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Which is the best running GPS watch?

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With so many GPS enabled watches and no comparison table between them I decided to complete one. I picked the most popular models which are currently available. These models are not entry level hence their price. The criteria set is the basic features found in a GPS watch for which there are several sub categories. I did not complete the full sub categories since if you are in the market for one of these watches more or less you know what type of data a heart rate monitor or a compass provide. I don’t mean the actual bearing or heart rate but heart rate limits and training zones.  All data has been manually collected from the models spec sheet. I hope I have made no mistakes but if you spot any let me know.

I tried to keep it simple but there are some features  that are important and need a few more words to explain.

Battery life is very much related to the GPS operation and the interval rate that the watch records your position. For example the Ambit 2 can have a battery life of 15 hours when the interval rate is every 1 second and 50 hours when it is 60 every seconds. The first is best for when running or cycling and generally moving faster. Where as when hiking or walking a 60 second interval makes more sense giving a longer battery life overall. Some watches have the feature of choosing the interval but others like the Polar RC3 don’t. The chart indicated the longest battery life irrelevant to the interval rate. On my Ambit 2S the battery level will drop about 10% for every hour I run.

Connectivity. The most popular way to connect with other device like heart rate monitors is Ant+ and Bluetooth Smart which give a wider variety of accessories. On my Ambit 2S I use the heart rate belt of the Garmin since both are Ant+ and compatible with each other. Polar uses its own protocol W.I.N.D which might be as good as any but maybe not compatible with other brands.

Syncing and charging. Garmin watches can sync wirelessly which is handy at first but then I realised it is not. It actually is more complex. You need an Ant+ usb stick to have plugged in to the computer so the watch can send and receive data. Then for charging you need an extra cable ending up with more accessories than you would if you synced and charged through the same one cable. Plus syncing via USB has a higher success rate than it it did wirelessly for my 310XT.

All models offer much more than the casual runner will ever need or will look for in a watch. They are better off with a smartphone app like RunKeeper or a simpler model like the Forerunner 10. The 310XT being an older model is an excellent buy if on a budget. The newer Ambit and Fenix offer the most features appealing not only to runners but for multi-sports, mountaineering and beyond.  If I’m not mistaken all watches except from the 310XT can be worn as an everyday watch.

So take a look on the table below and make your own decision of which one is the best.

Screen Shot 2013-08-24 at 10.22.20 PM

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