Sport Watches

I generally don’t recommend Fitbit unless people want basic activity tracking and have friends already in the Fitbit eco-systems. I started with Fitbit, but I was disappointed using any of the models for more than basic activity tracking. I found them in-accurate. Polar was a leader years ago, but Garmin is superior at every price point. I have been very impressed with the accuracy of Garmin metrics. I have compared it’s numbers (like calories burned, estimated VO2Max, etc) to the same data collected while I was at a performance measurement lab… the results were within 2% which is much better than the 20% or worse I saw from other systems. Apple iWatch is more featureful, but the battery life is too short for my taste, and I don’t find it’s sports metrics are as good as Garmin (today).

As mentioned in my 2020 Gear post, I love my Garmin 935, but it’s not the watch for everyone. The following are a list of sports watches that I would recommend to others.

Garmin 945 Watch: is a do everything watch which is light enough to wear everyday.  It has decent integration with phones and provides every fitness and activity tracking feature you could want including SpO2. Fenix is a more expensive, metal case (more durable but all heavier) variant, which might have additional features such as downloadable maps.

The Garmin Vivoactive3 are cheaper, smaller, and I think more attractive to the 9-to-5 wear. I would recommend this watch to anyone who doesn’t want to  track multi stage events such as triathlons and are willing do without some of the more advanced fitness metrics. The Vivoactive4 and Venu are a step up, but I don’t think worth the extra cost.

Garmin Instinct is a watch designed for people who are more interested in trips into the back country than doing a triathlon. It looks like an old Casio G-Watch. Has most of map/routing features of the Fenix 5 but lacks many of the more advanced sports metrics and no smart phone integration.

Suunto Ambit3 Peak was released in 2014 but is still champ when it comes to battery life with 1 min sampling of GPS: 200 hours run time, and almost a month run time with GPS turned off. Nice long-term review for hikers.

Suunto Spartan Trainer is a lowest cost decent triathlon watch from a major sport/fitness brand.

Apple iWatch is now the most popular smart watch. It has great integration between the iPhone and the the iWatch, but the combination of it’s poor battery life (2 days best case, much less running GPS), touchscreen interface that doesn’t respond to sweaty fingers, and the so/so accuracy recording high excursion exercise stopped me from using an iWatch I won in a raffle. A downside compared to most sports watches is that the heart rate and GPS data is often not properly recorded for the first 1-2 minutes. 

Amazfit Bip is amazing given it’s $99 retail, and often sale price of $69. Decent phone integration / notifications, warns you when you loose connection with your phone (why doesn’t the  iWatch do this yet?!!), always on display, great battery life: 4 days if using all the feature and some runs using GPS to >30 days if you don’t use GPS and display updates 1/minute.  Only downside is the heart rate sensor is extremely poor, often off by +/-25%  making it completely useless.

Sigma iD.Tri is reportedly to be the cheapest Tri Watch (~$220) in the EU… a bit harder to get in the US. Not integrated as well as Garmin, Sunto, Polar, or Apple.

Ray Maker’s Buyer’s Guide is an incredible resource for anyone who need good recommendations / reviews related to Tri gear (cycling, running, swimming).

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