Sunday, November 26, 2017

2017's Best Run GPS Heart Rate Watches, Sport Earphones and Wearable Sensors

Article by Sam Winebaum, Editor

Most training and smart watches these days include on board GPS, wrist HR, sleep and activity tracking and smart phone notifications. I was fortunate to test dozens of wearable tech, music, and health sensor products in 2017. Here are my 2017 Holiday picks

Best For Serious Training
We use the term "serious" here as both these watches and their associated online and app platforms include a plethora of physiological and training features as part of the package.

Polar M430 ($230) 
The choice for serious and comprehensive run training features at a great price

Polar was the original fitness heart rate monitoring company starting way back in the 1980's.  Their back end platform is often the choice of world class athletes and it is no surprise for example that Polar is the only platform which can import data to Nike+Run Club...
The last few years Polar has introduced wrist based heart rate monitoring to their GPS watches. The "square" and a bit square looking M430 has an 8 hour battery battery life extendable up to 30 hours with 1 minute sampling. Dozens of sports modes are configurable and many training programs are available. We found its 6 LED light heart rate sensor and comfortable wrist conforming fit produces among the most solidly reliable heart rate data out there. 
Read our full review including YouTube features walkthrough here.

Garmin Forerunner 935 ($500)
Lightest, longest battery life, most fully featured multi-sport watch available today.

Weighing a minuscule 41 g with up to a 24 hour battery life, extendable to 60 hours, the all button operated, color accented screen 935 has been our reliable goto for all races in 2017 . 

Easily configurable, even on the go, the 935 offers every imaginable option including breadcrumb route navigation, a barometric altimeter, recovery and physiological analysis including V02 Max, Training Load and Status along with of course wrist HR and external sensor connections.  Your only step up from the 935 is to go with the metal bezel Fenix 5 series, more color choices and the bezel with a touch more potential bang on rocks durability, being the only substantive difference. The 935 offers a full suite of smart watch features including activity and sleep tracking, phone notifications and music control but its real strength is on the road or trail, on the bike, or in the water. Add the Running Dynamics Pod which clips to your shorts to give you on the go bio mechanics data.

See our article comparing the 935 to the Fenix 5 here

Best Values

Epson ProSense 17 and ProSense Line
Fully featured and capable GPS run smart watch for $100.

Epson's new ProSense line sets a high bar for accurate sensing and a decently full set of run training features at very compelling prices. Unlike many previous "value" watches the ProSense includes Bluetooth connectivity, no cable required, as well as basic smart watch features including activity and sleep tracking, music control and phone notifications. And did we mention up to 13 hours battery life. A run training focused watch it includes configurable alerts, lap screens, cadence, and even stride length data fields. 

The ProSense 57 ($150) includes wrist heart rate which we found among the most reliable at any price. Step up another $100 above the 57 to $250 and you get the 307 with its electronic paper Easy View screen and up to 20 hours GPS and wrist heart rate extendable to 24 hours with GPS only, additional data fields, in pool HR sensing, race time estimate and training effect. 
Tip: I am finding that wearing the Epson looser than I would normally wear wrist heart rate watches produces better HR accuracy.

See our ProSense overview and review of the 307 here
Shop for the ProSense 17 and ProSense line at Running Warehouse. On Sale! Click Here

Best Round the Clock Style and Utility

Garmin Vivoactive 3 and Garmin Vivosport
Different shapes for all day activities

The Vivosport ($200) is an unobtrusive GPS and wrist HR band with full smart watch features. It is the smallest sized lightest such combination from any major brand. It is ideal if you plan to wear a watch or jewelry on your other wrist or even on the same wrist. You'll find all the basics for run training on the surprisingly visible tiny touch screen including average pace, distance, HR, zones, time, etc... As the other Garmin you will get activity and sleep tracking, music control, and phone notifications. 
See our article comparing the Vivosport, to the Fitbit Ionic, and Suunto Spartan Trainer here
The Vivoactive becomes a classy round metal bezeled watch in the new Vivoactive 3 ($300). It can be your only watch around the clock for all your work and play activities. Stepping up in features from the Vivosport, it includes a combination single button swipe high resolution screen, a barometric altimeter for altitude and descent/ascent data for trail running, skiing and hiking, more run and other data field options than the Vivosport and configurable directly on the watch, along with contactless payments for that after run coffee. 

See our Vivoactive 3 YouTube feature walk through here 
Shop for the Vivoactive 3 at Running Warehouse. Now on Sale! Click Here

Fitbit Ionic
Stylish Round the Clock Health, Fitness, and Workout Companion

The Ionic ($300) is Fitbit's first featured GPS smart watch. In addition to all of Fitbit's excellent health and fitness insights and especially its activity, sleep and cardiac insights captured 24/7 and automatically, it includes a more than adequate run mode but is not yet quite up to the level of customization of dedicated run GPS watches. We say yet as the Fitbit app platform is designed for easy expansion of features. 
You also get coached Fitstar workouts such as abs and chest- the animated color screen shows you how to do them, a "wallet" for contactless payments for that after run coffee or beer, multiple sport modes including swim tracking with 50M water resistance, a built in 300 song music player, including the ability to download Pandora Plus and Premium stations and smart phone notifications 
The battery life spec, confirmed in our testing as conservative, is 4 days all day use and 10 hours GPS/HR training mode so double its obvious Apple Watch and Android Wear competitors and approaches battery life of many dedicated GPS watches. The screen is stunning in its definition and clarity.  

