requirement to be a multisport watch is specifically a multisport mode, which allows you to record multiple sports (e.g. swim/bike/run) in a single activity/file. If you have to stop the workout to change modes (like on a Fitbit), that’s not a multisport watch. That’s just a watch that happens to have multiple sports (at least by commonly accepted industry definitions).
Overall Best in Class: Garmin FR935
This remains exactly the same as last year. There’s a reason that Garmin dominates the category (seriously, look at these stats, they’re also near identical this year) – 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. You’ll also often find me using this watch as a reference watch for GPS accuracy specifically to compare others to.
So why not the Fenix 5 Plus? Sure, it’s a better watch in terms of features, but it lacks a quick release kit that many triathletes really like (and that the FR935 has). If you don’t care about that – then no biggie.
Budget Options: Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR
This continues to be an astounding bet for triathletes, especially given how nice and small it is. 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 continue to find FR920XT on sale – usually for about $199. I’d personally get the FR920XT over the Suunto Trainer Wrist HR series for purely triathlon purposes. But just depends on what you can find (and the FR920XT doesn’t have an optical HR sensor like the Suunto Trainer Wrist HR).
Note: For triathlon I do NOT recommend the Garmin Vivoactive series or Garmin Instinct:
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, while the Garmin Instinct does support openwater swimming, it doesn’t support multisport mode.
This is pretty similar for some of the other running watches like the Polar M400/M430/M600 or Garmin FR230/235/620/630/645. Yes, they all support running and cycling, but none support multisport modes (nor openwater swimming). If you cycle sparingly and don’t swim, then they’re all still viable options.
Also, why not: Before folks ask, why not the Polar Vantage M for budget? It’s possible – but at this point it’s just not as full featured of a watch as the Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR (for the same price). And for the COROS PACE? Same story – it costs more, but contains less. And the Polar Vantage V? While the Vantage V may have promise down the road, there’s no way you can say it’s equal to the FR935 given both are the same price – I don’t even think mid-next year by time Polar finishes adding back in all the features they removed from the V800 on it.
|‘2018 Recommendations: Triathlon’ compatible||Price||Amazon Link||Clever Training - Save a bunch with Clever Training VIP program||Review|
|Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated December 18th, 2018 @ 8:25 pm|
|Garmin Forerunner 935||$499||Link||Link||Link|
|Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR||$279 ($329 for metal bezels)||Link||Link||Link|
Cycling GPS Units:
We saw a number of new units this year come into the cycling market, though, there was virtually no change in my recommendations (save two minor updates). That doesn’t mean goodness isn’t coming from others in the industry, as it is, but it just isn’t enough goodness to change my opinions.
Nonetheless what we see is continued competition from non-Garmin companies in the head unit market. All of which forced Garmin to answer with the lower-priced mapping Edge 520 Plus this year, at a slight $30 premium over the Wahoo BOLT and previous Edge 520.
Still, companies like Sigma, Lezyne, Hammerhead, and Stages are also pushing the market along. Some haven’t quite got their new goods released yet – for example, the newest Dash units haven’t begun shipping yet, so I can’t include those. And while Hammerhead has continued to add in firmware updates, the vast majority of those updates are minor bug-fix type things or slight UI tweaks. They aren’t big ticket features required to compete with the others in this list.
Best All Around Cycling GPS: Garmin Edge 520/Plus & Wahoo BOLT
There’s no major shift in this category. If you’re looking at a bike computer, these two and a half units are the sweet spot in the market. I say half, because the Edge 520 and 520 Plus are kinda treated like one unit. The Edge 520 Plus is the mapping variant that includes maps for your region, whereas the Edge 520 doesn’t include them.
Both base units are $249USD (but the Edge 520 Plus costs $279), an incredible price given the number of features packed into them. I put together a huge head to head post on these units last August that actually 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 (base) or Wahoo BOLT (or even ELEMNT) can do that. Instead, they do basic pre-planned navigation. The Edge 520 Plus however can re-route you mid-ride if you screw up. With the Edge 520 base or BOLT, you’re just given the general direction to get back on course. Still, I’ve navigated just fine with either option. Though, I’d note that while the Edge 520 Plus has routable maps, sometimes it’s a bit slow. Generally not a deal breaker, but I wanted to point it out.
