In review: GPS Watches

Words: Susan Sloan, SA triathlete and trail runner.

It is the era of accessible information and as an athlete, we can't ignore the advantages that current technology offers us in terms of improving our training and performance. We have to embrace it and use it. Time is of the essence! And yet it is no longer only about time! We now have distance, speed, altitude, and temperature, amongst others, at our fingertips. And since time really is of the essence, we need to make the most of it! Having been asked to review four GPS watches, and as a bit of a technophobe, my first priority was to find the unit that was the most user-friendly. But, it also had to give me as much data as possible and data that was accurate! These were my findings.

Garmin fenix - Truly a GPS on your wrist!

At first glance:
• It’s very rugged in appearance.
• The strap of the watch is soft and moulds easily and comfortably around my skinny wrist.
• It has a huge display that reads well during activity. Although the watch is quite large, it doesn’t feel big, heavy or bulky when running. However, when cycling, the face of the watch bruised my wrist/hand, especially over bumpy terrain. A bike mount would help a lot, but it would not be ideal for triathlons if you want to wear the watch throughout the race.
• Using the stopwatch and GPS were fairly simple to figure out, even before reading the instruction manual.
• One key feature that I enjoyed was the lap mode, which signals (sound) and displays a ‘lap time’, and gives your time for the completed distance.
• The orange button, or mode button, is strategically placed on the left side of the unit so that it doesn’t accidentally get pressed while cycling or running.

• Altitude is a great feature to have on a wristwatch, especially when you go off road and do a lot of climbing. It tells you how much altitude you have gained and how much there’s still to go! Using barometric measurement, the altitude displayed is also more accurate than a unit that uses only GPS for altitude values.
• The trackback and waypoint functions mean you can explore unknown territory without the worry of not finding your way back.
• Waypoints also help to navigate an unmarked route, like in a Skyrun or Wartrail, where GPS coordinates are given for certain checkpoints.
• Various adjustments can be made to tweak the unit settings to your liking while on the run.
• The unit is waterproof, but the GPS won’t pick up satellite signal, which means you are not able to measure your distance in an indoor swimming pool.

• Connection, data download, and analysis via
• Exercise records can be easily compared on the website.
• However, downloading the records from the unit to the website is more of a process than some of the other units.

Rating: 4.5/5

Bryton Cardio 60 - An easy to use, compact watch.

At first glance:
• It is lightweight, but a bit less robust than bigger and heavier models.
• The strap is soft and mouldable.
This flat and square watch isn’t as visually appealing as some of the other models.
• It is easier to use than the Garmin.
It’s a simple and quick process to start exercise recording.
It was comfortable on my wrist while riding, but it does come with a bike bracket.
Adjustments to the units displayed can be done via the wristwatch and without having to connect to a PC.
This unit has at triathlon feature, which is great news for us trail runners! It has transition timing, so you are able to get an accurate ‘run time’ as opposed to a time that includes your transition time. Furthermore, you will be able to see how much time you’re taking or wasting in transitions. This setting can be changed if you prefer not to have transition times.

• Satellites are picked up quickly and easily.
Altitude is a feature, but unfortunately uses GPS, which is considered inadequate for trail or off-road racing or navigation.

• You connect to your PC via a crocodile clip.
You can view and analyse your exercise data by logging onto

When you are not online, data files can be saved to your PC to view online at a later stage.

Rating: 4/5

Nike - TomTom Runner - For runners who want to track their performance.

At first glance:
• The appearance is very different to the other models. The rectangular face shape, which may be less popular, it’s more comfortable on the wrist and causes less restriction or bruising, especially while mountain biking, than some of the other models.
Surprisingly, it is more comfortable than it looks.
The limited, adjustable settings can only be done while the watch is connected to a PC.
A foot pod is included, which fits into specific Nike trainers and is of added benefit when the GPS signal is low or running indoors.

• TomTom GPS navigation.

• Connects to a PC via USB.
• A nice feature is that the USB connection is built into the end of the watchstrap, so you don’t need to worry about not being able to connect or charge your watch!

Rating: 3/5

Suunto S2 - A user-friendly watch for explorers and athletes.

At first glance:
• I may be slightly biased here because this watch has been specifically designed with triathlon in mind. Triathlon is a ‘sport type option’ on this unit and has already been programmed in, which means that during a triathlon you don’t need to worry about changing modes after your swim, cycle, and run. Pressing the lap button after your swim changes the watch and settings to the bike settings, for example, and gives you speed in km/hr and then on the run in min/km.
• This unit was the most user-friendly and I didn’t have to study the manual to figure out how to do a simple run or cycle.
• Robust design, but also smart looking. This is a watch that can be used as an all-round watch you wear while training and at work.
• The strap is surprisingly comfortable.
• The watch is, however, quite large and can be uncomfortable on your wrist, especially when mountain biking. At gym, a simple push-up was uncomfortable, so I had to try to loosen the strap to get it higher up my arm so it wouldn’t hurt my hand.
• An additional feature for us triathletes is that the Ambit 2S can measure indoor swimming, enabled by a 3D accelerometer, which other GPS units don’t have.

• This unit has a magnetic compass that will give you a compass (straight line) direction to a selected point of interest.
• Routes can be created on the Movescount website.
• The GPS-based altimeter is considered to be less accurate than barometric measurment, but it does prove to be fairly accurate nonetheless.

• Connection, data downloads, and analysis is via
• Uploading data is a quick and simple process.
• Data can be shared with other Movescount users and posted on various media fields, such as Twitter.

Rating: 5/5