Categorized | GPS Sports Watch

A 4-step Approach to Buying a GPS Running Watch

A 4-step Approach to Buying a GPS Running Watch

If you are serious about your sport, whether it be running, cycling, hiking skiing, windsurfing or even skydiving, a gps watch can be a powerful tool for tracking, measuring and improving your performances.

An advanced sports gps watch can accurately measure:

Speed

Distance

Elevation above sea-level

What’s more, many watches with gps can plot 3D maps over a traveled route that can later be downloaded to a PC or Mac and then reviewed and analyzed in a custom software package.

Combining this with advanced sports watch features, like memory storage/recall, interval timers, heart rate zones and speed, pace and distance alerts and you get a complete wrist-watch training computer, capable of taking you to the next level!

While having all these features can be exciting, it can also be overwhelming when you first start shopping around for the right watch. As most gps watches are quite sophisticated, this makes it difficult to know which features suit your needs and which are nice, but most likely not ones you’ll use in day-to-day use.

Our guide will take you through the process and will familiarize you with the key questions you need to ask yourself when you are comparing watches. With, the most common questions clear in your mind, selecting the right model will likely be a breeze.

Step 1: Decide how you will be using your watch There are different types of GPS watches for different purposes; Your buying decision hinges on how you will use your GPS watch, so this is an important thing to be clear on.

This may seem obvious, but knowing which of these categories you fall into can save you a lot of time and effort.

Some watches will cater to fitness and sport, among other things, these models will have a lot of features that will suit runners, cyclists, triathletes and other athletes, like memory storage and recall, interval timers, heart rate monitors and pace and distance alerts. Other models will have navigational features allowing you to mark locations, plot courses, then navigate between waypoints in your area. Some watches will even support both.

GPS Sport Watch Models The watches below utilize GPS for fitness and performance.

Garmin Forerunner 101, 201, 301, 205, 305, 405

Timex Ironman Bodylink Heart Rate Monitor Watch T5F011

Timex Ironman Trail Runner Bodylink Heart Rate Monitor Watch T5J985

Timex Women’s Ironman Trail Runner Bodylink Heart Rate Monitor Watch T5G311

Timex Ironman Triathlon T5E701

Timex Ironman T5E691 Men’s 100-Lap Speed + Distance Watch

Polar Training Computer GPS Watch FT60M

Polar RS800G3 Multisport GPS Computer Heart Rate Monitor Watch

Suunto T3c Multisport Pack

Suunto T4c Multisport Pack

Suunto T6c Multisport Pack<

GlobalSat Personal GPS Sport Watch With Heart Monitor

Navigation GPS Watches The watches below utilize GPS for navigation.

Garmin Forerunner 101, 201, 301, 205, 305

Suunto X10 Sports Computer Wristop Altimeter Watch

Suunto X9Mi Wrist-Top GPS Computer Watch

Suunto X9i Wrist-Top GPS Computer Watch

GlobalSat Personal GPS Sport Watch With Heart Monitor

Step 2: Question – Decide if you need real-time signal reliability? A common complaint about GPS systems is the signal dropping out without warning.

This is especially common GPS watch models with older chipsets. This problem can be somewhat resolved by ensuring you only use your GPS watch in places where there is a clear, unobstructed view of the sky – i.e. not around tall buildings or trees.

The latest GPS watches use the SirFStar III chipset, which is more sensitive and reliable than older chipsets. This is not to say the older watches are not good choices, some have dropped considerably in price making them great value for money, but deciding if high reliablility is important will impact your choice.

If you only wish to pinpoint your location infrequently, then high reliability is not such a big deal.

For instance, say you are out kayaking on the Amazon river, you come to a fork and need to decide whether to go right or left… chances are you probably don’t care too much if your GPS signal drops occasionally, so long as you can quickly pick it up again when you need it.

On the other hand you are running your 5th London Marathon and need to know your exact kilometer pace at the 10km mark so as to know if you are running too fast or too slow – then a signal drop out is highly undesirable.

An alternative to gps that may be worth considering is a foot pod device that measures your leg turn-over or cadence and calculates speed and distance and all the other good stats based on your leg-speed alone. When correctly calibrated a foot pod can be quite accurate and does not suffer from signal obstruction like a gps unit does.

GPS Sport Watch Models with Older Chipsets These GPS watches utilize older chipsets. They are generally slower to link to the satellites and may lose the signal more frequently.

Garmin Forerunner 101, 201, 301, 205, 305, 405

Suunto X9Mi Wrist-Top GPS Computer Watch

Suunto X9i Wrist-Top GPS Computer Watch

GPS Sport Watch Models with Modern Chipsets These GPS watches utilize a modern chipset like the SiRFstar-III or equivalent.