Best Mapping GPS: Edge 1030 or Sigma ROX 12 (caveats)
I use the Edge 1030 as my main cycling GPS, except for days I’m using an Edge 520/520 Plus. Which is to say that as long as I’ve remembered to charge the Edge 1030, it’s my main GPS that’s on my center out-front mount. Obviously, I ride with multiple GPS units all the time for power meter testing purposes, but my ‘main’ GPS is whatever’s on my centered out-front mount.
In any case, I simply love it. While it’s a bit bigger than I probably need, it does things well and there’s no touchscreen issues (or clumsiness like the Edge 820 touchscreen). I don’t really know of anyone that doesn’t love their Edge 1030. Even the comments mirror that on not just my review, but all reviews. People are happy there.
Then there’s the newer SIGMA ROX 12. While it has slightly less fancy features than the Edge 1030, it excels in the navigation department. The Android-based unit is incredibly responsive from a screen standpoint (seriously, it’s crazy – it’s like a phone), and the display is stunningly beautiful. These days most of the initial bugs are all cleared out and users seem pretty happy. I’m not sure if I’d recommend it to everyone, but it’d definitely be within my ‘to consider heavily’ list for a lot of people.
Oh – and if you’re looking for a budget mapping option, check out the new Garmin Edge Explorer – which is roughly an Edge 1030 without all the advanced features. It’s an incredible value at $249, though it doesn’t have a barometric altimeter (so no incline values during the ride). Still, for many touring, this is a great unit as it’s also got a big display and is half the cost of the other two in this section.
Best Budget GPS Unit: Polar M460 or Lezyne Mega-C/Mega-XL
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 Mega-X at $199. Lezyne has like 38 different models between $100 and $200, I tried to explain it all here a few years ago, and then they added more. They’ve all got minor nuances. This year they tried to simplify that some with the Mega-C and Mega-XL options. And to some degree they have. These were essentially updates of last year’s units with an overlay map shown (though it’s more of an underlay map I suppose).
The strength of the Lezyne 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. But the budget options are still really solid. Again, check out my detailed post on it to understand those specifics.
So what about the Edge 130? It’s really solid at $199, especially in terms of sensor connectivity and if you want Garmin Connect IQ support. But, it also feels a little bit overpriced compared to the Lezyne and Polar options. Of course, you’re paying for the Garmin ecosystem. Also note that the Edge 130 wasn’t designed to be a replacement for the Edge 500 (which some folks seem to think it is). If you look at it like a budget GPS first, then it’s got fantastic features. But if you approach it as a smaller Edge 520, you’ll be disappointed.
|‘2018 Recommendations: Cycling’ compatible||Price||Amazon Link||Clever Training - Save a bunch with Clever Training VIP program||Review|
|Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated December 10th, 2018 @ 6:48 am|
|Garmin Edge 1030||$599||Link||Link||Link|
|Garmin Edge 520||$229||Link||Link||Link|
|Garmin Edge 520 Plus||$279||Link||Link||Link|
|Lezyne Mega-C GPS||$199USD||Link||Link||Link|
|SIGMA ROX 12 SPORT||399EUR/$475USD||Link||Link||Link|
|Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT||$249||N/A||Link||Link|
Year after year, swimming gets ignored by companies…and honestly, 2018 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 for say $119…and done. Until then, my recommendation just stays the same as the last two years: Find an on-sale Vivoactive.
Also of note is that Fitbit’s Versa is another option as well (indoor swimming only), as it retails for $199, but I expect to see it on and off sale as well.
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 at a low price point. 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 swim cap using the swim cap method.