Pair your Ionic or any Fitbit to the stylish new Aria 2 scale. It will seamlessly automatically transmit your weight, BMI,and body fat percentage estimate via WiFi to the app via the internet so no phone nearby required. 

See our full review with YouTube feature walkthrough video here

Wire free music listening arrived in 2017 with smaller, longer battery life, and more comfortable options emerging. 

Bose Soundsport Free ($250)
Superb audiophile sound quality without wires of any kind

Bose somehow packed speaker big richly immersive sound into comfortable, completely wire free earbuds. They are quite large, as they need to be to produce such incredible sound, but can be fitted securely and without pressure with the included fit options. Sporting sweat proof construction and a respectable 5 hour battery life and 10 hours more from the charger case they have become my most frequently reached for buds of 2017. Given no wires and the steep cost losing them is a concern. Bose has a handy find my buds section in the companion app. Not only can you see where they are or were last when they had a charge on a map but the app can ring a live bud with a loud enough tone to hear through a bag.

Read our full review of the SoundSport Free here

Jaybird Run ($180)
Runner and athlete focused first wire free earbuds
Jaybird is focused on run and sport worthy earphones above all else. That's all they do.
Fairly priced for wire free buds the sweat proof Run has  wonderful sound that can be tuned via music type pre-sets in the companion app and even customized further to your preferences. The app also includes staff and community run playlists streamed to the buds via Spotify. Battery life is 4 hours with 8 more from the charger case. Not to worry on those long runs as the case can charge an hour of play time in 5 minutes, among the fastest such rapid charge specs we have seen.
As with all earbuds and especially wire free it is important to get the right secure but comfortable fit with the Run using the several available ear gel and wing sizes. As with all earbuds my left and right ears required different fit set ups.

BackBeat Fit 300 ($80)
Light, Rugged and Easy Fitting Sport Earphones

BackBeat, a Plantronics brand, really knows how to make earphones comfortable with minimal fit fuss. Plantronics has been building headsets for industry for decades so they understand the ear comfort and clear sound. The 300 is no exception. The sound is excellent and rich, surprisingly so given how small these buds are. Fit is fuss free here. The patent pending ear tips are tiny so fit with the supplied gels covers all size ear canals with the unusual soft rectangular ear wings keeping things secure and pressure free, The two tone cord is cool looking and is an actual braided cord so rugged and reflective to boot. The 300 is sweat proof and has a 6 hour battery life.


KuaiFit Headphones ($169) 
The Swiss Army Knife of Headsets. Hands free, phone free, in ear HR, coached or un coached zone based training and music 

The KuaiFit, at a super reasonable price, bridges the worlds of music, sensing, and coaching. An audio based coaching system everything is on board the headset: an in ear heart rate sensor we found very accurate, 8 GB music player,connection to Bluetooth and ANT+ phone apps and watches, as well as in bound to the headset from BT and ANT + sensors including bike sensors. In addition to HR, it includes sensing for cadence, and when calibrated distance.  Kuai Fit focused first on function and not style, The fit is fine with surprisingly little pressure or weight as the pods sit behind and just off the ears,

With a 7 hour battery life and music on board you can leave your phone behind, listen to on board music, if you wish stream HR to your GPS watch. You can toggle between on board music and music from your phone with a simple button press. All the features are controlled by very intuitive easy to operate dual 4 way mini joy sticks, one on each pod:  left side music and call functions,right side training functions. It's computer based app, website and phone app combination is a bit retro and awkward but manageable.  

At heart Kuai Fit is a zone based training system and as such you can set up extensive alerts for HR, cadence, distance and calories all with hi low ranges. Want to change zones on the fly?  Just press the joystick button to change zones. Free and optional paid coached training plans for running and fitness are available with the audio coaching loaded to the music player's storage.  

Kuai Fit is now on sale for $129 at their store here

RunScribe Plus ($249)
Bio Mechanics Capture & Analysis, with Run Power, for the Data Driven Athlete

Run Scribe's two tiny pods clip to your shoes and captures phone free a wealth of bio mechanics info focused on Efficiency, Shock, Motion, and Symmetry. You can analyze and compare your data and compare to the community in the excellently designed dashboard. We particularly like to compare our efficiency in different shoes at similar paces focusing on our stride rate, ground contact time and flight ratio %. 
Nike Vapor Fly 4% Left 2 Columns, Adios Boost 3 Right 2 Columns
RunScribe is also useful to evaluate the effect of training and cross training on your metrics and can be helpful to monitor injury recovery or onset. The Plus now includes Run Power which can be streamed live to data fields on Garmin Connect IQ and Suunto.

Shop for the RunScribe here. Use our Coupon Code: RTR15 for 15% off!

Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
Visit our Index Page here for over 80 in depth 2017 shoe and gear reviews
Visit our 2018 Previews Page here for 2018 run shoe, apparel, and gear previews 

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Anonymous said...

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Now a days everyone is too conscious about their health Running Smart watches really help us to maintain our health report, I am using using Microsoft Band 2, it monitors 24/7 optical heart rate, its web dashboard is also available, also it analyze our calories lost, stairs climbed, steps, exercise, and sleep quality, you can read more reviews of it, available in very low cost.

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James said...

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jamessmiths said...

Good post!

Saneesh VS said...

Thank you for such an informative article. I am a Fitbit Fan and using Fitbit Ionic for the past few years. I really like it when it comes to GPS and in-built music storage I do not need to carry my mobile phone while going for running.