Garmin Forerunner 205, 305, 405

Timex Ironman Bodylink Heart Rate Monitor Watch T5F011

Timex Ironman Trail Runner Bodylink Heart Rate Monitor Watch T5J985

Timex Women’s Ironman Trail Runner Bodylink Heart Rate Monitor Watch T5G311

Timex Ironman Triathlon T5E701

Timex Ironman T5E691 Men’s 100-Lap Speed + Distance Watch

Polar Training Computer GPS Watch FT60M

Polar RS800G3 Multisport GPS Computer Heart Rate Monitor Watch

Suunto T3c Multisport Pack

Suunto T4c Multisport Pack

Suunto T6c Multisport Pack

Suunto X10 Sports Computer Wristop Altimeter Watch

GlobalSat Personal GPS Sport Watch With Heart Monitor

Step 3: Consider comfort and style and “Coolness” While tons of features are probably main reason for buying a GPS watch in the first place, if you like to wear your watch in a casual setting as well as for sport then it goes without saying you should find one you like the look of. But I’m sure you don’t need us to tell you.

The latest watch from Garmin, the Forerunner 405, has a few less features than it’s predecessor, the 305, but looks pretty darn cool, whereas the Forerunner 305 is more like a brick on your wrist! The Suunto T series watches models that support GPS look as natural in town as on the track.

Also consider comfortably the watch fits your wrist. If you are more comfortable with an external gps device attached to you, then you can enjoy a smaller wristwatch, whereas a single gps-watch unit is a lot bulkier.

Step 4: Other criteria Often the most heavily promoted features of popular products, are not the ones you are really interested in. This is an unfortunate part of marketing, but luckily we’ve dug deep and come up with a list of some less obvious features that might be just what you’re looking for.

Sunrise & Sunset Time: Forerunner 405, 205/305

Computer Fitness Opponent: Forerunner 405, 305/205 (Virtual Partner Feature)

Goal Tracking: Forerunner 405

Touch Sensitive Bezel: Forerunner 405

Wireless Data Transfer: Forerunner 405

Compete Against Historical Sessions: Forerunner 405, 205/305 (courses feature)

Distance Traveled While Paused: Forerunner 205/305

4 field customizable display: Forerunner 205/305

Vertical Speed: Suunto X9/i, X9M/i, Timex Bodylink Trail Runner T5J985

Altitude Alarm: Suunto X9/i, X9M/i, Timex Bodylink Trail Runner T5J985

Thermometer: Suunto X9/i, X9M/i

Barometer: Suunto X9/i, X9M/i

Barometric Altimeter: Suunto X9/i, X9M/i, Suunto T6C Multisport Pack

Weather Alarm (Barometric Pressure): Suunto X9/i, X9M/i

Altitude Stats: Suunto X9/i, X9M/i, Suunto T6C Multisport Pack, Polar RS800G3

Compass Feature: Forerunners 101, 201, 301, 205, 305, 405, Suunto X9/i, X9M/i, Timex Bodylink Trail Runner T5J985, Globalsat GH-615B/615M

6400 MILS Bearing Display: Suunto X9/i, X9M/i

Beat to beat variation in heart beat intervals: Polar RS800G3

EPOC: Suunto T6C Multisport Pack

Training Effect: Suunto T3C and T6C Multisport Packs

A note about power Let’s make one thing clear. GPS watches suck up a LOT of juice! Fortunately, many models use rechargeable batteries.

There are generally two types of GPS sports watch – those that you wear on your wrist and those that require you to attach an external device to your body. The wristwatch type are almost always rechargeable, whereas external gps watches generally use AA or AAA batteries.

Most provide around 8-14 hours of continuous gps tracking and allow the gps to be switched off when not needed, so as to save power.

For you ultra distance runners, even 15 hours might not be enough. Fortunately popping a spare battery into an external gps is a trivial task, even on the run. For everyone else, I’m guessing 8 hours of gps time is more than adequate.

A Note about Water Usage Like fire and cats, gps watches don’t mix too well with water. Most units can survive a few splashes, or the accidental dropping in the kitchen sink, but using your watch for swimming or diving is definitely not recommended and the signal reception can not be expected to be accurate under these circumstances.

This is unfortunate for Triathletes for who a gps watch would be a valuable tool for recording and assessing their performances over multi-disciplines

By now you should (hopefully) have a better understanding about which gps sports watch unit is right for you. You may even know what you’re looking for. If you are pretty sure what you want, but want more information head to our website, where we have more information about gps and other types of sports watches.

Rod McAnally is a competing long distance runner and sports enthusiast. Rod’s mission is to take the confusion out of selecting, comparing and purchasing leading sports watches. To learn much more about the ins and outs of sports watches, check out my other articles, where you’ll learn about the different types of sports watches, how to find a sports watch and what it really takes to get the most out of your sports timepiece.

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