Note that the just released Garmin Instinct does actually have an openwater swim mode, so if you tend to hike and do other wilderness type outdoors stuff, that may be something to seriously consider.
|‘2018 Recommendations: Swimming’ compatible||Price / Street Price||Amazon Link||Clever Training - Save a bunch with Clever Training VIP program||Review / More Info|
|Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated December 5th, 2018 @ 2:51 pm|
|Garmin Forerunner 920XT||$249||Link||Link||Link|
|Garmin Vivoactive HR||$249||Link||Link||Link|
|Safer Swimmer OWS Buoy||$45||Link||Link||Link|
|Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR||$279 ($329 for metal bezels)||Link||Link||Link|
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 (e.g. ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart only). These sensors are available in 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 bike computers or watches that just do ANT+. Or both at once!
Note that Garmin watches and bike computer devices from prior to 2017 are ANT+ only, though most 2017/2018 Garmin watches/bike computers are dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart capable (the notable exception is the Edge 520 Plus, which is still ANT+ only).
Heart Rate Sensor (Optical): Scosche Rhythm+ or Rhythm 24
This is my primary and singular running/cycling/hiking/etc heart rate sensor (when not testing something else). The Scosche is dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, so it can transmit to just about anything. There’s the new 24 this year, though I haven’t seen a significant change in accuracy between the two. The new unit includes more features however, though some of those features might not be applicable to your use case. 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. The TICKR FIT is also fine, but it and I got off to a rough start earlier this year accuracy-wise, and I’ve never gone back to it. Some folks have good results with it though.
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 more expensive 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.
Bontrager also has a dual option out these days too, but I haven’t tried it yet. Most of these are made in the same factory and just rebranded.
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 ANT+ cadence-only attachment system slightly better than Wahoo’s, as it doesn’t require zip ties. 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 two years now). It simply attaches to your wheel hub and that’s it. No magnets or anything else to deal with. Maybe one of these days I’ll write a review, but given it’s my main speed sensor on my bike for two years now (including for aero testing), I suppose that’s probably as good a review as you’d want/need.
Running Footpods (ANT+): Garmin/Suunto 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’. And yes, the older Suunto mini-footpods are actually public ANT+, despite what Suunto will say. Tons of people use them that way.
Regrettably, the only dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart footpods out there are really expensive. There’s the Stryd Live (well, there was, but I think they stopped selling it for some reason), and RunScribe is or is shortly enabling footpod function too. Stryd was great as a footpod and many people use it, but it’s also really expensive ($99 for Stryd Live, and $199 for the running power meter variant).
One of these days Wahoo or Garmin or someone will realize this and offer a sub-$50 running footpod that’s dual ANT+/BLE.
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 2017/2018 Garmin watch). I’ve been using it on and off for about two years now. Note that Zwift did buy them back in June, though that hasn’t changed anything yet in terms of product or what-not. It sounds like the company plans to increase functionality over time, not decrease it.
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. These allow you to convert ANT+ signals to Bluetooth Smart. This is primarily useful if you have older ANT+ only sensors and want to get them to watches (or apps, like Zwift on iOS or Apple TV) to Bluetooth Smart – especially expensive ANT+ only power meters.
The 4iiii unit is also a heart rate strap, that’s like two for the price of one (and a dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart HR strap at that). It also has 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).
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. Caveat: There isn’t an Android app available for CABLE to configure it at this point and time.
Bike Computer Mounts (just computer): Bar 4 Prime
I love my Bar Fly, specifically for triathlon, the TT/Aero Barfly. I’ve been mostly using the Bar Fly 4 Prime lately, since it works with both larger and smaller head units, as well as has the GoPro style mount below it (which I use for my GoPro as well as lights and aero sensors). Honestly though, it’s probably overkill if you just have a smaller bike computer, you can go with their cheaper mounts.
What’s also ideal about the Bar Fly kits in particular though is that they come with mount options for everyone – Garmin, Wahoo, Polar, etc… are all in there. K-Edge also makes some great mounts too, but I like the fact that Bar Fly includes all the extras for free.
Bike Computer with Action Cam Combo Mount: K-Edge Combo Mounts & Bar Fly Prime
In the event you’re going to hang an action cam from your bike computer mount, that’s where I typically recommend you stick to something metal based, be it from K-Edge or Bar Fly. Read more on that in my action-cam section though. Seriously, I’ve bought more K-Edge mounts over the years than any human should have. 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.
I’ve got no issues with the new Bar Fly’s metal mounts, including their 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.
Weight Scales (WiFi):
I wrote an entire post about WiFi weight scales three 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 a year ago, though the shifts are minor. Additionally, Withings was bought by Nokia. Nokia mostly did things to screw up all the good Withings had done, but this past year Withings then somehow bought itself back from Nokia, and seems to be back on track of undoing the screwups. Plus, the scale pieces weren’t really impacted by Nokia’s meddling. I’ve got the latest new Withings wearable here, so I’ll probably be looking at the entire Withings suite again over the next few months in more detail.
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. 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 Garmin Index scale, if you’re heavily aligned to Garmin as a platform and want your data in that platform seamlessly. But otherwise, I think all of the fancier/higher end scales are overkill compared to these usually $100/sub-$100 options above. Plus, people seem to have more issues with the Garmin scale than not. It seems to be Garmin’s forgotten product. Like, when something breaks on it, it’s months before someone at Garmin seems to realize it and then decides to go on vacation before fixing it. There’s no product review I’ve written which has more people saying they’ve had issues than that one.
|‘2018 Recommendations: Weight Scales’ compatible||Price||Amazon Link||Clever Training Link (Save 10% with DCR10BTF)||Review|
|Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated November 23rd, 2018 @ 5:30 am|
|Fitbit Aria WiFi Weight Scale||$129||Link||Link||Link|
|Garmin Index WiFi Scale||$149||Link||Link||Link|
|Withings Body WiFi Scale||$129||Link||Link||Link|
Best All Arounder Action Cam: GoPro Hero7 Black
There’s no question the GoPro Hero 7 Black is the best camera that GoPro has ever made. Then again, I’d hope so since it’s the latest one (came out back in September). Still, while there are always going to be some GoPro haters, they are pretty hard to find this year. It’s really damn impressive – especially the new stabilization, but also even the improved audio quality. Love it. Like the last few GoPro units, it’s fully waterproofed, and the back touchscreen is brilliantly clear, and the video quality is equally as awesome.
I’ve got virtually no complaints, except of course that I wish they’d make a darn mic adapter that isn’t as big as the camera itself. Or just be logical and accept Bluetooth mics like other cameras including the Gamin VIRB Ultra.
So what about the VIRB Ultra 30 camera?
So in past years it was always kinda a bit of a competition between the two. Typically GoPro would barely edge Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 out in video quality (or the fact that the GoPro didn’t require a waterproof case), but Garmin would easily win with better sports metrics (data overlays). And the second part is still true. GoPro’s data overlays would be like comparing a drawing from my 2-year old to that of a professional artist of 70 years with galleries in major metropolitan cities. Garmin is in an entirely different league here when it comes to sport/data overlays.
Unfortunately, with the Hero 7 Black’s new stabilization modes, GoPro is also in a different league for stable video. Not to mention that if I’ve got another Garmin device (like a Garmin watch or bike computer), I can take that file and merge it with the GoPro footage in Garmin’s free VIRB Edit. It’s not as one-step simple as using the Garmin VIRB is (but again, it’s really still pretty easy). Ideally, Garmin would counter GoPro’s Hero 7 Black – hopefully even one-upping it. But I’m not sure if that’s a battle they still want to fight.
I think Garmin could fight it, but they’d need to double-down in resolution or other specs to win media/geek attention (which ultimately would increase market share, since people buy action cameras based heavily on YouTubers saying to buy a given action camera, and YouTubers love higher resolution and higher frame rates…and of course, really buttery smooth stabilization).
Best 360 Cam: Shrug
Last year I gave the win to the Garmin VIRB 360 cam (which has 5.7K resolution), mostly because GoPro’s Fusion was just barely shipping and not all the puzzle pieces were out yet.
These days though, I rarely use either camera and would strongly encourage folks to really think about their workflow. Editing and dealing with 360° footage takes a long time, no matter the camera. In terms of workflow, Garmin’s is FAR and away cleaner in terms of a single cohesive suite. Whereas GoPro’s software suite is prone to crashes and indexes slower than a dead turtle.
On the flip side, GoPro’s plugins for Adobe Premier are incredibly powerful and really make the software shine. Whereas on Final Cut Pro you can use Apple’s native tools, but there’s still some moves that aren’t possible without first passing through GoPro’s software. Plus, you still need GoPro’s software to stitch everything too. Thus, everything remains cumbersome.
Basically though – if you plan to do data overlays, I’d easily go Garmin. Whereas otherwise I feel I get better quality/resolution/stitching from the GoPro solution. That could well be because GoPro includes a specifically designed pole that gets the pole exactly cropped out of the frame – so it appears your camera is hovering in mid-air. Garmin lacks that.
Best Safety Cam: Cycliq Fly6 CE & Fly12 CE
Next, we’ve got the Cycliq cams. 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 anywhere near 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.
Note that some people have had some teething troubles on these, primarily in the realm of battery burn. It’s hard to say whether this is super wide spread, or just a vocal minority.
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 (when a bike computer isn’t involved). 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.
|‘2018 Recommendations: Action Cams’ compatible||Street Price / Price||Amazon Link||Clever Training - Save a bunch with Clever Training VIP program||More Info / Review|
|Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated December 18th, 2018 @ 10:06 am|
|Garmin VIRB 360||$799||Link||Link||Link|
|Garmin VIRB Ultra 30||$399||Link||Link||Link|
|GoPro Fusion 360* Action Cam||$599||Link||Link|
|GoPro Hero7 Black||$399||Link||Link||Link|
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 in the last year or two. Likely just because it’s combining a few of my passions: Photography, sports, and aviation.
Drones have advanced so much in the last 12 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 Mavic Air
This came out earlier this year and is a rock star with a reasonable price. It’s got 4K video and can do some basic (very basic) tracking of you in a sport setting. While it doesn’t have as good of Active Track as the new DJI Mavic 2 (which is much better in that department), I find that the Mavic 2’s limitations for Active Track still make it less ideal for most people (you can’t use a phone to track like you can with the Mavic Air, you have to use the dedicated controller+phone concurrently).
Video and photo quality on the DJI Mavic Air are fantastic, as is the ability to operate in high wind conditions (as I showed in some of my videos). Plus, you’ll find it on sale this holiday season as well. Seems like a no-brainer.
Note that the DJI Spark however is a freakin’ fantastic all arounder as well, and usually under $400. It lacks 4K support, but for most social media type applications you won’t notice. It’s buttery smooth and remains awesome. You’ll actually find me taking it just as often as the Mavic Air. Basically, if I’m taking photos only, I’ll take the DJI Spark, whereas if I’m taking video, I tend to take the Mavic Air.
Also, I do indeed really like the new DJI Mavic 2 – but for most people it’ll be overkill.
Best Solo Shooting Sports Action Drone: Skydio R1
When it comes to sports tracking though, there’s no competition. Not even the same league anymore. The Skydio R1 with its 13 cameras that track you is a thing from the future. Albeit with a heavy $1,999 price tag. But try running from: It’s nearly impossible to escape except in the densest of brush. The unit does feature 4K video and merely uses your phone for initial setup/control (but then the object recognition futurist movie tracking takes over after that). You can also use their just-released Apple Watch app for control as well.
The only downside to this drone is the video quality simply isn’t in the same league as the DJI drones. And as the name (R1 – Release 1) implies, this is the first generation, and I feel sooner or later there will be an R2, and that’s probably a better timeframe to get into things. If they can address the video quality and the portability of it (along with the price), I’ll be a buyer. But in the meantime, if you absolutely need the best solo sport tracking drone – there’s no competition, this is the best.
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 Garmin” or “Go get an Apple Watch”. Frankly, from a basic activity tracking standpoint, they’re all so similar.
Even this year with the new Fitbit Charge 3 and the competing Garmin Vivosmart 4, they’ve both near matched each other (days apart) on the underlying hardware features. One added SPO2 tracking, and then so did the other.
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 Apple, or anyone else. If your friends are all on Apple Watches, then you can’t compete with them using a Garmin device.
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. By that, I mean 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 a mere three days 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 2018 cycling trainers guide (from just a couple of weeks ago), 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!